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Book idea flows from Springdale girl's death

| Friday, Nov. 29, 2013, 8:57 p.m.
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Olivia Wade

In the days following the unexpected death of her 8-year-old daughter, Rebecca Wade sat in the girl's bedroom and sorted through boxes of her drawings.

Olivia, a third-grader, had been a gifted artist. Her mom examined the artwork one by one. Two drawings jumped out: one of Olivia's chocolate Lab, Penny, and another of Olivia with her then-2-year-old sister, Ainsley.

Wade, 39, of Springdale cried, numb over a loss that never seemed real. I wrote about Olivia when she died in March 2012. She had traveled with her mom to visit family in Florida, where she was involved in a boating accident. She was a month shy of her ninth birthday.

Olivia's tragedy — and the story of the silver box she left for her best friend Alexis before she went on her trip — resonated with parents and readers, who sent me dozens of emails. “What a joyous little person she must have been,” one person wrote upon reading about the contents of the box: a pen with a cupcake topper, a stuffed puppy, a lucky penny, an angel necklace and a picture of herself.

“So you don't forget me,” Olivia had told Alexis.

Wade yearned to find a positive outlet, something to channel her grief and help her cope with the unbearable. As she talked to her therapist, they came up with an idea: A book geared for children who had lost a sibling or a friend.

She'd use all the drawings she'd found tucked away in Olivia's bedroom. She soon envisioned a workbook that children would fill out with memories of the person they loved. The result is the newly published “My story about you and me.”

The book encourages children to remember someone by writing about activities they did together — including the last time they saw each other — and some of the person's favorite things. One section asks them to describe what they do when they're mad because their sibling or friend is no longer around.

The book is illustrated with Olivia's drawings, including a self-portrait Wade saw for the first time after Olivia's death. She received it from the girl's art teacher, who had placed it in a black frame. In the drawing, Olivia is wearing a braid, a style she loved and wore in her casket. The drawing was incredibly detailed, down to the creases in her nose.

“It was a no-brainer to have Olivia be the artist,” Wade said. “This would keep her memory alive, having her be my illustrator.”

Wade hasn't mustered enough courage to help Ainsley, now 3½, go through the book herself, knowing full well it will be emotionally charged. It breaks her heart that Ainsley, who called her sister “La La,” will likely forget about Olivia.

“When Ainsley is 50 years old, I want her to have this and say, ‘This is about my sister, who I only got to know for two years,' ” Wade said.

It's been 18 months since Olivia died, but to Rebecca and her husband, Erick, it still seems like yesterday.

“There's not an hour that goes by when I don't think about her,” Wade told me. “Sometimes only seconds go by, and I think about her.”

Wade is certain Olivia would be proud of the book, even though she might have challenged some of her mom's creative decisions.

She said Olivia would be thrilled to know the book has the potential to help children coping with death. Most importantly, she wants to keep Olivia's spirit alive.

“I don't want anyone to forget her,” she said.

Luis Fábregas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7998 or lfabregas@tribweb.com.

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