The month of July is Worldwide Bereaved Parents Awareness Month. The death of a child has been described as the worst pain one can possibly endure. I know that pain and devastation all too well. On June 3, 2010, my ten year-old daughter, Abby Gibson, passed away from internal injuries she sustained in a horseback riding accident. I made a decision soon after Abby passed away that I wanted to create something positive out of the tragedy of losing her. I hope that sharing my daughter’s story will provide hope to others.
Abby was a very caring and compassionate little girl who loved her family and friends, including her animal friends. She brought joy into every life she touched and has forever changed our lives. She had the most beautiful smile and loved to make other people laugh.
Abby truly lived life to its fullest and tried to squeeze everything she could into each day. Whether it was riding horses, going to Disney World, hiking in the Smokies, going to Dollywood, swimming with dolphins, reading, riding bicycles, etc, she was always looking for a new adventure.
Anyone that knew Abby knew that she loved all animals from chipmunks to humpback whales. Abby especially loved horses. She started taking weekly riding lessons when she was five years old and the barn quickly became her second home. She rode English saddle and really loved jumping. She couldn’t wait until she was old enough to start doing cross-country. She had started saving for her own horse and wanted to rescue one from Horse Haven. Although Abby did not yet have a horse of her own, she made up for it by befriending all the lesson horses at the barn and by surrounding herself with everything horse-related from books to Breyer horses.
Although she was only a rising 5th grader, Abby had already planned her entire future. She frequently told her family and friends of her plans to attend The University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine and become a veterinarian. She wanted to work with horses but wanted to be able to help all animals, big or small. Abby had even decided that she would have a farm but she wasn’t quite sure where she wanted it to be. Although she is no longer here I wanted to try and make her dreams come true.
To honor Abby’s life, her love of animals, and her dream of becoming a veterinarian, my family and I established the Abby Gibson Veterinary Medicine Scholarship Endowment at The University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine. Her scholarship is awarded annually to an East Tennessee high school graduate who is studying to become a veterinarian and plans to specialize in large or mixed animal practice. The student selected must be passionate about helping animals and demonstrate a history of his or her commitment to the veterinary profession through volunteer hours. Our goal for Abby’s scholarship is that it will help other animal lovers achieve their dreams while remembering Abby. We raise money for her scholarship through private donations and through the annual Walk & Wag Dog Walk fundraiser that we hold in Abby’s memory.
We were originally given a time frame of ten years to raise the $25,000 needed to endow her scholarship. With the help of family, friends, donors, organizations, businesses, and corporations, such as Radio Systems – PetSafe, who has so graciously been the presenting sponsor of Abby’s dog walk for the past two years, we were able to not only reach, but also surpass that amount in less than three years. Currently, approximately $32,000 in funds has been raised for her scholarship endowment! My ultimate goal is to raise $50,000. Because it is now endowed, a scholarship will be given to a deserving student for many, many years to come. I am forever grateful for the support we have received from our community, especially PetSafe.
I know that Abby would be so happy to know that she is still touching lives and helping animals although she is no longer here. I have found that doing positive things, such as establishing Abby’s scholarship endowment and other things we have done and plan to do, has helped me grieve. I strongly encourage others who have lost a child or any loved one to try and do the same. Whether it’s planting a flower garden in your backyard; volunteering; running in a race; creating a scholarship; creating a foundation; etc. your loved one shines through you. Doing these things helps me because I know that Abby’s life did not end and that she is still living through me, through those lives that she has touched, and through everything that is done in her memory.