I would like to begin by
thanking everyone who’s here in attendance today, and the outreach of support
displayed by our family, friends, church, schools, employers, coworkers, and
community through these difficult times.
Your generosity has been broadcasted on the news, been printed in the
paper, and more importantly given my family and I the peace of mind that Liv’s
life has had an impact on so many, making her short ten year journey, one of
the most beautiful and meaningful journeys I’ve come to know, so I’d like to
take the next ten minutes to share her journey, what I’ve learned from the
journey, and what myself and hopefully others will do to honor her journey on
this earth as we all begin to heal.
how they wish they had hair like Liv. I
had the honor of showering Liv regularly, and every time I washed her hair, I
brushed it with conditioner in. I tried
my best to be gentle, but there was always hair coming out with each pass of
the comb. By the end there would be a
ball of hair roughly the size of a kitten, yet when she was dressed and her
hair was fanned out to dry, you couldn’t tell there was any missing. It was incredible, and what was more incredible
is that no one every walked up to my family and I to say look at the girl in
the wheelchair or gosh she looks different.
It was always, “Look at that hair.”
For that, I am grateful. This
journey isn’t just about the influence Liv had on us, but how each of you saw
Liv’s beauty and interacted with her.
beginning of it all. I’ll never forget
the first time I cried over Liv. We went
to the doctor’s office to have an ultrasound and hear Liv’s heartbeat. Her life wasn’t real to me until I heard that
heartbeat, and I can never forget the joy it gave me to be a father. You see, as a child, I always wanted to be a
professional football player or Jacque Cousteau, underwater explorer. I wanted grandeur and adventure. I was fortunate to meet Kelly, who
domesticated me. Kelly taught me to be a
husband, and Liv, Liv taught me to be a father, and it was while I listened to
Liv’s heartbeat I realized my true dream was to be a complete family man. After that, I simply wanted a big
family. I wanted to provide and support
them through good times and bad, to lift them up in their triumphs and protect
them from danger. It was during the very
sound of Liv’s heartbeat the course of my life changed, and my dreams changed
to a main focus of being a father.
spent planning a space for Liv and discussions of things to come, including
what Liv’s name would be. With three
months left in the pregnancy, I thought we had agreed on the name Finley. About two weeks before Liv was born, Kelly
and I were having a conversation, I stated that we at least agree on one
name. Kelly look surprisingly at me and
said “which one is that?” I said Finley. Kelly said I don’t know if that is the one
anymore. I was shocked and it was back
to the drawing board. Kelly really
wanted Livia and I really wanted Grace.
I believe you can all see how it ended up. The funny thing is I never brought up the
name Finley for our second born because I didn’t want to go through the same process
of hoping for it, but two weeks prior to our second daughter’s birth, Kelly
said, “do you know what name is really coming on strong?” I said, “no.”
She said, “Finley.” I wanted to
rush to the hospital that very moment.
We have two daughters. Livia
Grace and Finley Faith. Faith and
Grace. As I was reading through
scripture one day, it was no mistake I came across Ephesians 2:8, which says “For
it is by grace you have been saved, through Faith – and this is not from
yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
Kelly and I were graced with two beautiful daughters and our faith grew
through raising and caring for them.
Both our girls and our lives are gifts of God. Livia’s name was no mistake. Livia, whose name we shorten to Liv has
taught myself and others to Liv by Grace.
At that point in our lives, with two daughters and a plan of more
children to come, life was right. There
were some indicators of Liv not developing as fast as she should, but to the
best of our knowledge, we had two healthy, beautiful girls.
surgery to remove Liv’s adenoids and place tubes in her ears led us to a
geneticist, who looked at Liv and stated she shows mild signs of a storage
disorder. We were finally getting some
answers. I thought we were on the road
to a diagnosis, we’d get some medicine or a treatment, and Liv’s life would be
back on track, and so would my dreams of being a father and having a big family. I guess I didn’t really understand what the
doctor was saying, because on July 8, 2009, we received a phone call that we
needed to come in to see the doctor right away.
We were in central Illinois with plans to be there for another week, so
we weren’t quite certain if we wanted to come back to Rockford that
minute. Then the nurse explained to
Kelly over the phone why we needed to come up.
I vaguely remember hearing Kelly say San-what? How do you spell it? We then did the worst thing anyone could do
at that time. We googled it. T-E-R-M-I-N-A-L, and in the time it took me
to spell it, we were in the van. I don’t
remember the ride up, but I remember thinking not us. We’ll overcome this. We know people. Shortly after the doctor’s visit, we had to
have a blood draw to test Finley too.
While Kelly was dealing with that, I made three phone calls. The first was to my parents. I’ve not heard my father cry before, but I
can never forget hearing the tears that day on the other end of the phone. It solidified the fact that this journey was
not going to be easy. The next phone
call went out to my Uncle Dave, who has a chemical engineering degree and
helped to develop some medical advancements.
Surely he knows someone who is doing the research. While he was willing to look into it, he had
never heard of the disorder. Then came
by buddy John, who has a degree in biochemistry and has worked at various
medical clinics. Certainly he would know
of something, but that too was a dead end.
Unfortunately I was looking for solid ground in mankind, when I should
have been praying to God, but I wouldn’t grasp that lesson until much later in
life. For six months I only thought of
all of the things I would not have or get to do with my Livia Grace. I would not see her walk across the
graduation stage. I would not walk her
down the aisle of her wedding, and I would not get to spoil her children, my
grandchildren. My dreams of having a big
family quickly vanished as we found out it was a 1 in 4 chance with each child
we have that they will have Sanfilippo. I
feelings about what I would not be able to experience with Liv, six months
after her diagnosis, and it was on that day he told me I could continue to
focus on everything I wouldn’t have, but in doing so, I would miss out on
making some pretty good memories along the way.
It was that day I decided I must begin to LIV my life to the
fullest. I wouldn’t let time rob me of
the memories that could be made, and I must look to the positives if I was
going to give my family the best life God would allow. Kelly and I spoke about it and decided we
should start a foundation to bring about awareness and raise money for
research. With the help of Kelly’s Uncle
and a couple of close friends, we established the LivLife Foundation, where we
would do more to raise awareness and funds for research. We would use our story to help others realize
how precious life is, to be grateful for their blessings, and for them to LIV
life to the fullest. Something had
changed inside of me, and I began to be able to create beautiful and wonderful
moments. I began to notice more laughter
that lead to a greater number of memorable moments. Liv’s favorite activity just so happened to be
dancing, so we danced like fools. We
danced like fools to the Wiggles, to Elmo, and to Beyonce. We watched the video “All the Single Ladies”
countless times, mostly ending by falling to the ground in exhaustion and laughter. Kelly joked that she hoped no one would see
us. I secretly hoped others would see
our craziness and long to be a part of the fun.
Liv’s laughter was infectious, and like morning sun creeping through the
cracks in the blinds, that laughter would light up your life. It was inescapable, and I had that laughter
each and every day if I chose to make it happen. The laughter and the dancing lasted for a
time, but Sanfilippo slowly robbed Liv of that.
As a matter of fact, Sanfilippo robbed Liv of dancing, laughing,
talking, walking, eating, and eventually took her life, but the amazing thing
about it, is that during Liv’s short time here on this earth, we have all
learned from her that happiness comes in so many shapes and forms. While Liv was robbed of so much, it never
took away what she said with her eyes.
They were the biggest, brownest eyes you’d ever set sight on, and she
expressed her love well through those eyes.
came in to contact through those eyes.
She always wanted to hold a hand and offer a smile. No one was a stranger, and no one could
escape those big brown eyes or her smile that lit up the room. I would walk through the store with Liv and
kids and their parents would go out of their way to say hi to Livia, and the
joy on their face when they said hello was incredible. There were many times I was known as Liv’s dad. It is one of the greatest honors that could
ever be given, after all, my dream was and still is to be a family man. Liv’s innocence was catchy and influenced
many to love and accept people for who they are. As I think back to the beginning of mankind,
back in the Garden of Eden, I think of the first two humans and how they were
made with complete innocence and love to share with one another. This form of innocence was God’s original
perfect creation. In Matthew 10, verses
13-16, it says “People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch
them, but the disciples rebuked them.
When Jesus saw this, he was indignant.
He said to them, Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder
them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not
receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. And he took the children in his arms, put his
hands on them and blessed them. For
years, I prayed for God to either provide a miracle of modern science to cure
all children with Sanfilippo or to outright heal Livia through a divine
miracle. While I wanted this more than
anything, there were times I wondered what would happen if Livia was healed,
but rebuked God for her experiencing the health issues. How would I feel if Livia was cured, to have
a complete life here on this earth and not go to heaven? I would never be able to forgive myself. In Liv’s imperfections, she was absolutely
perfect. Perfect love. Perfect acceptance. Perfect innocence. In reflection of it all, I was blessed to be
the father of a perfect angel here on this earth. It took me years to realize my prayers for
healing were being answered by God, but it wasn’t the type of healing in
accordance to my plan. Slowly, God
healed me, so I was able to accept and acknowledge this perfect angel in my
life and learn how to live a better life in accordance with God’s word.
with Liv, raising this beautiful angel with complete innocence wasn’t always
easy. Liv always wanted to be involved
in what we were doing, including the almost daily gourmet meals my lovely wife
likes to cook for our family. Cooking
meant the use of hot pans and sharp objects.
I remember coming home one day to Kelly having baby Finley strapped to
her chest in a baby carrier, there were green beans being sautéed on the stove
and a cutting board and knife on the counter near her. Liv was laughing as she persistently grabbed
at the pan and then at the cutting board, and of course it was a fun game to
Liv. Poor Kelly was trying to cook and
defend while keeping Livia safe. I
remember thinking I wish Liv would stop grabbing at everything. I have reflected on that very thought
numerous times since. Before I knew it, Liv stopped walking, and I would have
given anything to have those moments back of having to defend whatever was
going on in the kitchen or even in the garage.
I would give anything to have Livia trying to be involved and laughing
about what she thought was a game as we tried to stop and protect her from
various dangers. My frustrations eventually
turned into longings. You never realize
what you wish away until it’s too late.
The simple interactions of trying to protect Liv from her persistent
desires to get involved in what Kelly and I were doing is something I will miss
for the rest of my life. This past
summer Kelly cooked a meal for a family who lost their mother. Kelly and Finley had an obligation that
afternoon, so it was my job to take Liv with me and food to the grieving family. I then had to make it back to the house in
time to meet with another person over a scheduled obligation. I had the food loaded up, and I was ready to
load Livia up when I realized she had pooped.
I laid Livia down on a pad to change her, and as I opened up her diaper,
it went everywhere. The pad wasn’t wide
enough to handle the volume, and things got onto the carpet. I was frustrated at first. I had limited, fleeting time, and too much
was being consumed by my endeavor to simply change a diaper. I then paused, took a deep breath, and told
myself an alternative is that Livia is not here for me to change her
diaper. I suddenly became grateful for
Livia being there and the opportunity to simply have time with her. The rest of the world could wait, but it was
time for me to be a father and care for my daughter. I am grateful for taking a minute to realize
how precious my time was with Livia, because I would again give anything to
have to change another diaper.
death. Of course, I had, but I didn’t originally realize the depth of her
question. You see, Kelly had thought about many intimate and personal
details. Things that no mother should ever have to think of, but only a
mother could think of. Together, we decided to let a few others in on
these details. You see, it takes, and has taken a village to care for a
child. Livia loved her Barbies. When she was younger, you would
never see her without one in her hands. She would twirl and chew on her
Barbie’s until they needed replaced. We asked Finley to pick out a brand
new Barbie for her sister. Finley picked one out for Livia, and one for
herself. She chose sister Barbies identical in every way except the color
of their hair. Finley kept hers, and Liv has her favorite toy with her
now. Livia is wearing a bracelet that matches one that Finley now
has. Kelly and Livia have matching cross necklaces. The vision of
Livia being restored in Heaven is a source of comfort and peace for us.
Knowing that she is running, dancing, and playing like all children should be,
is a beautiful image. Because of this, we wanted her to have a brand new
pair of running shoes. Her shoes are now supporting her adventures and play
with all of her new friends. Kelly was able to take the time to paint her fingernails
a soft color of pink reflecting Livia’s sweet and soft personality. Her
toenails were painted yellow like the color of the sun. After all, Liv is
our sunshine. Finley was able to send her sister off with a signature
piece of her artwork and a handwritten note. This note was a request of
Finley to never forget us. Another personal and intimate detail is that Liv is
wearing her first pair of underwear. Something she’s never been able to
have until now. The last detail that Kelly wanted was to have a dress
made for Livia out of her wedding dress. Kelly had received a “nudge”
this summer that it was time to accomplish this. We asked a friend to
help us find a seamstress willing to take on the significant task. Kelly
received the news a little over a month ago that the dress was finished.
A good lesson for all of us to listen for and follow through with those
“nudges.” This past Monday we were able to see Livia in her dress. She
looked absolutely beautiful and peaceful in the dress. It’s a comfort
knowing that we were able to provide these gifts to Livia. These details
are a source of comfort for us that will remain in our hearts forever.
Kelly even wrote a beautiful poem reflecting the symbolism of our marriage in
the newly created dress we gave our little sunshine. The poem is titled
family we love.
plans for that were long put away.
honor for you.
beauty. It now surrounds the gift that was ours to borrow; for all
laughter in heaven, but where do we go from here? The dust will settle. Our lives will once again slow down, as will
our tears. What is it that I hope you
choose to do honor these beautiful lessons we’ve learned from Livia’s short
journey? I’d like to start with the fact
that you should dance like a fool, no matter who is watching. Just open up and have a little fun, so you
can create those fond memories with loved ones that will last a lifetime. Next, be certain to never wish anything
away. As frustrating as some things may
be, I want you to think about the alternatives, because that person may not be
there one day. You never know when one
of those moments may be your last. Life
can be a beautiful journey if you allow it to be, so take the initiative to
make it so. Last, love and accept with
the innocence of a child. That is how
God originally made mankind, and I think you’ll realize that innocence will
establish lasting and loving relationships in your life. Thank you all, and God Bless.