GARDINER, Maine (WABI) - As funeral services are held for the victim's of last week's school shooting in Florida, the heartbreak of suddenly losing a child is fresh in many minds.
This Friday marks three years since Marlene Ziemer died from a brain tumor.
She was just 10 months old.
Marlena's parents have started The Ziemer Sisters Foundation out of their Gardiner home.
As Joy Hollowell tells us, it's not about grieving the loss of Marlena but rather celebrating the life of her older sister.
"This was my rabbit but this was Marlena's rabbit," says Gudrun Ziemer, lining up two lovingly worn stuffed animals. "I got this rabbit and I said- Marlena needs a rabbit too. So I said- Santa, can you get a rabbit for Marlena? And then we came downstairs in the morning and this one was sticking up out of her stocking."
Gudrun was just two and a half years old when her younger sister died. In February of 2015, Marlena was diagnosed with an aggressive and inoperable brain tumor. She was taken by LifeFlight from Eastern Maine Medical Center to Boston Children's Hospital. Just 10 days later, she passed away. Marlena was 10 months old.
"Gudrun got us through it in a lot of ways," says Morgan Ziemer, Marlena and Gudren's father. "We would have to, all day- you smile, you have fun, she goes to sleep and then you break down for a couple of hours sometimes."
That Christmas after Marlena's death, the family donated stuffed animals to EMMC, the pediatric oncology unit at the Lafayette Family Cancer Care Center in Brewer and Boston Children's Hospital.
But Ariel Ziemer knew Gudrun needed something more. "I remember thinking- wouldn't it be great if right now, a really awesome thing could happen for her," she says. "Because not only did she lose a sister, her parents have just transformed. Because no matter how well you deal with something like this, you will change."
She and Morgan created The Ziemer Sisters Foundation.
"It's not about bereavement, it's not about bereavement support," explains Ariel. "It's all about fun. And that's it."
The goal is for families to do things together- whether it's an afternoon of bowling or a weekend of camping. The foundation supplies the care packages for that.
"We think it's important that the whole family is reminded that there's life and there's fun and there's job and there's love still in your home," says Ariel.
The Ziemers readily admit it is hard to find happiness after such loss.
"At least initially there is a moment of- how am I going to do this anymore?" says Ariel. "A feeling of failure because you weren't able to save them or protect them. Our daughter didn't have any more siblings so she went from- I'm a sister to, am I a sister?"
"And it's really hard to keep that fun going and keep that joy when inside, you're having trouble dealing with that yourself," adds Morgan.
He pauses as Gudrun catches his attention with an ear to ear grin.
Morgan locks eyes with his daughter and grins right back.
"But then you look at her," he says, "and how could you not smile?"
"We can't make it easier, we can't change it, we can't take the pain away," says Ariel. "These kids, though they seem fine, they could really use some extra support and joy in their lives and we'd really like the opportunity to be able to do that."
The Ziemers are asking folks to reach out to them if they know of a child whose lost a sibling in the past year. In particular, extended family who could provide specifics as to what the surviving brother or sister would enjoy in their care package.
Their Facebook page is- The Ziemer Sisters Foundation. there's also information on there about donating. https://www.facebook.com/Ziemersisters/
You can also call Morgan and Ariel directly at 582-3727.
The foundation is also up for a $5,000 grant from Bangor Savings Bank Community Matters More campaign. For more information on that, log onto http://www.bangor.com/Community-Support/Community-Matters-More.aspx