Layla’s Dream: Child's legacy lives on
Layla’s Dream: Child's legacy lives on
CUMBERLAND – Last Thursday, just eight weeks after they’d lost their only child, parents Alaina and Bill “BJ” Charette walked through the doors of Hasbro Children’s Hospital, where their daughter passed away, and up to the intensive care unit.
Carting toys, books and blankets, they carried a simple mission: Continuing what 5-year-old Layla did so well – share.
Layla, of course, is greatly missed. They miss her caring soul, her silly stories and her imagination.
They miss her shy but welcoming demeanor, her dancing and the way she called everyone in her kindergarten classroom her friend.
Her classmates at Community School miss her, too, and a stuffed animal now sits in her desk seat, if ever the students need a “Layla” hug.
Layla Charette was 5 years old when she came down with a sudden illness in February that claimed her life just three days later.
BJ, who would call Layla “little monkey,” remembers the day in the hospital when a toy cart came by when Layla was still alive. She picked out an Elsa doll, a stuffed animal bunny and a book about dinosaurs.
“For five minutes, while she got to pick that stuff out, she wasn’t thinking about what was going on. She wasn’t thinking about the IVs that they put in her that hurt. She wasn’t thinking about the oxygen mask, she was focused on her toys and seeing her not worried about everything … it brings a little bit of relief to us,” he said.
Talking about their Hasbro toy delivery plans, BJ said, “If Layla were here, she’d love this.”
The 5-year-old was always sharing, what her parents called a difficult concept for kids to understand at such a young age.
She had a passion for helping, whether that meant “sweeping up” hair at the barber shop her father frequented, putting items on the shelves at the Northern Rhode Island Food Pantry, sorting goods for the Cumberland Happy Baskets program or cleaning up after storytime at Phantom Farm and events at the Office of Children, Youth and Learning.
Interestingly enough, her parents explained with a chuckle, cleaning up wasn’t something they’d see much of at home. Instead, BJ said, laughing, the couple knew exactly which room she played in by tracking the “Layla hurricane.”
She was a gift-giver, her parents said, and was always asking to pick something up for her karate instructor, friends or family members.
The parents returned the favor in their own way, and with the help of others, were able to raise $30,000 in three days for their toy donation mission using a Go Fund Me page created by Joe Kayata, Alaina’s brother.
The Charettes then traveled to Hasbro toy company in Pawtucket, where they selected princess dolls, Potato Head, Star Wars and My Little Pony toys. They added coloring and sticker books, crossword puzzles, small pillows and colorful blankets to the mix, and with a donation from CVS, were also able to donate 1,000 boxes of quality tissues for parents staying at the hospital.
Sitting at Phantom Farm in Cumberland, the same place they used to bring Layla for storytime, BJ and Alaina explained that they would try to treat each child they gave toys to as if it was their birthday.
The ICU takes care of children from infancy through age 15, Alaina said, and that was the age span the couple had in mind when seeking items for the trip to Hasbro. The couple plans to return and bring in more gifts, but for children who are staying in the hospital long-term, or visit frequently due to severe illnesses.
It’s their hope to share items like iPads or video game systems, particularly for kids who are staying at the hospital for long periods of time. Since many children at the hospital aren’t home with their pets, Alaina said, they’re also donating toys that resemble and “act” like real dogs and cats.
Layla loved baby dolls, the Charettes said, and her favorite was named “Summer.”
“She treated them like they were real,” Alaina said.
They were so important to Layla that she’d interrupt her father during election season, when he spoke with constituents around town. BJ said she’d stop him, asking why he hadn’t introduced her dolls. She’d then take the floor to inform everyone who the dolls were.
Thinking back to everyone in the community who has supported them since Layla’s passing, the parents said they’ve been overwhelmed with help and positivity. When the two returned home without their beloved little girl, they took a walk through the neighborhood, which had been decorated with pink bows on telephone poles and candles in their neighbors’ windows.
For nearly two months straight, BJ remembered, their friends organized a meal train for them.
“As much as this has been the worst … it’s the worst moment of your life … we’ve been so blessed with support from so many people,” even strangers, Alaina said.
“We can feel it. Every day, I can feel the people praying for us. I just feel like that’s what’s moving us up right now,” she said.
Now, the couple hopes to establish a nonprofit, Layla’s Dream, to continue giving back to the hospital community and help fund research that Layla’s doctor was working on. To learn more about how to help the cause, email BJ at email@example.com or visit www.gofundme.com/laylas-dream .
The couple chose the name, Alaina said, because right before Layla was sedated, she kept saying, “I feel like I’m a dream.”
The mother said, ”We had two choices. We could crawl into a hole and just be depressed and sad and just live and grieve, or we could do something to honor Layla, and that’s what we wanted to do.”
“She is happy. She’s looking down on us now, and she’s smiling,” BJ said.
Layla, he said, was “a very little girl with a large footprint.”
The day Layla’s parents delivered the toys to children in the hospital was April 13, which would have been Layla’s 6th birthday.