Sara Hankins, the mother of four who made headlines in December when her longtime best friend promised to adopt her kids, died Monday after a debilitating battle with ALS, according to her online obituary. She was 36.
According to the obituary posted by a funeral parlor, Hankins was surrounded by her family at her home in Milan, Illinois, at the time of her death. She’s survived by her four children - Alexis, 18, Cayden, 11, Micah, 9, and Amara, 8 - as well as her grandparents, mother, siblings, siblings’ spouses and nieces and nephews.
Tributes for Hankins poured in online, where she was described by those who knew her as “a beautiful amazing woman.”
“She enjoyed being a cosmetologist and sharing stories while making people beautiful,” her family wrote in her obituary. “She loved cooking and spending time with her family and friends. Above all else, being a mother was the most important thing to Sara.”
An open house dedicated to celebrating her life took place on Saturday. The family has asked memorials be made to the Sara Hankins Memorial Fund. She will be cremated.
Hankins’ best friend - Missy Armstrong - previously told PEOPLE that as Hankins entered the final stages of battle with the neurodegenerative disease (for which there is no cure), her thoughts were only with the future of her four children.
“The thought of where they would go was killing her more than the ALS was,” Armstrong, told PEOPLE. “It consumed her everyday thoughts, because none of her family members were able to take in all four kids together.”
That’s what motivated Armstrong to adopt her friend’s children.
“I decided to step in,” the 42-year-old explained. “I knew in my heart this was the right thing to do, that this was how it was meant to be.”
The two met at La’ James cosmetology school in the town of East Moline, Illinois, in 1999 and “were best friends instantly.” And while Armstrong had two children of her own - Kairee, 14, and Alexa, 22 - she was happy to carry on her best friend’s legacy.
“I’ll be here for the kids forever, now,” Armstrong said. “They’re family.”
”I hug Sara’s babies extra tight because she can’t hold them,” she added.
As of December, Armstrong was still looking to gain full guardianship of Alexis, Cayden, Micah and Amara and eventually to adopt them.
She had also raised over $22,000 to put a down-payment on “a perfect five-bedroom” for the kids - which Hankins had helped her pick out.