Monday, March 11, 2019

Turning 9

On that fateful, tragic day of March 23, 2012, Olivia was 34 days shy of her ninth birthday.  We were already in the midst of planning her party.  She had decided on a movie party.  She wanted to take 9 friends to see the newest Disney Planet Earth  movie, "Chimpanzee".    Movie theater was booked.

Now, let's flash forward to 2019.......

Ainsley is turning 9!

The anxiety of this birthday is unbelievably stressful for me.  Ainsley, on the other hand is thrilled that she has an upcoming birthday.  Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled too but it's all too familiar.  We've already planned the birthday party (NOT at the movie theater).

In my grieving mind, we've already gotten over one optical, Ainsley is now 17 days closer to turning nine, but the anxiety is still there.  I have to tell myself that Ainsley has a different fate than her big sister.

As I'm writing this, I just realized that on March 23, 2019- it will be 34 days until Olivia's sweet 16.

I am not writing this because I am searching for petty.  I write because it's therapeutic.

A word of wisdom.:

Be kind to yourselves.  Do something for YOU.  


Monday, October 22, 2018

Pennies From Heaven

In Springdale, there is a great new hang out spot called The Leaning Cask Brewing Co. It's a brewery that also hosts variety of fantastic food trucks each night. My family and I love to stop by for the food, beer, root beer, and friends. This past Saturday, Erick, Ainsley, Penny (yes, it's a dog friendly place), and I met up with friends. Before going inside, we stopped at the food truck to check out their menu. The gentleman inside was overwhelmed with joy when he saw Penny. He immediately grabbed his iiPad in search of a photo. At first, Erick and I were confused by his reaction because we weren't really sure why he was so excited. Then I pulled at Penny's leash and said "Hold on Penny". The man said with more of an OMG reaction "Wait, what did you say her name was?". Clearly, he was excited about Penny.

Long story short, his chocolate lab had passed away in August. and Penny resembled his beloved lab (the resemblance was pretty crazy). Then, he proceeded to tell us that he's picking up his new chocolate lab puppy in a few weeks and her name is Penny! In fact, the name on her official papers will read Pennies From Heaven. OK, now I started getting the goosebumps from the coincidence/ connection.

The story gets a little more weird that I happened to have one of our "In Memory of Olivia Wade - Dog Lover" dog tags in my pocket to give to m friend who adopted a new dog. I decided to give the man my dog tag for his new Penny from Heaven. It was so fitting. Of course, he inquired about Olivia. Of course, he was saddened by our loss. He them proceeded to tell us that he lost his son 6 months ago.

I'm a firm believer that in life ~ there is a reason why we are brought together.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Long overdue.

The moment that word got out that Olivia was dead, the sympathy cards, food, gifts, and donations started pouring in from everywhere.  I think that they kept coming weeks after her funeral.  

My mom always taught me to write thank you notes to anyone who had ever given me anything but I was never taught the edicate of a dead child.  Who teaches us that, right?

As a blogger, I have decided to write about my story and it must be honest, truthful, raw.  Even if it's embarrassing or shameful.  So here it goes.......

 I never did write  a single thank you note to anyone who sent us something during our time of sorrow and grief.  

That sounds absolutely terrible as I'm writing this.  I can't even begin to describe the amount of generous givings that were sent to us or donated on behalf of Olivia's memory.  In her obituary (I still can't believe my daughter has an obituary), we asked that in lieu of flowers, please donate to Animal friends.  Animal Friends received thousands to dollars in Olivia's memory.  I have kept every one of those receipts.




The PTA at Olivia's school had drawn up a collection and had given us hundreds of dollars to help our family through our tragedy.

What may sound even more terrible is that I have YET to read one single sympathy card.  It's been over six years since Olivia's death and I haven't been able to  bring myself to sit down and read the loving words from so many kind and truly sympathetic friends, acquaintances, and even strangers.  Well, I attempted to read one and I couldn't see through all of my tears.  The sympathy cards weren't just signed by the givers, but people wrote to us.  I remember one in particular card that came in the mail from my second grade teacher, Mrs. Peffer.  Oh, how I wanted to read her sentiments but it was so overwhelming for me.  Sadly, Mrs. Peffer has since passed away.

It's time that I start reading these cards because I think it's important to hear what you all had to say about loss and Olivia.


The boy next door to us who was in Olivia's grade stopped by one day after school to give me a large banner that was basically a sympathy card from a bunch of  classmates.  Other kids simply wrote our words of missing Olivia and gave them to me.  I still have all of those loving tributes to Olivia.

One of Olivia's friends painted a beautiful sunset over the ocean and gave it to me.  Haley, I still have that hanging in my home.


I have kept everything from everyone because it reminds me of how much Olivia was loved.

So, to all of you out there that follow me and have sent us a card, food, gifts, donated to Animal Friends, or was a member of the PTA six years ago,  I want to finally say THANK YOU.  I know that this is a little too late but I do mean that whole heartedly.  Thank you.  Thank you for grieving with us.

Love, Rebecca

Friday, August 24, 2018

Her final wardrobe.

As the summer starts to wind down and we prepare for another school year, I decided that maybe it's time to check out Olivia's third grade wardrobe.    That wardrobe still hangs in her closet (now Ainsley's).  The last time that I went through those size 8 shirts and dresses was  when I was choosing shirts to be made into a memory quilt.

After Olivia's death in 2012, I always just assumed that her clothes would become Ainsley's clothes.  That's what would have happened if Olivia was still alive, right?  Little sisters always get their hand-me-downs.  After all, Ainsley wore Olivia's size 3 through 7/8 clothes up until this point.  What's the difference?

But this time it's so very different.

Looking through that closet only made me remember specific times and milestones ~ The sweater that she wore for her third grade school picture.   The dress that she wore for a Christmas party with her Grandma Donna.  The Mickey Mouse t-shirt that we had to buy her on an unexpectedly chilly evening in Disney World.  The shirt she wore on the first day of third grade. They were all still hanging there.

(First day of third grade)

Incorporating all of those "memory clothes" into Ainsley' side of the closet means that there are no more wardrobes to pass down to Ainsley.  

It's like a double edged sword.  That side of the closet where Olivia's clothes are hanging would be bare.  Yet, seeing those clothes is a constant reminder that she's no longer with us. Yet,  removing them, letting Ainsley wear them this year means that I have no more clothes to look at and provide me those moments in time with Olivia.

I grabbed a couple of shirts that I thought weren't too outdated, including the Mickey Mouse shirt and the purple peasant top that  she wore on the first day of third grade, washed them (man they were dusty) and will hang them up on Ainsley's side of the closet.   However  the others will remain, tucked on the right hand side of the closet because I don't want to forget what her final wardrobe looked like at this time.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Empty Chair

Once Ainsley started eating solid foods and was  joining us at the table for 3 meals a day, we looked like the the normal, allAmerican family of four.  Usually at dinner time, Erick and I sat across the table from Ainsley and Olivia.  From the beginning of solid food life, Ainsley was an AWFUL eater.  Oh, wait, she still is!  Dinner was a struggle every single night.  She would look at her plate and would literally stress out over what she saw unless it was a bowl of buttered noodles, grilled cheese, hot dog, or chicken nuggets,.  (Oh, and don't forget DESSERTS of any kind)

  I was so used to Olivia just eating what was in front of her.  Some foods were a struggle for Olivia, but for the most part, she just ate.  In fact, in her diary book, she wrote that her least - liked food was Cheeseburger casserole.  (not the healthiest of dinner)  I continued to make this cheesy casserole and she eventually ended up liking it.  She never did change that in her diary book.......  but, I remember.

Each night at dinner, while Ainsley stared at her plate with disgust, twirled her short blond hair,  and I repeated "eat" over and over again, Olivia would run back into Ainsley's bedroom and grab her large stuffed Mickey Mouse.  She would put the fork in his hands and pretend to feed Ainsley.  Sometimes it worked and other times she still refused.  Olivia's efforts were more patient than mine.  She just had a way with Ainsley that no one else did.



I really didn't want to become a short order cook.  I am a firm believer that you eat what has been made for dinner.  (Confession:  I have become a short order cook for Ainsley - now almost 8 years old)

About three weeks after Olivia passed, visitors stopped coming and checking in on us and Erick headed back to work.  This would be about the  first time we sat down at the dinner table as a family of three (without Olivia).  Looking at her empty seat where she shared so many meals with us and did her homework only reminded us, PROVED to use, that she wasn't coming to her seat ever again.

It's those little things that tend to hurt the worst.




Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Connections

Almost immediately after all of the chaos ended and things were supposed to be back to "normal", several people suggested that we (Ainsley, Erick, and I) sign up for The Caring Place.  The Highmark Caring Place began in Pittsburgh in 1996 and provides support to children and their families after the loss of a loved one through various programs.

I took the first step by calling them to tell them that we had a death in the family and I suppose we had a grieving child.  Two year olds, don't grieve like adults do.  They actually quietly take it all in by watching the adults around them.  By making that call, I had to actually say those ugly words, that it was my 8 year old daughter that was dead.  But, that wasn't where it would end.  I would reveal how she died.  "A boating accident", I would say.  Well, in the mind of a 2 year old, those words are not "concrete".  The woman on the other end of the phone had to coach me on how to be 100% raw and honest when talking about Olivia's death to Ainsley.

"Olivia hit her head on a river dock.  She had a very, very, very, VERY bad boo-boo.  She died and isn't coming back."

Over and over again I had to say those words to Ainsley.  Each time with a lump in my throat and a pit in my gut.  I was told that children don't understand "passed away" or "gone to Heaven" as those statements that we all choose to use to describe it when someone leaves this earth just aren't concrete enough for young children.  They are more comforting words (I think) to adults.  Young children must understand that death IS final......  Maybe by saying those words to her over and over again also helped me too?

As time went by, Ainsley started repeating those words to friends.

We have a map of the United States of America hanging on the wall of our hallway.  We purchased the map for Olivia as she was learning the states in 3rd grade.  After Olivia died and Ainsley started comprehending what had happened, she would point to Jacksonville, Florida and say to me, "Where is the river dock?" or "There's where La La hit her head on the river dock."

As months went by, we were finally notified that we would start our Caring Place session in September of 2012.  They try to place us with families that have a similar loss.  I was actually pleased to learn that I might meet a mom who lost their 8 year of child or at least something similar to that.

Each Monday for 10 weeks we went to downtown Pittsburgh for our Caring Place experience.  Each night stared as a large group of parents and their grieving children.  We were then broken up into groups.  Erick and I went into a dimly lit room with other adults who may or may not have a similar loss..... NOT.  Ainsley went into a toddler room that was basically set up like preschool.  The room was filled with toys and LOTS of easels, paint, and paint brushes.  I later learned that the art was for kids to express their feelings through art.  Ainsley had no clue why she was there but she pretty much enjoyed herself.  Erick and I, on the other hand, didn't feel the same.  Neither of us found it helpful nor did we connect to other moms or dads.  The closest "similar loss" was a couple who had a miscarriage.  We were way to fresh in our own grief to connect to that loss.  I'm not saying that the Caring Place isn't living up to it's goals, it just wasn't a match for us.  I know that there were a lot of school-aged children  in our session that absolutely loved their time at the Caring Place.  They connected with other children who lost a parent. or grandparent. After all, it's for the grieving children.

I honestly don't remember much about our sessions.  What I do remember is this one little girl, who was probably eight or nine years of age.  She would come each week with her mom and would always walk past us and say to Erick, "I like your shoes."  Trust me, Erick is not a fashionable guy.  He's very simple, not flashy.  In fact, each week he was wearing loafers or some sort of shoes that were work appropriate - no cool sneakers that would attract the eye of a young girl.

As weeks went by and the shoe compliments continued, our session came to an end.  It was at our final session where our quilt patches that we made were revealed when I started talking to that little girls mom.  She told me that her husband died a few months ago.  It was an unexpected death.  I also learned that her husband was a police officer in a neighboring town of ours.  That was the last time that we saw the little girl and her mom.  The little girl is probably in high school and I hope that she is doing well.

A few months after our Caring Place session, Erick and I were going through Olivia's papers.  I had saved just about all of her artworks and writings, plus some school papers and every newspaper article that was written about her death.  One of the newspaper articles was laying upside-down.  Erick looked at it and was stunned to see an obituary on the other side.  It was the police officer's obituary.

Yes, the dad of the shoe critic.  






Friday, September 8, 2017

For just a moment

Last month, Ainsley, Erick and I went on a family vacation .  We flew into Myrtle Beach, South Carolina on a Monday afternoon and hopped into a taxi , which took us to our favorite resort in Myrtle Beach.  Well, it's really the only resort that we've ever stayed in but we love it.  We've been flying to Myrtle Beach  and staying at the Island Vista Resort since 2013.  This year was our fourth time.  The resort is a beach front condominium complex with 2 pools, a lazy river, palm trees, the ocean breeze, a great restaurant,  plus a tiki bar with an island feel.  Actually, despite the loud waves from the Atlantic Ocean, you can almost convince yourself that you're in the islands.

This year's trip to Island Vista Resort was to be the BEST ever because we were being joined by Ainsley's best friend (BFF), Nicole and her family.  Nicole also a seven-year-old little girl with a fantastic spunk about her, is Ainsley's absolute best friend.  These two girls  are practically sisters.  They have been pretty much inseparable since they were first introduced in 2012.  Nicole's oldest sister, Natalie, now 14, was on Olivia's soccer team and in third grade with her at the time of the accident.  Their mom was/is one of those friends that always made time for me while we were grieving.  She and I have become very good friends over the past 5 years.

After Olivia's death, I would go for long walks with a few moms on a weekly basis.  Nicole's mom was one of the faithful walkers.  Nicole and Ainsley were only 2 years old  when they were introduced during our walks.  The two of them sat in their strollers as I and the other moms walked the neighborhoods of Springdale.  From that summer on, Nicole and Ainsley have been attached at the hip.    And, they planned to be attached at the hip while on vacation this summer as two best friends do.



We arrived at the resort and headed straight up to our room where we are greeted by Nicole, her mom, and her middle sister, Jessica.  We get royal tour of the 3 bedroom suite.    We were introduced to our sleeping arrangements and started to unpack while the girls got ready to head to the beach for the evening.  We made our way to the beach to meet up with the rest of Nicole's family.  After playing on the beach  for an hour or so, we moved our crew to the tiki bar for some adult cocktails and 4 non-alcoholic daiquiris for the girls  Nicole ordered up a Pina colada daiquiri (for the third time that day) while the other girls ordered up other flavors  like strawberry and watermelon.  We enjoyed our beverages while watching a Luau.  Another great amenity at the Island Vista Resort is the evening events or shows that they have for the guests' entertainment.

It's started to get darker and time  for the girls to get showered.  Erick and I had the master bedroom which meant that we had the biggest bathroom.  The  stand-up shower was big enough to fit all 4 girls so it was perfect for Ainsley and Nicole to shower together.  Because, that's what best friends do on vacation.  I got them set up with shampoo and soap, along with wash cloths.  I could hear them laughing in the shower.  This was going to be a great few days at the beach.  Then, all hell broke loose.......  "NICOLE THREW UP!"  Ainsley was yelling.  I ran back into the bathroom to find Ainsley pinned up against the tile wall of the shower , Nicole was holding her belly and a puddle of Pina coloda was on the shower floor.  At first, we all thought that the stomach issue was caused by swallowing too much sea and pool water, but as the vomiting persisted throughout the night, followed by diarrhea, we had suspicions of a stomach virus but held out hopes  for option #1.

The following morning, Nicole was still feeling under the weather so she stayed in bed while her mom watched over her and tried to nurse her back to health.  Now, it's just the 3 girls and 3 adults spending time at the beach.  Ainsley and Jessica really bonded that day as they dug  for sand fleas and sand crabs.  That evening the six of us all took an Uber to the Flying Fish in Barefoot's Landing.


The next morning, Nicole is still not well but we're all feeling fine so we were convinced (or perhaps still holding out for hopes) that her illness was the result of ingesting too much sea and pool water. (and not to mention those 3 Pina colds).  Again, Jessica and Ainsley had another great day at the beach.  At dinner that night, Jessica got up from the dinner table and swiftly walks into the bathroom and then..........OH CRAP.  Victim #2.

Thursday came.  Jessica AND Nicole are ill and their mom and dad have been taking turns caring for them.  At this point, I wanted to put police tape over the bedroom door.  Being confined to a condo with  a stomach virus that hitting people hard and without warning is a nightmare for a germaphobe (ME).  Natalie and Ainsley were the only 2 healthy kids for our last full day at Myrtle Beach.

For just a moment, on that final beach day, Erick, Ainsley, Natalie, and I  were a "family of four" hanging out at the beach.  Natalie, Eric, and Ainsley swam out in the deep as I soaked in the sun while sitting in the surf.  THIS is what my reality should be like - Ainsley and her 14 year old big sister.  Later that day as Natalie and Ainsley took a walk on the beach looking for ghost crabs, I sat on the balcony of our condo and watched the two flickers of lights from their flashlights bounce up and down the shoreline.   This is exactly what Olivia would be doing with Ainsley if she was still here with us.

(Picture taken by Natalie as they looked for ghost crabs)  

Was I sad?


Yes, but also touched by Natalie's love for Ainsley.  She  treated Ainsley like a sister and that is what Olivia would want for her little sister.

I am also thankful for the people who have been put into our lives after our tragedy.  They are blessings and are cherished.

***Neither Natalie nor Ainsley ended up coming down with the stomach virus***