Maui Wedding and Family Photographer | Wendy Laurel Photography

Loving Olivia//07/02/2012

I don’t really know what to say. I did not know Olivia well. Before she was sick, she was just Julia’s super cute little sister.  I wasn’t that close with her family. We have kids in the same ages, but wrong genders. My oldest is a boy, Olivia’s big sister, Julia is not.  Nalu and Julia swim together at Lahaina Swim Team and that is how I know the family.

Their middle child A. J. is a bit older than my middle girls and wrong gender again.  And Noa is a few years younger than Olivia.

To me, Momoko, Olivia’s mom, was just the prettiest swim mom around.. always fashionable and gorgeous at the meets and practices.  Alex, Olivia’s Dad, was a very nice guy and amazing dad I chatted with on swim trips and meets.  Julia was just a very good swimmer– a bit younger than Nalu but a champion.

Then Olivia got sick.  And we were heartbroken for the family.  But we didn’t know them well and didn’t know what to do.

My girls wrote a small children’s book, published it on Blurb and sold several copies to try to raise money for the family.  We followed their story on their Caring Bridge site and sent them messages and love while they were on the mainland getting treatment. We listened and read their stories and fell in love with Olivia.

We believed it would all end fine.  A minor glitch.

Then there was tragedy at home.  Another little girl in Lahaina, Sophie,  died in a tragic accident.  My family was shocked and grief stricken as was the whole community.

Meanwhile Olivia was fighting her cancer and struggling.  Her family brought her home to Maui and then off to Texas for more treatments.

And then my mom was diagnosed with stage 3 throat cancer.  We turned inward and focused on our family. We cared for my mom in our home and I held her hand when she died.  That was when my faith in God was shaken.  I felt cheated and robbed.

And Olivia continued to fight. She regained her ability to talk and swallow (which were lost after surgery and chemo). She sang and loved her family. She went to the beach.

We believed she was getting better.

But Olivia’s scans showed that the cancer was spreading.  And her family reached out to the community.. for financial help so Alex could stay home and spend his time with the family, for meals so they didn’t have to waste time shopping and cooking. And that is when I had something I could do for them.

We pitched in and did a very small thing. We brought meals on Tuesdays.  They ate what my kids ate.  I hate to cook so it was often the healthiest take out I could find.  Sushi, items from the health food store that my kids loved, frozen pizza and little things we thought would help them.  I felt blessed I could do something concrete for them.  My kids looked forward to Tuesdays.  And as I brought the meals, I got to know them better.  And saw firsthand what an amazing and special family they are.  In the midst of their crisis, how thoughtful they were. How polite. How loving.  How they cared for all their children and put everything they had, plus more, into fighting for Olivia and fighting for a normal childhood for A. J. and Julia as well.  How bright and cheerful their home was.  How symbols of their love for Olivia filled it.  How they expressed their gratitude in the face of their tragedy.

I lived through caring for my mom.   I felt the most enormous stress and grief that I can not even put into words. And yet, I know that what I went through is only a very small taste of what they have gone through.  It is not comparable.  And for them to have gone through what they have and to have the attitude, the love, the joy, and the hope I felt at Olivia’s Memorial is a miracle.

I feel blessed that they let me help them in my small way. And even more thankful that they asked me to document Olivia’s memorial service.  The stories I heard, the letters read, the faith I witnessed has restored my faith.  Olivia Bianco’s courage, joy, and hope in her life and the amazing circle of people who surrounded her is all the proof I need.

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You can see all the images from Olivia’s Memorial on facebook here.

  1. Such an amazing post, and incredible community and beautiful photos…

  2. Beautiful images Wendy. What an incredible gift of memories to be able to give to the family, and I’m sure they will treasure them.

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