Af­ter a tragedy, a tod­dler helped them heal

The Arizona Republic - - Front Page - KAILA WHITE

It was a hot July day in Chan­dler and a mon­soon storm was com­ing, so the guests packed into the kitchen and liv­ing room, duck­ing un­der lines of yel­low stream­ers.

Frost­ing sun­flow­ers adorned cup­cakes. Some­one had writ­ten “You are my sun­shine, Clara” on a chalk­board.

Clara, the guest of honor, was 2, with curly blond hair.

She car­ried a yel­low bal­loon up the stairs to her brother and then dropped it back down the stairs, again and again, yelling, “Up!”

Her brother Cole sat pa­tiently, smil­ing ev­ery time she handed him the bal­loon.

Her sis­ter Karinna took pho­tos of the guests while their par­ents, Brad Bolt and Robyn Young, min­gled.

It has been a little more than a year since Wade Young was killed. He was just 17, Brad and Robyn’s sec­ond child and the most out­go­ing and en­er­getic.

Last year at this time, the fam­ily had been plan­ning a “cel­e­bra­tion of life” party.

They hadn’t wanted to call it a funeral;

it didn’t seem to fit, not for Wade.

Now they were host­ing Clara’s adop­tion party.

When Clara first came to live with the fam­ily in Tempe, a year and a half be­fore Wade died, no one was sure if this day would come. Now it was here, and it was bit­ter­sweet.

Clara had needed a fam­ily. Only now was it clear how much they had needed her.

Sud­denly, a baby in the house

Clara was al­most 3 months old when she ar­rived at the Bolt/Young home early in Jan­uary 2015, the day be­fore Karinna’s 13th birth­day.

The par­ents have ex­pe­ri­ence blend­ing fam­i­lies — Brad be­came the step­fa­ther to Cole, Wade and Karinna af­ter he and Robyn mar­ried in 2008.

Clara is the daugh­ter of an ex­tended fam­ily mem­ber. She could have gone into the fos­ter-care sys­tem or come here. Robyn and Brad rushed to baby-proof their home.

They in­stantly fell in love with her. The kids’ re­cep­tion was not as warm. Cole was al­most 17. Wade was 16. And as the baby of the fam­ily, Karinna’s vi­sion of en­ter­ing her teens looked dif­fer­ent with an in­fant in the house.

Even the dog, an older mutt named Stu­art, had to ad­just. He was con­fused when baby gates went up, block­ing him out of the liv­ing room.

“It was risky open­ing your heart to her too much,” Brad said, “be­cause you didn’t know if she was gonna stay with us or not and if we would have to give her back.”

Forg­ing bonds with ‘Nugget’

Wade was a busy teenager: tak­ing hon­ors classes and act­ing as pres­i­dent of the DECA club at Corona del Sol High School in Tempe, singing in the school’s top two choirs, playing club rugby, work­ing nights at a seafood restau­rant and spend­ing time with dozens of friends and his girl­friend.

He had al­ways been very ac­tive, work­ing out ev­ery day, playing sports, hik­ing and camp­ing.

Even though Wade was rarely home, al­ways whizzing in and out of the house, he started show­ing up more and slow­ing down once Clara ar­rived.

“Wade, he’s very goal-ori­ented and he has a plan for ev­ery­thing, and this little 2-month-old com­ing into his life was not part of his plan, so he was very much against all of this,” Brad said. Wade be­gan call­ing Clara “Nugget.” He had taught him­self how to play piano, and he would play and sing for her, set­ting her up next to him.

“I liked it when Wade would play the piano, be­cause he’s the only one who would,” Karinna said.

The mu­sic would pull the girl out of her bed­room to where Wade played, and she’d watch Clara try to pull her­self up to her feet us­ing the piano bench.

“I felt more whole, I guess, to re­ally be with both of them at once,” Karinna said.

Wade would pick up Clara and hold her out in front of him, like Rafiki lifted Simba in “The Lion King,” and sing “Cir­cle of Life.”

Clara laughed ev­ery time, and it was a dis­tinct gig­gle, deep and silly, one that only Wade could bring out in her.

“She had a spe­cific laugh that ... was just unique to them playing to­gether,” Robyn said. “You heard it, and you knew who she was with and what they were do­ing.”

Soon Cole and Karinna were ask­ing to hold Clara or give her a bot­tle.

“Wade was the first of the three kids to open his heart” to Clara, Brad said. “I think he kind of served as a role model for all of us.”

Af­ter Karinna had her ton­sils re­moved in sev­enth grade, she napped with Clara by her side.

Stu­art the dog be­came pro­tec­tive of Clara in­stead of scur­ry­ing out of her way, bark­ing ev­ery time she cried in an ef­fort to sum­mon some­one to take care of her as fast as he could.

As Clara learned to talk, Wade read to her and taught her new words. Ev­ery­one in the fam­ily learned ba­sic words in Amer­i­can Sign Lan­guage, re­mind­ing each other of the sign to use when Clara wanted to watch Mickey Mouse — cup your hands into a “C” and bounce them on your head, like mouse ears.

“Dur­ing that time, we were more of a fam­ily,” Karinna said.

Suc­cess­ful climb, sud­den tragedy

Wade had tried to hike Humphreys Peak, the high­est point in the state, a few times be­fore. He was de­ter­mined to make it to the top be­fore col­lege be­gan.

Wade woke early on a Wed­nes­day in July 2016, made oat­meal, packed a back­pack and said bye to Robyn and Karinna, the same as ev­ery morn­ing.

He said good­bye to Clara, call­ing out, “Bye, Nugget! I love you,” and blow­ing her a kiss be­fore walk­ing out the front door, lock­ing it be­hind him.

Wade and two of his friends left for Flagstaff, stop­ping for Star­bucks on the way.

They made it this time, all the way to the top. They fist-bumped at the sum­mit — 12,633 feet — and then light­ning hit the peak.

The strike killed Wade in­stantly and in­jured both of his friends.

Ev­ery morn­ing af­ter his death, for months, Robyn would wake early and walk into the hall, ex­pect­ing to find Wade get­ting ready for his day’s ad­ven­tures.

But the kitchen was quiet. The couch was empty, no spilled oat­meal to clean up.

For weeks, she would drive to the Corona del Sol park­ing lot ev­ery Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, about the time Wade died, park the car, and cry.

She felt closer to him there, not like at the gro­cery store, where there were en­tire aisles she didn’t need to go down to get his frozen bur­ri­tos or gra­nola bars.

When she un­loaded the car at home, there was no Wade with hands big enough to grab and carry four gal­lons of milk at a time.

The days came and went. Wade’s 18th birth­day. The day he was sup­posed to move into his dorm at Ari­zona State Univer­sity’s Polytech­nic Cam­pus in Mesa, where he’d been ac­cepted into the hon­ors col­lege.

Cole and Wade had shared a bed­room their whole lives, but now the wall cov­ered in cork­board is frozen in time, cov­ered with medals for golf and track and bou­ton­nieres from high-school dances.

The boys al­ways had bunk beds, Cole on the bot­tom and Wade on top. Of course, Cole would poke the bot­tom of Wade’s mat­tress to an­noy him.

Cole doesn’t push up on the mat­tress any­more. There’s no point.

“He’s not there,” he said sim­ply.

‘She was sent to us to help us’

At Wade’s cel­e­bra­tion of life, just weeks af­ter he died, Robyn told more than 1,000 guests packed in­side the Ari­zona Com­mu­nity Church in Tempe that she didn’t have “one ounce of anger” about what hap­pened.

She stood at the podium, tear­ful, and said Wade’s death was God’s plan and a per­fect way for him to go. He had ac­com­plished many goals and had a great day with his friends.

“I feel very for­tu­nate, blessed, grate­ful that there is no one to blame,” Robyn said in an in­ter­view this sum­mer, a cou­ple of weeks af­ter the first an­niver­sary of Wade’s death.

“There was re­ally no one else in­volved. There was no car ac­ci­dent, there was no med­i­cal neg­li­gence,” she said. “To me, get­ting struck by light­ning, that’s just part of a greater plan.”

It was his time.

And Robyn be­lieves the time was right for Clara.

“We def­i­nitely feel like she was sent to us to help us with the tragedy of los­ing Wade,” Robyn said.

“Be­ing a fos­ter par­ent, that’s hard, and tak­ing care of Clara, es­pe­cially the first year ... it was won­der­ful, but it was hard work and very emo­tional. Go­ing through all of that with Clara re­ally helped to make us stronger,” Brad said.

“If we had not had Clara, I don’t know if we would have made it through the last year,” he said, look­ing at Robyn. They cel­e­brated nine years of mar­riage in Septem­ber.

Fam­ily mem­bers sought other means of heal­ing, too. Some have gone to coun­sel­ing. Robyn has felt very pos­i­tive ef­fects from Reiki, a Ja­panese form of al­ter­na­tive medicine.

But Clara is an un­de­ni­able fac­tor in their heal­ing.

“The other thing with Clara that made it — I don’t know if eas­ier is the right word — but you can’t lay in bed and feel sorry for your­self if you gotta get up and take care of a little tod­dler, be­cause she won’t let you,” Brad said, chuck­ling.

Clara seemed in­stinc­tively to know what to do, or maybe it’s just what tod­dlers do any­way, but it was good for them. She would hug them, wipe away their tears and kiss them.

“She al­ways seemed to know what we needed,” Robyn said. “We called her our ray of sun­shine, and she re­ally was, and I think she saved us, I re­ally do. I think she saved our fam­ily, and we’re very, very happy to have her.”

Cole, who’s 20 now, said Clara keeps him go­ing: “It just kind of feels like nothing un­til she’s there.”

A new mid­dle name

In early Au­gust, al­most a year af­ter Wade’s me­mo­rial ser­vice, a hand­ful of peo­ple met the Bolts and Youngs at the court­house to fi­nal­ize Clara’s place in the fam­ily.

To get Clara to wear a spe­cial yel­low dress to her adop­tion cer­e­mony, the fam­ily had her sleep in it the night be­fore. She’s both strong-willed and strong.

Brad held Clara through the pro­ceed­ing, which lasted a mat­ter of min­utes. The judge asked if they wanted to change Clara’s name; they said yes.

Not her first name, and she would keep her last name. They wanted to change her mid­dle name.

The judge read her new name aloud: Clara Wade Bolt.

“I re­ally be­lieve that when Wade was alive, he and Clara had a very strong con­nec­tion, and I be­lieve that con­nec­tion has con­tin­ued,” Brad said. “We want Clara to feel a con­nec­tion and have a tan­gi­ble con­nec­tion to Wade her en­tire life.”

They gath­ered around the judge, with Brad still hold­ing Clara, and the judge hold­ing a framed pic­ture of Wade for a fam­ily photo. The en­tire fam­ily.

When the adop­tion cer­e­mony was over, Brad cried. Af­ter more than a year of con­stant plan­ning and work­ing with lawyers and agen­cies for both Clara and Wade, it was a re­lief to be done.

Life con­tin­ues, but Wade lives on

For six months, Brad has been fix­ing and up­grad­ing a three-bed, pop-up camp­ing trailer he found on Craigslist for dirt cheap.

Brad grew up camp­ing ev­ery sum­mer, stop­ping at dif­fer­ent his­toric sites and mu­se­ums on the way to Michi­gan, and al­though Wade loved camp­ing, too, they never went to­gether as a fam­ily.

Now, the idea of spend­ing time to­gether with the el­e­ments that took Wade seems ther­a­peu­tic.

“I think that’s where we will con­nect with Wade the most,” Robyn said.

They are hop­ing to take the trailer out for the first time by the end of the year. Some­day, they may go to Flagstaff, near the moun­tain where Wade died, but not yet.

Clara turned 3 this month, cel­e­brat­ing with a few bites of cake — sugar isn’t re­ally her thing — and a new set of wooden build­ing blocks, which are.

Robyn still cra­dles her ev­ery night. She sings “How Do I Live,” a song she’s sung to all of her ba­bies, and she prays, med­i­tates, or thinks of Wade.

Wade lives on, here in their house and in their hearts.

Some in his fam­ily be­lieve he lit­er­ally vis­its home, like when the lights on his bright-or­ange car — painted the same as Corona del Sol’s colors — flash on and off for no rea­son.

He def­i­nitely lives on in Clara. “She’ll be talk­ing to some­body, like an imag­i­nary friend, hav­ing this to­tal con­ver­sa­tion and then get quiet for a while like she’s done,” Robyn said, “and she’ll look at us and say, ‘Wade’s gone.’ ”

Clara can pick Wade’s smil­ing face out of fam­ily pho­tos, no mat­ter what age he is in the shot.

“That’s Wade,” Clara will say, point­ing at him.

Some­times, when Clara sleeps, she be­gins to squirm like she’s be­ing tick­led and laughs in her sleep.

Her par­ents and brother and sis­ter can hear her.

It is Wade’s gig­gle, deep and silly, the one Clara re­served for him.

And in those mo­ments, it is like Wade is there in the house with them still.


Robyn Young hugs Clara Wade Bolt, 3, whom her fam­ily adopted.

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