HARKER HEIGHTS — With her new doll inside its baby carriage, Olyvia Hickman crossed the cul-de-sac to show the other neighborhood children her toy.

Before the 2-year-old reached the other side, a man parked on top of a hill put his car in reverse. Out of nowhere, the 1992 minivan slid down the pavement. The vehicle, which had faulty brakes, didn’t stop and the trailer hitch caught Olyvia’s brown hair.

Her mom, Heidi Hickman, who was outside with her three children when Olyvia was struck, ran toward her youngest as her 3- and 7-year-old watched.

“I screamed for somebody to take off their shirt because my first instinct as a mother was to wrap her head because that’s where she was bleeding from,” Hickman said. “I was actually holding her brains in the back of her head until my neighbor gave me his shirt.”

By then, the ambulance arrived and rushed Olyvia to the hospital. When Hickman, who wasn’t allowed to ride with her daughter, arrived at the hospital, a pastor was waiting to tell her Olyvia was dead.

“It’s kind of one of those situations where if you cut yourself and you bleed a lot, you think it’s a lot worse than what it is,” she said. “In my own mind, that’s how I was processing it. ... When I was standing there and we were all around her bed at the hospital praying, I actually passed out on the floor and my family had to pick me up.”

Giving back

Witnessing the unexpected death of her daughter in Maine on Oct. 2, 2002, was surreal and emotionally overwhelming and it took Hickman several years of counseling before she felt “normal” again.

Hickman, office manager at Heritage Funeral Home and Killeen Memorial Funeral Home, said her life experience makes her want to give back to the community. Last month, the funeral home started hosting a monthly grief support group at its Harker Heights location to support families after their loved ones’ funerals are over.

“We’ve provided a lot of services for children this year and the families that I’ve dealt with; I can relate to those mothers,” Hickman said. “It’s very difficult (to understand) if you are not a parent that has lost a child. You can empathize with them, but you cannot truly understand what it is that they’re feeling because that’s an unnatural part of the (life) cycle.”

Telling their story

Chairs are formed in a circle. Beside each is a box of tissues. Grief-stricken residents slowly filter in and sit down.

Every person has his or her own story of loss — a parent, a child, a spouse; someone in their lives who was taken away from them before they were ready to say goodbye.

By the end of the hour, they shed tears as tissues litter the room.

Some are comfortable enough to share the details of their loved ones’ life and death with complete strangers. Others simply listen and reflect.

“There are people that like to visit with other people and hear similar stories and that’s one thing that helps them,” said Glenn Gray, bereavement coordinator for Scott & White Hospice. “But not everybody likes groups. Some people are very private and that doesn’t mean they’re not grieving.”

‘New normal’

Since every person grieves differently, Hickman said the funeral home wanted to provide the free service to customers who benefit from a social setting.

Dealing with the death of a loved one isn’t something where you can just follow the steps of grieving and be done with it.

“Grief is just something that becomes a part of your life,” Gray said. “It’s not like you’re going to grieve a few weeks or months and then go back to how you were before. After you lose a loved one, you kind of re-establish a new normal. ... (But) that doesn’t mean that your life isn’t going to be happy.”

While the notion that everyone grieves differently is true, some still compare themselves to others who are going through a similar process.

“People want to know that what they’re doing is OK and that they’re not going crazy, because a lot of times you do have racing thoughts and feelings you’ve never had before,” Gray said. “(Don’t) let other people put you on a time frame as to when you need to work through your grief.”

Living with loss

Every day was different as Hickman grieved the loss of her daughter. Some days she’d call in sick to work and her two children would stay home from school.

“Depending on how we felt is how we dealt with the situation,” she said. “We’d (stay) in our pajamas all day, eat popcorn and lay in bed and watch movies because that’s mentally what we had to do. I couldn’t fathom being separated from them for the day or vice versa.”

Other days, she realized although Olyvia was physically gone, her spirit was still with them.

“My other two children were a blessing because I went into mommy mode and survival mode to where my feet hit the floor every day because I had to feed those kids and get them off to school,” Hickman said. “That’s what pushed me to be strong and be able to move forward, but I can honestly say that I probably mentally lost those (first) three years because I don’t remember anything from them.”

Hickman has lived without Olyvia for more than a decade, and each day, month and year bears a different feeling.

“You begin to feel that your feelings are abnormal or that you’re crazy, but going to a support group and hearing the validation I was feeling from other people is what helped me through the grieving process,” she said. “I realized I was normal, and I realized what I was experiencing was normal and that it’s OK. ”

If you go

A grief support group meets at 6:30 p.m. the first Thursday of every month at Heritage Funeral Home, 425 E. Central Texas Expressway, Harker Heights. For more information, call (254) 690-9119.

Contact Sarah Rafique at srafique@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7549. Follow her on Twitter at KDHreporter.

I'm the education reporter at the Killeen Daily Herald. Follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SarahRafique

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