Jan3

1 Year. 1 Month. 1 Day.

118 comments
January 3, 2012 |  by  |  Featured Story, My Stories

That’s the amount of time we had with my niece.  Her name is Olivia.

The day after we finished our 2,690 mile move and cross-country drive from California to Maryland, my wife got a phone call that forever changed the lives of our entire family.

It started out in the most incredible way. Ava was exploring her new cul-de-sac, playing with neighborhood kids, a hint of a cool, fall breeze was in the air and Jen had somehow managed to find her box containing her scarves and boots. She had broken them out and was walking out back to meet the mom who lived next door. A neighbor had actually come outside with a plate of cookies to offer, the mailman appeared and let the small kids help deliver the mail.

It was an oddly quintessential Norman Rockwell moment which solidified that our decision to move back east and raise our family here has been a good one. I’ll never forget those few hours.

They were the last in which our lives were completely perfect.

Of course, everyone has different definitions of perfection – but I can tell you with personal assurance that if your kids are healthy and you have a roof over your head, your life is perfect. Because all it takes is one glimpse into tragedy and pain, like my family would experience that Saturday night, to make you realize just how great things truly are – even when they may not seem that way.

My parents and in-laws were both in DC, to help us with the move-in process.  The in-laws were finishing up a convention in Baltimore, about to drive over and meet us.  Jen’s phone rang, it was her Mom.

‘Oh my God, there’s been an accident.  Olivia’s been hit by a car and she’s not going to make it, we have to get back to Atlanta right now. My God, this is my worst nightmare!’  No one had any specific details, except that the situation was dire and it was necessary for everyone to get home immediately.

Given how disoriented we were at the time, living out of suitcases, having boxes and car-trip paraphernalia strewn throughout our new home, we decided it was best to split up. Jen and newborn Charlie would fly to Atlanta immediately, and Ava, the dog and I would drive down the following day.

I drove Jen and Charlie (8 weeks old) to the Baltimore airport where we met up with her parents and brother Max, all of them responding to the desperation of Brooke and her husband, Brad, ready to board the next available flight.  There was an air of absolute devastation amongst all of them – we prayed that this accident might have somehow been exaggerated.  We hoped it wouldn’t be the unimaginable.

Everyone raced to get home, in an effort to be with Brooke, Brad and the kids, and to see Olivia.

A few hours later, as I packed Ava’s bag in DC and got us ready to go, Jen and her family landed in Georgia.

They were greeted by Jen’s Uncle Bill, who had the unbearable task of telling everyone that their 13-month old granddaughter and niece, had died. My wife said that her mom crumpled to the ground, that she and her brother were in shock, and my father-in-law tried his best to be a pillar of strength for everyone in spite of the devastation around him.

It’s a moment you rarely think about, and likely never imagine will happen to you and to those you hold dear.

I don’t know that I’ll ever forget the phone call I received from my panicked wife.

‘Adrian, Jesus, Olivia died.  Please put Ava in the car and come down here as soon as possible. Just go get her and lay next to her, keep her near you.’

She was asleep, my parents had retired to their hotel and I stepped to the balcony for a moment by myself.  How could this happen to someone so young?  WHY?

1 year.  1 month.  1 day.

As evening turned into early morning, the details became more clear.

Brooke, Brad, their twins Stone and Addie, along with Olivia, were at a little league field waiting for their oldest son Max’s football game to kick-off.  With just a few minutes left in the previous game, Brad and the twins headed to the bleachers to claim seats and Brooke took Liv, buckled in her stroller, back to the car for her sippy cup.

Brooke looked left, then right, and proceeded to enter the parking lot in the crosswalk.  For an unknown reason a car that had already gone past, had stopped and reversed in the wrong lane, without warning.  The car hit Brooke and Olivia.

Brooke was thrown to the ground and the stroller, with Olivia inside, was knocked over.

Brooke heard Olivia crying, as she lay on the ground.  While she struggled to get up from the pavement and help her baby, the driver reversed again, rolling over Olivia.  The car then pulled ahead, running over her a second time, just as Brooke was about to reach her.

Olivia was taken by ambulance to Egleston Children’s hospital in Atlanta, where doctors worked tirelessly on her.

It was too late.  Liv was gone.

As a father and an uncle, I am devastated.  My heart is broken.

To imagine the amount of pain and loss that Brooke, Brad, Max, Stone and Addie are experiencing is gut-wrenching.  The loss we feel as a family is compounded by the tragic and preventable nature of the circumstances surrounding her death.

On the evening before the funeral, as our family huddled in the kitchen at Brooke and Brad’s house discussing final arrangements and details, I sat with the kids in the garage, helping them make signs for the fence at the park, which had become a memorial wall.

Stone showed us picture after picture of Liv on his iPad… Addie told us over and over that her sister had died, that she ‘didn’t have a sister anymore’.  My wife reassured her that she will ALWAYS have a sister, it’s just that she’s in heaven.

This is the fence at Lenora Park, the football fields near the site of the accident.  We were overwhelmed by all of the toys, stuffed animals and balloons decorating Liv’s memorial on the fence.

That night, one of the witnesses to the accident organized what she originally thought was going to be an intimate gathering for family and friends, a candlelight vigil at the park, in her honor.

We arrived at the park just before dusk, and were greeted by several police cars blocking the road, indicating our point of entry.  As we gathered in the empty parking lot, where Olivia was taken from us, the community filled in around us.  Hundreds and hundreds of people deep…with the sun setting on the horizon, candles were lit and we sang songs while holding hands.

During a chorus of ‘Amazing Grace’, we lit 150 lanterns, sending them off into the summer night… symbolic of her journey to heaven, and that we were all right there beside her.

As Jen and I lit our lantern, I felt connected to a moment.  It’s not a moment that any of us had ever wanted, yet, we were all part of it.  As our lantern lifted into the night, I focused the camera towards Liv’s siblings, Max, Stone, and Addie.

With everyone holding hands and launching lights into the darkness for my niece, I locked up.

In that moment, we were one, hundreds of people watching the lanterns float into the night sky to the tune of bagpipes.  This is Olivia’s brother, Stone, watching the amazing sight.

Sometimes a picture says a thousand words.

As Ava and I watched, she said, ‘Daddy, it’s Tangled!’ I knew what she meant.  She was talking about her favorite Disney movie, where the King and Queen, who had their daughter stolen from them, launched lanterns into the night, every year, on the same day, her birthday. They were meant for Rapunzel to see, and in our case, for Liv, our own lost princess, to see.

Friends from all over, who couldn’t attend, sent us pictures and shared their own real-time candles with us via email and Facebook.

The next day, there was a service at the Grayson United Methodist Church, where the twins attended preschool.  ‘Jesus Love the Little Children’ played on the organ as we filed into the sanctuary.  We moved past the congregation towards the front pews.  Reverend Scott delivered a moving service.

Olivia’s father, Brad, stepped up to the pulpit and spoke.  His strength and composure during the delivery of the tribute to his daughter is something I can’t explain.  It was one of the most moving and powerful speeches I’ve ever heard.  I don’t know how he did it.

After he finished, Brad returned to the pew directly in front of me and fell into Brooke’s arms, breaking into tears.  As long as I live, I’ll never forget that moment.

After the service, we proceeded outside, everyone holding a balloon with a note attached for Olivia.  We congregated in the parking lot and released them into the air, hoping that maybe she would see them.

People ask me all the time how Brooke and Brad are coping.

My father-in-law said it best at the vigil… ‘The chain of my perfect family has forever been broken… and all I want is to fix it.’

I don’t know.  There aren’t words strong enough to express what they’ve experienced and how it has re-shaped their lives.  They lost their daughter.  It’s something that most people can’t begin to comprehend.  And Brooke witnessed it, which takes the heartache and grief process and compounds it like you cannot believe.

Brooke is continuing to recover from her own physical injuries, a constant reminder of that painful Saturday afternoon.

Right now they take life not day by day, but hour by hour.

And it is with this in mind that I ask all of you to SLOW DOWN and LOOK AROUND. STOP BEING IN A HURRY.

Enjoy the time you have with your loved ones. Cherish every moment and tonight, before bed, hug your kids a little tighter.

We will never forget you, Olivia.  You are a beautiful scar on our hearts.

I’m glad we got to share this moment with you, Liv…

We miss your hugs and life will never be the same without you. Hopefully YOUR story can save another child’s life.

 

SPECIAL NOTE:

If you have an image of Olivia, a message for the family, or a moment you would like to share, this blog post will remain open indefinitely, simply comment below. You can also visit the foundation established in Olivia’s name on Facebook.

Second, a trust has been established in Olivia’s memory.  Donations can be made by mail and it’s goal is to help raise awareness of pedestrian safety.  Please stop by, say hello and support this worthy endeavor.

The Olivia Anne Hellwig Foundation

P.O. Box 542

Grayson, GA  30017

 

 
117 comments
Lardavbern
Lardavbern

Wow, wow, wow. How horribly tragic, just devastating.

JamesBurgamy
JamesBurgamy

As I read this ...I am wiping away my tears...I remember being there as we lit the candles...and watching as they floated away .., bringing back the sad memories of our own forever child ...Cassie Marie Burgamy...may 9; 1989/...exactly one week before my birthday which was also her due date...I can't find the words to express how much it hurts....but just wanted you to know that you are not alone....we'll always be there with a shoulder for you to lean on and provide any assistance if you need us. We love you guys.......   Frankie and Angie Burgamy

casusbubble
casusbubble

Horrible. Absolutely horrible. How did the driver not know they hit something?! Truly sorry for your family's loss.textyourexback

KarenCollins
KarenCollins

as a mom and grandmother of 7 I cannot imagine how you have endured this pain only with gods help I am sure.

my heart is breaking for all of you  !

god bless,

karen

mrstdjindc
mrstdjindc

This is my first, but not last, time reading this.  Thank you for sharing so intimately of your family's grief.  After my husband's death, I changed the way that I approach life.  My new mantra became "Be in the moment, one second at a time."  Prayers for the continued healing of your family.  Peace does not come easily, nor is there an "end" to the pain.  The memories you've captured in on video and film help alot, especially during the low moments. 

ElizabethFischer
ElizabethFischer

im 12 and children but I do have a 2 little brothers andd a little sister I was was pretty much sobbing that how sad that was

MichelleLee2
MichelleLee2

I can't even begin to imagine what you all are feeling.  And I can't fathom how someone could run over someone more than once.  And I'm not sure that I could ever find a way to forgive that person for the damage caused my family.  I pray for all of you as you cope with the loss of your precious daughter and as you recover from the physical and emotional scars.  Such a sad, sad situation.

JennyMeerHodges
JennyMeerHodges

I am in tears reading this. Your family is in my thoughts. Sweet Olivia.

GreySB
GreySB

To the parents and family of this dear little girl, I am no one that you know.  I read Adrian's book which is how I read this post.  I just want you all to know that my thoughts are with you.  Losing one so young is every parent's worst nightmare, and one that no person should have to experience.  Hopefully, there can be some solace taken from the knowledge that Olivia's story has touched thousands of people's lives and that every single one of those lives in return sends your family nothing but love.

Linda Kinsman
Linda Kinsman

I am in tears because nobody should leave this world so senselessly.. especially not a sweet baby! My heart is with the Mom and all of you. What a beautiful send off. And yes, Ava, it was just like Rapunzel. Those words will live with you forever I'm sure Dad. Blessings to all of you.

Rebecca
Rebecca

I am so sorry for your loss. I lost my breath as I read how you lost this sweet girl. I am so sorry you and your family had to survive this tragedy. So much love to you all.

Sarah
Sarah

Oh, my gosh, I am so sorry. So, so sorry... I gasped for breath as I read what happened. I'm praying most for the mama who had to watch her baby die. Oh, my gosh... :'(

Lea
Lea

You make us cry and love through this post for your sweet Angel Baby niece. I found you at the Mom Blog community at G+ and will share this blog post on my @ViralMarketMom twitter. Much love to your family and especially Olivia's sister.

kara
kara

Thank you for sharing your story. Truely touched me. You are right...we all need to stop and appreciate what we have rightin front of us. I'm sorry for your lossand your families.

Meredith Bland
Meredith Bland

Jesus, Adrian. I am so incredibly sorry. No one should ever have to go through what your family is going through. Sending Brooke, Brad, Max, Stone and Addie love and hugs from a stranger in Seattle. --Meredith

Beth Travelstead
Beth Travelstead

A beautiful tribute for a beautiful girl. God bless you all.

Shari Wynne
Shari Wynne

This has broken my heart, I sat reading through tears. But it is a sad reminder that babies walking and in strollers are out of the line of sight for drivers. I will never forget her nor her story and have shared this with my baby group of 125 mamas in hopes it saves even one child. Bless your family.

Virginia
Virginia

I cannot imagine...to loose a child. Heart wrenching. My thoughts are with the family.

Gina B.
Gina B.

I have no words at the moment, only tears streaming down my face. My thoughts and prayers are with your family. I hope the scars heal over time and that when you think of Olivia you remember the happy times.

Nancy
Nancy

I have never met you or your family, but I am sitting at my computer weeping for your loss. It's unexplainable how something like this could happen. Know that if it was possible, I would offer to bear a little bit of the pain for your sister-in-law. As a mom of 2, I can't even begin to fathom this tragedy and my heart breaks for her and her husband. May they eventually find peace.

Ellewoods
Ellewoods

This heart wrenching tribute to your sweet niece Olivia brought me to tears. When news broke of this horrific story, it hit me close to home because it happened in my home community. As an expectant mom at that time, I could not fathom loosing your infant under such tragic circumstances. My heart grieves for you and your family for the loss you have endured. I hope Olivia continues to live on in the memories of the love and joy she brought into your lives and as a reminder for all of us to slow down and be vigilant in parking lots and pedestrian areas.

Carine
Carine

I have one Olivia, she is the light of may life with her big brother Sebastian. I wish your family Pace... I Know it is difficult but she is looking after you all.Olivia will live forever in your hart.

MARY WILLIAMS
MARY WILLIAMS

I PRAY FOR YOU AND YOUR FAMILY.SUCH A BEAUTIFUL GIRL SO PRECIOUS .THANK YOU FOR SHARING YOUR VIDEOS AND PHOTOS.GOD BLESS YOUR FAMILY.

vanessa guinane
vanessa guinane

Im so saddened by the tradjedy you have all had to endure. I live in Australia, a mum to Bernadette and Caleb. My heart is torn apart having read the untimely passing of your gorgeous little Olivia. I pray for you all and thank you for sharing your photos, videos and words. Life is precious, thank for opening my eyes all that more wider. God bless you ALL. Your little princess will forever remain in your hearts ...and a little girl i will remember too. xxxx

ed
ed

saved the pic because i love music , then i read the blog .. very sad ,,,,,,

Laurel Ripley
Laurel Ripley

Continuing to think of you all. Beautiful tribute Adrian.

Jennifer Rutherford
Jennifer Rutherford

This just breaks my heart. The amount of tears I shed watching the video montage on youtube, reading this story, looking at her photos is probably so small compared to the hurt your family has gone through over the loss of this beautiful little girl. My heart goes out to you all.

Heather.H
Heather.H

I found the link to this from a facebook friend. I've never been more impacted by clicking a link in my life. I dont have words for how much this changed me. I wish I could carry some of the grief for your family....My prayers are with you. I will never forget your story, and will think about it often.

Nikki
Nikki

I found your story on Twitter. I was the passenger in my car, my husband was driving and our newborn daughter was sleeping in her car seat. I cried. I just...cannot imagine the agony and the pain that your family, that sweet little baby and her mother have endured. I think of her every day now. Every single day I think of your Olivia and her mother and I cry for the senselessness of the act that took her from you and the pain I wish none of you had ever felt. I hold my little daughter closer. I slow down. I look both ways. I am so sorry.

Bob'o
Bob'o

It is early January I walk slowly uphill, the cadence seems to lessen my fatigue. I spot the small tribute to Olivia in the top of a pine tree near the southern edge of the summit dome. On a warm Saturday evening in October at exactly 6:10 pm, I had tied a collection of memorabilia taken from Lenore Park Fence to the top of a short needle pine. I fix my eyes and try to see the small pink and metallic pieces of ribbon but the light rain and darkening sky allow only a vague unfocused image and I can barely make out the strands blowing freely as the inclement weather builds with each upward step. I reach the top and turn to face the advancing storm. I am greeted with a cold mix of wind and rain. I close my eyes and sense a pair of tiny arms holding me with wonderful intensity. Is it the wind or a warm small hand that rubs my cheek reassuringly, telling me that everything is alright? I see those bright blue eyes looking up at me with pure and absolute love. God, I learned more from those sweet knowing eyes than all the books I've read in my almost fifty nine years. She has changed me forever. A tear rolls down my cheek, it mixes with the rain and drops upon the hard granite at my feet - There to begin the long inexorable passage to the sea, a sea who's salty brine contains the sad, tearful ocean of lament of all who have come before to question the absurdity of life's randomness and pain. I search for humility and understanding. Is it impertinence to question why? Shall I let the mystery be? But today I am comforted with only the knowledge that she is always with me and the absolute certainty that we will meet again at some yet uncertain hour. I open my eyes as evening gathers in the western sky and the sun struggles through the clouds to shine light upon the many steeples amid the countryside below. Today I am thankful, if only that I can try to live my life in a manner that honors the memory of this gentle, sweet child who brought so much Joy and Love to each and every moment of her short life, thankful to the many who have given us strength with their kindness and encouragement. Thankful that I had one year, one month and one day with this beautiful child.

Sara
Sara

RichardB's post is very similar to my feelings and beliefs. I too wish that I could carry some of the grief and alleviate some of your family's. I have share this with all my FB friends as well as in person to as many as I can. I think of Olivia many times day. I hope that your family can find some level of peace from this unspeakable tragedy.

Mary
Mary

I am so very sorry. What a senseless loss. I will pass along your message. Thank you.

molly
molly

I am so very sorry for everyone's loss. This is just heartbreaking to hear. I'm praying for you all.

Craig
Craig

I will keep your family in my prayers. I'm so sorry. What a precious soul who undoubtedly is with God.

StoriesAndSweetPotatoes
StoriesAndSweetPotatoes

Thank you for having the strength to write this so that other people might be helped. Olivia looks like she experienced great love in her short life and for that she was lucky.

Natalie
Natalie

That was so hard to read, but I'm so glad you are sharing the story. I cannot even imagine the pain that your family is feeling.Blessings to you all.

Scott aka This Daddy
Scott aka This Daddy

Man, I am so sorry. Sorry for all of you and the pain. I am in the Atlanta area, let me know if there is anything I can do and If I am able I will try. I have no idea of what I would do and how I would handle it. Stay Strong and together as a unit. Take Care, Scott

Elaine (Liv's Laine Laine)
Elaine (Liv's Laine Laine)

As Olivia's grandmother, my heart aches everyday not only for my sweet, loving grandbaby but for my entire family as I watch them grieve, each in their own way. I love Adrian's beautiful tribute to Olivia and I am so appreciative to each and every one of you that has taken the time to read it and share your thoughts and feelings with us. I explain to people that we don't have good days and bad days....everyday is both good and bad and as a family we continue to talk and cry together as we learn to cope with our loss. Olivia embraced every day like no other child I've ever known. She was always happy; I can't ever remember hearing her cry and maybe that's because she was surrounded by so much love and affection especially from her mom and dad. She was, after all, their miracle baby. Her presence in this world will be forever missed. It is the thoughtfulness of friends and strangers and the kindness extended to our family that makes it possible for us to heal and for that I wish I could thank each of you personally.

RichardB
RichardB

I came upon a link to your site on a good friend's facebook page, and never before has clicking a mouse have such an overwhelming impact on my heart. I feel a pain for you and your family from my very soul. I also live in the Atlanta metro area. I have been a dad for 2 years 5 months and 1 day. I secretly acknowledge the day of my daughter's birth as the day my life started, and if something ever happened to her...if she were taken from this world, that day would be the end of my life. I don't know why these things happen, and I stopped trying along time ago to understand them. The conclusion/belief I think comes the closest to any type of reasoning is that the birth of these precious babies is not only a gift of life to them, but the only pure blessing and evidence of God's miracles. These angels are offered to us as reminders of God's existence and abilities. After various lengths of time he brings these angels back to his hand for a greater purpose beyond our own understanding. What I have witnessed over time is that occasionally, God seems to need his most beautiful and heavenly angels more and more often, and the result is being blessed with a child of unprecedented grace, beauty, warmth and love... but only for a short time that, once over, feels like less than a moment. God needed Olivia to help the entire world and through his strength and guidance, she will bring more to mankind in various ways on a scale greater than we could ever fathom. I know this could never bring the comfort needed or alleviate a level of pain that I cannot imagine. However, instead of offering one more apology for your lose, I wanted to share with your from my heart and be one of many people who are trying to carry some of the pain for you and your family and wishing there was more they could do. I firmly believe Olivia is and will always remain with you, to care for you and give you all strength... now and throughout your lives. -Richard, Atlanta, GA

Eva
Eva

My heart & deepest sympathy for your entire family. Clearly Oliva is one incredibly special angle. Feeling so grateful to have a chance to learn about her & feel so happy knowing that she is in a beautiful, wonderful place where she can look out for us all...especially her family. Oliva, thank you for sharing your incredible, beautiful & unbelaibly special presence with us all.

Celeste
Celeste

If there is any way to help your family, please let me know. Till then, my heart and thoughts will be with you all. Take care.

Danielle @ Kids Meal Crowd
Danielle @ Kids Meal Crowd

Words can not express my sadness about this tragedy. My thoughts and prayers are with you all as you grieve this terrible loss. I will give my three kids an extra hug and kiss in the morning to honor dear Olivia and to not take these moments for granted. Thank you for sharing such a touching tribute of a special angel.

Misty Brevaldo
Misty Brevaldo

I have sat here as tears have rolled down my face. Heartbroken. My heart goes out to you and your family. You will stay in my prayers. e.

XLMIC
XLMIC

I can't even leave a real comment...I'm just a puddle of tears over here. My heart is broken for all who knew Olivia. Tragic beyond measure... Sending love....

Erin Kreitz Shirey
Erin Kreitz Shirey

I can't fathom the pain you are all experiencing, but again I can. We almost lost my daughter last year. She spent 4 months fighting for her life and while we were in the hospital, the emotions going through all of us were significant. We were to scared to allow the question of "What if she doesn't make it" enter our minds, but they did every day. During that time, a friend's husband and son, who was in a stroller, were hit while crossing the street. The husband made it, but their son did not. It was heartbreaking how in one instant, an innocent little one is taken. The time to grieve is so important, raw, surreal, and challenging since everyone grieves differently. I send you much love and much support from afar. It makes the day to day realities of what is truly important so significant. People need to step back, not rush, and just focus on what counts. My heart is heavy for you, I am so sorry for what your entire family is going through. I'll share your post and know that more people will be sending prayers, support and wishes for love and laughter in upcoming times...even though it may seem so challenging now. How blessed Olivia was to only know a life of love and a family who adored her.

Brandon
Brandon

Horrible. Absolutely horrible. How did the driver not know they hit something?! Truly sorry for your family's loss.

melsapp
melsapp

@Bob'o Oh Bob.  My heart still breaks for you and your family.  Unimaginable pain.  

melsapp
melsapp

@Elaine (Liv's Laine Laine) Love you Laine Laine.  

Trackbacks

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