As the Claire’s Day book festival draws near, it’s important for us to reflect on the mission and founding of our organization. One of the best people to share her thoughts on the founding is Claire’s mom. The following is an essay she wrote entitled “Moving Forward”:
“We shouldn’t let our dreams stay inside our head at night…we need to make these dreams a reality.”
Yep, that’s my boy, I thought during Ian’s remarks at his high school graduation this past June. I was in awe as he spoke. Not just because of his leadership role as class president or the ease in which he delivered his speech. Any mother would be proud.
Nope, my pride went much deeper than that. Here’s a kid that certainly could have gone in the other direction, my entire family right with him, following the death of his oldest sister, my oldest child, nearly thirteen years ago. I’m grateful that he has chosen to focus on his dreams as opposed to the nightmare that we experienced when Claire died.
“Bye momma,” she said, hugging me tight. I watched her as she walked, no, skipped, with two other moms and their daughters off to her lodging at the Girl Scout camp. She insisted that I take my other daughter, Kyle, to her cabin, and let her go off with the other girls. As she turned back to me, her little overnight duffle bag swaying with her, she waved and smiled. A big, huge, proud smile. It was the last time I would see her alive.
Claire, my precocious, vibrant, spirited, funny, purple-loving little avid reader was gone. Forever.
Those that have said time heals all wounds must never have buried a child. Yes, time has lessened the pain, but the tug on my heart remains whenever I think of her. My throat still tightens when I speak of her. There was a time that I could not make it through a day without crying, the littlest things getting to me. Remnants of who she was and all that she embraced surrounded me; the music she loved to sing and dance to, her books, her treasured bear collection and all things purple flooded me with memories.
Days passed, and from my own personal trail of tears I left while on daily walks, sprung a new purpose. My dreams were to move forward in life with my loving husband and my two other children and live. Really live. And, in order to do so, I felt it was important to honor Claire in such a way that was true to her. The answer came to me six months after she died.
There was an issue of Time magazine in my plane seat pocket as we traveled to Jacksonville to attend my niece’s wedding. As I flipped through the magazine, an article about the Texas Book Festival and then-First Lady Laura Bush’s involvement struck a chord. Reading the piece, I was impressed that the festival not only celebrated books, but championed Texas born authors. When reading to our children at night, I thought it important that our three little ones learn about the writers and artists that had created the books. Through this regular exercise, I knew that my home state of Ohio had a wealth of talent in our own backyard.
With tears in my eyes, I turned to my husband, Brad, and said, “This is what we are going to do to honor Claire. We’re going to create a children’s book festival.”
Thirteen years later, the festival has grown larger than we could have imagined. Families with children of all ages will gather for the 12th annual Claire’s Day on the grounds of our local library in May. The children squirm and squeal in delight as they watch artists recreate their book characters, or authors read from their books. The thrill of not only meeting our special guests, but having them personally sign their creations for children hangs in the air throughout the day. Children dance to the fun musical performances, and little hands keep busy making crafts tied into the themes of the featured books.
Applause can be heard from a huge tent decorated with purple balloons for very special award ceremonies. The C.A.R.E. Awards (Claire’s Awards for Reading Excellence) are given to children nominated by their principals as being the most improved readers in their schools. The recipients very often have been diagnosed with dyslexia or other learning challenges, and rarely receive academic recognition. The look of pride on parents’ faces as their children receive these awards is indescribable. The pure joy on the children’s faces is even more so.
Prior to each award ceremony, my husband Brad tells the story of how during our nightly reading sessions, as Claire got older, she would correct him as his dyslexic brain misread words. Eventually she would take the book from him, and read to him. When it is time to distribute the awards, my tall husband sits on the stage to give each child not only a certificate noting their accomplishment, but a coupon to pick out a book from the huge selection at Claire’s Day. A book they can call their very own.
Over the years, Brad and I have met many of the parents of recipients of the C.A.R.E. Awards. They look to us with tear-filled eyes, thanking us profusely for what we have done for their children through the recognition they receive at Claire’s Day. “My son now reads!” they say, or, “I can’t get my daughter to put her book down!” Claire would be so proud.
It was through this celebration and remembrance of Claire that allowed our family to grieve together. Each of us did so in our own way, and in our own time, but we gave each other the room to cry, laugh, scream and move forward. We’ve lived through some dark days, and created some beautiful happy memories together. Claire was not with us physically in our many travels and life adventures, but there is no escaping her presence. We smile at each other as we see purple clouds at sunset, or purple wild flowers along the road side, remembering our purple-loving daughter and sister. And we are grateful that her fun-filled spirit has guided us from the depths of a nightmare to the joys of fulfilling our dreams.
We’ve certainly not allowed them only to linger in our heads at night.