Somehow, it has been a year since Riley Friddle died.
Yet, through a room at a Charlotte hospital for kids with cancer, and a scholarship for nurses, and even two children's books, Riley lives on.
Riley was the little Rock Hill girl who battled brain cancer all her short 4 years of life. She died only after she willed her way into the first day of school in a wheelchair.
Her diagnosis, her surgeries and her death were chronicled in this newspaper. Her strength, that of her parents, Todd and Andrea, became legend. At the recent Rock Hill Relay for Life event, the family sold so many T-shirts for cancer research that the printer had to make an extra close-to-midnight printing.
"I still don't go more than a day or two and somebody asks 'Aren't you the daddy of that little girl?'" Todd Friddle said.
Andrea, Riley's mother, gets it even more at her job as a nurse at Piedmont Medical Center.
"I have had many people look up at me from a hospital bed and say, 'That little girl's mama!'" Andrea Friddle said. "Riley became a part of their lives, too. She gave people hope and strength."
A few months ago, staffers at York Technical College where Andrea first went to nursing school started a scholarship in Riley's name. Then through the generosity of family and friends and total strangers who were inspired by Riley, the Friddles reached the magic $50,000 mark to have a room named for Riley at the new Levine Children's Hospital at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte. A plaque with Riley's name on it will go up in a few weeks.
Now, Riley is a character in children's books.
Kind of: Riley is a dinosaur.
"A triceratops, specifically," said Yvette Hix, Riley's aunt. "In the second one, the triceratops even has a purple bow in her hair, just like Riley always wore."
The books, "Alex takes a Boat Ride" and "Alex Plays in the Garden," published by Focus Press, were written by Brad Harrub and his two sons. Harrub met Riley and the Friddles a couple years ago when Harrub was here for a speaking engagement at Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ. Like anybody with a heart, Harrub and his family took inspiration for their own lives from little Riley.
"Riley was just that kind of person," Andrea Friddle said. "To think that Riley might inspire children who never met her, that children will learn to read listening to her name, well, saying I am honored doesn't even half cover it."
Yet, all that outpouring of love after Riley's death doesn't mean the past year has been easy for Andrea and Todd Friddle. The little dog, Prissy, Riley's constant companion from soon after her birth, was run down in the street by a scalawag who didn't even stop to find the owner. Then, July 2 would have been Riley's 5th birthday. Riley was never far from the couple's thoughts.
"Wednesdays are the hardest," Andrea said. "She was born on a Wednesday, went to the hospital for treatment every Wednesday of her little life, and died on a Wednesday."
And this week, Friday, is a year since Riley died.
I saw Andrea Friddle this past week for the first time in a few months. She was wearing some funny-looking clothes. I asked Todd if those clothes were good news, and he said no.
"Great news," he said.
Andrea couldn't hold it back anymore. "February," she said. "We are expecting."
In a couple weeks, the Friddles find out if the new baby will be a boy or a girl.
The new baby already has books to learn from -- with the big sister as a dinosaur to teach reading.