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Heartbroken dad honors No. 1 sidekick

A Celebration of Life for Samantha Cadd, 14, draws hundreds of community members Saturday

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Dan Cadd, father of Samantha Sam Destiny Cadd, poured out his memories and his heart at the Celebration of Life for his youngest daughter Saturday.In her huge, tight-knit — and surprisingly well-numbered — extended family, Samantha “Sam” Destiny Cadd was number 159.

But as her grief-choked father confessed when he spoke at her “Celebration of Life” Saturday, she was also number one — in his heart.

For some reason, that number was particularly important to Sam, the 14-year-old Forest Grove resident who died Wednesday, April 6, in a car crash south of Gaston.

Her sister, 18-year-old Stephanie, was driving south on Highway 47 that afternoon when a northbound car drifted into their lane, forcing a desperate evasive maneuver that went bad.

Despite a broken jaw, broken arm, bruised lungs and concussion, a tearful Stephanie attended the celebration with the rest of her family.

As guests waited before the service, a photo montage displayed Sam’s humor and spirit to the beautiful, haunting Meghan Trainor song, “Like I’m Gonna Lose You”:

“I’m gonna love you

Like I’m gonna lose you,

I’m gonna hold you like I’m saying goodbye,

Wherever we’re standing I won’t take you for granted,

‘Cause we’ll never know when we’ll run out of time ...”

The lyrics perfectly reflected Sam, who “would never leave the house without saying ‘I love you’ and getting an ‘I love you’ back,” said Ken Beebe, a longtime family friend who offered prayers and personal remarks.

For Scripture, Beebe turned to the Bible’s shortest verse, describing Jesus’ reaction to the death of a beloved friend: “Jesus wept.”

“We will never get over this loss and it will never be OK for us,” Beebe said, but “we know that he weeps with us today. God is near to us in our broken-heartedness.”

Extended family member Dwight Kimberly gave a glimpse of the tight-knit clan and its novel numbering system.

“You are assigned a number when you enter the family,” Kimberly said, explaining that Sam’s great-grandparents are numbers 1 and 2. Dan Cadd, Sam’s father, is number 34. Her mother, Donnita, is 101 and Sam herself is 159 in a family that is now approaching 200. Ken Beebe told the audience that Sam's mother, Donnita, has a vision of Sam up in heaven dancing with her sister, Elizabeth, who she never got a chance to meet.

But Sam was even more interested in a different number, according to Dan, who managed to deliver a moving, humor-filled tribute to his favorite daughter, although he warned everyone at the outset that he had a contingency plan if he couldn’t get through it.

“I’m going to attempt to tell you the story of my baby girl,” he started out, beginning with his first nickname for her, Samikins — later shortened to “Kins.”

As everyone knew, he continued, “Kins could be very dramatic,” often responding to parental requests to do a chore or two by exclaiming, “I always have to do everything!” That led to her third nickname, he said: Samerella.NEWS-TIMES PHOTOS: CHASE ALLGOOD - Longtime family friend Dot Van Dyke led the crowd in song, explaining that the feelings in her heart about Samantha and the Cadd family couldnt be described in words, no matter how eloquent  this is why we have music.

As noted later by Beebe, Sam was known for her two main roles in the family: comedian and counselor, so mature and in tune with her emotions that she often counseled her much older sisters and mother, not to mention her online gaming friends overseas.

But Sam’s real obsession was where she ranked in her dad’s eyes. She wanted that number one spot.

“Sam started asking when she was 5, ‘Who’s your favorite daughter?’” recalled Dan, who gave her the usual evasive parental responses: You’re my favorite youngest daughter, you’re my favorite daughter who was born on June 5, and so on.

As years passed, Sam pressed the issue, he said, sitting down at one point to demand: “No really, I want the number I am of your favorite kid.”

Sam stepped up her game when her mother, Donnita Cadd, was stricken with what Dan called a “devastating disease” that some in the audience also suffered: “The technical name of this disease is ‘dance mom,’” he joked, showing the wry humor he shared with Sam.

While Donnita was off helping Stephanie with her dance activities, Dan said, “Sam became determined to become my favorite.”

With a common instinct for laughter and mischief, Sam stepped into a sidekick role with her dad.

When the rest of the family was away for a week, the two “concocted a surprise,” said Dan, who secretly taught Sam to drive, then let her ask the freshly returned Donnita to teach her. Her mother got in the car thinking she was about to witness Sam’s first time behind the wheel so was shocked at her instant skill.

Dan also recalled how all four of his daughters used to run and greet him with a hug when he’d get home and walk through the door. As happens in many families, that fervor died down as the girls matured and opted for more casual greetings.NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Dan Cadd (at podium) was joined onstage by Ken Beebe (center) and Dwight Kimberly (left) at Sams memorial service Saturday.

“But not Sam,” he said. Even at 14, “she would run to the door and give me a hug. Not a short hug — a long one like the kind you have all been giving us.”

At one point, Sam blatantly — and wryly — stated to the family, “Dad is my favorite and I’m his.”NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Love Rocks were free for the taking at Sams memorial, a reminder of a previous community tragedy that sparked these creative symbols of love and comfort.

Onstage Saturday, Dan took a deep breath and addressed his missing daughter: “Well, baby girl, it’s time to tell you,” he said, his voice cracking with love and grief. “You are my favorite. Not just my favorite daughter ... my favorite person.”

In the face of this cataclysmic loss, and despite the terrible timing that caused the crash, Dan said his family still somehow feels lucky. “Why were we so blessed to have Sam in our lives for 14 years?” he said.

“I am too grateful to harbor anything bitter.”

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Because of the strong ties between Pacific University and Samantha Cadds extended family, the school donated the use of its Taylor-Meade Performing Arts Center, where several hundred people gathered to celebrate Sams life.