Readings from Hula Hoop

This reading is from a presentation entitled Hula Hoop

My promise to Olivia:

I remember when my mother said I may want to write bigger in my card to you so you could read it. I remember when she said you may not be able to read it at all anymore. I know now you won’t read what I’ve written on Earth, but I’ve written it all for you, Olivia.

One of my favorite pictures of Olivia is when she’s in Pamida. She has her short dark blonde hair and she’s wearing some capris with jewelry wrapped around her neck and wrists. She has a grin on her face because she’s hula hooping with her hands in the air like she just does not care.

Cold tears run down my cheeks when I look at this picture. Lately, I’ve been unable to distinguish the difference between the joyful and sad tears. The beautiful picture was taken during a happy moment but all photographs carry baggage with them. The thoughts, memories, sadness of what’s to come for Olivia are present as well. Like life itself, this photograph is bittersweet.

The picture was taken in 2005. It is of a wonderful moment that was captured by my mom. She, my sister, my aunt, Olivia, and Steve were shopping around Pamida, the neighborhood grocery store. Olivia stopped in her tracks and glanced at the hula hoops. Of course she had to brag about how good she was at hula hooping, and being the carefree, fun spirit that she was, she proved it by putting one around her waist and spinning it around.

This picture of Olivia has become a symbol of life for my family. Although I wasn’t at the store that day, I feel like I was because the memory comes up often when my family is talking about my grandma. It was a joyous time.

It was seven years after this photo was taken that my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.

I was her sister.       I was a stranger.       I was her daughter.       I was whatever she said I was. Even when I wasn’t known to her as her granddaughter, Hannah, I was and still am, loved.

Through the degeneration of Alzheimer’s disease, I don’t believe Olivia lost her whole identity. Rather, she became a more condensed version of herself. If she was feeling younger on a certain day, she was younger. One day in 2015, when I visited Olivia, she thought she was about 25 years old. I think she may have thought she was this old when the picture at Pamida was taken, or she at least acted like it… but then again, ever since I can remember, she always had a young spirit.

We moved Olivia into Arlington Place Memory Care Home in February of 2016, and at the time, we didn’t realize how much of a blessing that place would be. Olivia’s home away from home brought so many compassionate, altruistic people into our lives. At Arlington Place, Steven did everything he could to make it Olivia’s new home. He brought furniture from their home, bought her flowers, and visited as often as he could. He even showed up to a fashion show there in a suit and modeled with Olivia.

When I asked Steven why he stayed in Iowa his whole life, he said “Family. That single word pretty well sums it up. Your Grandma Olivia at the center of it. No, she did not demand that we stay in Iowa, but her family was vital to her well-being, too.” He put Olivia first. Always.

Here are the things we learned from Olivia.

  • Every day is a new day;
  • Everyone deserves a second chance;
  • Sometimes we take things too seriously-
  • Or for granted;
  • It is always a good time for singing and dancing.
  • Do not be afraid to love more.
  • Never miss an opportunity to tell someone you love them.
  • Que Sera Sera, whatever will be… will be.

I do not think I’m alone when I say this is a goal of mine but I don’t need to be remembered by a whole society, or a whole country, but if one person can say that I changed their life, like Olivia has done for many, I will consider my life one worth living.

On April 3rd, Olivia was placed in the hospital with a broken hip. Her sisters, Cindy and Nita, were there as well as my mom and myself. While I was sitting by Olivia, I overheard Nita say to my mom, “Ya know, I never realized how much Olivia favors Hannah.”

Again, a few days ago, Nita said, “Your middle name is Olivia right? You remind me so much of her.” Being told I resemble one of the most influential people in my life is the greatest compliment I could receive. I’ve been told multiple times lately that Olivia will live on through me.

Although I believe it is impossible to be as compassionate as Olivia, I will try my hardest. She will not only live on through me, I am certain of this. She will be immortalized by her sisters, her family, her recipes, the children she watched, all of you. And through our acts of love and courage, her memory will be eternal.

If we live life allowing the sadness to be more prominent than the good in the world, we aren’t truly living. That’s the paradox of life. The good and bad are connected and they envelop the world like a hula hoop.


I want you to know that I am writing bigger for you. I am writing bolder and bigger so the world can know your story. The story of unconditional love, even through the fog Alzheimer’s disease. The weakest disease I know.

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