Chris and Amy Inman pose with their 5-week-old daughter, Olivia, and a photo of Gracelyn, their 17-month-old daughter who died in  January, at Whittier Park Sept. 13. The Inmans donated a memorial garden  and play equipment to the park in Gracelyn’s honor.

Chris and Amy Inman pose with their 5-week-old daughter, Olivia, and a photo of Gracelyn, their 17-month-old daughter who died in January, at Whittier Park Sept. 13. The Inmans donated a memorial garden and play equipment to the park in Gracelyn’s honor.

Photos by Erin Sanchez


Royal Oak family turns heartbreak into healing

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published September 18, 2018

 Chris and Amy Inman stand with Olivia, their 5-week-old daughter, in front of a swingset they donated.

Chris and Amy Inman stand with Olivia, their 5-week-old daughter, in front of a swingset they donated.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

Photo by Erin Sanchez

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ROYAL OAK — “The grief doesn’t get smaller, but our love will grow bigger.”

That is the mantra of the Inmans, a Royal Oak family whose 17-month-old daughter, Gracelyn, unexpectedly died in January due to complications from a flu-like virus. In a gesture of community goodwill, they recently donated a memorial garden and play equipment to their neighborhood park.

Living only two blocks away, Amy said that she walked by Whittier Park while she was pregnant with Gracelyn, with Gracelyn after she was born, and while she carried Gracelyn’s younger sister, Olivia, who turned 5 weeks old on Sept. 14.

“When she was finally big enough, she loved to swing and run and play,” Amy said. “We couldn’t walk by without her getting all excited and her eyes lighting up.”

Chris and Amy Inman are high school sweethearts who hail from Midland and called Texas and Chicago home before making the move back to Michigan. They settled in Royal Oak in 2014, and on Christmas Eve that year, they received both the keys to their home and the news that they were pregnant with Gracelyn. 

“She was the sweetest little thing and the happiest baby,” Amy said. “She was just awesome and sweet as can be, but had a big personality.”

She recalled that her daughter would always greet strangers at the grocery store with a bright “Hi!” She always hugged her friends at day care, and she “just made life simple.”

Chris said that Gracelyn knew she would be a big sister and that she enjoyed taking her baby doll for stroller rides around the house. 

Neither Chris nor Amy were prepared to wake up one morning in January and discover that they had lost their little girl, whom they had always called their “angel.”

“It seemed so far from reality. It seemed like a terrible nightmare, and I kept trying to convince myself that I would wake up and this wouldn’t be real,” Chris said.

The couple recalled the immediate and generous response of loved ones asking what they could do and bringing food to their home. One of Chris’ co-workers created a GoFundMe page to raise money for a funeral.

The donations that streamed in from friends, family, neighbors, the church community and strangers well surpassed the $10,000 goal, and the Inmans opted to use funds from the $26,544 total to make improvements in the park in honor of Gracelyn.

The couple added a second set of swings for older children, including “expression swings,” which allow for an adult and a child or two children to swing together.

They also funded fire- and police-themed play equipment in order to express their appreciation to the Royal Oak first responders that lovingly attended to Gracelyn and themselves in January.

“We just wanted to acknowledge how challenging and difficult their roles are,” Chris said. “(Both the Fire and Police departments) continue to love and support us with coffee and doughnuts and bagels, and continue to be a part of our life.”

A memorial rain garden full of native Michigan plants, two rosebud trees, a lilac tree and benches surround a plaque dedicating the area to Gracelyn. It includes the phrase “Up above the world so high,” a tribute to Gracelyn’s favorite song and to her being the family’s guardian angel, Amy said.

On Aug. 26, what would have been Gracelyn’s second birthday, the city held a dedication ceremony at Whittier Park. Chris said he was touched that hundreds of people came out, including Mayor Michael Fournier, City Manager Don Johnson, several city commissioners and Parks and Recreation Advisory Board members.

“At the end of the day, we’re thankful to be a part of a community that supported us so much,” Chris said. “We wanted to create a space where families can come spend time with one another and put down the phones, put down the screens.”

Whenever he sees families frequenting Whittier Park, he said, the amount of community and family bonding that takes place there amazes him.

“We’ve been so blessed with so many people who loved on us endlessly,” Amy said. “They’ve carried us through this. We haven’t powered through it. It’s not on our own strength; it’s the strength of everyone else’s love and the support of so many people.”

Lewis Jacques, of the Royal Oak Parks and Recreation Department, was one of the building maintenance crew members who donated time to spruce up the park and install the new features.

“We cleaned up the park and did a bunch of extra stuff for them,” Jacques said. “They’re an awesome couple. They’re really, really great people, and Chris actually helped us on a Saturday to hang the swings.”

Jacques said he quickly came to like Chris and Amy and was glad to be part of the good that came out of personal tragedy.

“It’s a pretty popular park. There’s kids that are there from 8 to 9 in the morning until dinnertime,” Jacques said. 

 

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