Arts and Entertainment

Bainbridge mother turns tragedy into ‘Heaven’s Child’

Islander Caroline Flohr  writes about the loss of her daughter Sarah, and the  healing her family went through in the years that followed in “Heaven’s Child.” - photo courtesy of Caroline Flohr
Islander Caroline Flohr writes about the loss of her daughter Sarah, and the healing her family went through in the years that followed in “Heaven’s Child.”
— image credit: photo courtesy of Caroline Flohr

It’s a Bainbridge Island tradition for high schoolers: “Doing the Tolo.” The long stretch of Tolo Road with its bumps and hills attracts teens with a penchant for speed and hopes to catch air.

But on an August night in 2004, a teenage joy ride turned into a tragedy.

A 2003 Ford Explorer was unknowingly taken by the owners’ 14-year-old daughter. She packed the car with seven friends and proceeded on a quick spin around the island. They took a trip to Safeway for snacks before their late-night drive around the island, and ultimately down Tolo Road.

After one successful high-speed pass over Tolo, the wheel was handed over to another 14-year-old girl in the car.

But this time, joy turned into fear as the driver lost control of the car full of eight teenagers and crashed.

The teens were rushed off to hospitals for injuries ranging from scratches to broken bones.

One passenger, however, did not survive the crash: 16-year-old Sarah Anne Gillette.

Later that morning, as the sun just began to shine through the trees, a fireman knocked on the door of an island home and woke up Caroline Flohr: “There’s been an accident, and Sarah’s been killed.”

“The tears begin at that moment,” Flohr writes in her book about the experience, “Heaven’s Child.”

“I couldn’t know then that they would flow for the next five years, every day, and every night.”

It was a tragic and difficult loss for Sarah’s family, father Christopher, and mother Caroline. She left behind an identical twin sister, Caiti, and a brother Christopher, 10 at the time. She also had an 18-month-old sister named Mary, and a 6-month-old sister, Annie, who would never get to know her as they grew up.

Six years after the accident, Flohr is sharing her story with “Heaven’s Child,” which not only details the accident, but addresses the years that followed for her and her Bainbridge Island family.

Eagle Harbor Book Company on Winslow Way will host Flohr at a reading of “Heaven’s Child” at 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 30.

“’Heaven’s Child’ is a story about turning tragedy into hope,” Flohr said.

Coming from an engineering background, she never put her writing out in the open. Rather, Flohr used it as a personal outlet.

“As an engineer you are organized and efficient,” Flohr said. “This story is the first time I’ve ever shared any of my writing with family and friends; to hopefully inspire people to look at their own lives and take a pause during their day.”

She wanted to put something together for her family, to share with them how she related to the death as a mother.

“They have their own grief. Death is a personal thing,” she said. “I thought that documenting this from a mother’s story, they would be able to walk the journey beside me and connect on a different level than before.”

“I wanted them to know what her death meant to me,” she added. “And keep her alive in our hearts. She is very much alive in me.”

In the time after Sarah’s death, writing became that much more important for Flohr.

“The book comes five years after Sarah’s death,” she said. “I realized that we would survive as a family, and we have strengthened in ways I never thought possible.”

As she would heal, Flohr realized how to see the gifts from her daughter after her death.

“Instead of seeing the pain, if we can rejoice and live with the gifts of love they’ve given us, our lives are going to be deeper and more enriched,” she said.

“Tragedy in our lifetime is inevitable,” Flohr added. “And it’s how we weave that tragedy into our life and continue to live that matters.”

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