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Saturday, August 30, 2014

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Teen’s legacy will roar on

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The Wise family – from left, Jason, Kaily, Michael, Kari, Sabrina and Olivia. [Shaindel Friedman Photography]

TORONTO — The family of Olivia Sophie Wise is learning to move forward in life without their beloved daughter and sister.

At age 16, Olivia captured worldwide attention by recording her version of Katy Perry’s Roar. The video became an overnight online sensation and drew the attention of Perry, who posted a response to Olivia saying she was “very moved” by the video and “Wise sounded great.”

Olivia lost her battle with brain cancer in November 2013. Her courage and inspiration triggered an outpouring of compassion.

Following her death, Perry tweeted, “Your spirit and strength has inspired me and so many others… May you rest in peace.”

Grief experts say losing a child is the worst kind of loss anyone could possibly go through, a searing and unspeakable pain, but her three siblings have also been experiencing the pain of her loss.

 “I’m glad she’s not suffering anymore. It’s hard but it makes it easier knowing that I feel her with me all the time. I am focusing on all the fun and happy memories I have, and Olivia was, and will always be, my best friend,” said Olivia’s younger sister, Sabrina.

 Her brother expressed it this way: “Sometimes I have trouble sleeping. I miss my sister so much,” Jason said.

Older sister Kaily is also living with past memories. “I’m not doing so great,” she said. “Just trying to get through each day and remembering all the positive memories we had together. I will never be able to fully accept that she’s gone – it still feels like a dream but I know that every step I take in life, she will always be my side.”

Michael Wise, Olivia’s father, expressed his sorrow, but he, too, is clinging to the memories. “I have deep sadness in the pit of my stomach. Life does not feel the same. I hear her tell me in her own voice, ‘I love you Daddy,’ with the way she used to pucker and blow kisses to me,” he reflected.

In the midst of their grief, Kari Winemaker, Olivia’s mother reflected on the apparent injustice of the loss and the need to move on for her family.

“The loss of Olivia is so unfair to my whole family, and especially to Olivia, who had so much to offer. I am thanking God for my other three amazing children, who pick me up each day. I know they deserve to be able to carry on, so I feel I have to show them how. I am forcing myself to be the mother I was and the one I want to be. I am doing my best to get us all back to our schedules and to living life to the best of our abilities.”

But it’s not easy, she added. “Not a second goes by each day that I don’t think of Olivia, her beauty, her zest for life, her wonderful spirit, and I use this to propel me forward. She is a huge part of me. I have learned so much from her. I feel her presence every day. I speak to her at times, to tell her how much I love her and to ask what she would do about certain things. I am trying to find purpose for this awful tragedy.”

 Olivia’s dream was to help children, her mother said. “We started the Liv Wise Fund. My kids were selling Liv Wise bracelets at school raising money from early on. We have changed the name to the Liv Wise Foundation, raising money for brain cancer research and children living with brain cancer. We have raised over $200,000 and the numbers are continuing to rise.”

Winemaker praised the Jewish community, which she said has been supportive from the time they heard of Olivia’s illness. “We have received support from community members such as dropping off a challah, offering kind words, helping with car pool and if we need something, people are there, and we are thankful.”

It’s important to keep loved ones alive in our heart and in the hearts of other people as well, she said. “We talk about Liv, we go to places she enjoyed. We still buy the food she liked. We see something that reminds us of her. Every Sunday, we have family and friends for dinner, and we reminisce.

“Olivia loved her circle of friends, singing and performing in theatre productions. She made an impression anywhere she went – people fell in love with her everywhere,” reflected Winemaker.

A fundraiser is being planned at the Toronto Zoo this spring, Winemaker said. “A run – Liv will roar again.”

Olivia’s versions of Roar and Simple Girl, an a cappella version of a song Olivia wrote when she was 11, are available on iTunes with the proceeds going to the LivWiseFoundation.

Visit www.livwisefoundation.com for more information.

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