I always wanted to be a mom. When I was a little girl, I played house with my dolls. I would pretend to feed them and change their diapers. I would wrap them up in blankets and carry them around the house. When I got a little older, I would help our neighbors with their four little boys. I loved them and was always so excited when I could go next door and help.
I babysat when I was a teenager and in high school I worked at a local daycare after school. Having children was never a question and I truly had no doubt that I would be a mom…one day.
To my surprise, it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. My husband and I started trying to have a baby as soon as we were married. After many doctor appointments, six miscarriages and lots of tears, I was finally pregnant with our sweet Eliza Hope. She was born on April 12, 2012. So many people had prayed for her. She was everyone’s miracle and we were happy.
I loved being Eliza’s mom.
When our sweet girl was 18 months old she had her first seizure and after many tests she was diagnosed with epilepsy. When she was two, she received an autism diagnosis. At that appointment, the neurologist told us that Eliza would probably never talk and that we needed to prepare to take care of her for her entire life. I was devastated. How could our perfect little girl be facing such an uncertain future? How could I live with never hearing her sing a song or say a full sentence? After a few weeks of letting all of this information sink in, Aaron and I knew that although we would face some challenges in our future we would be the BEST special needs parents! We would advocate. We would make sure she got all of the therapies she needed and nothing would stop us from giving Eliza the best life!
And then on November 11th 2016, our sweet and beautiful 4 1/2 year old little girl went to heaven peacefully in her sleep. Eliza fought so hard everyday. She was joyful, kind and loving to everyone she met but she was tired and her little heart just gave out.
Those days are blurry. The shock and pain of losing a child is unexplainable. It feels like you are being ripped apart. There is no other way to describe it. My child, my little girl, my miracle was gone and I couldn’t even begin to grasp how I could ever go on.
On Sunday November 13th, my cousin told me a story about a family whose son died after a long battle with cancer. They started a foundation and seeing the positive results of that helped them heal. Before he could say another word, The Eliza Foundation started taking shape in my mind AND in my heart. I would start a foundation to raise money for a therapy center where children with autism could go to receive all the therapies they need. This would keep parents from having to drive their children all over Hampton Roads to appointments and would provide a place where all a child’s therapists could work together on a perfect therapeutic plan for each individual child.
I had no doubt that this was a needed service but how would I ever be able to do this? It was almost overwhelming, so I had to stop thinking and just start doing. Nineteen months after that first conversation with my cousin, The Eliza Hope Foundation became an official 501(c)(3) and on June 21st 2018 we cut the ribbon for the official opening of the Eliza Hope Therapy Center.
We have therapy rooms, a sensory gym, large group room and open spaces for everyone to use. It is painted the color rhinestone, which is the color I chose for Eliza’s bedroom while she was still in my belly. We have a pinecone sculpture that stands three feet tall and we have an aquarium; both things Eliza loved. I watch the kids come in and stare at the fish and touch the pinecone and I get completely overwhelmed with a sense that Eliza is with us – that her heart and her spirit continue to touch people. I have her backpack with her name on it hanging on a hook in the large group room. No one will ever move it. We have a sweet little room that we made into a library with all of Eliza’s favorite books. Eliza would beeline to the book corner in every center or therapy room that she stepped foot in. Her favorite book to look at has been taped back together 100 times but it will always be on the shelf. We have a huge butterfly mural that was done with so much love by one of Eliza’s babysitters. She was able to capture everything about Eliza on one wall.
This is how we choose to honor our daughter, whose life was too short but whose legacy – to help families like ours give their sweet children the best place to learn – will be remembered forever. We will cheer them on when they succeed and we will cry when they get to move on to their next chapter. We will love these families because that’s what we were able to experience. And, shouldn’t everyone be that blessed?
This was Eliza’s purpose. This was her gift to the world. And, I am just grateful that she was ours.