It wasn’t all fun and Games

Chris Erskine
March 7,2010

After a horrible tragedy, a Canadian woman picked up the pieces by becoming the guardian of her five nieces and nephews and sharing the Olympic experience with them.


Karla Green became guardian of her nieces and nephews after their parents, Brad and Krista Howe, were killed by an alleged drunk driver. Green is surrounded by MacKenzie, 14; Cory, 10; Ashley, 9; Molly, 7; and Maggie, 4. All of them attended the Olympics, as their parents had planned to do with them.

This is the story that won’t go away a week after the Winter Games ended. It is horrific. It is inspiring. It involves the anguished wails of children and one of the most drastic U-turns a life ever saw.

If you think Joannie Rochette’s heart broke in Vancouver, wait till you hear the tale of Karla Green, 34, who in an instant lost a sister but gained five grieving kids.

Here’s the hellish part, the part that makes you shake your head over a needlessly awful event. Days before the Olympics began, Green’s sister and brother-in-law were killed by an alleged drunk driver 10 blocks from their Alberta home, leaving behind four daughters and a son, ages 4 to 14.

It was 5 a.m. when Aunt Karla got the news. In hours, the registered nurse would leave behind her job and her condo for Red Deer, a small river city of 90,000 that is anything but Vancouver. In a move pre-arranged by her sister a year before, Karla would become the children’s legal guardian. In ways legal documents never reveal, their guardian angel.

Karla knew instantly Red Deer was where the kids belonged — in their own beds, their old schools, surrounded by the pals and playgrounds they loved.

Not that any of this was seamless. Though caring for people is her life’s work, Karla didn’t have kids of her own. She soon learned that her nieces and nephew had a million activities. There were financial concerns to deal with. Amid it all, there were enough emotions to stump a priest.

So here’s the unbelievable part, the moment where an ordinary someone looks tragedy in the face and shrugs. You think about it now and wonder where she got the strength, or if you could ever be half as strong.

Because one day, Karla Green got an inspiration, perhaps divine. Amid all the crud life had suddenly tossed her way, Karla decided that she would take her orphaned brood through one of the most incredible stretches of grief counseling you’d ever imagine — the Winter Games, 700 miles away.

Adjustments on the fly

The parents, Krista and Brad Howe, had both been engineers in Red Deer. They volunteered for everything — sat on school committees, organized company curling teams, set up weekend outings.

"They were such good parents," Karla explains. "Took the kids everywhere…it was always about the experience."

Karla, meanwhile, had a different life, that of a young single living in Vancouver — filled with friends, dinners, adventure. She loved to travel, and before becoming a nurse had worked as a tour guide and scuba instructor. Recently, she went back to school for her master’s degree in nursing. Lately, life was settling down. She thought about having kids one day — but that day was not here.

With Karla’s help, Krista and Brad had planned for a year on how they would take the kids to the Olympics, part of Brad’s insistence on exposing them to new experiences. They managed to get tickets to ski events at Cypress Mountain, and while Karla watched the kids, some curling events for Mom and Dad. They planned on how they would squeeze eight people into Karla’s tiny Vancouver condo.

"It was a really scary decision," Karla says, explaining her call to go ahead with the trip. "My goal for these kids was to gain some security, and that as dark as things were to show them that somehow life would go on."

So Karla went to work.

With the help of the Vancouver Olympics organizing committee, she managed to trade the curling tickets for speedskating. Then someone managed to come up with tickets to a men’s hockey game: Russia versus the Czech Republic.

WestJet pitched in with the changes in itinerary.

It would be the first plane trip for the four younger kids — Mom had wanted it to be a surprise. So they were stunned when they arrived at the airport; the kids just assumed they would be driving.

The trip was going just as Karla had hoped, lifting the heavy gloom from the children’s shoulders, changing the backdrop of their lives.

But as their plane rose in the sky, Molly, 6, looked out at the clouds and wondered: "Are we closer to heaven now?"

Are we closer, she wondered, to Mom and Dad?

Everything hoped for

The trip went great, though. While everyone was at events, Karla’s friends would come in to tidy up her place, or leave crayons and coloring books.

As the oldest, MacKenzie helped corral her siblings and keep them moving. She and her Aunt Karla had always been close, and they needed each other now more than ever.

The kids were soon caught up in the spirited way Canadians were reacting to the Games. It had become a milestone moment for their country, a chance for uncommon pride. As the games went on, the momentum grew. It was everything their parents had hoped for: a life experience, a grand adventure.

"I think coming here was important," Karla told the Vancouver Sun when it was over. "I wasn’t sure how the kids would respond. But the children have been very amazing."

Real world concerns

They are all back in Red Deer now. On Monday, MacKenzie had her braces off. On Friday, Molly turned 7.

Grandma is still there, helping keep the house in order. Sandra Green raised six children herself, so she is no novice at this sort of thing.

But there is more than just the daily chores. There’s an effort to get the children counseling. There are financial concerns, as they sort out the life insurance policies, the outstanding bills.

"I don’t think anybody ever expects to die together," Karla notes.

She even fears for her own finances. From what Karla hears, the government may not approve her unemployment request, which allows for benefits during maternity leaves and other life changes, but not the odd upheaval she is now going though.

A trust fund has been set up for the children, who don’t really worry about such things. They worry only abut keeping their same friends, attending the same school, sleeping in the same beds, being together for breakfast.

Their Aunt Karla is taking care of that.

Boy, is she ever.

Very sad and emotional story.  Mr. Erskine at his best.

If anyone feels the urge to make a donation, checks can be made payable to:

Brad and Krista Howe Memorial Trust Fund

Mail to:

Foam Lake Credit Union

P.O.Box 160

Foam Lake, SK

SOA 1AO Canada

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5 Responses to It wasn’t all fun and Games

  1. Joe says:

    It was an Olympics that had it’s share of tragedy wasn’t it? I really thought it seemed to have more than the usual. I mean there’s always the anguish of defeat and the ecstasy of victory but this was heavy on both ends and not as much in the middle plus there were other things like this which tug the heart and tear the soul.

  2. Hey Jude says:

    Oh my god, I had never heard this story until now. How very, very sad. I have tears in my eyes trying to type this comment.Thanks for sharing, Bob. ((hugs))

  3. Grandma's says:

    We read this story in our newspaper the day after the opening ceremonies (how can you not cry when you read about such a tragedy)….and yes trust funds are being set up here as well. She is a brave young lady for taking on the burden of her nieces and nephew. Such a horrific event for children to lose both parents at the same time. Karla is truly an Angel….and I do believe the Lord will bless her. People from the children’s home community will no doubt step up to the plate and help out in any way that they can as will other’s who read about their plight.I have faith that people will dig deep into their pockets to help out.Ever since I have read this story I have been praying for Karla and the children.And Chris, too, is an Angel for writing this story….as are you for posting it.*Hugs and Blessings*~Karin~

  4. Greg says:

    Hi Bob…Glad you are up and running with a new computer. Your new laptop is a beauty.I enjoyed the Olympics too and kind of got hooked on Curling of all sports. More importantly, definitely, a big salute to people like Karla Green. Puts our lives into perspective to be grateful everyday.We finally had our first 70 degree temperatures this past weekend. This past winter and artic cold did not do my body well. But with winter now in the rear view mirror all should be well. But then we don’t have earthquakes, landslides, brush fires, like you all out there in So Cal. Let’s hope it is a better year for you all out there.You take care and all the best from my home to yours…GregI did not know that about how Pamela got discovered at a football game. Do you think that would work for us if we went to a Lakers game together in too small, too short, t-shirts. It would probably get us in jail…Do the Lakers have another NBA title in them this year??? Should be interesting…

  5. Sandra says:

    I’me really in such shock right now when i read this. What made me sad, "are we closer to mommie and daddy now". I pray that the Lord will give Karla the strength she needs in raising these children.May Gods mercy & grace be with them.

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