Originally published February 23rd, 2011 in the Hartford City NewsTimes
Tori Whetzel, our daughter, unfortunately left us this past weekend after a sudden complication a day after having her tonsils and adenoids removed. While this is a terrible tragedy, that one may never recover from, our family, was so blessed to have her in our lives over the past 6 years and 3 months. Tori was anything but an ordinary child and she changed and impacted the lives of all who knew her. And now even in her death, I can see her impact on others and our entire community. God put her here on Earth for only a short time, and we could be angry for her being taken away from us, but that does nothing constructive and she would not want that. Tori was a beautiful, compassionate and caring child who did not have a negative bone in her body. She was extremely happy and she would not want anyone to be saddened.
Tori may have been only six years old, but if you ever had a conversation with her you knew she was much wiser than her years. She was the happiest kid you would ever meet and she always had a smile on her face. She looked at the world in a way that most never do. She would watch the morning news with me and hear what horrible things were going on and she would have very witty and inspirational things to say about them. For instance when the Earthquake hit Haiti last year, she told me we need to send toys down there since the children lost their toys. She then went in her room to find some to donate. She always had a deeper and more profound understanding of things than she should have had.
Tori loved to draw, paint and do crafts more than any other child I have ever seen. She has left us with so many memories and marker or oil pastel smudged hands is one of them, because she was always working on a drawing. She understood art at a different level than most her age. She would discuss with us different styles like abstract art, impressionism and even one time, a lengthy discussion about Pablo Picasso and why he painted people the way he did. Tori saw beauty in everything and that is what she drew. She loved to draw rainbows and flowers and her family. She also had a period where she did nothing but abstract art. At the hospital on last Friday as she awaited surgery, she colored a picture in a coloring book they gave her. It is amazing for her age and I told her to put her name on it and the nurses were going to put in on the bulletin board there. She wrote her name perfectly backwards like a mirror image. I told her to cross it out and write it correctly and she quickly told me, “it was perfect” the way it was and she left it that way. In retrospect now, I think she was trying to tell me something.
We were so privileged to be able to have taken her to many museums, aquariums and zoos all over the country. But in fact, it was more like she took us with her planning skills and love for adventure. She loved to travel and would pack her own suitcase months in advance. She was a sponge and absorbed everything she saw and remembered it all. She would tell stories from trips to Michigan, Tennessee, fishing on Table Rock Lake in Missouri, playing in the sand on Myrtle Beach and especially the story of how we were caught in the flooding in Terre Haute several years back. She was an elaborate and very creative story teller where her vocabulary and language skills could match any adult from a very young age. Her Kindergarten teacher, Cindy Coleman, told us about talking to her classmates about Tori, “I told the kids that on Sunday I went to school early and there was this most beautiful sunrise and I was sure Tori was in Heaven painting that sunrise and someone said, Well I bet she is telling God a story up there, too!"
Tori loved to garden and to be outside. Our community provides such wonderful places for our children which I think we sometimes forget or take for granted. She loved to go to all of the parks in town and swing and jump and slide and play. She loved to go to the high school football and basketball games with Jeff. She loved being at our wonderful soccer complex and seeing people she knew. Everywhere Tori went she made friends. She may have been shy at first, but when she felt comfortable she was a “chatterbox” as her grandma would call her. She loved to tell stories to friends and family and educate people on nature and her garden and her family.
She loved to garden and has her own butterfly garden where she planted a strawberry patch with her grandpa and a place to plant herbs to attract swallowtail butterflies each and every year. We would catch and raise the caterpillars into the chrystallis and then release them back into her butterfly garden. She didn’t like to eat the tomatoes we grew, but she sure loved to watch them grow and pick them when they were ready. Her favorite was green beans and she loved picking and eating them too. She was not afraid of hard work either. She would be out there shoveling and planting flowers and veggies with me, her Dad and her Grandpa for days. Nature and just being outside has so much for our children to see and learn.
School was such an important part of Tori’s life. You had to force her to stay home even when she was sick. She hated to miss what was happening that day and not get to see her teachers and friends. Tori was blessed to have had such wonderful teachers in her life and to have been in such creative and fun learning environments both at the Lighthouse Preschool and in Kindergarten at Southside. She just lit up when she talked about what she did each day and would come home and practice letters and words they had learned. Mrs. Cindy Coleman, her Kindergarten teacher shared with me the following: “I feel honored and privileged to have the opportunity to get to know Tori and be her K teacher. She was wise beyond her years. She actually understood the whys of education and learning. She knew why it was important to do your best always, to be quiet and listen and she knew when it was ok to cut up and have fun. Very, very few kindergarteners get that. She had progressed so far, she flourished. “
Tori was put here with us for only a short period of time to be God’s messenger to myself and to others. Through all of this, I look at the things we did and the things she told not only to me but others which we probably had taken for granted at the time. She was inspiring and changed and softened everyone she knew for she was so much more than a regular 6 year old. She inspired people to love and not hate, to smile, to appreciate life, to be creative and silly, to look at nature with curiosity, to sing and dance and enjoy life to its fullest. My father Dr. Richard Windsor says “Tori changed me forever. She softened me. I was a workaholic and she made me want to spend more time with our family and the especially the grandkids.”
Tori was full of happiness and love. Our neighbor Beth Wall says, “I have never known such a young child who was ALWAYS smiling and happy, she honestly loved life!” She also had a sense of justice and was not afraid to stop bullies on the playground from picking on other students and tell people when they were doing wrong young or old. Mrs. Coleman told us that Tori would try correct fellow classmates in their behavior if needed saying things like, “I want to hear this story so would you be quiet, I can't hear!"
We have decided not to mourn her death on Thursday, but to truly celebrate her life with us. She always loved a good party! My family is in terrible pain and broken and I am writing this through puddles of tears, but she changed us all and made us better people and we cherish every single day we had with her. Tori has touched so many people in our community and we want her legacy to continue here in Blackford County. We are establishing Tori’s Butterfly Garden Foundation to promote art programs, the love of nature and gardening for elementary students and others here in our community. She always had a purpose and a mission in everything she did. She was a passionate little girl with a heart of gold who will be greatly missed, but through her Foundation she can continue to impact the community making it a happier and more beautiful place to live for decades to come.
Jeff and I and the rest of our family have a great sadness for the loss of Tori, but she will live on in our hearts and the memories of the six tremendous years we had with her will help mediate our pain over time. If Tori had one wish, it would be that we all look at our lives and do the right thing and love each other and our community. Also she would want you to appreciate and dedicate more time to your family and to go outside and explore nature with them too. Tori always said, “I love everybody in the world!” And we believe she truly did.