Thursday, December 31, 2015

Another new year

As we get ready to say good-bye to 2015, I remember the mixed emotions that I had when we said good-bye to 2012.  Since 2012 was the year that we lost our sweet Olivia, it would seem natural to want that year to be gone.  However, leaving 2012 behind was also very hard for me because it meant that I was closing a chapter  in our book in which Olivia's character was present.  I felt that I was leaving her behind or even being farther away from the time that she existed.

Now when I leave behind another year, I feel indifferent on the matter.  One reason is that I know that I can't stop time and the other reason is knowing the special moments that are to come with Ainsley as she grows and experiences life as a little girl.

So, happy new year to you all.  May your new year be filled with peace and love.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Heartbreak

Four months before Olivia's death, Erick's sister was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer.   She was only 34 years old at the time of the diagnosis.  Approximately 3 weeks prior to Olivia's death, the colon would be operated on so Erick and Olivia would go to the hospital to visit his sister, Olivia's aunt, who she looked so much alike.  I was worried that Olivia would be scared to see her aunt in a hospital bed with tubing, but she wasn't.

After their visit, Erick took Olivia  shopping for Ainsley's birthday present.  Her birthday would be on March 28th.  Olivia wanted to buy Ainsley a Sing-a-majig.  Later that day, they returned home with the present that sang "This Little Light of Mine".  It was adorable.  Olivia placed it in a gift bag and hid it underneath her bed.  Olivia and Hannah would later created a card to go along with the present.  She even used her own money to buy it for her  baby sister, who would be turning 2 in a few weeks.  Unfortunately, Olivia wouldn't be around to celebrate Ainsley's big day.

I'm writing about this because, my sister-in-law is going through a rough time with the cancer this month.  It breaks my heart to know that she is in pain and I'm sure she is scared to be going through this as a mother of 3 beautiful daughters.  I also feel for my mother-in-law who has to watch her oldest daughter go through the agony of cancer.  As a mother, I know first hand what it's like to watch a child suffer.

I am not writing this story for sympathy.  I only share this because it is a part of our story.


Friday, December 18, 2015

Our trip to Florida

There are so many reasons why I decided to start this blog.  One being that I believe writing my stories and events will help me heal.  Describing to you the actual accident is going to be necessary but challenging so I may do this in steps.

Why were we traveling to Florida in March of 2012?  Well, each year my mom's brothers and their families get together for a "family reunion" of sorts.  Since my uncles all live in various states except Pennsylvania, they usually convene in Florida.  The last time my parents joined the reunion was decades ago!  My mom and dad never travel via airplane so I started pressuring them to go in March 2012.  I thought that I would go this year too and perhaps they would feel inclined to join me.  Then, I thought that it would be a good idea to bring Olivia along with me to meet my family since most of them haven't seen her since she was a baby.    BIG MISTAKE ON MY PART.

My plan worked.  Olivia and I bought tickets to fly to Jacksonville, FL on March 23, 2012.  My parents also purchased tickets for that same date and time.  

My parents picked me and Olivia up early that morning and we traveled to the airport to fly to Atlanta, GA for a brief lay-over.  Once we were in Atlanta, we stopped and had lunch at a burger place in the airport.  Olivia had a cheeseburger.  I don't remember what I had for lunch that day.  

We proceeded to our terminal and noticed that it was a bit empty, which was odd because our flight should be boarding by this time.  We figured out that our flight to Jacksonville was leaving from a different terminal so we rushed to the new location.  Olivia and I made it there quickly but my parents were dragging behind.  Once Olivia and I got on the plane and into our seats, I started to worry that they weren't going to make it!  I asked the flight attendant if I could check to see if they were coming but she told me that if I left the plane, I would not be allowed back on so I just waited.  Sure enough, mom and dad came onto then plane and I swear they shut the doors to the plane right after that.  We were on our way to Jacksonville, FL.  Oh how I wish we would have missed our flight.  

We arrived in Jacksonville around 4pm, rented our car, and drove to Palatka, FL where most of my mom's family was waiting.  My Aunt Elise and Uncle Greg's friends let our family borrow their house for our family reunion weekend.  It was a lovely home that sat on the St. John's River.  On our trip in the car, Olivia and I listened to Justin Bieber on my phone.  She loved his music.  We danced in the back seat of the car.  Erick called us to see if we landed.  We were looking forward to our weekend getaway.  

After about a 20 minute drive, we pulled into the gravel driveway, parked, retrieved our bags from the trunk of the car, and headed into the house to say our hellos.  I introduced Olivia to my cousins, Erin and Meredith, and we got a quick tour of the home.  The last time Olivia and I saw Erin and Meredith was Christmas 2004 when we flew to visit them in Stuart, FL.  

We walked out onto the back porch, which looked out onto the St. John's River.  It was a beautiful view.  There was a porch swing  that Olivia went to sit on but was quickly startled by a large spiderweb!  She wasn't afraid of much but spiders were off limits!  My Uncle Greg then asked, "Do you want to go on a boat ride?"  The dreaded question.  We accepted the offer on the condition that Olivia wore a life preserver.  Off we went..........  Olivia would not return to the house.

To be continued.




Thursday, December 17, 2015

Christmas Past

I just love this picture of my girls.  The way  Ainsley is looking up at her big sister is just so precious.  Even though Olivia was 7 years older than Ainsley, she played with her baby sister.    The age difference didn't seem to bother either one of them.  Olivia would put Ainsley into a laundry basket,  attach a belt to the end of the basket, then pull her through the house.  She would let Ainsley play in her room and even dress her up in princess dresses.  Ainsley was often listed on letters to Santa Claus and art projects at school.  Being a big sister was awesome to my Olivia, who was sweetly called LaLa by Ainsley.


Monday, December 14, 2015

For you

I dreamed a poem early this morning........

For You

It started with just the three of us, then we became four.
They say four is a family, but no more.

A family for almost two years,
Until that dreadful day in March when we shed our tears.

For You, Olivia, our hearts cry with sadness and pain.
For You, my Angel, we cry.
Until we see you again.


Friday, December 11, 2015

her beautiful voice

I wasn't thinking about writing anything today until this happened........

I got my shower a little bit ago and decided to listen to my playlist on the computer.  I was in the mood for Adele.  I thought my playlist was still up since we listened to it yesterday evening  so just just clicked the play arrow.  Instead of playing my list of songs that range from Taylor Swift, Adele, Miranda Lambert, and yes One D, Olivia's beautiful voice started singing to me!  She had recorded  herself singing a song in November of 2011 that she was supposed to sing to the Veterans for a Veteran's Day Celebration.  She never did get to do that because she got sick that morning.    The beauty of this song is that she added her own verse at the end saying how thankful she was for her family.  Thank you Olivia.  


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Memories from March 17, 2012

It's a beautiful Saturday morning.  I have scheduled the four of us to get family photos taken at the nearby mall.  I had bought matching blue shirts for the girls and they wore khaki cargo pants.  I wanted it to be very relaxed so the girls were in their bare feet for then photo shoot.  Looking back..... I am SO THANKFUL that we had family photos taken because that would be the las time.

It is St. Patrick’s Day 2012 and we're back from our family photos.  We've all changed out of our picture clothes and into something green.  It was an unusually warm and sunny day in the Pittsburgh area.  Like with any nice day, Olivia’s friend Hannah would see Olivia playing outside and would cross our street to  join her.  Hannah, a girl from an Irish family was decked out in Kelly green shorts and 2 pony  tails with green pompoms.  Olivia only had limited time to play since she had an indoor soccer game that started at 1pm at Pittsburgh Indoor Soccer Association (PISA).  She was a bit disappointed that she had to end her play time with Hannah to get ready for soccer to the point  that she was a bit resistant to do so.  I remember slamming my hand down on her white desk in her room to let her know that I was a bit annoyed.  Annoyed at what?  I think it was just me and my short temper, which was unnecessary.  Olivia just looked at me with a little bit of remorse in her eyes and I looked back at her the same.  I continued to get her ready for soccer; blue shirts today.  Same blue shirt and shorts that she would be buried in.  Her soccer team was blue and white.  She was a member of the Harmar Soccer Club U-9 girls team, the Harmar Cheetahs.  U-9 meant that the girls were under the age of 9 (the girls were all 8 or 9 years of age depending where their birthdays fell in the calendar year).  I pulled Olivia’s hair back into a pony tail.  She had such thick hair; like me.  



My parents were at my house to watch Ainsley since the soccer game was during nap time.  My dad, who is a very handy person, came to the house with a broomstick in hopes to fix the girls’ playground ladder; which had broken off.  The playground that we had in our backyard was purchased as a used one.  I bought it off of a gentleman through Craig’s List.  The nice man disassembled the wooden playground, loaded it onto his trailer bed, then drove it to our house.  It was the best $200 that I had spent!  My dad would fix the ladder then meet us at Olivia's game.
Erick, Olivia, and I left our house a littler early for the soccer game because we had to stop off at Lowe’s to order new bedroom carpeting for Olivia’s new bedroom.  We were moving Olivia into the bigger of the two main level bedrooms and moving Ainsley into the smaller one.   Olivia and Erick had already finished painting her new bedroom walls a beautiful lavender color so carpeting was our next step to the room swap could begin.  We had ordered her new bedspreads that were a cheerful yellow color and her room would be accented in teal blue.  We were going to put two single beds in her room in case a friend was sleeping over or if Ainsley wanted to sleep in her big sister's room.  I think Ainsley would have loved doing that.  In my head, I can still picture how it was supposed to look.  I had purchased her some cool artwork of dogs playing with soccer balls.  Our good friend Dan was building a desk for her room that looked like a doghouse.  I never did get to see the finished product; if he had finished it.  I don’t think I want to see it.  
Erick and Olivia dropped me off at Lowe’s and went to pick up some take out lunch from Panera.  I went in to order the carpeting and started the process by consulting with one of the store flooring employees.  By the time I had someone, Olivia and Erick were back with me and we decided on a color that was very similar to the carpeting in her current room.  We were all satisfied, we placed our order, then hopped back in the car and headed to PISA.  
Erick was an assistant coach for Olivia’s team so I sat by myself in the front row of the bleachers to watch the game.  It was hot in the arena since it was so warm outside today.  My dad came over and sat next to me and we watched the first half of her game.  The girls were really starting to play well as a team.  At the half way break, I told my dad that they had a pub upstairs and suggested that we go up a get a cold beer.  We went up and ordered two bottles of beer.  They were very cold and very refreshing.  From the pub, you are able to look through a window down onto the field that the Harmar Cheetahs were playing.  We sat up there and watched the rest of their game from the bird’s eye view.   My dad inquired about our upcoming trip to Florida for the family gathering.  I reminded him that we were flying out on this upcoming Friday, March 23, 2012.  He was a bit stunned that our trip was so soon.  We talked a little bit about the details of getting to the airport and times that he  and my mom should pick up me and Olivia.
The game had finished and we met the girls at the usual spot outside of the field in which they had played.  Olivia’s face was beat red from being so hot.  Olivia was one of the fastest kids in her grade and she loved to run.  Soccer was the best sport for her.  Coach Clyde did his usual reminder of the next weeks practice and the next game.   “We won’t be here next Saturday,” I said, “We’ll be in Florida”.  Coach Clyde replied as if he was envious of our warm weathered vacation but I reminded him that it was equally warm in our area this week.  We said our good byes and headed outside to the 70 plus sunny day.  That was the last time that a lot of people saw Olivia alive. 
Olivia made a last minute decision and requested that she rides home in Pap’s car.  “OK”, we said.  Erick and I both knew that she wanted to ride home with Pap because there was an excellent chance that she could stop off at Glen’s Custard for some of the best custard around.  Sure enough, that is exactly what they did on their way home back to our home.  Being that it was St. Patrick’s day, Erick and I stopped off at the local six pack shop and picked up a growler of festive green beer for our evening.  
Once home, Ainsley was awake and my parents left.  The four of us went outside to our backyard and played.  We had a board that was laying in the yard where Erick would set our fire pit on so that he could burn things.  Olivia lifted the board and found worms.  She loved worms and other bugs (except spiders).  Ainsley and I were sitting in the grass by Olivia while she was digging and just watched her at work.  Olivia picked up a very large worm and held it up near Ainsley’s face.  Ainsley leaned back as far from it as her back would allow her and made a terrible face of fear.  Olivia and I both laughed at Ainsley’s reaction.  
Later that day, Olivia and Erick made homemade chicken fingers for dinner.  What a busy yet great day that was.  

Monday, December 7, 2015

sick child

My little girl has been sick since Thursday.  She started off with an AWFUL stomach bug.  On top of feeling terrible, we added a sinus infection.  Caring for a sick child is never fun.  For me, it's a time filled with fears and anxieties after watching Olivia struggle after our accident.

I was once a lover or all hospital shows like "ER" and "Grey's Anatomy" until I lived my own episode in 2012.  Now, I cannot see how people can watch the heartache of a dying patient or the family that loves them so much even though I know it's not real.   Nonetheless, I can't watch those shows anymore.  They are too painful and bring back the memory of our tragic day on the St. John's River.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

By the chimney with care

After Olivia died, more than 3 1/2 years ago now, I vowed to her and to myself that I would never let anyone forget her.  Pictures of her stayed on the walls in our house, her bedroom door was left open at all times (even though it was starting to become cluttered with cards, gifts, drawings, and legal documents).  Erick, Ainsley, and I will watch home videos from time to time.

I've heard that some people who have lost a child can go in the exact opposite direction than where my grief took me.  I was told a story of a couple who had lost their 18 year old daughter in a car accident while she was in college in Florida.  After the funeral and "normalcy" returned to that family, the husband had requested that all pictures of his beautiful daughter be removed from the walls and no one should even speak of her. Understandably,  It was too painful for the father.  I'm not judging.  We all handle grief in our own ways.

I on the other hand, can't get enough of Olivia.  She is a part of everything  in me.  Since our fist Christmas card without her in 2012, she was still on the card.  She IS our family.

On our first Christmas without Olivia however, I did things a little different even though my Thanksgiving rebellion was a flop.  I didn't hang anyone's stocking over the fireplace except for Ainsley's and Penny's (our dog).  I hanged theirs on the staircase railing that year.  The Christmas tree, that usually stood in our front windows, was strategically placed to the left of our fireplace.  It looked awful there but I didn't care because it HAD to to different.  We had even planned a trip to Disney World over Christmas.  Anything to avoid waking up on Christmas morning without Olivia.  How can I possibly pretend to be excited for Christmas morning when she isn't here to open our bedroom door with excitement?  She would probably had been the most excited for Ainsley, who was starting to understand the Santa thing.  So, I called my Aunt Sherry, who lives a stones throw away from the Disney parks, to see if she'd mind some company.  We were welcomed with opened arms.  We flew out of Pittsburgh International Airport early on Christmas morning.  With that said, we'd have to trick our 2 year old  and Santa came on Christmas Eve morning for Ainsley's sake.

Now, it's our 4th Christmas without Olivia physically here but she certainly is present.  I have an ornament that looks like a red velvet envelop.  It's addressed to the North Pole and inside of it is a hand written letter to Santa Claus from Olivia.  I read it every year that I pull out our decorations and then carefully fold it back up and clip it back into the ornament.  She asked for a Go-Go Walking Puppy that year.  Santa obliged and it's still here with us.

This is the 3rd Christmas that I've gone back to hanging our stockings by the chimney with care.   All five stockings hang on the letters that  spell out the word PEACE.


Sunday, November 29, 2015

Traditions

Each year since I can remember, Erick heads up to "camp" for the first day of buck season.  I would stay home with Olivia, Olivia and Ainsley, and now just Ainsley.  When it was just Olivia and me, I'd let her sleep in bed with me and we'd fall asleep watch a movie.  I remember one year watching The Wizard of Oz, which she loved, and I fell asleep before she did.

She loved that movie so much that we redecorated her bedroom one year with a Dorothy theme.  My good friend, Jessie and I went to JoAnn Fabric and got blue and white gingham print material so that Jessie could sew new curtains that looked like Dorothy's dress.  Olivia's bedroom walls were already yellow so the yellow brick road was taken care of!  I bought, online, pictures of different scenes from the movie.  Her room looked awesome.  Olivia's 5th birthday party was themed after tThe Wizard of Oz too.  We ended up bringing all of her decor to her new room once we moved but later changed it to a different theme.  The Wizard of Oz decor sits in a box...... I won't be getting rid of that stuff.

Ainsley and I are also watching movies as dad is away fat camp.  Tonight, we'll watch The Grinch after the Steeler game ends of course.  One tradition that won't be maintained is that Ainsley the Party Animal won't be sleeping in bed with me.  We'd be up all night if she had a say in it!

When it was Olivia, Ainsley, and I at home it was so nice because I'd put Ainsley to bed early since she was only very young.  Olivia and got that precious alone time.  Oh how I wish that I could have them both here with me so that we could start new traditions during our girls weekend.




Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Steeler Dog

When we were in college, Erick surprised me with a new puppy.  A black labrador retriever.  Neither one of us really thought this through.  Erick bought this little bundle of black fur for a steal and drove the 3 hour car ride to my parents' house where I was home on break.  When he arrived, I opened the door to see Erick and a little puppy standing there with wobbly legs and big brown eyes looking up at me.  Two of my best guy friends came over that night to hang out with Erick, me and our new puppy.  We all tried to come up with the perfect name for her.  I was going for the cute names but the guys weren't having it.  We were all huge Pittsburgh Steeler fans so the name Steeler was suggested.  I wasn't convinced but Mark and Dan kiddingly said that they would not call her anything but Steeler and that would certainly confuse the dog.......  so, there you have it, it's settled.  Steeler it is.

We both had to return back to our universities where neither one of us were allowed pets at our apartments/houses.  Erick had arranged for his youngest sister, Anne, to watch Steeler while we were away at school.  Erick's mom wasn't a huge dog lover so there were some rules about where Steeler would stay in the house; the basement.  Like all puppies, Steeler was a chewer.  No, a destructive chewer!  She ate just about anything that she could in that basement.  She eventually grew out of that, I graduated from college, retuned back to my parents' house to live, and Steeler had a new home with me.

In 1998, Erick and I  purchased our first home in Edgewood.  Steeler would now have a permanent home with us.  Steeler was probably the best dog I've ever had or known (sorry for my current dog Penny).  She was so kind and gentle.  She never left our yard and when Olivia arrived home in 2003, it was love at first sight.  Steeler was always sitting near her.  Once Olivia started to crawl, walk, and interact with Steeler, they became even closer.  Olivia LOVED her Steeler dog.



In July of 2008, we sold our house in Edgewood but hadn't found a house to move to at this point.  We decided that we'd rent an apartment in Oakmont since that is where we ultimately wanted to buy.  We'd rent there and get a feel for the area, get used to the bus route and commuting, and then look at the houses that were for sale in the area.  Olivia would be starting Kindergarten in the fall.  Since I worked for the University of Pittsburgh, Olivia would be enrolled in the University Child Development Center Kindergarten program.  She had already attended the program for day care/preschool so this was a very simple transition for her.  We'd enroll her into public school once she entered first grade.  It made life easier for us too.  Erick would drive me and Olivia to her school, which started at 9am, then I would walk/bus a few city blocks to my office.  

The apartment that we were renting from only allowed dogs that were under 30 pounds so Steeler, our 90 pound pet,  was again moved from her home to live with my parents.  Steeler didn't mind because she LOVED my dad.  She could get all the salami and bologna that she wanted from that guy!  One day in September, my dad called me at work to say that Steeler had a massive growth on her left shoulder.  It appeared out of nowhere.  I called the vet and got her in right away to be seen.  The doctor informed me and Erick that Steeler had what appeared to be bone cancer.  At her age, 12, there was nothing that we could do but to keep her comfortable.  The doctor sent us home with some heavy pain medications for her.  Erick and I did not feel right leaving Steeler with my parents so we wrote a letter to our landlord asking permission for our dying dog to reside at our third story apartment.  We may have stretched the truth a little and said that Steeler was under 50 pounds......  but I din't care.  Steeler was worth it.

Every morning, Erick would have to carry Steeler downstairs and outside of the apartment complex so that she could go to the bathroom.  After Olivia and I would come home from work and school, I'd have to somehow hold up Steeler's upper body so that she didn't have to put much pressure on that shoulder as she come down the 3 flights of steps.  Typing this story makes me feel like this was a bit cruel but it didn't last long.  In mid October, Erick got up to get Steeler outside and he came back into our bedroom crying.  He told me that he's making the executive decision that we're going to put Steeler down today.  She can no longer stand up on her own.  Olivia was still sleeping in the second bedroom so I got up and called then vet.  "I think it's time to put her down", I say.   Hearing those words come out of my mouth was  heartbreaking.  The receptionist tells me to just bring her in when we're ready.  

So, here is how is went.......

Olivia is now up and getting ready for school.  Erick and I are getting ready for work.  Steeler is just laying on her bed.  We have decided not to tell Olivia what is going to happen until it has happened.  I don't know what the right thing is to do in this situation.  Olivia was only 5 1/2 years old.  The same age as Ainsley is right now........

We tell Olivia that we're taking Steeler to the vet this morning for a check up because she's not feeling well.  I put Steeler's bed in the back of our SUV.  Erick lifts up Steeler and lays her on the bed.  We drive to Olivia's school and Olivia gets out of the car.  She wants to say good-bye to Steeler.  I opened up the hatch back door and startled Steeler.  She must have leaned up against the door while we were driving.  She almost rolled our of the back of the car!  Holy shit, that would have been bad.  Olivia gave her buddy her final hug goodbye.  I walked Olivia into school and hugged her good-bye.  

Erick and I then drove out to Murrysville where our vet was located.  We never changed vets once we moved from the Edgewood area.  We really liked that clinic.  Once at the clinic, Erick carried Steeler out of the car and to a door that was located around the back of the clinic.  I was given these instructions over the phone.  We entered the door and the doctor was waiting for us.  She kneels down to Steeler and says, "Your wheels aren't working anymore, huh?"  Erick lifts Steeler up onto an exam table, they explain what is going to happen, and just like that it's starting.  I am holding her head and looking into her brown eyes telling her what a good dog she is.  She is looking at me but  shifts her eyes to the needle that is inserted into her front paw.  She looks back up at me as I begin to cry.  I can hear Erick crying as he's petting her.  Just like that, she closes her eyes and her head falls heavy into my hands........  she's gone.  I turn and place my head into Erick's chest, he puts his arms around me, and we both cry.    

Both of us decided to go to work after that.   I was useless.  I sat at my desk for the few hours that I was at work and cried for most of the day.  I remember calling my friend Tracey to tell her about Steeler.  I can't sit there anymore so I walk over to the Carnegie Library and ask the librarian to help me find books about losing a pet.  We find a few but one in particular will end up being my favorite, "A Dog Like Jack". 

It is now time to leave and do what is going to be one of the hardest things  I can imagine, pick up Olivia from school.  I got to her school before Erick did so I went in and whispered to her teacher that Steeler had died and that Olivia would not be at school the following day.  Olivia and I walk outside towards Erick as he is waiting for us in the car.  Olivia's class made masks that day out of brown paper bags.  She has her mask on as she asks me, "Where's Steeler?"  I'm trying to avoid answering this because I want to wait until we are in the car.  She removes her mask and repeats her question to me but now demanding an answer.  I think she knew......  I bend down to Olivia's level, look her in the eyes,  and say to her, "She died."  I reach out to her and hug her as hard as I can.  She is so silent.  The ride home is equally silent.  That night, Erick reads "A Dog Like Jack" to Olivia.  I leave the room so that no one sees me cry again.  Once he  finishes, I return and sit with Olivia on her bed.   I can tell that she is so sad but is  holding it in.  She surrenders, breaks down and sobs.  She is truly sad and heartbroken.  I had never seen her sad before.  I've seen her cry but that was from skinning a knee, not true raw emotion.  Now my heart is breaking for her heart.  She curls up and lays against me and we both cry.  Our Steeler dog is gone.  

The next morning, Olivia and I stay home.  We pull out tape, glue, paper, and all of the pictures that we have of Steeler and we make a memory book of our beloved dog.  What great therapy that was.    I still have the book.  It was in Olivia's room with her personal items.  As for the book, "A Dog Like Jack", we buried that with Olivia so that she'd always be connected with Steeler.  


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

LaLa's spot

As the weather starts to change, the leaves have mostly fallen from the trees, and the days are very short, it becomes harder for me to visit Olivia at her burial site.  

The first year after we buried Olivia, we visited her on a weekly basis.  She is buried across the street from the church that we joined in 2010.  Visiting Olivia is our church.  Usually on Sundays, we will drive the 20 minutes to visit Olivia and not even go to church.  Going to church is hard for us.  Being inside the church where  we sat for her funeral is depressing.  There are days that I feel like being in church  but for most Sundays, I would rather be visiting Olivia.  

I know that she got more visits from friends and family  over that first year.  Almost every other week there would be something left at her grave site such as flowers, notes, balloons, or trinkets.  Now, not so much.  I wonder if people still visit her but just don't bring anything to her or if she doesn't get many visits since it's been over 3 years that we buried our sweet Olivia.  Our Lala.  

Every year, my good friend Lisa orders a grave blanket for Olivia.  It's so nice to see that beautiful greenery lay atop her spot with red velvet bows and signs of love.  It makes our winter visits a little less miserable.  

Friday, November 20, 2015

Thanksgiving

As Thanksgiving approaches, I think back to the Thanksgivings we had as a complete family.  We really only had 2 Thanksgivings where both Olivia and Ainsley were together, 2010 and 2011.  Olivia never made it to 2012.....

November 2011, we decided that we'd host our first ever Thanksgiving.  Olivia was so excited!  She loved hosting parties and helping to prepare for them.  She would even help clean the house before company would arrive.  She was so excited to be hosting Thanksgiving that she created name plates for each of our guest with a saying on why she was thankful for that person.  It pains me that not only did I NOT keep my name plate, but I don't remember what she was thankful for.  I choose not to dwell on things like that.....  those regrets can only eat you alive.  Instead, I have these wonderful family pictures to reflect on and know that she was thankful, as am I, for each other.


Little did we know that this would be our last Thanksgiving as a complete family......

The following year, I had decided that I didn't want to celebrate Thanksgiving because well, I wasn't at all thankful.  I was completely anti-Thanksgiving.  I bought a beef roast and put it in the crock pot that morning, unwillingly let Ainsley watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade, and listened to the pounding in my chest become louder and faster as the day went on.  We did promise that we'd stop in to visit family on the North Side of Pittsburgh.  It was a beautiful November day and quite warm.  On our way to our visit, I asked Erick to stop off at Giant Eagle so that I could get my blood pressure read from one of those automated machines.  My blood pressure was extremely high.  I've always had low to normal blood pressure so this was a bit concerning to me.  I asked Erick to get his read  in hopes that the machine was off.  Nope.  Erick's was normal.  I took mine again.......  140/100!   Erick, as always, is calming  me down and tries to ease my mind.  We continued with our plans and drive the rest of the way to my father-in-law's house.  

Once we arrive, I immediately ask Nancy (Erick's dad's wife)  if she has a blood pressure cuff.  Nancy is a nurse so I sort of knew that she would have one.  I explain my dilemma and we go upstairs to her bedroom.  She takes my pressure and it's now higher.  She tells me to lay down and relax, takes it again, and it's still high, 150/100!    Holy shit, I'm going to die.  I jump up and declare that I'm going to the emergency room.  The closest ER is literally within walking distance, but Erick drives me there.  Nancy took care of keeping things quiet so that neither my parents or Ainsley would worry.

I entered the triage area of Allegheny General Hospital.  After a very brief set of questions by the triage nurse, I'm being escorted, by foot, to a room and thenI'm  hooked up to monitors.  Erick has parked the car and comes into my room where Thanksgiving Day football is on the TV.  He's content.  Two different doctors run tests on me to rule out a stroke.  No, I didn't have a stroke.  They then tell me that my heart is fine.  Lastly, they ask me a series of questions about stress.  Here it comes, I have to tell someone my story.  My daughter died in March.  Every time I say it, there it is, the lump in my throat, the sting in my eyes, the elephant in the room.  Is the elephant sitting on my chest?  

Blood work comes back all normal and I'm diagnosed with anxiety.  I had my first panic attack on Thanksgiving Day 2012.  Am I thankful that I didn't have a stroke?  

Hell no.

I am still anti-Thanksgiving at his point and am not thankful in 2012.  

I am discharged from the hospital.  Erick and I return back to our family and I cry when I see the concern and love from everyone in the room.  Then, there is Ainsley.  She is so happy and doesn't have a clue as to what just happened to her unstable mommy.  

We finally make our way back home and the roast in the crock pot is WAY over cooked.  It sucks.  

I have since learned that I cannot change the inevitable.  I cannot hide.  I can control my anxiety, which takes some time to learn how and some help from a therapist.  And, I can be thankful for Ainsley, Erick, and my family but I don't have to like the way things turned out for us.  



Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Pancakes with the Principal

Today, I attended Pancakes with the Principal with Ainsley and the other Kindergarteners.  I felt so fortunate to be a part of this yearly function since I missed those 3 years when Olivia was in school due to my work schedule.

(my selfie skills need some work)

I have to admit,  these kids have fun with or without the company of their parents/guardians.  

(Thank you to my friend Mike for taking this great photo)


Monday, November 16, 2015

Camp

We went away over the weekend to my in laws house second home located on the Allegheny River just above Oil City, PA.  It's their "camp" - a house that faces the river with beautiful scenic views and indoor plumbing.  Now that's my kind of camp!

We've taken several weekend trips to camp since my in laws bought it back in 1995.  We took Olivia there for the first time when she was just 2 months old for a Father's Day weekend.  She grew up loving to spend weekends up there.  She loved to fish, canoe, play in the river, and catch bugs and toads.  We spent many evenings around campfires rating marshmallows and making S'mores.

We've kept coming back to camp so that Ainsley could experience the joys that her sister did for so many years.  Ainsley, who is in some ways different from Olivia, also enjoys everything there is to do at camp. As we traveled the 2 hour car trip home yesterday she asked us if we could come back to camp next weekend.....

At one point, my father-in-law had a jet propelled boat.   We spent many days fishing on the boat.  Those days are long gone since Olivia's accident in Florida.    The boat now sits on a trailer parked back behind the house as it collects dead leaves and spider webs.    There are some things that I'm not quite ready to do again even though I once loved to.  Boating is one of them.

Friday, November 13, 2015

A drawing to share

Olivia has a siter, Ainsley, who was 5 days shy of her s2nd birthday when Olivia died.  She doesn't remember much about her cherished big sister except for the things we have told her and by watching videos.  I'll get to their story at some point in my blog but I wanted to share with you something today.  

I was cooking dinner yesterday and listening to my playlist.  I added a song to it that was sung by Christina Bruni Bolcato at Olivia's funeral.  Of course, I began to cry because it takes me back to that day......  the day that closed the chapter of her life.  The day that we'd see her for the last time in the flesh.  The day that we'd say our final good-byes.  

Ainsley, my now 5 year old, is very in tuned with my emotions and correlates Olivia with sadness at times.  After seeing me cry, she got out her drawing pad and her markers and began to color a picture.  


The 3 people at the bottom are me, Erick, and Ainsley.  Olivia is in the middle, going up to Heaven.  those are God's hands reaching down to Olivia and an angel at the top left.  Because this is scanned, I was told by Ainsley that I cut off God's hair.  I think you get the idea.  





Thursday, November 12, 2015

Home at last

Being 3 weeks early certainly presents it's challenges for a little girl but I had no idea how many we'd face.  After her first day in this world, Olivia had many visitors from new grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, and even a great great aunt.  Needless to say, we were all thrilled with the arrival of the first baby born in this generation.

Because Olivia was born cesarian, I was already told that I could not be released to go home as quickly as most new mothers.  After a couple of days, I was in my zone with the help of the nurses in the hospital.  They would bring Olivia from the nursery to me in the wee hours of the night to feed her.  During the day, she'd spend the whole time in her little bassinet next to my bed or in my arms.  Man, this was pretty easy being a new mom.

Probably after 3 days, things started moving a little faster now with doctors coming in and out of the room to visit both me and Olivia.  The pediatrician started noticing that Olivia's skin color had a yellowish-green tint to it.  She was jaundiced.  OK, that's normal.  Nurses would take her for a few hours and put her under a special light in an incubator.  This minor set back would mean that we would not be discharged as originally thought.  Now, it's day 4 and Olivia is still jaundiced PLUS she failed the carseat test.  The carseat test measures the newborns oxygen saturation levels as they are seated in their carseat.  Erick had previously brought in our new carseat for this test and to hopefully take Olivia home with us.    Olivia's  oxygen levels dropped so leaving the hospital wasn't going to happen today.  However, I am scheduled to be released today.

 I am very calm and pretty much have no reaction.  I'm not sure this is processing in my brain as the pediatrician tells me that due to the jaundice and the carseat test failure I can go home but Olivia must stay in the pediatric intensive care unit tonight.  I still have no reaction.  Minutes later, the news hits me hard.  I'm on the phone crying to Erick then to my mom.  Again, this is not how this was supposed to happen.  Leaving the hospital without my baby was the hardest thing that I have ever done.......  so I thought.

The rest of the day is a complete blur......  I am now home and Erick is doing laundry for me.  I am not allowed to do a lot of steps because of my stitches and our laundry room is in the basement.  Our bedroom was located on the third story of our house, our bathroom on the second level, so we set up an air mattress in the empty room located on the second level of our hose next to Olivia's bedroom for me to sleep.

 I had no baby to feed but you can't tell my breasts that.  I set an alarm clock to wake me up every two hours so that I could pump.

The next morning, we awoke, showered (I think), and went to Babies R Us to buy Olivia some new clothes because although we had a ton of adorable newborn clothing, nothing fit our little 5 1/2 pound peanut.  We bought her some premature baby clothes.  One in particular that I remember buying was a pink and while one piece with a butterfly on the belly.  Oh, and those tiny socks couldn't be any cuter.  We also had to buy premature diapers.  I kept one to one day show Olivia how little she once was.  I have a box that sits on my bedroom dresser that holds that little diaper, hospital wrist and ankle bands that both Olivia and I wore, empty bottles  from when the nurses fed her while she stayed away from us that one dreadful night and her little pink cap that they placed on her tiny head after birth.

We arrive at the hospital and rushed right over to the incubator where she was "baking".  The nurses say that she's doing well and the jaundice was subsiding.  It's now game time.  Time for the ultimate test......  the carseat test.  Can she pass it?  This time, we are present for the test.  I'm not sure why we weren't there when they performed it the first time.  One of the nurses handed Olivia to me and I, oh so carefully, set her into the carseat, which looks like it could swallow her whole. She was hooked up to the oxygen saturation device and we wait.......  Olivia looked up at all of us with those blue eyes as we stared down at her without breathing.  She passes!  Now, I can breathe.

We sign all of the discharge papers and listen carefully to the instructions and walk out of the hospital, put Olivia in the  carseat base in the back seat of our JeepCherokee, and drive home.  I sat in the back seat hovering over her and giving Erick a play-by-play of her every move, even if she was sleeping.

Home at last, home at last, Olivia is home at last.  Our journey as a family can now begin.


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Welcome Olivia

Let's go back in time to Friday, April 25, 2003.  I went to work that day as usual and had a good day at work with my awesome co-workders.  Usually on Fridays, it was slow so we did goof off quite a bit.  Our boss traveled a lot so goofing off was pretty easy.  I didn't say we didn't get our work done though.

That week, I started feeling tired again and my ankles would swell as I went through the day so I would put on a pair of slippers while sitting at my desk and put my feet up.  That would usually help but on Friday, it seemed to be worse.  I had one of our nurses check my blood  pressure and it was normal so I just chilled out with my slippers on for the day.

Around 4pm I made it home via the bus and walked through our kitchen door to meet our dog, Steeler.  Steeler was a 7 year old  black labrador retriever.  I let her outside to relieve herself and then I went upstairs to relieve myself.  To my surprise, I relieved myself before getting to the bathroom.  Oops.  I thought that I should call the doctor to see if that was normal because I've never had that happen, at least while being pregnant. Yes, that's correct, I've peed my pants in the past.  My friends can confirm my weak bladder from laughing too hard but this was a bit different.  After talking to the doctor on the phone, he suggested that I go into the hospital to be sure that my water didn't break.  This was ok but my due date wasn't until May 19th!  It's a good thing that I am a very prepared person because my overnight bag was already packed.  I took from my bedroom and sat out on my back porch waiting for Erick to some home from work.

Erick was stopping off after work to pick up chicken wings for our Friday night dinner so I knew that he would be a little late so I continued to wait patiently.  I was in no pain, no discomfort, and had no anxiety (which was odd since I tend to be an anxious person).  It was a beautiful Friday and Steeler and I  just sat outside while enjoying  the warm April breeze.  Finally, Erick pulled into our driveway which was located beside our detached garage.  He got out of the car with the chicken wings and looked at me with some concern sitting next to the overnight bag.  I told him to hurry up and eat because we're going to then hospital.  I remembered from those prenatal classes that the father should eat before going into the hospital because it could be a very long day/night.  Erick went into the house with Steeler following him and the chicken wings and he started stuffing wings into his mouth.  Erick is one of the most impressive chicken wing eaters I've ever seen.  He literally puts a wing into his mouth and within seconds  slides it back out and voila, it's just a clean bone.  So, stuffing these wings into his mouth wasn't a challenge for him.  Once he felt that the wings could sustain him for a potentially long night, we put Steeler back in the house and drove to the hospital which was only about 4 mile away.

We're now at the hospital and I'm in a room, hooked up to monitors and in a hospital gown because my water did break and I was in labor!  What?  OK, let's panic.  At this point, I have no idea what time it is and things are moving at a snail's pace.  I don't remember if things started to progress or if I started thinking that I  might  miss that window of opportunity for an epidural but there I was forehead to forehead with Erick and the anesthesiologist is behind me.  He opens up my gown to say, "What's all over your back?"   I told you that my acne would be a topic of conversation.  "It's acne." I tell him.  OK, the epidural is done and I'm laying in the bed when a doctor comes in with a little needle stick and he/she (I can't remember) sticks the needle into various spots on  both legs.  "Can you feel that?".  "Yes.."  "Can you feel that?"  "Yes."  Over and over again.  Yes, I can feel your poking my legs with a needle and yes, it sort of hurts! The freaking epidural didn't take.  So here comes my buddy again to stick another epidural into the spine of my acne back.  This time it works and I was feeling just fine.

I think it's now about 4am and I still have no baby.  I was dosing in and out of sleep when a female resident physician comes in to do an internal exam.  She tells us that she can feel the baby's head and that we should be ready to push soon.  Shortly after that, the attending physician, Dr. Thomas, comes in to see me and he also does an internal exam but doesn't say anything.  He leaves the room and returns with a sonogram machine.  He does the exam on my belly to reveal that  he wasn't feeling the head, rather it was a baby' bum!  Yes, the baby is breech.    Dr. Thomas very calmly gives us all of the options and facts about delivering a breech baby and I'm suddenly signing consent for a cesarean.  Not the way I had planned this at all!

I'm now being wheeled down a hallway with Erick by my side and taken into a room with very bright overhead lights.  My arms are strapped  out and down which was terrible and I'm given an oxygen mask while a nurse stands over my head like a prison wardon.  I'm not sure which one of those, the arms strapped down or the suffocating oxygen mask, were more uncomfortable.  In no time, I'm feeling my body being tugged at and Erick is holding my hand but trying to stand up to peak over the sheet that block us from my lower body.  I kept saying to him, "Stop looking.  You're going to pass out."  As long as I've known Erick, I've never known hime to pass out so I'm not sure why I said that.

Finally, I hear, "It's a girl"  then, silence.  I could hear the slapping sound but no crying.  It felt like an eternity.  Minutes went by with jus the slapping sound, my whole world paused.  For everything that went wrong today, was it going to end like this?  After my heart stood still, we heard it, a cry.  There she was all 5 pounds 8 ounces of her.  Erick said that her feet were smacked up right next to her ears.  She was completely folded in half.  Oh, but I still can't see her because I'm strapped down. with the prison guard above me.

The next thing that I remember is waking up in my original room.   I looked over to my right  to see Erick holding a tiny little baby while feeding her a bottle.  After all of that, I was too out of it to nurse and let alone hold my new  baby.

It's time now for me to be transferred to a new room so they put me in a wheelchair and hand me my baby, who has no name at this point.  A nurse start pushing me like t it was some kind of race because I was going at record speed through the halls of the hospital.  So fast, that I started feeling ill and had to hand over my baby to the nurse so that I could close my eyes to stop the nausea.  Gosh, this sucks!

After a few hours, I am now feeling capable of holding and loving my new peanut of a sweet baby girl.  We are reminded that  visiting hours will begin at 11am and we have no name for our baby girl.  I knew her name. I always did.  I just never committed to it officially until April 26, 2003.

Welcome to the world Olivia Helen Wade.  


Monday, November 9, 2015

back on track

It's been quite a few days since I've blogged.

I hada a few bad days after attending my daughter's school PTA meeting last week.  My daughter , Ainsley, started Kindergarten this year and is attending the same school as her big sister, my Olivia did for first through third grades.  The same school that local news stations camped out  in front of after Olivia's death was public knowledge.

When Olivia was in grade school, I was a working mom so I was unable to do a lot of the things that I am now able to do since I no longer work.  It made me sad that I didn't attending the Pancakes with the Principal  breakfast with Olivia.  I never even considered that maybe she felt bad not having a parent with her while other kids did have parents with them.    My guilt was overwhelming for me when I returned home after the meeting last Thursday.  I felt like the worst mom ever.

I know that I wasn't a bad  mom but I would have given anything to change my role back then.

I am going to be a better blogger  to my followers.




Wednesday, November 4, 2015

friends forever

Yesterday, I went for a lovely walk with my neighbor and friend, Julie and my dog, Penny.  Julie and I talk about various things when we walk.  She had asked me how my blog was coming along and I started talking about some of the ironies of Olivia's death and the week before our fateful trip.  Julie had revealed something that I've never known about until yesterday.

First,  a little background of our relationships.  Julie, who lives across the street from us is the mother of a young girl, Hannah, who became friends with Olivia shortly after we moved into our home in November of 2008.  Even though Hannah was two grades older than Olivia, they played so well together.



That week in March of 2012  before Olivia and I left for our weekend in Florida where we would be in that awful accident and Olivia would lose her life, was an unusually warm week.   The two of them probably played outside together just about everyday that week.

While we were in Florida and possibly Olivia was already gone, Hannah and Julie had gone for a walk while this stretch of unseasonable weather continued.  Hannah, a bit disappointed that her friend was out of town for such a nice weekend, says to Julie, "Now what am I going to do this weekend?"    Hannah and Julie would have had no idea that Olivia would not return home with me.

Hannah would  have to face many more weekends without her beloved friend, Olivia.





Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The beauty of pregnancy

Being pregnant was so wonderful to me spiritually and emotionally but physically......  not so much.  I was SO tired for the first few months.  I would fall asleep sitting on the couch around 6pm.  I remember that I couldn't even stay up for a Monday Night Football game to watch my Pittsburgh Steelers!  In fact, I think I missed kick off.  

I was turned off by smells of food so I couldn't really eat much.  However, when I was hungry, WATCH OUT.  I was usually hungry for something completely unhealthy like a McDonalds double cheese burger, which I ordered with nothing on it but cheese.  

At this point, Erick and I haven't told anyone that I was pregnant but I think people are suspicious of me at work because of my eating patterns and temper, but I'm not sure.  I'd tell them soon enough.

Now, it's late October of 2002 and we've told our friends and family that we're expecting.  Everyone was so excited for us.  Both my parents and Erick's would be expecting their first grandchild so the excitement levels were high.     The weird eating habits and exhaustion would eventually subside and I would feel fantastic with life growing inside of me.  

Shortly thereafter, the physical part of being pregnant took another turn for the worse when I started noticing bumps on my back.  Was it a rash?  Acne?  I don't know at this point because I can't really see it.  One weekend morning, I walk downstairs and enter the kitchen where Erick is cooking breakfast or making coffee and I lift up my shirt to reveal my back and ask him what's going on back there.  I was expecting him to gently tell me that I have a slight rash or something and just dismiss it like he usually does but instead he says, "There's millions of bumps"!  Looking back now, that still makes me giggle.  I would eventually ask the doctors and also see a dermatologist but basically there is nothing that they can give me to heal the crazy ACNE that is developing on my back and eventually it moves to my neck and jaw line.  Lovely.   

As the months go by, the acne gets worse and becomes painful and usually ends up the topic of conversation because someone would  ask me about it.  That would usually embarrass me.  It's not easy to hide.    I think I simply became used to it.  

 Even men got in on the conversation about my skin.  One theory that my MALE boss came up with was that I was carrying a boy and it was the overload of testosterone that was casing my skin to break out.    That theory would be proven wrong several months later.  

Other than the acne, being pregnant was well, .......  fun!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Beginning

Let me take you  way back to the very beginning of my story.

I was married in 1999 to my high school sweetheart, Erick.  We both were working at pretty good jobs - Erick, an accountant, and  I, as a research coordinator at the University of Pittsburgh.  We owned a home in the suburbs of Pittsburgh  which was very convenient  for me to get to work since it was on a bus line.  I had to bus into and from work because I don't have a driver's license.

Yes, that's right, I don't drive.  I never did (well at least not legally).  When I was a Sophomore in high school, I started noticing that I couldn't make out the writing on the  chalkboards very clearly and people's faces were blurred from a distance.  After a few tests with on the the best Ophthalmologists in the city, it was determined that I would be diagnosed with Stargardt's Disease.  I like to explain to people that i's very similar to Macular Degeneration but instead, it occurs in children and adolescents.  So, I was given corrective lenses to help with the vision that I still had but there are no treatments for the disease itself.  So, I sat up front in all of my classes and my teachers would give me large print versions of tests, etc.  I couldn't read anything from a regular text book.  The local Lion's Club provided me with a Closed Circuit TV (CCTV) which is a machine that magnifies text.  It was the only way I could read anything clearly.

I think back to my high school years (which I absolutely adored) and think people must have not known about my visual impairment unless they were in a class with me.  I probably ignored people walking through the hallways of school because I honestly couldn't make out faces clear enough sometimes to identify someone.

How do I do work on the computer?  There are such great resources now for people with visual handicaps.  I use a program called Zoom Text.  It automatically enlarged the fonts and icons to whatever size I set it up to be.  It's wonderful.  Yes, I still miss things and easily make typos but it does the job.

I digress....

OK, we're married and working, living in Edgewood, and we own a dog and a few fish.  Pretty easy life.  After all of our close friends all got married, some of them decided to start having families.  We weren't quite there yet.  We really liked the freedom of this life of no real responsibilities.  Then as the babies started arriving,  I started to get the  itch.  We decided to not try but not take precautions either.  In September of 2002, we found out that we were expecting a baby.

THIS is where the story of Olivia would begin.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

No Yoga for you

So much for releasing stress and anxiety in hot yoga today.  Instead, we sat in traffic and rain behind a few fire trucks due to an accident.  Home now, safe and sound.  I suppose I'll do a T25 workout instead.  

I do hope that everyone else is safe and sound today as well.


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

one day in as a blogger

Well, I've done it.  I've started writing my own blog.  I wrote my first post this afternoon.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow's HOT yoga class with my friends.  We started going several months ago and I've really become addicted to the release of stress that it gives me.  I swear I can feel the toxins of anxiety and stress ooze out of my pores.  Do the stress and anxiety return?  Yes, but that is why I keep returning each Wednesday.    I can also tell you that I'm utterly ravenous after each hour and 15 minute yoga session.

I never much physical activity while Olivia was alive.  It wasn't interesting enough to me.  Other than walking my dog, that was about the extent of my exercise routine.  It wasn't until about a year after Olivia passed when I contacted a local personal trainer, Tim.  I started meeting with him once a week back in March of 2013.  He really helped me to enjoy activity and made me more confident in my abilities and strengths.

They say that exercise is good for the sour, right?  I think so.

Welcome

Welcome to my new blog, Liv Strong.

I chose this title because I used to call my daughter, Olivia, Liv.  She is now the reason that I decided to start this blog.  I will share with you my journey through life with and without my sweet Olivia.

For those of you who my be  new to mine and Liv's story, this picture is of Olivia.  She was a third grader when this picture was taken.  It's her school picture that appeared  in the yearbook.  Not as a student who was moving onto a new school and the 4th grade but as a student that never did finish her 3rd grade year.  Her picture included her birth and death dates along with a abbreviated version of our poem to her.  Olivia was died about 5  months after this picture was taken in a boating accident while she and I along with my parents and other extended family members were gathering for a weekend of fun and reconnection in Florida.