Teenage Girl Whose Father Died in Tragic Accident Create SLAP to Help Others Work through Grief

( [email protected] ) Oct 06, 2014 05:49 PM EDT
Dr. Don Liu Kisses Daughter Genevieve Liu
In this July 6, 2012 photo provided by Gulnara Samoilova, Dr. Don Liu kisses his daughter, Genevieve, at her bat mitzvah, accompanied by her mother, Dr. Dana Suskind, in Shanghai. (AP Photo/Gulnara)

A 15 year old girl from Chicago who lost her father in a tragic accident is now using her experience with grief to help others mourning the loss of a loved one.

Genevieve Liu was only 13 when she witnessed her father, Taiwanese-American pediatric surgeon  Don Liu get swept under Lake Michigan by a rip current after successfully saving two others people from drowning on a family outing. She clearly remembers the horrific moments and tears before his body was found, and the aching numbness afterward. She recalls sitting quietly with her siblings Asher, now 12, and sister Amelie, now 9, staring into space at a fast food restaurant during the trip from Michigan back home to Chicago.

Today, Genevieve describes her father, who was raised in Taiwan and converted to Judaism, as a loving, kind man.

"My dad was, by far, someone who understood me like no one else. Like, he always knew - everything," says Genevieve.

"You wonder if you are going to be able to live the same life you always felt like you were supposed to."

Genevieve Liu family - SLAP
This July 4, 2012 photo provided by Gulnara Samoilova shows the Liu-Suskind family during a trip to the Great Wall of China. From left are Asher Liu, Dr. Don Liu, Genevieve Liu, Amelie Liu and Dr. Dana Suskind.

Genevieve's mom, Dana Suskind, and others tried to help the young girl work through her grief.

"None of us can crawl into a fetal ball, even if that's what we really want," says Suskind, a surgeon and researcher at the University of Chicago Comer Children's Hospital, where her husband had been surgeon-in-chief. "So what do I do to help take them to the other side of adulthood, so they can be stable and happy adults?"

"I got so much of my support from, like, grief counselors, friends, my parent," Genevieve says--but she still felt slone.

Genevieve Liu family
In this Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014 photo, Genevieve Liu, second from left, sits with her siblings, Amelie, 9, and Asher, 12, and their mother, Dr. Dana Suskind, outside their home in Chicago. (AP Photo/Martha Irvine)

She says that although her mother was strong for her, "I needed her to be the same person that she was with my dad, and that just wasn't possible."

However, even though it seemed impossible, Genevieve worked tirelessly to deal with her grief,  in part by helping others.

The young girl decided to start a website, which she calls SLAP'D - Surviving Life After a Parent Dies. Included on the site is a monitored forum, interviews with adults who've lost a parent, advice from experts, and tribute pages with photos, poetry and songs.

"People will share so much, nothing like they would in real life, face to face," says Genevieve, who hopes the site might eventually be taken up by an organization for grieving children.

In one recent post, in which a young woman who lost her father describes arguments with her mother, Genevieve offers advice, and the young woman responds, "I'm glad there's someone who knows how I feel."

Today, Genevieve's wall is covered with photos of her dad and some of his numerous awards from his old office. On her website, Genevieve's own tribute page includes family photos, and a reference to "Leaving on a Jet Plane"--a song he often sang to his children.

"I love my dad, and I just hope that when I think about him it's not always about his death, or my grief, but just about him," she says. 

Genevieve Liu family - SLAP
In this July 6, 2012 photo provided by Gulnara Samoilova, Dr. Don Liu watches his daughter, Genevieve, at her bat mitzvah in Shanghai.