A few weeks after Tracey Kleinpell died, a present arrived from her to her nephew, Waterford's Jaden Peck. Kleinpell had pre-ordered the gift, but Jaden’s mother, Tina Peck, told him it came from heaven.
That caused a dilemma. Jaden, 6, was learning about thank-you notes, and wondered how he was going to send a thank-you note to his aunt in heaven. His mother suggested sending a note via helium balloon – more as a joke than anything – but Jaden ran with the idea. Since then, he has sent more than a dozen notes to his late aunt.
“It is always his idea,” Tina Peck said. “Because I could go without sending the helium balloon up there. I always worry a bird is going to get hurt and it probably isn’t the best thing for the environment to send it out there. But I look at his face, and he says, ‘I drew this picture for Tracy, can I send it to her?’ And how do you say no to that?”
Tina Peck always watches, usually bursting into tears. Her sister was her best friend, and it makes her happy that she is still part of her son’s life.
“That’s his way of keeping her memory alive,” Tina Peck said. “And for me it is nice to know that he doesn’t not stop thinking about her.”
On May 7, 2011, Kleinpell, 46, was riding her bike on the Sanibel Causeway in Florida when she was struck by a car. The crash sent Kleinpell over the edge of a bridge and into the water. She died at the scene.
The female driver was on a variety of prescription drugs, but the prosecution could not prove that the drugs affected her above a therapeutic level, according to ABC news. She pleaded no contest to failing to maintain her lane and received the maximum sentence for the crime – just the loss of her license for six months, 120 hours of community service and a $1,000 fine, according to ABC.
“All I wanted from the woman was an apology, that’s all I wanted,” Peck said. “Not even an apology (we got from her). That would have meant the world to me.”
The death, trial and verdict was devastating to Peck. Kleinpell literally saved Peck’s life once, and the two talked every day, about everything from arguments they had with their spouses to something emotional they saw on Oprah.
“I never in my life thought I’d be living a life without her,” Peck said. “She was my best friend and I love her, more than anything in the world.”
The Grieving Process
It took six months for Peck to just get out of shock from her sister’s death, and she is still in the grieving process. She has pictures of Kleinpell in every one of her Waterford home’s bedrooms, and talks to a picture of her sister every day.
But she has had support going through the death, including from her oldest son, Jaden. She tries not to cry in front of her of two sons, but when she does, her 6-year-old knows what to do.
“When I cry, (Jaden) knows exactly why I’m crying,” Tina Peck said. “And he’ll hold my hand or hug my leg until I stop.”
Tina Peck says she has no regrets with her relationship with her sister, and has found comfort in the last moments they had together. The last text she sent her sister was “I love you” (followed by an “I love you more”), and the last time they had together, they were both sick from some bad food, but spent the whole night laughing together anyway.
“We threw up and giggled all night long,” Tina Peck said. “That was my last night with her. And I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
She wishes she could “just touch (Kleinpell) for five minutes,” and held back tears throughout her interview with Patch. But she has no doubt her son’s balloons reach Kleinpell, and Kleinpell appreciates them.
“I absolutely have no problem believing she received her notes,” Tina Peck said. “She loved her Jaden so much, if they don’t make it all the way up, she’d come down and get them. She loved her little Jaden.”