Matt Driscoll

‘This is Ellie’s legacy.’ With nonprofit, mother turns grieving into giving back

Love Like Crazy: The legacy of a little girl’s cancer fight

In 2013, Sarah Walton’s daughter, Ellie, was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer. Over the four years that followed, the little girl’s fight captured the hearts of many. Now, after Ellie’s death, her mother wants to give back.
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In 2013, Sarah Walton’s daughter, Ellie, was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer. Over the four years that followed, the little girl’s fight captured the hearts of many. Now, after Ellie’s death, her mother wants to give back.

Sarah Walton has mixed emotions about the next chapter she’s embarked on. They fluctuate by the day, by the hour and by the moment. It’s a roller coaster she’s grown accustomed to it.

“I always say I’m blessed to be able to do this, but it’s so bittersweet. Because I don’t want to be doing this,” Walton said Thursday from her mother’s home in Tacoma.

Walton is a mother herself. She’s also a mother News Tribune readers know well.

Now, Walton is hoping to harness the platform she’s found herself with to help families like hers.

In 2013, Walton’s daughter, Ellie, was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer. Late TNT columnist Larry LaRue wrote about her that year, and for the remainder of his career at the paper, he frequently returned to the little girl with the magnetic personality and innate ability to light up the room.

In his final column for the TNT, in late 2015, LaRue wrote, “No one appeared here more often than Ellie Walton.” He noted that despite the long odds that shaped her life, Ellie “turned 3 last week — a lovely, happy, bright little girl.”

In January 2017, Ellie Walton “went home,” as her mother described it. She was surrounded by her family and cradled by her older sister, Ava.

“We sat there and told her about everything she’s done, and all the lives she’s changed, and how she moved so many mountains,” Sarah Walton recalled of the day. She remembers it as “beautiful.”

Then, the hard part — or, really, the next in a long line of hard parts.

The page turns, and a family is left to pick up the pieces.

“Everyone grieves differently. That’s one thing that I’m noticing. You have to learn a whole new you. I have to figure out who I am now, and who my husband is, and learn to deal with the way we’re growing. We have to learn to grow together,” Sarah Walton said.

“For me, seeing a 4-year-old running around is heartbreaking. Every time I see one, I just think, ‘That’s my kid.’ And you have to learn how to deal with that. It doesn’t just happen overnight. It doesn’t’ even happen two years later,” she added.

“We just had to learn how to be a family and get out of bed in the morning.”

The lessons learned along the way, and the outpouring of support the Waltons received throughout the journey, are just some of the reasons Sarah now wants to give back — to mothers facing the loss of their own children, and families forced to pick up the pieces.

Last year, Walton officially launched a nonprofit called Love Like Crazy. It’s named after a song mother and daughter used to sing together. She’s got a video of one such performance and still watches it.

The purpose behind Love Like Crazy is far from grandiose, which is where the real beauty lies. The nonprofit — which has a board of governors, files the necessary paperwork with the state and jumps through the other bureaucratic hoops required by law — intentionally focuses on families with medically fragile children and bereavement.

It aims to do the little things that can make a big difference.

In total, it has raised about $10,000 so far, with all of it going out to families in need about as fast as it comes in, Walton said.

They’ve paid for two complete funerals, footed the bill for a cremation, paid for a venue for a grieving family to hold a memorial service and cooked and delivered meals.

Recently, Walton contacted a mother who had just lost a child, asking what she needed.

The answer? Pay an outstanding electric bill — about $250.

So they did.

“We always have something, someone, another family. And I think that’s the hardest part, is trying to figure out who do you help, because there’s so many,” Walton said.

Beyond financial support, Walton said she’s all too aware of just how important emotional support can be for families who have lost a child or will lose one soon.

More than anything, through Love Like Crazy, she wants to provide a shoulder to cry on, a shoulder to lean on.

“Moms, when they lose a child, their greatest fear is that people will forget their child,” Walton said.

She knows people haven’t forgotten Ellie. She’s got tangible proof, like the thousands of followers she still has on Facebook and Instagram, and the ethereal evidence that keeps her going.

That’s what makes her want to return the favor to others.

“Families, first and foremost, need emotional support,” she said when asked the purpose of her nonprofit.

“It’s having someone to talk to, and prayers for your family coming in, and people sending cards — letting you know that they’re thinking about you and remembering your child,” Walton added.

“This is Ellie’s legacy.”

Matt Driscoll is a reporter and The News Tribune’s metro news columnist. A McClatchy President’s Award winner, Driscoll lives in Central Tacoma with his wife and three children. He’s passionate about the City of Destiny and strives to tell stories that might otherwise go untold.


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