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Posts Tagged ‘Olivia Grace Armand’

Ornaments Tell a Story

In Family, Life Lessons on December 21, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Growing up, I didn’t have a Christmas tree in the house.  Most Jewish families didn’t.  Years ago, when I started dating my wife, having a Christmas tree became as much a part of my holiday tradition as having a menorah to light for Chanukah.  In all honesty, the tree itself wouldn’t be very meaningful to me, if not for the ornaments adorning it.

Every family has their own tradition and vision of what a Christmas tree should look like.  Some decorate their tree with such elegance that it adds a touch of class to the room in which it sits.  Others use an abundance of lights causing the tree to catch the eye of all passersby.  Our tree is far from elegant, and it is so subtly lit that it would draw very little attention to anyone passing by.  But it has meaning to us.

Even though we didn’t add many new ornaments this year, it looks different than it did in years past, largely because my 4-year old did so much of the decorating.  My wife and I did our part to make sure that the top of the tree wasn’t bare, and my son took care of the middle of the tree.  But this year’s tree is very bottom-heavy with ornaments, and quite frankly, a bit sloppy looking.  That’s what happens when an excited 4-year old is allowed to decorate with reckless abandon.  And though it wasn’t intentional, my little one managed to create a tree that is a microcosm of our lives right now…chaotic, cluttered and a bit cramped.

Some of the ornaments date back to when my wife was a kid.  The rest have been added over the years as our lives have grown together.  One look at our tree and you know instantly who our favorite sports teams are.  You know what characters from our childhood hold a special place in our hearts.  You know some of the places that we have visited.  You know when my wife and I celebrated our first Christmas together…our first Christmas with our son…and our first Christmas with our daughter.  The hanging dreidels and menorah ornaments show that in our house, our tree is actually a “Chrismukkah” tree.

It is said that every picture tells a story and that a picture is worth a thousand words.  Perhaps that is why my wife and I both love the picture frame ornaments that hold photos of the kids when they were younger.  The ornaments on our tree tell a story, but not the whole story.

The holidays are a joyous time, but can also be painful.  While decorating this year, we got to experience the sheer joy on my little one’s face as she hung each ornament in her own little haphazard way.  We also experienced sadness as my son broke down and cried as he held the ornament inscribed with our departed dog’s name on it.  Thankfully, the moments of joy far outweighed the moment of sadness.  But that is not true for everyone.

The picture above is of an ornament that is very special to me, and to the others who have received it as well this year.  It commemorates the life of Olivia Grace Armand, a little girl who passed away on 12/11/2009 (10 days before her 5th birthday).

Today would have been Olivia’s 6th birthday.

Today, Olivia celebrates her 2nd birthday in heaven.

Today, the Olivia Grace Armand Foundation ornament hangs on our tree and tells a story of its own.

It reminds us that life is precious, and that we must live each day to the fullest.  It reminds us that things are usually not nearly as bad as they seem.  It reminds us that we should be grateful for the things that we have instead of longing for the things that we don’t.  Lastly, it reminds us that the greatest gift that anyone could receive is the moments that they get to share with the ones that they love.

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A Year Ago Today…A Little Angel Earned Her Wings

In Family, Giving Back, Inspiration and Motivation, Life Lessons on December 11, 2010 at 3:11 am

The text message simply read…..“She’s gone.”

As my heart sank into my stomach, I stared at the message in disbelief, wanting it to be a mistake, wishing that I could somehow turn back the hands of time and make things right with the world again.  With tears streaming down my face, I dialed the phone to reach out to my good friend, Trish.  It was a call that I knew that I would have to make someday, but I wasn’t ready to make it yet.  And surely, Trish was nowhere near ready to receive it.  Not before her sweet Olivia got the chance to celebrate her 5th birthday.  Not before Olivia’s wish was granted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.  And not when things seemed to be looking up.

But ready or not, Olivia Grace Armand earned her wings a year ago today (just 10 days before her 5th birthday).

When I made the call, I didn’t expect Trish to answer, but I felt like I had to leave a message, even though nothing could possibly lessen the blow of this tragedy.  To my surprise, Trish answered.  She was in the room getting ready to give “Cookie” one last bath.  As she told me what she was doing, I broke down…crying uncontrollably.  We both did.  No words can accurately capture the pain that we shared in that moment.

I don’t remember everything that was said.  I just remember telling Trish over and over again that I was so sorry.  And I’ll never forget that somewhere in the middle of our conversation, Trish seemed to be the one comforting me.  There are no words to describe the incredible strength of this woman who has been dealt the cruelest hand that one can possibly be dealt…the pain of losing a child.

Trish knew that this day was coming years ago when her daughter, Olivia, and her son, Mikey, were diagnosed with a rare metabolic storage disorder called Mucolipidosis II (or “I Cell”).  Children with this disorder are born without the Lysosomal enzyme which is responsible for breaking down complex carbohydrates in the cells.  Although both Olivia, and her brother, Mikey, were given bone marrow transplants to obtain the missing enzyme, it does not cure the disease…it merely slows down the progression.  Children with “I Cell” rarely survive beyond ten years.

Many people (including me) were in constant contact with Trish when Olivia went into the hospital last November.  We were all elated when the news was good, and saddened and worried when things took a turn for the worse.  We all fell in love with Olivia through the photos, videos and stories that Trish shared on Facebook.

Even though I never got to meet her in person, I feel a very strong connection to this amazing little girl.  My kids feel that same connection to her.  They love watching the videos of Olivia and Mikey.  My son is old enough to understand what is going on…my daughter is not.  At 4 years old, she cannot grasp the gravity of the situation.  She just adores these kids, and cannot get enough of watching their videos or seeing their pictures.  There is an excitement in her voice and on her face that is simply indescribable.

The video that always comes to my mind is the one of Olivia eating pancakes during her final days.  She seemed so happy and full of life, and as adorable and lovable as usual.  I remember smiling while watching it last December, and thinking that things were going to be okay.  After watching it again today, it is still so hard to believe that this little angel earned her wings five days after this video was taken.  It just makes no sense.

Trish has done amazing things since her daughter’s passing.  She has shown strength and courage that many may dream of, but very few achieve.  Less than a month after ^^Olivia^^ earned her wings, Trish established the Olivia Grace Armand Foundation (www.OliviaGraceArmandFoundation.org) to “pay it forward” in her daughter’s name.

Because of their disorder, Trish’s children have spent many days in hospitals.  Aside from the support of her friends and family, the one thing that helps Trish during these trying times is the incredible nurses who dedicate their lives to pediatrics.  They are truly unsung heroes who help to ease the pain for families whose children are hospitalized.  But there aren’t enough of them, and Trish is doing her part to change that.

Today, on the one-year anniversary of ^^Olivia^^ earning her wings, the first pediatric nursing scholarship is being awarded by the Olivia Grace Armand Foundation to a very worthy candidate named Susie Kustad.  Once again, in her darkest hour, Trish will be the one giving support.  Simply amazing!

The presentation of the first scholarship today will surely be a very bittersweet time for Trish.  The fact that she chose to present it today speaks volumes about who she is as a person.  If only there were more people like her in the world.

The greatest gift would be to bring ^^Olivia^^ back into her mother’s loving arms.  Sadly, that is not possible.  But it is possible for others to help Trish in her quest to increase the number of pediatric nurses in this country.

Despite a tough economy, we can all find a way to contribute something…a few dollars or whatever you can afford.  Think about the good that can be done if each person decided to give one less gift this year and put that money towards this incredibly noble cause.  Please visit www.OliviasCookieJar.org to donate whatever you can.

During this holiday season, remember that the greatest gift that you can give cannot be found in a store.  It cannot be gift-wrapped, and it can NEVER be returned.  It is the gift of time, and being there in the moment with your loved ones.

This holiday season, think about the little angel who earned her wings (a year ago today) as a reminder of what is truly important in life!

Olivia’s life was short, but her impact will last a lifetime!

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Bowling For Cookies

In Giving Back, Inspiration and Motivation, Pursuit of Happiness on April 27, 2010 at 10:32 am

Olivia Grace Armand, affectionately known as “Cookie,” died of a rare disease called I-Cell (or Mucolipidosis Type II) on December 11, 2009 (10 days before her 5th birthday).  Within a few weeks of Olivia’s passing, her parents, Trish and Mike Armand, established the Olivia Grace Armand Foundation.

Being that Olivia’s brother, Mikey (who turned 4 yesterday), also suffers from the same rare disease that took his sister’s life, it is logical to think that the foundation was set up to find a cure for I-Cell, but it wasn’t.  Unfortunately, the harsh realization is that very little can be done for Mikey at this point, but that hasn’t stopped Trish and Mike Armand from wanting to selflessly “pay it forward.”

Because of their disease, Olivia and Mikey have spent countless days in hospitals.  The Armands give a lot of credit to the doctors that they have dealt with, but the ones who have given them comfort and strength are the incredible pediatric nurses that they have encountered over the years.  For this reason, the Olivia Grace Armand Foundation was established to provide pediatric nursing scholarships to the unsung heroes who provide an emotional support system that goes beyond medical care.

Needless to say, I was honored when I was asked to be a board member for this incredibly noble foundation.  Although I haven’t personally had much experience around pediatric nurses, I have seen the difference that compassionate nurses can make in the lives of family members who are dealing with a dire situation.

In 2001, a severe head injury caused my father to go into a coma.  The neurosurgeons did absolutely nothing to comfort us.  In fact, their stark presentation of my father’s condition made things even worse.  The only solace that we ever received was from the compassionate nurses.  Even though it has been nearly nine years since my father’s passing, I still remember one particular nurse named Colleen.  Colleen treated our family as if we were long-time friends, and it didn’t take long for me to trust whatever she told us.

My father’s fight for his life lasted for 5 days, until he finally couldn’t fight any longer.  During that time, Colleen would tell us what was happening, and what was likely to happen next.  She was never wrong!  Even though the news was never good, she always delivered the message with great compassion.  The night that my father died, Colleen hugged each of us, and cried with us as we said our goodbyes.  I’ll never forget Colleen as long as I live, so I know exactly why Trish and Mike feel so strongly about giving back to pediatric nurses.

In a short time, the foundation had already raised $10,000 leading up to the first fundraiser, “Bowling for Cookies,”which was held this past weekend.  I am truly honored to have been a part of it.

When I arrived in Florida on Saturday evening, I was greeted at the airport by Trish and a few other board members (some of whom I had never met before).  It was a fun-filled evening with a lot of laughs.  By the time that the night came to an end, I felt as if I had made new friends.  We only spent a short time planning for the event the next day, and since none of us had done this before, we were going to have to learn on the job (so to speak).

After having a quick breakfast together, we started our day by going to visit Olivia’s gravesite.  Although visiting a cemetery is usually very solemn for me, Olivia’s final resting place felt different.  Trish described it best in one word…“peaceful.” The wind chimes hanging from a small tree blew gently in the breeze as we all stood together talking about the day.  I was sad that we were standing by the grave of a little girl, but happy that we were about to do something special in her name.

We arrived at the bowling alley about four hours before the event was to begin.  At first, it was a little confusing trying to figure out each of our roles, but before long, we were working together as a team, and getting things done.  Slowly but surely, the lobby was transformed into a greeting area that made you forget for a moment that you were inside of a bowling alley, the billiard room became a silent auction staging area, and it began to feel as though we were a team of people who had done this together before.  Each of us seemed to just gravitate towards a responsibility as Trish led the way, which couldn’t have been easy with all of the stress and emotion that she was feeling.

There were many touching moments throughout the day.  It began with the first family showing up, and each of them wearing purple (the foundation’s official color).  As the bowling alley filled up, Trish gave a speech thanking everyone for coming.  Through the tears, and a quiver in her voice, you could feel the passion that she has to make this foundation a success.  And perhaps the most touching moment of all came when Trish picked the winning ticket for the 50/50 raffle, which ended up being a $400 cash prize to the winner.  Everyone applauded as Trish’s friend Jason came forward to claim his prize.  As Trish went to hand Jason the money, he immediately told her not to hand it to him, and that the money was for the foundation.  Trish announced Jason’s generosity to the crowd, choked up, with tears in her eyes, and said…“you see everyone, this is what paying it forward it all about!”

Shortly after Jason’s show of generosity, everyone attending the event sang “Happy Birthday” to Mikey.  And though I couldn’t see his face from my vantage point, I got the full description from Trish’s dad and step-mom, who told me that he usually gets a little scared around the candles, but not this time.  They told me that he really enjoyed himself, just like everyone else who attended the event.

“Bowling For Cookies” was a tremendous success.  It seemed as much a celebration of Cookie’s life as it did a fundraiser for nursing scholarships.  Being that this was the first event, I had no idea what to expect in terms of money being raised, but I do know that my expectations were exceeded.  We ended up raising over $8000 to go towards the “Cookie Jar!” Pretty amazing when you take today’s economy into account!

I encourage everyone to check out www.OliviaGraceArmandFoundation.org for more information about this amazing little girl and to make donations.  Please also visit www.OliviasCookieJar.com to shop in the Olivia Grace Armand Mall, where all proceeds go directly to the foundation.

The Dash

In Family, Inspiration and Motivation, Life Lessons, Pursuit of Happiness on February 17, 2010 at 12:27 pm

Every so often, I come across something that I find truly moving and/or inspiring.  Today was one of those days.  Early this morning, I logged onto Facebook and scrolled through the usual plethora of updates.  As I skimmed the page, I noticed a note posted by one of my friends from college…a fellow founding father of my fraternity (to be more specific).

It’s hard to believe how quickly time has passed.  I met this friend in my freshman year of college, but I’ve known him for almost twenty four years now (more than half my life).  We lost touch after college, but have reconnected through Facebook (as so many of us have).  While we haven’t seen each other in many years, I have no doubt that if we got together, we could easily just pick up where we left off.  It seems to be normal for me to be able to do that.  I’ve actually discussed this with a friend who I only speak to from time-to-time, and he feels that it is just the way that guys are wired.  He may be right.

The note that I read this morning was a eulogy that my friend gave to one of his lifelong friends who passed away recently way before his time.  My friend mentioned how he had only spoken to his friend from time-to-time, but that they always just picked up right where they left off as if no time had elapsed whenever they spoke or got together.

In his eulogy, my friend read a poem called “The Dash” (by Linda Ellis).  The poem was written in 1996, and has since traveled the world and reached literally millions of people.  When you read the poem, you can’t help but stop and take a moment to think about your life.

Reading this poem today, I started to think about the losses that I’ve experienced…losses that have changed my life forever.  In fact, Waldo2010 was launched in large part because of the painful reminder that I had recently that none of us is guaranteed tomorrow.  It inspired me to make real and permanent changes in my life.  I only wish that it didn’t take the tragic loss of a little girl named Olivia Grace Armand for me to have my epiphany.

Please take a moment to read “The Dash”

I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of his friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone
From the beginning to the end.
He noted that first came the date of her birth
And spoke of the second with tears.
But he said that what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years.
For that dash represents all the time
That she spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved her
Know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not, how much we own –
The cars, the house, the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.
So think about this long and hard –
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
You could be at “dash mid-range.”
If we could just slow down enough to consider
What’s true and what’s real.
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.
And be less quick to anger
And show appreciation more.
And love the people in our lives
Like we’ve never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect
And more often wear a smile.
Remembering that this special dash
Might only last a little while.
So when your eulogy is being read
With your life’s actions to rehash,
Would you be pleased with the things they have to say
About how you spent your dash?

In the coming month, I will be thinking about this poem as I remember my father on his birthday, and my grandmother on the one-year anniversary of her passing.  March also marks the one-year anniversary of the passing of our family dog.  All of these remembrances are just another reminder how quickly “the dash” goes by, and that we need to make every moment count.

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