By Olivia Krauth and Sarah Rohleder–
March 11 started as a somewhat typical Wednesday. Members of U of L’s Greek community wore purple clothes as they went about the day. The sisters of the Pi Alpha chapter of Alpha Omicron Pi (AOII) felt tense despite the unusually warm spring day. As the night rolled around, AOII sisters made their way to the chapter suite for a regular chapter meeting. And then chapter president Emma Powers got the call she had been dreading since Monday: Taylor Eubanks, 21-year-old exercise science major and AOII sister, lost her lifelong battle with cystic fibrosis.
“The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was face the room full of my beautiful sisters and tell them that our sister, our friend, had died,” Powers said. “To see the devastation come onto their faces, to feel the heartbreak fill the room, was so difficult, but I’ve never seen our sisterhood be stronger than in that moment.”
The sisters cried and held hands while mourning their sister.
“I’m pretty sure we walked out of that room loving each other more than we ever had before,” Powers said. “That was Taylor’s first gift to us.”
Eubanks had already been in the hospital due to damage to her lungs from cystic fibrosis for the past four months when her condition worsened on March 9. As the news spread quickly throughout the U of L community, an outpouring of support appeared on social media.
Eubanks, a Greenville, Indiana native, was described as “an avid Cardinals fan” and was known for her love of U of L. She was a valedictorian at her high school. She was a daughter to James and Roxanne Eubanks and a sister to Brandon and Patrick Eubanks. She was a sorority big sister to AOII’s Maggie Klein-Kracht and Rona Osman, as well as a little to Kelsey Goderwis. She was AOII’s “sunshine,” as one of the most thoughtful people those who knew her had ever met.
Powers recalled a time when she and Eubanks were shopping at Kroger and a homeless woman asked them for help in buying groceries. Powers admitted to walking past the woman, while Eubanks stopped and asked for a list of groceries she needed.
“In a hurry and not in the habit of stopping for homeless people, I was ready to brush her off. However, Taylor very eagerly pulled out her phone and started making a list of groceries to get the woman. She promised to get everything the woman had asked for and told her we would be back soon,” Powers said. “We went inside, did our shopping, and were back out in the parking lot within twenty minutes.”
In the time it took to do the shopping, the woman disappeared from the lot.
Powers continued, “‘We need to find her,’ Taylor said, determined. ‘I just bought all these groceries and I don’t want them to go to waste.’. . . As we drove off, Taylor commented, ‘I love doing stuff like that. It just feels good to do nice things for people.’” She was silent for a second, and then: “’I wonder if this would count as service hours?’”
Aside from sharing her heart with people, she also loved cheering for the Cardinals.
“The Cardinals are the thing we both love the most, and it was so nice to finally have another AOII who loved sports and U of L the way I did,” AOII alum Cara Monaco said. “It could have been incredibly easy for me to have never met Taylor. The thing about Taylor was that if you met her once it was like you’d know her your whole life. A brief interaction and a few tweets developed one of the most important friendships in my life.”
Her obituary added that “the happiest days of her life were spent with her sisters.” Her sisters knew that was obvious.
“She made it known that she loved you; she always made that known. When she asked how you were doing, you knew it was sincere and she just wanted to learn about you and listen,” Osman said. “During bid day, papers were passed out us new gals to fill out so our future bigs could have a little factoid sheet about us and learn a bit more about us. I wrote that I really love plaques with quotes. Taylor gave me a sign to hang on my wall or set on my desk. It reads, ‘You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.’ The quote was by Mae West. I also mentioned how I loved Old Hollywood actresses. I find how fitting it is now.”
Monaco saw Eubanks light up at the sight of her sisters, even in the darkest times.
“Even in the hospital, she was so vibrant,” Monaco said. “When I went to see her on Christmas day, she was half asleep, sedated and exhausted after so many treatments, and jumped up when she saw me and got so excited.”
AOII planned on having a happy night on March 9 – they were having a pledge ceremony to celebrate gaining a new sister to their chapter. Instead, that was the night they discovered Eubanks’ condition was swiftly declining. She was expected to pass away within the week.
“It was so bittersweet to be welcoming a sister into our family, just as we were saying goodbye to another,” Powers said. After the ceremony, the sisters took time to place red roses – AOII’s flower – in a vase while spending time with each other.
The support continued over the next two days. AOII asked people to wear purple on March 11 for cystic fibrosis awareness. U of L’s Panhellenic Council donated money to CF research and awareness. After news of Eubanks’ passing broke, a candle-light vigil was organized for that night in the Community Park courtyard. Around 200 people showed up.
Eubanks’ friends tried to remember the 10 extra months they got with her because of her double lung transplant.
“I was on the 2nd mile of a 5k at the zoo when I got the text saying Taylor got her donor lungs. I stopped in the middle of the race and started crying,” Monaco said. “I am forever grateful to the family that had to go through such a sacrifice to let me have those 10 extra months with Taylor.”
Nonetheless, those who knew Eubanks mourned the loss of their U of L sunshine.
“How do you say goodbye to a sister who was too young to die? But we tried,” Powers said of the aftermath. “We took the roses, the same roses that just two days earlier we had been placing in a vase to bring to the hospital, and sprinkled the petals across our porch. We lit candles. We sang. And we invited the community to come and mourn with us. And here was Taylor’s second gift: her ability to touch people, even those she had never met.”