As children, we were constantly asked what we were going to “be” when we grew up. For John and Abigail Hughes, there was no waiting to find out what their beautiful daughter Hazel was going to be. She already was.
While many of us strive to be more patient, more giving, or more compassionate, Hazel was. While we try to be more aware of those around us, to look for ways to help, to be a better friend, Hazel was. While we toil to find some kindness and happiness in this world, Hazel just was.
And after eight and a half short years of sharing that joy with the world, Hazel’s parents, brothers, friends, and loved ones weren’t ready for it to be over.
But on March 19th of 2017, Hazel simply didn’t wake up.
Sudden Unexplained Death of a Child (SUDC) was the only answer the Hughes were given as to why the light had suddenly gone out in their life. Occurring in 1.2 out of every 100,000 children, and significantly less common after the age of 4, SUDC is 45 times less common than SIDS.
There’s a word for someone who has lost their parents. They become an orphan. There’s a word for when you lose a spouse. You are now a widow. When you lose a beloved child, you have no choice but to become a warrior.
The Hughes have poured their grief into the actions they believe Hazel would take. Raising money for other families affected by tragedies. They have organized multiple fundraisers, bike rides, and even a birthday party for a child who will never open another present, but who continues to gift her community through the love she left behind.
Megan Barber, the counselor at the school Hazel used to attend, often finds herself at a loss for words when it comes to the precious, precocious girl, but never at a loss of energy or passion when it comes to helping further her cause.
“I have known a lot of kind kids – but Hazel truly had a heart of gold. A servant’s heart. She just knew the kids who needed love, the kids who needed a friend. She knew how to calm others, befriend others, and be the epitome of kindness, respect, and selflessness. I can still hear her giggle…”
“I met Hazel when she entered Kindergarten at our school. Every morning when she got off the bus she would take a “short cut” through the main office. It really wasn’t a short cut at all, she just always wanted to come through and say good morning to our secretary and our school nurse. What a blessing that they got to start their days with that sweet face!”
Megan explains that Hazel went on to become a peer role model through first and second grade, helping students struggling to make friends or deal with emotional and social issues.
“I didn’t really get to know Abby until after we lost Hazel. Abby took a job as a teacher associate at the school, and it was really the rainbow that came out of this storm. To get to know her as a friend and a mother. I have grown to whole-heartedly admire her strength. Hazel would be so proud of her mom. So proud.”
And when Megan invited Abby to join her team, Bondurant Babes, to run Market to Market, she saw it as an opportunity to bring Hazel’s heart to even more people. The team ran in the girl’s honor, and to support their friend as she continues to navigate life without Hazel.
“The alarm went off at 3:30 on race day, and I didn’t get back home until 16 hours later, but we loved the whole day! We listened to Celine Dion for inspiration at some point, and I’m pretty sure all the other teams thought we had lost it… And we definitely felt Hazel pushing us along.”
For the last 2 agonizing years, those who love Hazel have done their best to learn the lessons she taught them in her short time on earth. Stop waiting. Stop looking for peace. Stop looking for fun. Stop looking for happiness. Children don’t look for happiness. They just are.
To learn more about this extraordinary girl and the work her family continues to do in her name, head to https://www.facebook.com/Heart-Of-Hazel-332398740674520/