The Neverending Story

'The finest steel has to go through the hottest fire.'
--John N Mitchell

We set up this website in late October for our wonderful, inquisitive, loving Aiyana. Yana is our eight year old daughter, sister, cousin, niece, friend and granddaughter who was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of leukemia (MPAL).

Aiyana had an amazing life and we are filled with hundreds of heartwarming memories. May all of us take to heart how much a little girl from Lockeford, CA, impacted the world and be reminded and inspired to never let the sun go down without living each day all the way through.

Her Spirit is in every Butterfly.


Reading a Story

A story was told to me a few weeks back that keeps coming to mind, and usually when that happens it means it needs to be here, on Aiyana's Love, where it belongs.

Aiyana's mom is the epitome of outreach, and connections, and family unity. And so even in the face of losing her beautiful daughter, whom we all adored and deeply miss, she wanted to continue to work at the school once she got stronger, and now she has.

One of the ways she wanted to volunteer is to read to the children, the younger grades because it is easier there, and she does not have to look up from the book to see the faces of her daughter's friends and playmates, which might undo her in front of them, and she didn't want that. And so it was decided to read to the kindergarteners and the first day she headed there she was nervous and unsure. She prayed and spoke to her daughter, asking for strength and from that a partnership was formed, there in the car, that the two of them would do this together.

She arrived in the room of a teacher she knows well, and she sat on a stool as the children sat close. Before she began, she explained about the books and why this particular book was chosen, and about Aiyana and her love of reading. One little bruiser of a boy raised his hand and asked where Aiyana was. There was a heartbeat, and then two, as Aiyana's mom and the teacher exchanged glances, and she was gently gestured to continue and so she explained about Aiyana in Heaven and moved on and asked for more questions.

But this boy wasn't done. He raised his hand again, and asked if she would accept a hug, and Aiyana's astonished mother said yes, and up he came and wrapped his arms around her with a warm and loving embrace. And then the rest of the class got up and circled her, arms around one another with her in the center, weeping and touched beyond what words could ever convey.

I'm happy to report that the story was eventually read, and she had a rapt and enthusiastic audience and they went happily off to recess. When Aiyana's mom and the teacher were able to discuss it in private, the teacher said that she in no way discussed the visit ahead of time or made any suggestions or allusions to her loss. And so for the second time, Aiyana's mother was overcome by the compassion those little ones showed and knew Aiyana would have done the same, and that is when she recognized her daughter was there in that healing circle of love.


She Will Live On

Well we have been busy here! Meticulous designs have been brought to life in wood and purple and pink butterflies have been painted with a mommy smudge for good measure. The endplates were designed and created and readied for the books which had been ordered with money collected from the chubby little hands of children at the school (and from other places, too, and lots of adults).

It wasn't just us: At Washington Elementary, the teachers were busy sorting and organizing hundreds of books, strewn all over the library tables by the time we arrived to look at them and put on the endplates, 271 of them, some of which Aiyana had time to read in her short life, and others that her friends and classmates will read in her honor.

The school dedication ceremony was in the works for May 20th, which began gently with a slide show of Aiyana's 'other life', the one she lived at school with all her friends, doing the thing she loved most to do which was learn-read-sing-play-grow. Her father spoke next of her courage and unyielding spirit to master just about anything life threw at her. We all hope for a little of Aiyana in our lives, don't we, that remarkable quality especially in one so young and so generously shared with everyone she knew.

And then there were performers: kindergarten first, the 26 friends song about the alphabet and then a reader's theatre poem in iambic pentameter chanted by teams of first graders going faster and faster and keeping in step and making us breathless! Second grade read In the Pages of a Book which included a skit with active performances by a pig and toad, followed by preschoolers sitting butt to butt squeezed together on the bench and tucked behind and all around, with a hysterical rendition of Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed. The Song of Peace was Aiyana's favorite song and so the third grade classes wrapped it up with that, all her friends and friends-to-be, singing and signing it, too, for the hearing impaired.

Last of all, Aiyana's sisters stood up, Morgan and Brandi, with their mom, and asked the children for some help with the parts of the book that required singing, and they read I Love You Forever, and everyone sang, even the adults and teachers, with eyes brimming with tears.

At our very core, all we ever really want is to be remembered fondly and that our life made a difference. And today in this place, every person there - students and teachers and families and friends - got the rare privilege of witnessing the powerful impact of one small life on the world around it. Aiyana made a profound difference. There is absolutely no doubt she will live on.

Books to Remember

The original idea to have the Lodi Sentinel at the Dedication Ceremony was to share the remarkable commitment of a small school to one of its fallen children, so touched by their outpouring of love that we felt it newsworthy. But the reporter mixed up some (read: all) of the story and so here is how it should have been plus Aiyana's mom's letter to the paper. Hey, they tried...

Books to remember: A correction from us — a note from Korina Self
Saturday, May 22, 2010 6:09 AM PDT

The caption for photos published on Page 8 of Friday's News-Sentinel stated that Jim and Korina Self donated $4,000 in books to Washington School. That information is incorrect. The Selfs donated the nameplates and stickers to be inserted in the 271 books. The money for the books was raised through a fundraiser called Coins for Aiyana in memory of the Selfs' late daughter, Aiyana. Students from Washington School brought coins to fill water bottles. The generosity flooded into the community as people left coins in bags on the Selfs' doorstep, a chef in San Francisco held a dinner and donated proceeds in honor of Aiyana.

Aiyana Self lived with cerebral palsy. On Nov. 24, 2009, she died after a short battle with leukemia. She was 8. Following is a letter to the News-Sentinel, and the community, from Korina Self:

"I know you asked me for a specific list of contributors to the "Coins for Aiyana" book but creating a list to give credit where credit is due would be impossible, because so many were involved ... from private citizens from as far away as San Francisco and as far south as Exeter, to community groups and organizations who were moved by Aiyana's life and decided to give.

"The bigger picture was how a school and its community pulled together and made a difference and helped in the healing of my family's broken hearts. ... leukemia may have taken our daughter from us physically, but it was very apparent to everyone in attendance at the book dedication that her spirit is very much alive in all of us.

"The students of George Washington School are so amazing and gave straight from the heart. Every penny raised was because they loved Aiyana and wanted to be a part of something wonderful, and they were. There is no greater gift than that.

"Mrs. Horner and Mrs. Kielhold, truly amazing teachers and my personal friends, came up with the idea of a coin drive to honor Aiyana's life and share her love of reading with the students at the school. Their idea was to purchase books with the money raised and place a bookplate in each cover to identify each book as a "Coins for Aiyana" book. They called me and shared this idea with me. I thought "What a wonderful idea," and "Coins for Aiyana" was off and running.

"We were not the donors, but the recipients of this heartfelt effort. Although we helped in the coin drive, the bigger picture is how our community and the students of Washington School took our family's tragedy and showed us that good can come from even the death of our child. My family received the gift of giving. Right down to the preschooler at Washington School who collected pennies and placed them in the jar in their classroom...

"The point of inviting the Lodi News-Sentinel to the book dedication was to share with our extended community that from tragedy, miracles can happen. Every child needs to know that they can make a difference and that a small gesture of giving can ignite a community to do great things.In light of all of the tragedy that surrounds us every day, this was a story of hope, of kindness, of love and compassion and giving. My family received all of these gifts and more, and Aiyana blessed us all. "(KS)

The photograph of Aiyana Self is displayed on a table with books her classmates at Washington School raised money for in her honor.

The money for the books, $4,000, was raised through a fundraiser called Coins for Aiyana.


You Knew

My memories are strong of our days together and how you made me feel. The family gathered together for what would have been your 9th birthday, in a beautiful cabin in Twain Harte. The cabin held us all, on three levels, each room full of noise and ski bibs, gloves and jackets, and the kitchen counters overflowed with food and snacks and fruit. I think it dawned on all of us throughout the weekend that this is the kind of family get together you loved most, when people all talked at once over the tv set and guitar music coming in from another room.

Avry and Summer were busy exploring and sledding and even went bowling with the older kids. Your aunt won $600 at Black Oak and you should have seen your daddy shoot down the hill on a sled and get stuck at the bottom. He had to be dragged out! And Tim and PJ and Lucy had the best snowball fight of all time!

From all over the house, every window, you could see beautiful trees and the moon was bright and the stars looked close enough to touch. Your Grandpa and Daddy spent time out looking for your star and feeling you close by.

The cabin is being made over, so lots of it is in the process of change. It struck me that this is the perfect place for us to be because we also are in the midst of change and trying to make our way without you. How hard it is to miss you and at the same time feel joyful that you are with God and He is celebrating you every day, right along with us.

Life's meaning is in having people to love. We put out tea lights on the deck in really big letters, big enough for them to glow all the way to Heaven. Did you see them? "We Love You, Aiyana" Did you see your mom made your favorite birthday dinner of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and green beans?

No one would change the part of loving and made better by your beautiful spirit, but we long for you to have stayed with us longer, as long as love lasts, forever and a day. And just like the house, we will go from where we are to where we are meant to be, holding hands and loving each other just like you knew we would.


Twirling Around

I look at your Grandpa sometimes as he gazes at your picture and I can see his longing to be able to make more memories with you. He sits surrounded by his music and films, in his big old office, but he sees only you and how lonesome he is. When I see him there, all I see is the amazing love you share. Grandpa misses knowing you are at his fingertips, and he doesn't like that your time together has come to an end.

I was reading this amazing book that your mommy told me about and in it there are many things to think about. But one of the best parts for me was when it explained about your relationship with Jesus. After so many years of treasuring you in your family on earth, and worrying about you and celebrating your wonderfulness, can you imagine how hard it is to re-learn living without you? I found great comfort being reminded that Jesus plays and laughs and loves you there, and picks you up and twirls you around just the way you like.

Your Grandpa and I are getting married soon. And you will be with us on that day, in the little butterflies we will decorate on all the tables and around the cakes. And you will be in all of our hearts every second, especially on this beautiful and joyful day that you have been waiting for, when you can finally call me Grandma.


Coins for Aiyana!

It's me again!

You probably know that Washington School came up with this great book drive to add reading books to the library at Aiyana's school. She loved to read. In fact, her mom and pop tell stories about her as a toddler playing with books rather than regular toys.

Well I can sure attest to her love of books. Her house is full of them. Her mom is a wonderful artist and Aiyana loved books with really good illustrations.

In the first few weeks after Washington School started the coin drive, her schoolmates had earned over $100 just with their pennies and nickles and dimes. By the night of the winter concert in January, the fundraiser had reached over $500.00 and included checks from two anonymous businesses.

Aiyana's Coins jars were now in other places, too: shops and businesses. Money kept coming in, dollars now, and bigger than that.

And then last night, there was a crab feed. Three hundred and fifty people packed into the huge firehouse in Clements to benefit the Lions Club and their service projects. Have you been to one? It's a lot of fun with the raffle and auction, great food, spirited families and lots of friends.

Part of the evening included a "Coins for Aiyana" jar and Korina spoke to the crowd about how special and beautiful Aiyana was and what the fundraiser would do for her elementary school. By night's end, $720.21 was collected!! You should have seen the young woman talking up the jar and encouraging donations. At one point, even the manager of the bar emptied the entire tip jar into Aiyana's coin jar.

While all this was going on, her wonderful brother worked nonstop to collect all the recyclables from the event to add to the total. And the fire chief noticed him, and handed over all the recyclables from the firehouse.

This small community continues to overwhelm us with support and generosity. Thank you.

The Christmas Concert

Thanks for visiting Aiyana's page. I will try to do a better job of writing regularly again, to share news of life now and how we transition to it. And when there are momentus occasions, they'll be here too!

I think we're all caught up with how different the landscape is without our hunny bunny. We ache for the old patterns and anticipating Aiyana and Avry hurling themselves into our arms. We miss seeing her smile light up her heart and the excited exchange of ideas between the girls as they raced off into another adventure.

In January, Washington Elementary did another fabulous thing for the community and the family. These kind hearted teachers and administrators had a winter concert. All the grades were represented and there was a good turnout, I hear due mainly to an ice cream bribe by the Principal, but they sang their hearts out for it and played bells and recorders and rhythm sticks. It was great.

Just before the last song, the Principal announced it was a dedication to the family of Aiyana and that she would remain forever in their hearts through her love of music. All the grades sang the Song of Peace together and learned sign language along with the lyrics. Is that not great??

Afterwards, as the family made our way around the room thanking staff, the Principal and I briefly spoke and another loving supportive idea came tumbling out: at the bench dedication in March, the book I read to her in the hospital, Two Ways to Count to Ten, will also be dedicated to the library -- and maybe I will even be able to read it to some of her school friends!

It comes on suddenly, getting all choked up by someone's compassion that is unexpected and genuine. We are deeply grateful to Washington School and this little group of loving people in the middle of nowhere that serves the families of this little valley town. Through their love, they are helping us heal.

The lessons the children learn here aren't just taught in the classroom. The educators model compassion and community spirit that will make these children citizens of the world. I look at what's going on here and it's not hard to imagine an educational system throughout America that teaches leadership alongside academics and compassionate citizenship. If Washington School could be the template, I do believe we would end up with a bunch of honest-to-God leaders.



I have been avoiding this, not intentionally at first with all the holiday traffic and activities, but it's time to check in and move things forward.

You've all been wondering, I'm sure you have, how the family did this year during Thanksgiving and Christmas, pageants and parades, food galore and gathering after gathering.

Well they did fine: better than fine, worse than fine, and it's over now. Aiyana was present everywhere and reminders kept popping up unexpectedly. Songs she sang came on the radio and there were her tree decorations to contend with and her brothers' concerts. We so missed seeing the girls race down the lawn to greet the car when we drove up. And yet, the welcome mat greeted us warmly and hugs were everywhere.

It's hard to know what to do and trust that a visit will bring comfort rather than pain. But in truth, it's always the right time to drop in and fill the house for just a little while and to transport them somewhere other than where they've been. It means more than you know.

The bench for Aiyana's school is in the final planning stages and it will be exciting to see it take shape. Greenie friends are designing and building it out of beautiful reclaimed and recycled wood for students at Washington Elementary to sit on after school. Korina will set her imagination to work when it arrives, to honor Aiyana who waited there every day. She would like that. And I think she loved our antics on Christmas Eve as we giggled and danced the night away, letting aches and cares slip below the radar for just a little while.

It was grand.