Twice now, Jennie and Andrew Huskilson have packed their bags, locked their Welshtown, N.S., home, and gotten as far as the car in order to get away for a while and try to recover from the worst hurt the world can dish out.
They couldn’t leave.
“My husband and I looked at each other and said, ‘We can’t do it. We can’t leave yet. This is where we want to be. Home. This is helping us through, being home and being around all these people’.”
Theirs is a story of dreadful loss, heart-scalding grief, family, community and spirit. It is a story of love, told through a little girl’s spirit.
On Jan. 12, the Huskilsons lost their 5-year-old daughter Carmen, a sunny “princessy” person who, her father said in his eulogy, inspired “a smile from every person whose eyes met hers.”
When Carmen was born, the odds of survival were already stacked against her. A prenatal ultrasound diagnosed a diaphragmatic hernia — which meant her heart and lungs were in the wrong place.
The Huskilsons were told that she’d be lucky to walk. “How many of you saw her run,” Andrew asked mourners.
After months of speech therapy, Carmen’s parents were told she would never speak. “She talked herself to sleep every night,” he said.
Her parents never imagined she would be able to attend school. “That was her favourite thing in life,” Andrew, 34, said in his eulogy. “She absolutely loved school.”
Andrew opened that eulogy by saying “this community” — not just his family — “has lost a sweet little girl.”
He closed it by asking that community to “pay it forward in her name” by doing something for the people of Welshtown and by helping others.
What happened in the two weeks since has astonished Andrew and Jennie.
As the Facebook page “Paying It Forward, In memory of Carmen Faith Huskilson” chronicles, people from around Shelburne County, N.S., around the Maritimes, across Canada and around the world began committing small acts of kindness in honour of a little girl few had met.
“I never would have imagined it would have grown to this magnitude,” Jennie Huskilson told the Star on Wednesday. “I’m happy that something good is coming from all this . . . . It’s spreading all over the world.”
Her daughter — big sister to Ryan, 3 — was a “sunny personality,” said Jennie, 29. “She was always happy.
“She had to endure a lot of things, procedures and painful experiences and she never complained. She put on her brave face every time. Things that most people wouldn’t even be able to handle, that little girl just breezed through.
“She was always a kind friend. She loved school. She loved all little-girl things. She was a very ‘princessy’ girl, that’s how I explain her a lot of times. She loved princesses and dolls and dress-up and makeup and all those girly things.”
Jennie said it’s remarkable how much teaching a fragile little life can do.
“This whole experience, I guess you call it, has made me a more humble person. A lot of things that I would have taken for granted in the past I try not to. But that is because of Carmen’s spirit.
“She was innocent. She didn’t hold grudges because she didn’t know what that meant. She didn’t know bad. I don’t know how to explain it any other way. She only knew kindness and joy.”
Jennie said she and Andrew, the fifth generation to run the family funeral home business, will take time to rest a while at some point.
“We have had a couple of nights where we let people think we had gone away, but we were actually home just to have some time to ourselves.
“If we take a break, I hope that the word (of paying kindness forward in memory of her little girl) gets spread far enough that we can just let it go and it will grow as much as it can.”
Thriving on the power of Carmen’s mighty spirit.