EAST LIVERPOOL - Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, a local woman who suffered the greatest tragedy imaginable to a wife and mother has risen from despair to offer hope for others, authoring a book based on the life of the young daughter she lost two years ago.
On Aug. 26, 2011, Jennifer Hallam's life changed forever when her 22-month-old daughter Hailey and 34-year-old husband Troy were killed in a car crash on I-79 near the Grove City exit.
Her husband veered left of center, lost control of the vehicle, which then went over an embankment.
"I don't remember the accident," Hallam said during a recent interview at her home, where photos of her toddler were evident at every turn. "It seemed like I'd had a dream of something bad happening. I didn't know where I was."
Her first question, "Where's Hailey?" garnered the answer no parent wants to hear, followed by the added revelation that she had also lost her husband.
A former newspaper reporter, Hallam said she and her husband had always discussed that she should write a book, although she smiled, "I always said to Troy that writing a news story is totally different than coming up with something from your own ideas."
As the young wife and mother tried to grasp the loss of her family, however, she found herself thinking more and more of a book based on her daughter's habit of giving "hugs through the air."
"Right after the accident, I decided to write through all the grieving process. I started about a month after the accident," she said.
As with most busy toddlers, Hailey never wanted to stop playing to give her mother hugs, so she began hugging her body and pointing to the air, which came to be known as "hugs through the air" to the family and lent itself to the name for Hallam's book, "A Hug Through the Air," which she is self-publishing.
Illustrated by her friend Kacey Francis, the rhyming book is written from Hailey's perspective, starting with her telling the reader, "I'm happy, playful and always carefree. I love people and I want you to know me so this is the story of my loving family."
Hallam said, "Hailey had her dad's personality. I always said Troy was like a good purse. I could take him anywhere, and Hailey was the same way. She had a way of making people think they were the only one in the room and make them feel special."
The book takes the reader through Hailey's young life, learning to crawl, walk, run and talk, but always remembering to give a hug through the air.
Without becoming maudlin, the book goes on to say "Heaven needed an angel with a special kind of glow," and that Hailey is "so happy here in my home up above," advising others, "Sometimes in your life, you might feel alone. But you really should know, you're always at home. If you have a family like mine, they'll always be there, even if it's only by a hug through the air."
Hallam said she wrote the initial copy in about an hour but has changed it somewhat since saying she sometimes would go to the cemetery to "work out some ideas," and other times, she would be driving and "an idea would hit me."
Throughout the writing process, Hallam said she felt connected to her husband and daughter, who she said were her entire life before she lost them.
"I was a stay-at-home wife and mom, so they were my life. It was very difficult for me to adjust to finding a life without my life. I was hoping doing something like this would give me a purpose again because I felt I had lost my purpose," she said. "It helps me feel like they're still alive and helps me to tell people they were here and the impact they made on me. I didn't know what life was like before I had Hailey. She changed me."
Saying she wanted to turn this tragic event into something that can do something good for someone, Hallam said she believes her book to be published Oct. 9 on Hailey's birthday can help those children who have anxiety from a parent who is away, whether through a separation between their parents, being deployed in the military, or even through a death. Parents who have lost a child may also find some solace in Hailey's story.
"It gives the idea they can still be connected," she said. "I feel connected to them every day. That's the whole idea behind the book: That you're always connected. All it takes is a thought."
The release date was chosen "because I wanted to do something special for Hailey on her birthday."
While many who suffer such a loss harbor negative thoughts and have a hard time going on with their lives, Hallam said, "There's hope of seeing them again. I'm just kind of waiting for that day, and I guarantee (Hailey) is doing the same thing. I can't be mad at God because He has provided a way for me to see her again, so that's what I focus on."
Hallam already has a second book in mind based on a special pair of yellow boots Hailey was given by her dad.
"A Hug Through the Air" will be available Oct. 9 at Todd Sparkle Market in East Liverpool, East Palestine, Chester and New Cumberland; Riverview Florist in East Liverpool, at Amazon.com and can be pre-ordered at www.haileyhugs.com.
Hallam plans to use proceeds from book sales to establish a foundation to help families dealing with loss.
A 2000 East Liverpool High School graduate, Hallam graduated from Mount Union College with a degree in media studies. In addition to being a former news reporter, she and her husband owned and operated Hallam Contracting in Pennsylvania.
Currently, Hallam is the voice of Todd Sparkle Market on Froggy 104.3 and hosts a cooking show for the company on WTOV9.