Thursday, October 24, 2013

Every Snowflake Counts

"Whooopeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!" I would hear as the door banged and her kitbag hit the floor. 

Then the door would bang and she would be off playing until supper, charging her emotional battery with social contact with everyone in the neighbourhood. 

She was "more."  More sensitive, more demanding, more fun, more intuitive, more compassionate, more comical, more ... everything. Many were the times she cried when someone else cried because it hurt her to see people sad. She could laugh longer and louder and harder than anyone I have ever known, and you'd find yourself laughing in spite of yourself, wondering what the joke even was. 

When she was about six years old, after a few snowfalls where her dad had gone out to shovel yet another foot of "partially cloudy" off the driveway, she decided to get dressed and go out to help him. She got me to help her on with her snowsuit, shoved her boots and mitts on, and with all those extra layers toddled down the stairs like some pink Michelin-tire man on his way to a rescue mission. Her dad handed her the lightest shovel and she worked beside him until she was out of wind, her face beet-red under her scarf. The little muscles were so sore and she was so tired and sweaty that she had to give up. In frustration, she started to cry. When her father asked her why, she replied, "Because I wanted to HELP you!!" 

"That's okay, honey," he said to her. "You DID help me. You really did. The snow you shoveled, every single bit of work you did, is less snow that I need to shovel. I appreciate everything you did. Because every snowflake counts."  

She burst into tears and fled into the house. 

What he didn't know was why she cried. She told me because I asked her, and she told me with tears streaming down her face!! It meant so much to her for him to say that. She never forgot it, and from then on, it became her motto. 

Someone would be frustrated with doing homework. Or trying to help with dishes, or baking, or raking leaves. Or trying to make someone understand. Or whatever. 

"Every snowflake counts," she would say to them. 

This past June, after many failed attempts to make a life for herself here, she decided to go to Alberta, to the 'land of opportunity' - or so the myth goes. It's great for someone with a high school education and someone out there with whom to stay while they got on their feet. She had neither. 

The only things she had were the clothes and supplies she took with her, a few hundred dollars from her parents to pay for gasoline, her computer, and her phone. That phone would be a lifeline between her and home, an anchor when times got rough - for her and for us. 

We texted. A LOT. Every day, several times a day. I footed the bill for her to get a 2nd hand car. At least she had transportation, and for a time, a job.

There is more to her story; I don't need to tell it all here. (Other parts are found on my other blog, ) All you need to know is that on September 19, a little over a month ago, she was evicted from the place she was staying after her landlady kicked her out for breaking house rules. She found herself out on the street that night, living in her car. 

For a month she was homeless. She kept in touch with us, charging her phone in her car, living hand to mouth, with regular influx of cash from me to keep the car gassed up in order to survive and be somewhat safe. So many tried to help her; she was afraid to get help thinking that she would have her phone stolen, or someone would hurt her or try to separate her from her boyfriend whom she met up there. 

Two nights ago, she had run out of funds again. I'd given her some money Sunday night to get herself a cheap motel room. She had felt so refreshed the following day and yet had to sleep in her car again Monday night. So Tuesday evening she asked me for money so she could have a motel for the night again. She had an apartment viewing the following morning and wanted to be rested for it, showered, looking her best. 

I sent it to her.

She was so pleased, so relieved. She thanked me profusely. In the short text conversation that followed, she told me, "I'm so tired of this life (she meant lifestyle) Mom. I just want a home."

She had claimed the funds and was on her way driving to a suburb of Edmonton that night (for a cheaper rate in motels) when she swerved suddenly away from the side of the road and crossing the center line. Her fender clipped the fender of a pickup truck, knocking him off the road (the driver was fine). But there was a van right behind him - and they never saw her until it was too late. 

She was killed instantly on impact. 

Her boyfriend escaped - miraculously - with his life. He had a busted ankle and a compound fracture of the lower leg. Of the three people in the van that her car hit, only one had serious injuries - but thankfully was not paralyzed. 

The police came to our door yesterday around 1 pm with the news. When they had left, my husband called me.

What happened next was a flurry of activity. I was aware of people standing around me as I cried out loud. Kind hands led me to my manager's office. Someone made a phone call for me. Someone else met my husband at the door and people drove us home. We were held, hugged, supported, loved. And fed. Even though we didn't feel like eating. We still don't. Still the food comes, and with it, expressions of concern, caring, loving concern.

It all heals. All of it. 

Before I say what I have to say next, let me say this. I've heard people say to me that God took Arielle. 

THAT IS NOT TRUE. God DIDN'T take her. He would not be so cruel as to TAKE her away from us.

He welcomed her. He welcomed her HOME. Not the home she was expecting of course. Not the home ANY of us were expecting.

But BETTER. Safer. More permanent. 

Last spring, before she left for Alberta.
At breakfast - on Saturday morning.
Arielle. My belle.
1992-07-16 to 2013-10-22

I have two more things to say. Two things only

The first is that a day and a half before she was evicted, our little girl had a personal encounter with God - so real and so powerful that it transformed her heart and made her not feel lonely or alone, for the first time in her life. She was that excited about it!!  She couldn't wait to tell us about it. She told her story to me, then to her father, and then to our dear friend Dorothy, who had been her babysitter and a second mom to her when she was growing up. And it was REAL. We could tell. This was no passing fancy. This was whole. True. Pure. 

I can't say it changed her, not in a way that denied who she was.  But it was MORE. It burned away the impurities. It refined her, strengthened her faith, and turned the direction of her life around. Something that had only been a glimmer or a spark in her growing up burst into flame and became a luminous beacon that sustained her (and, truth be told, US) throughout that last month or so of her life. She got a job. She was on the upswing in her life.

The second thing I have to say is this. You may feel that what you are saying or doing to support us, the seemingly feeble and trite words that you think you are offering, do very little to help. You may feel helpless, powerless in the face of such tragedy. I know because I've felt those same feelings in my life when having to comfort someone who has known similar circumstances. 

And now I'm on the other side of the equation.  
And I am telling you THIS.

You have no idea the power that those little actions, those little words, those inbox messages, those Facebook comments, those hugs and well-wishes, what they all mean. You have simply no idea unless you've been there. But even if you don't have that experience (and I would not wish it on my worst enemy!!) YOU NEED to hear my words and know this deep in your hearts.

What she said to us, I now say to you.

Every. Snowflake. Counts.


  1. Judy, my heart just sunk as I read the words of your loss, and they are beautiful words that you have written of Arielle, but our kids are not supposed leave ahead of us! She was definitely a snowflake that counted and will continue to count in lives of those who knew and loved her. I am so sorry, this is a parent’s worst nightmare, my prayers and thoughts are with you and your husband. Accept this heart felt embrace from your colleague at Yorkville,

  2. It has been over 3.5 years since we said our final goodbye to our belle Arielle, and through the months and years, the pain has not lessened - but we have gotten used to it. Usually. Sometimes it is just as fresh as the first day; other days we miss her, but as if she is on a vacation somewhere.

    Since she passed away, the young man who was in the car with her that night struggled to regain his sense of self, his physical strength, and his emotional equilibrium. He lost that battle this past winter, and we mourn his death... as a senseless loss that could have been prevented if only ... if only so many things.

    But Arielle's legacy does still go on. To this day, her friends drop by her Facebook page and leave notes for her, or they tag her in their memories. Her 'go-big-or-go-home' attitude is an inspiration for me and for so many other people. Over two thousand people have visited this one blog post. To all of them, and to all who will yet be touched by her story and take something from it for themselves, I thank you.

    If Arielle's life and story tells me anything, it is not to judge people's character and motivations just because they have problems in one little area of their lives. We thought we knew what she was about - but after her death, we found out that she was so much more than she ever told us, and did so much more good in this world than we ever knew she was capable of doing. She's still doing it. You're reading this now, so that's proof of it!