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.