Home #Hwoodtimes Author Jill Osterhout: Reconstructing a Broken Life 

Author Jill Osterhout: Reconstructing a Broken Life 

By Jules Lavallee

Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 02/12/2020 –


When you were younger, what was your vision?

When I was younger, I was raised in the church and my religion was important to my family. I was taught right from wrong. I loved children and volunteered in my church nursery and babysat often. I loved the curiosity of children, and I loved to teach them games. I knew I wanted to be a role model for children. Making my parents proud was extremely important; I never wanted to disappoint them, and I still don’t. Getting married to someone that would be my best friend was important to me. I wanted to have someone by my side, celebrating my successes, and to support me through difficult times. Being a mother one day was my dream. The opportunity to love and to raise children was something that I would think about when I watched families together..  


Share your background. 

I was born and raised in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. I graduated from Temple University and Penn State University, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Education. I also graduated from Rider University with a Master’s degree in education. I am a certified Reading Specialist. I am currently teaching first grade. 

Have you always been resilient? 

I don’t believe that resilience is something that kids either have or don’t have; it is a skill that kids develop as they grow. Kids will encounter varying levels of stress and challenges as they develop. My father died when I was six years old, and my mother remarried. I believe that I learned resilience when being faced with loss and change at a young age. I had to find a way to accept the loss of my father and to accept a stepfather in my life when I was in first grade. I am thankful that my resilience was born at that challenging time of my life; my stepfather became a true father to me and a powerful force in my life.


Please share a few moments about your family. 

As stated, my father passed away when I was very young and my mom remarried. I grew up in a blended family. Suddenly, it was not just my sister and I; it was us and four other new people in my house. I married my high school sweetheart, and we had three children. Our children are Sara, Ava, and Bobby. My family is chaotic and busy; we attend church every week, attend sports events, sell Girl Scout cookies, and support others as a family.


Tell us about your story, Reconstructing a Broken Life. 

After the tragic death of my 14-month-old son, Bobby, on April 12th, 2014, my world was shattered beyond repair. There is nothing that compares to the loss of a child, and Bobby was a truly perfect child. He was my only son who was always very happy and smiling. There are times in our lives, usually when we are suffering, when we need to ask ourselves a question: Will I define my MOMENT or will my MOMENT define me?


Can you emotionally survive heartbreak and continue to truly live? Or do you stop living and merely exist. The moment my son left this earth, I was confronted with that question. Was this moment going to define me? If that was my choice, I would have existed in a broken life, destined to live the days of my life, devoid of happiness.

My world was flipped upside down and broken into a million pieces. I sat there thinking that I can never put it back together the same way and that my life was never going to be picture perfect.

The million broken pieces of my life started to realign themselves into a new pattern.

The silver lining to this tragedy is that I learned that I could pick up my broken pieces, and arrange them into a picture that I designed. It is at this moment of acceptance that I knew that I could define my moment. I could stand up. I could survive.

“There are many people who are broken and who have a silent story in their bright eyes.” What does this mean to you?

The line, “We all have a story, behind our bright eyes,” is about true awareness and understanding. We see a beautiful house when we are passing by, and we think the people inside must be happy and fulfilled because the lawn is manicured and square footage is impressive. We see children in school that are happy all day, and when it is time to leave, they begin to cry. Appearances do not always reflect the reality in which we live. All people have life challenges, some are challenged more than others. There is not a human on this earth who has not been hurt, who has not been damaged or has not been in pain on some level, at some time in their journey. 

What is the best piece of advice that you have received? 

My mom, Linda Endrick, gives me advice often; she is very wise. It is hard to just pick one piece of advice. My mom always told me,” Don’t react… respond.”  

 A reaction is a quick, emotional response. An effective response is a thought out, calm communication. Reactions cause others to react, but a response can change the direction of an interaction. Whether it is an email, phone call, verbal interaction or a text. I find it best to take a few minutes to breathe, think things through before responding.  

How have you grown as a person? 

Bobby’s death was a catalyst for changing my life. In some ways, I feel like I have had two lives: one before Bobby’s passing and the one I gained after he left me. The early years of my life had easier challenges: child care, mortgage payments, soccer schedules. In that life, I could breathe in and out; I could time-management my way out of problems. 

After Bobby, all the time-management in the world could not fix my problems. Breathing in and out was the critical challenge of my day. Slowly, I had to prioritize my new life and come alive again.  

I looked at my girls walking around the house that suddenly was not the warm, happy place where they used to feel protected; I watched them closely as they saw trays of food being brought in by people with tears in their eyes. I had to change “me.” I could not sit in my safe corner and watch the loss of my children’s childhood. I knew that I had to regain my position as a wife to their father and a real mother to them.

If I had not already had a strong anchor to my faith, I would not have had the strength to begin. First step… I had to get out of bed. 

You are the Founder of Bobby’s Playground, the REO IV Random Acts of Kindness and Bobby’s Blessings initiative. Tell us more. 

In October of 2014, our family partnered with Lower Bucks YMCA to build a community playground affectionately named Bobby’s Playground. Our friends, family, and community came together to build it. It means so much to my family that hundreds of children will be honoring Bobby’s memory with smiles and laughter of their own in the years to come.

The Random Acts of Kindness initiative was created when the cards and gifts started to dwindle away after Bobby’s death, and kind supporters went back to their lives. We wanted to pay forward the goodness that was shared with us. We made Random Acts of Kindness cards available to the community. If a person carried groceries for a person that had more bags than hands and was struggling, we received a card that shares the story. Our family felt Bobby’s love each time we opened the mailbox and saw the bright, cheerful REO card. We knew that this random act of kindness was spread in Bobby’s name. We have had over 500 cards sent to us from all over the United States and even some from other countries. Each card told of an act of kindness, done without reward.

Bobby’s Blessings is our newest initiative. A generous donor wanted my book “Reconstructing a Broken Life” in the hands of those that needed it most. Through my Facebook page, my team mails out a free book to those in need. We also reach out to guidance counselors, grief groups, and recovery houses to generate the names of those that will benefit from reading my book. I am honored that someone read my book and felt moved to create a fund to get my book in the hands of others.  

What discussions have you had with people who have encountered loss. What do you want people to know? 

When people have had a loss, they are broken and lost. They do not have the capabilities to reach out to others to ask for help. They may not even be able to respond to a text. Grief is different for everyone: some want to hide, some want to stay busy, some like to talk, while others want silence. Relationships around those grieving will never be the same. Death changes everything for those involved. Friends may not be able to handle the new person that has evolved from their challenging experience. Death changes the family dynamics, no matter what role that loved one played.  

I want people to know that it is ok if you feel your personality traits are changing or your goals have changed. No one should be embarrassed to smile and laugh out loud. You are surviving and you are alive.

Do you have any additional thoughts? 

Throughout life, we learn coping mechanisms to get through life. It takes effort to incorporate a new skill or to create a new healthy habit. One habit that I work on is flipping a negative to a positive. It is difficult sometimes, but with practice, it will start to become natural. In my situation, I face many obstacles through this grief journey. Most times I can find a way to flip the situation to a positive: on the first Christmas without Bobby, I was sad that he could not participate in the spirit of giving. So, each year, I buy an Angel Tree gift for a boy the same age as Bobby would be. His gifts then go to a boy in need. I also put up a small tree next to Bobby’s grave, I purchase three dozen ornaments and put them on his tree each year. There is a sign that explains that visitors should take an ornament from Bobby’s tree for their home as a gift from Bobby.