Today would have been the 7th birthday of their daughter, Hazel, but Emily and John McKenna, of Stow, took a sad song and made it better.
They marked the day by making a donation of more than 400 children’s books to Akron Children’s in her memory, bringing their young children and grandparents along to reunite with beloved caregivers in Akron Children’s Haslinger Family Pediatric Palliative Care Center.
Hazel survived just 13 days after complications during her birth and the Haslinger team will forever be remembered by the family for its role in helping John and Emily get through their tragedy.
They created a fund in Hazel’s name in the Haslinger Center that supports bereavement efforts for other families, including remembrance services held twice a year and materials to mail handwritten notes to families suffering loss on a regular basis.
The book drive started with Emily and John wanting their children – Amelia, 9, Conrad, 5, and Mabel, 2 – involved in keeping Hazel’s memory alive.
“Kids and reading is very big at our house,” said Emily. “This began with the idea that we would just buy some books for the hospital, but then grandparents stepped up and friends as well.”
At some point, Emily set a goal of 100 books. She sent out an email to friends and set up a Facebook event to spread the word.
Now 400-plus books later, she is overwhelmed by emotion.
“It just shows how much Hazel impacted so many people,” she said.
The books will be used in a program called “Healing Literally” that was the idea of Dr. Sarah Friebert, director of the Haslinger Family Pediatric Palliative Care Center, and is overseen by the hospital’s medical librarians.
“We match a book with a craft and it’s a great way to spend time with a child who has had a long hospitalization,” said medical librarian Ellen Franks. “We have several retired teachers who volunteer just for this program.”
As an example, the classic picture book “Corduroy,” is a great for exploring topics like loneliness and homesickness with younger children. Corduroy is a teddy bear on display in a department store who is rejected by a family because he has a missing button. He wanders alone through the store at night looking for his missing button. Following the reading, a young patient could craft her own Corduroy, using various shapes and buttons.
“The Chicken Soup for the Teen Soul stories are nice for adolescents,” said Franks. “We give the teens a journal and encourage them to express their feelings on paper.”
The thought of having 400 more books made Franks and fellow librarian Alyssa Portwood very happy.
“What a great resource,” said Franks. “These books will help so many children.”
And as a sweet reminder, the inside cover of each donated book has a pink sticker that reads “In loving memory of Hazel Lucille McKenna.” The word circle a white butterfly.