A piece of hair, donated with love
For Audrey Bennett, it started with an eye irritation, a simple eye irritation, the kind we all experience at one time or another.
Then her leg started to hurt.
That’s when parents, Chet and LaVonne, decided to take their then 7-year-old daughter to the doctor.
The doctor contacted them later that evening, and the news was far from encouraging: Audrey had leukemia.
Two days later, on April 24, 2013, LaVonne and Audrey were headed down to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland, Oreg.
For the next five months, give or take a few intervals for family outings, Audrey would remain in the hospital, undergoing aggressive chemotherapy treatment administered for her acute myeloid leukemia, a form of leukemia rarely found in children.
When not sidelined with chemo side effects Audry, whom teachers and her mother described as sassy and spirited, spent her days watching movies, playing with Barbie dolls and video games, zooming up and down the hallways in her Plasma Car and skyping with teachers and classmates back at Alpenglow Elementary School in Eagle River.
Connecting with her old classmates was one of the high points of her week, said Alpenglow second grade teacher Joey Jiglotti.
“We got the sad news in April that Audrey had leukemia,” Jiglotti said. “We Skyped her and kept an Audrey Monkey.”
The monkey was part of the Monkey in My Chair program, which helps children stay connected to their classrooms while away for cancer treatment.
The monkey went everywhere the second-grade class did, too, from events to a musical assembly.
“We’d take pictures and send them to Audrey,” she said. “Her spirits were always good.”
Then, she said, they all went home for the summer and waited for her to return to school in the fall.
That never happened. Audrey died on Sept. 30.
“She was ready to start the school year,” Jiglotti said. “Her mom was packing up, ready to return (home).”
Alpenglow principal Patrick Garrity said that Audrey wasn’t someone he worked with closely, mainly because she was a good kid and didn’t need to visit his office for reprimands.
“She’s go to lunch smiling and go by me in the hallway, and she was always smiling,” he said.
After hearing of her death the students drew pictures and wrote wishes and memories, which were posted on the school’s bulletin board.
“Kids don’t have a lot of connection with death at this age and they grapple with it,” Garrity said. “In this case, I think they learned a positive side.”
The pain, and joy, of memories
Jiglotti hung a picture of Audrey outside her classroom door earlier this year, awaiting her return. It’s a picture of the two of them cheering together. In it, they look happy.
“Audrey sent a card to me while she was in Portland,” Jiglotti said. “I keep it in a drawer by my bedside table along with a box she made me and some earrings. I pull it out every now and then and read it. It begins, ‘Mrs. J, I wish I was still with you.’”
Audrey’s mother, LaVonne, is glad that the school has been so supportive during Audrey’s illness. Currently, the school is hosting “Pennies for Patients” in Audrey’s memory.
“I’m proud that they’ve continued to help Audrey in a situation they wouldn’t want their own children to be in,” she said.
What she and her husband, Chet, hope is that Audrey’s life and memory be used to help others.
“It something can come out of this that’s good, we’re all for it,” she said.
People close to her don’t know always know what to say, though. They feel uncomfortable. They assume the Bennett’s life has collapsed.
According to LaVonne, it hasn’t.
“I think there are a lot of people that, in the case of a child dying, they don’t know what to say to us. I always laugh and tell people that there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t cry. At the same time, I don’t lie in bed in a pile of tissues, either.”
Audrey, she said, would have been excited about the publicity and the chance to get her name out in the world.
“She was a bit of a drama queen and loved attention,” she said. “It a bit sad that she became more famous after she died. But she would have been excited to see her face plastered all over. She was wild kid.”
LaVonne hopes that through donating time or hair, people will learn to give without expecting anything back.
“Even with our own (kids) we struggle with entitlement. Not everyone in dire situations did something to deserve it,” she said. “Sometimes they did but other times it’s completely out of their control.”
On the Caring Bridge.org Website journal in Audrey’s name, LaVonne wrote, “I don’t think we’ll ever not be emotionally raw. You can only walk out of something like this one of three ways: the same, better or worse. We are better.”
The Bennetts, who have two other children, Will, 10, and Jack, 4, are pregnant with their fourth child. It’s due the beginning of September, the same month that Audrey died.
Locks of Love is from 10 a.m.-noon March 1 at Bella Luca Salon, 12551 Old Glenn Highway. Anyone interested in donating 10 inches of hair or more in memory of Audrey Bennett will receive priority service plus 10 percent off a haircut. Contact Mrs. Morgan at 742-3300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.