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Meet Olivia

When my grandmother, Nana Deitrich, was just nine years old, she was given the task of babysitting her brother George while her mother prepared the evening meal for her father, a train conductor. He had only 30 minutes between trains to walk home from the station, eat dinner with his family, and get back before the train pulled away from the station. One evening as she waited for him and watched after George outside, a tragedy struck their family. Nana went inside to get George a drink of lemonade and he left their yard. At five years old, he was curious, and the neighbors across the street had a new puppy! When George slipped out of the yard, the only car on the road in 1925 hit him and killed him instantly. Grief walked through their door and changed their family permanently.



Fast forward to my childhood, where Nana was ever watchful of her grandchildren! Some might accuse her of being "overprotective," but to me she was just a loving grandmother. We would spend almost every Thursday evening watching a television show that she loved and related to. "The Waltons" was a series that depicted the difficult times for families during the Great Depression. Nana would share her stories with me and we would marvel at how the matriarch of the family, Olivia Walton, would welcome people in who were in trouble, helping in whatever way she could, managing to solve every issue with love and compassion! Olivia Walton always reminded my grandma of her own mother, Nana Willy, who had compassion and love for everyone despite her deep grief from losing her child.


Fast forward again, this time to the summer of 2000. I was planning to bring 10 of York's powerful women together to coordinate a focus group for what would later be known as "Olivia's House." My son, K.C., was playing around in my home office as I prepared for the meeting. He was perusing the domain name I had purchased for the educational grief program, Hearts Can Heal, I developed in my private bereavement counseling practice. Lo and behold, it brought up an article concerning a little girl named Olivia who was attending a grief group, Hearts Can Heal, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania after the death of her mother. K.C. asked me if I knew Olivia and then suggested I read the article.

I learned that Olivia had attended a group, modeled after our group, presented by a hospice in the Gettysburg area. That hospice had asked me three years earlier to help them, and I sold them a book I had written to start programs in the community. While in the program, Olivia met a new friend who had also lost her mother and wanted to create a headstone for her mother's grave, as Olivia had. Olivia helped her new friend by raising all the money for her expenses, and a headstone was erected at the grave in record time! It is amazing what can be accomplished when people, even children, get together with passion to fill a need!

I spoke to Olivia's grandmother, and she invited me to have lunch with Olivia. We met and hit it off instantly. I learned that she and her grandmother enjoyed the program that I had written, and she was embodying exactly what I taught the children in our program- to give back and you will feel better! After a wonderful afternoon together, she was excited to learn of my plans and perhaps the opportunity to help with the concept of a children's grief center, since she was only seven years old and very much a grieving child!

When I remembered my connection to the name Olivia, I asked her how her mother had come to name her. She told me quite openly that she liked her middle name, Morgan, after the Morgan horses she rode with her mother, but she didn't really like her name Olivia. She said her mother had named her after a lady on a television show, "The Waltons!"

I knew then and there that Olivia would be a part of the mission; she served as our inspiration!