It was towards the end of July 2014 when I immediately hopped in my car and drove 13hrs, non-stop, to be with my daughter, not knowing that it was the beginning of our end. I vividly remember when I walked through the front door and saw Skye, seeing me. Skye ran to me with that big smile of hers and gave me the biggest hug ever, "Mom, I love you" her sweet vulnerable voice sounding my heart as we embraced each other. Skye had just been date-raped the day before I arrived. She was trying to make new friends at work. Earlier that summer, she moved to North Carolina from Pennsylvania (where she grew up and had been raped at age 12). Skye "overcame" a lot to say the least, she had a determined heart, and after moving to NC found three jobs to pay for her nursing supplies to start school the following year.
Skye was thrown back into a trauma response. What would happen two, quick months later, not only broke my heart into, what felt like, soft dust particles vanishing into the air and an incredible feeling of permanent loss but planted the seed to give her life purpose and meaning - a seed of hope and love. Although I believe that there is a purpose to my life through Skye's life, to help others, the vulnerable, and to provide a space where we accept, help, and most of all, where we LOVE ALL people without judgment. I live, also believing, that her death was preventable and questioning how I can help others, the vulnerable, like Skye, to live empowered lives.
Skye had hopes and dreams to become a nurse. She wanted to help others. The reason that she wanted to help others is, in her words, "so that no one would have to feel the pain I feel." She believed that no one deserves to have their life taken away, as she felt her life was from the age of 12. She believed that everyone deserves to be loved and to prosper and grow, free of harm.
She was raped at age 12. There was a time in her life after this traumatic experience when she didn't care about anything, about living. She did whatever she could do to kill the pain and that included taking any drugs that she could get a hold of and two incomplete suicides. It wasn’t all on her though, as she felt. You see, outside looking in from the perspective of a parent, family member, teacher and friend, part of it, was that it was hard to understand what she was living with. She was in her own world, alone, and it was hard as a parent knowing what to do and that others didn’t understand her behaviors either. She was negatively labeled at school and amongst some of her peers. Although she had a lot of love in her world, unrecognized to her at the time, the lack of compassion and understanding from others towards her made it so difficult to get through, what we would think of, the simple things, like going to school, and this is from a young girl who sang a cappella at the age of 11 in front of her 6th-grade class. The song she sang and loved was called "The Great Storm” written by her elementary Head of School, Lawrence Boggess. Interestingly, it was about working together through our adversities. However, over some time and with special care, love, support, and help, she (we) did learn compassion and understanding of what was happening in our lives. Skye's smile returned and she grabbed onto life again for a great couple of years. I was so proud of her, of the two of us.
Later in her life, she was raped again at age 19 and life became difficult once again, very fast this time (2 months to be exact). She relapsed and diverted to what she had done before to "take away the pain". She didn’t ask for help. She worked very hard to fulfill her dreams. She wanted to help others. I am so proud of her strength and her ability to love, given the circumstances she endured.
Skye often and proudly doodled "Spread Your Wings and Fly" and would sign off on her poetry as "Skye's the Limit". She had a creative, kind, loving, caring, adventurous and brave spirit about her. She always likened herself to a bird, as she would imagine herself gracing the sky, flying free. Her spirit lives on today and will forever as my Skye Bird!
I am taking on her spirit and doing whatever I can to help others in the way I can, in the way I was a mother to her. When she wasn’t reading and creating music on her guitar, we spent a lot of time together. We made art, we took adventures, we sang and danced together, we played together, and she never turned down going out on adventures together, just the two of us and sometimes a friend of hers would join us too. We took great joy in our hikes together and would also go out on kayak rides. We could have stayed out on the water forever but we always had to make sure we got back in time so we wouldn't be charged an extra hour for the kayak rental! We did an overnight camping and a 14-mile kayak trip down the Delaware River together. What an empowering trip! She was the navigator. Being on and a part of the water was a peaceful place for her, and for me too.
As we were living with trauma, making connections through art, kayaking and the outdoors, all were key elements in our healing and recovery process. I saw her blossom and truly smile again.
I hope to be able to use my experiences as a parent and as a parent living with grief to help those in need of positive engagements. I hope that by engaging, lovingly and compassionately, and building the connections to help youth from feeling isolated, they will seek help, speak out and express themselves knowing that their life has meaning and, that by them just living, is good enough.
Skye Gina Ratcliffe Pilato died of overdose in the very early morning of September 30, 2014.
Skye’s the Limit! Foundation, founded on January 14, 2019, is a 501c3 Public Charity recognizing the need for compassion and connection to combat the social isolation that can lead to substance abuse and suicide. We are reminded through her spirit to reach for the good, the best, in us all and to care for and love others with compassion.
Please join me to "Spread our Wings and Fly" because "Skye's the Limit!"
Peace and Love to everyone,
Keiko and Skye in Spirit
Forever loved, Skye Gina Ratcliffe Pilato, March 7, 1995 - September 30, 2014
At Skye’s the Limit Foundation, we know that by increasing understanding of the trauma-informed approach and training school staff, healthcare workers, police officers, criminal justice system staff, mentors, youth-serving organizations, and other adults to employ this effective approach, the negative impacts of childhood trauma can be effectively mitigated, and trauma-related loss can be prevented. We also know that by building peer support through engaging activities such as the arts and kayaking that we can begin to nurture relational health, the connections needed for thriving and flourishing. Furthermore, by investing in our youth and community leaders who will pass along these learned, trauma-informed care concepts to their peers, we can work to create sustainable, positive change in our communities for future generations.