What would you do if a dear friend who was dying asked you to take care of her six children?
For Stephanie Culley, her husband and three kids, the answer was simple - open their home and their hearts. They may not share a last name, but they are the very definition of family, reports Dana Jacobson of CBS Sports.
Culley's expanding family is finding joy in little ways after being brought together by grief. After one of her closest friends, Beth Laitkep, died of breast cancer last month, Culley took in Laitkep's six kids - ranging from ages two to 15 -- into her Virginia home.
"I wanted her to live so much. No mother ever deserved to live and raise their kids as much as her," Culley said about Laitkep. "I mean, they needed her."
Laitkep was a single mom and dear friend who leaned on Culley while battling cancer this past year. When doctors told Laitkep they'd run out of treatment options in April, Culley was the only option to take care of Laitkep's children.
"She was never worried about herself. She was never worried about anything but them," Culley said. "And she looked at me and she said, 'Can you do this for me? Can you do this?'"
When Culley told her husband, there were six kids, he took a long pause before saying, "We'll do what we have to do," Culley said. The kids were excited.
When Culley told Laitkep of her decision, they cried together.
"And I told her that I would love them. I would never be able to love them like she would but I would do the very best that I could," Culley said.
The "best" has been better than anyone could have ever imagined. The hallways of the Culley home are a little bit louder now and the piles of laundry have tripled. But Laitkep's 14-year-old daughter Selena said her new house feels like home.
"It's been actually easier than anyone ever would expect because we all have each other and it just feels like home. She was a really good mom and I know we meant everything to her," Selena said, crying.
"She pretty much does the same thing and loves us," said Laitkep's son, Jaxson.
"We're grieving but we know she's with us," Culley said. "She used to joke and say that 'when one of them's acting up and you don't see it, I'm going to be tapping you on the shoulder.'"
Does Culley consider herself a saint?
"I'm not a saint. I'm not an angel. I'm not a hero," Culley said. "I just love these kids. To walk in the door and see all of them in the living room dancing and playing and happy, that's what it's all about."
The Culleys have temporary custody of the kids and have a July 19th hearing for permanent custody.
Stephanie said some of Beth's children have already asked about getting the Culley name and that decision will ultimately be up to them.
A GoFundMe page has been created to help Beth's children.