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'Half my soul is frozen' after a child's deathJuly 30, 2012 @ 5:29 pm (Updated: 10:45 am - 7/31/12 )
Grace Tam's family explored trails along the Mountain Loop Highway many times. Two years ago, on a hot July 31, they hiked to the Big Four Ice Caves about 25 miles east of Granite Falls.
"On the trail, I found some wild huckleberry, but only three of them and there were six of us," says John Tam, "Gracie bit half the huckleberry and gave me the other half."
The berry was the last thing the daughter and father shared.
"After lunch, we went a little closer. We were about 15 to 17 feet in front of the caves. I'm always the one to go in front and take a picture of everybody. I guess a chunk of ice fell down and bounced on Gracie," John says, his voice getting quiet and shaky.
Grace's mother, Tamami Okauchi, finishes her husband's sentence.
"After that, we carry her down to a safer place and we tried to keep her alive. After awhile, about 45 minutes after the accident I can tell her eyes are dilated and then they started doing CPR on her. They did about 15 minutes or so," she says, "She didn't come back."
Grace, age 11, died July 31, 2010 from internal injuries after she was struck by a large piece of ice.
The ice caves are one of the most popular hiking attractions in Snohomish County. The trail leading to the caves is an easy hike for beginners because of its gentle slope. That does not convey the danger of the area which is in an unstable avalanche zone. The ice caves are constantly melting and shifting, especially in the summer months.
Big Four Ice Caves photos by Anne Julson
Last December the Lake Stevens family filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service. They want the federal agency to post warnings that fully explain the danger near the ice caves. The Tams felt their concerns were ignored, so they filed a lawsuit to bring about changes. The suit accuses the Forest Service of negligence.
Last week, the federal government asked that the suit be dismissed. A U.S. District Court Judge in King County is set to consider the case August 17.
While attorneys deal with the lawsuit, Grace's parents wonder how they will ever get past the loss of their little girl. How does a parent ever have a "normal life" after losing a child? John and Tamami would like to know.
"There's nothing in the world that I've read or experienced that gives me any kind of knowledge of how to go forward on this thing," says John. "We have a son that we need to raise. We need to give him a normal life, but in the meantime, we cannot forget Grace."
Grace's younger brother, William, wanted to build a time machine to "bring Gracie back."
They talk about Grace as if she is still here, and they need to believe she is.
"Every day we talk to her still," John says. "I still ask her, 'How are you doing?' Half my soul is frozen. No matter what I am doing, thought of Grace never fades from my mind. I will forever struggle how to spend the rest of my life without Grace's presence."
"In our house I can see her smile almost everywhere," Tamami says. "Outside our yard, in our neighborhood, I can hear her voices. She's still waving at me from the window. I can see her everywhere."
John and Tamami have published some of her poetry and journal writings in a book called "Love Is..." All the proceeds from the book will be donated to area animal shelters. Grace wanted to open a shelter for abandoned dogs.
Among the passages, Grace writes about school, teachers, her friends. In a letter to future teachers, she described herself as "usually very quiet on the first day of school." She also wrote about what love means to her.
"Love is like an end of a rainbow, that covers your heart with lots of red roses. It makes your face smile and makes you happy all day long," Grace writes. "Love is a person who cares for you and shows they love you with all their heart."
By LINDA THOMAS
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