The five Howe children are learning what Christmas is like at home again.
With the help of their aunt Karla Green and their grandparents, the children stayed at home for their first Christmas after losing their parents in a car crash nearly two years ago.
A towering Christmas tree, now barren of any presents underneath, appears in the front living room window. A couple of smiling Santa decorations adorn a nearby dresser. Molly, eight, plays with her favourite present, a telescope given to her by her aunt, while a beagle named Zeke snores loudly on his bed.
The household appears peaceful as most of the children are playing elsewhere in the house. Maggie, six, Ashley, 11, and Cory, 12, are hanging out upstairs while 16-year-old MacKenzie works at a restaurant on Boxing Day.
This Christmas is a lot different from a year ago when Karla took the children down to Mexico where her parents, Sandra and Ed Green, like to snowbird. The family just had to get away from the pain of losing their loved ones 10 months earlier.
Brad, 34, and Krista Howe, 35, were driving home early on Feb. 7, 2010, when a drunk driver, Chad Mitchell Olsen, then 22, of Sedalia, plowed into their car. Fire-medics declared the couple dead at the scene.
Karla said this Christmas comes with mixed emotions.
“The kids were really excited about having a Christmas at home and having a tree and presents because we didn’t do that last year,” said Karla, who celebrates her 36th birthday today. “We thought it would be a really relaxing Christmas but then there was a lot of turmoil.”
The Greens were shocked to learn that Olsen, now 24, was receiving day parole after only being sentenced seven months earlier. He had earlier pleaded guilty to two counts of impaired driving causing death.
The news on Dec. 16 changed their focus of having a peaceful Christmas to one of disappointment, shock and anger.
Karla Green began looking after the children shortly after the death of their parents.
The registered nurse from Vancouver has become used to living in Red Deer, plus the hustle and bustle of carting children here and there to school and after-school activities. There’s still discussions amongst the children as to whether they want to call Karla “auntie” or “mom.”
“I’m getting to know the kids’ teachers better, their friends and families better,” said Karla, who has since dyed her brunette hair back to its natural blonde colour. “Things are normalizing.”
Karla still receives some help from caring individuals, but the need isn’t so great. One neighbour picks up the bedding every couple of weeks and then drops it off all fresh and clean. Others shovel the walks.
Karla designed a Christmas card as a thank-you to many who have helped the family over the past year. The black-and-white photo on the outside shows the family while down in Mexico in December 2010. On the inside, Karla shares some insight on how to live, including: Do not wait for hallmark days to tell the ones you love exactly how you feel, act with courage and kindness.
On Dec. 20, they were profiled again by Los Angeles Times sports writer Chris Erskine, who was receiving questions from readers on how the Howes were doing. He first wrote of the family when they went to the Vancouver Olympics in March 2010. Krista and Brad had already planned the trip and with the help of other company sponsors, the family enjoyed more activities there. The first article Erskine did in 2010 spawned around 300 heartfelt letters from Californians.
“People just gave us personal stories that they felt were spiritually uplifting or they wanted to send their blessings — or how our story affected their lives.”
Karla said in the new year, she’s hoping to return to work as a nurse.
She anticipates the family will honour the second anniversary of Krista’s and Brad’s death in some special way. Last year, the children released balloons into the sky, which Karla felt was really therapeutic for them.
“We usually talk about Brad and Krista every day — there’s memories and questions,” said Karla. “It hasn’t gotten any less.”