Tuesday, November 7, 2017


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***

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Keeping a Promise

Before leaving school on Thursday, March22, 2012, Olivia had given her best friend,  Lexi,  a silver box.  In the box, she had placed a picture of herself, an angel pendant, and other trinkets.  As she gave Lexi the box, she told her, :So you don't forget me."


That was the last time that Lexi would see her best friend.  

Best friends are given that title for several reasons.  One reason (which I think it's pretty much the most important one) is that they keep promises.  

Five years later, Lexi has done just that.  She hasn't forgotten her third grade friend after all of these years or maturing and learning herself as a teenager.  

Lexi recently completed the third and final  holy sacraments within the Catholic Church.  She has been confirmed.  

The sacrament of confirmation is one of the three initiation rites for Catholics, the other two being Baptism, and Holy Communion. According to Catholic doctrine, in the sacrament of Confirmation, the faithful are sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit and are strengthened in their Christian life.

When  confirmed in the Catholic Church, young adults choose a confirmation name.   In many countries, it is customary for a person being confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church (and some Anglican dioceses) to adopt a new name, generally the name of a saint, thus securing an additional patron saint as protector and guide.

When I was confirmed (oh some 30 years ago,), I chose my deceased grandmother's name, Elizabeth.  Lexi could have chosen a family name but instead, she chose to remember her "BFF" by taking Olivia as her confirmation name.  

She never did forget you Olivia and neither have so many others.  

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A great memory.

Five years ago today, this is what my girls were doing.

Enjoy their laughter.   

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Finding Connections

During the beginning of Olivia's third grade year at school, a letter from the school was sent home about the sudden death of a first grader at Acmetonia Primary.  A little boy, six years old, gone.  I didn't know of the little boy nor of his family.  While putting Olivia to bed one evening, she and I talked about his death.  Since I knew nothing of the situation, the conversation was sort of brief.  I don't think that Olivia was scared but nonetheless,she was  curious.  

Who would ever dream that six months later, Olivia would be gone too and parents would be having discussions with their children about the death of a child while tucking them into bed at night.  

In the weeks after Olivia's death, I was also contacted by a woman who had lost her daughter in an act of violence.  She had asked if she, her husband, and another childless mother could come and talk to me about my sufferings.  I gave them the OK to come to my home to talk with me.  Not knowing who the people were, I started rethinking my decision to have strangers who claim to have lost a child come to my house while I'm alone.  My neighbor/friend, J, agreed to sit with me while they stopped by.  The three of them come over and couldn't have been more sincere.  There was M, an older woman, who described to me that her son had lost his battle with AIDS in his mid twenties.  The older couple that  came with M, had tragically lost their daughter several years back by an ex boyfriend who decided  to shoot their lovely daughter.  

While both stories of loss are tremendously sad, I couldn't relate.  They had their children so much longer that I got to have Olivia on earth with me.  They got to see their children  go on first dates, get a driver's licenses, and graduate from high school.  I didn't even get to see my sweet angel finish third grade.  

On the other hand, I was fortunate that I didn't lose Olivia to an act of violence where I would have to go to court hearings and have such anger or resentment towards my daughter's murderer.  I'm fortunate that I didn't watch my child suffer through a hittable illness.  

But yet, I just couldn't make a connection with that lovely couple and woman who didn't have to reach out to me.  They could have just read the articles in the newspaper and thought, "Oh, what a shame."

On my first Mother's Day after Olivia passing, the mother who lost her daughter to violence stopped by while I was mowing the lawn.   Yes, I cut the grass on Mother's Day.  She had a bouquet of flowers for me and a hug.  I asked her, "What do you do each Mother's Day?"  She replied, "I cry."    I never did stay connected to that lovely woman......  

I needed to find that little boy's mother.  I needed to talk to someone that experienced sudden loss of a little kid and know that I'm not the other mother who feels this emptiness.  

Through the help of my wonderful neighbor, J, we located the little boy's mom and I called her. In all honesty,  I really didn't expect her to even entertain the notion that we meet for coffee or whatever but she did call me back and we did make plans to meet for coffee.  I invited her to my home and again, she  accepted my invitation.  

Two grieving mothers (and a little grieving sister)......  what the hell do you talk about?  The only thing we knew what to talk about.  Our stories.  

She spoke of the day that she lost her son and I shared with her about the deaths of my tragic day.   She shred with me the fact that a baseball field had been dedicated in her son's memory and how she had gotten a tattoo in his memory on the back of her neck.  Both of those would get my ideas spinning.........

We went to a short walk with Ainsley, talked some more, then parted ways to never meet up with each other again.  I don't know why......  perhaps that's all we needed from each other was comfort that we knew that there was another mom whose child was taken away from them in the blink of an eye?  

Perhaps I'm not meant to connect with a mother that shares a very similar loss.  Perhaps I'm supposed to continue to make the connections, or even friendships with the people that I have been bonding with since Olivia's death.  Make those friendships stronger.  Perhaps those  connections and friendships are what keeps me going.  

Thursday, January 12, 2017


For the first few days/weeks after Olivia's untimely death, I was still numb.  In fact, I could almost set my mind to believing that she was just at summer camp (she's never even gone to summer camp before).  This was  only"temporary".    But NO, it wasn't.  She was not coming home.

Sitting down at our dining table  for dinner but now i was just the three of u.  Looking at her empty chair made it all too real.   Walking past her bedroom on a daily basis, knowing that she wasn't going to lay her head down on her pillow ever again......  I started to realize that this was not temporary.  It was, in fact, permanent...........  This was our forever.

I'm sure that every mom who has lost a child handles the empty room differently.    I turned to listening to audible books about death and read that one mother kept her child's room exactly the same.  Almost like a shrine.  In fact, one mother describes that she even left a dried up piece of bubble gum that her child stuck on the dresser drawers.  

I can relate. 

 Some parents chose to close the door because the site of the empty room was too painful.  

Again, I can relate.  

In my case, I went through phases.  I couldn't keep her room as a shrine because my mother-in-law stayed with us for a few days after Olivia's death and she slept in her bed.  The shrine was already null and void.  

Hundreds of sympathy cards were piling up in our home.   What do you do with all of these cards?  Which, by the way, I still have them AND still haven't read all of them.  I started storing them in Olivia's room.  Additionally, while preparing for Olivia's funeral service we rummaged through all of her beautiful artwork and priceless writings that she had saved under her bed and in her desk drawers.  

The guidance counselor from her school kindly delivered Olivia's artwork and other school items and work that she left behind.  We also received wonderful tributes to Olivia from her friends and classmates.  Those all went straight to her room.  

Her room was no longer empty.  It was filled with the reminders of our loss.

Oddly enough, Erick and I felt comfort spending time her her room even if it was for a few moments.  We felt connected to our sweet Olivia.

 Then there were the moments of use walking past her room with the open door that would bring me to my knees.......