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.