Fairbanksan Honored in Rose Parade

By  | 

FAIRBANKS, Alaska - A Fairbanks community member was honored at the 2018 Rose Parade for her gift of life.
Amanda Brennan reports.

Billie Sundgren Tewalt; Mother of Claire Sundgren>>"It was really life changing. In such a good way."

Claire Sundgren was only 25 when she perished in an avalanche April 3rd, 2016. Because she was an organ donor, she was able to improve the lives of almost 70 people after she died, including an 83 year old woman who regained sight after a cornea transplant. Sundgren was chosen to be honored at the Rose Parade for the organization Donate Life. Sundgren's mother, Billie Sundgren Tewalt traveled to Pasadena to partake in the festivities and creation of the float called Gift of Time.

Billie Sundgren Tewalt; Mother of Claire Sundgren>>"Pasadena was so heartwarming, uplifting. It was the whole gamut of emotion. We met so many wonderful people, and we all had a story to tell, whether we were a donor family, and we met a lot of families that had lost a loved one."

There were lectures, brunches, and other festivities for the family and friends of the departed. Tewalt says the experience was at times overwhelming, but ultimately, it helped in the grieving process.

Billie Sundgren Tewalt; Mother of Claire Sundgren>>"There are so many facets of grief. I think grief is very bi-polar. You're amongst all these people, you're feeling the strength, you're feeling the love, and then it's like, wait a minute. The reason I'm here is because my daughter isn't here. And then there's the sadness. It can happen really fast. But I think I took away a sense of peace."

Parents and recipients of donors helped to painstakingly glue each pedal and seed to create the award winning float. Tewalt and her husband were not exception.

Billie Sundgren Tewalt; Mother of Claire Sundgren>>"So we did the mums. So there was a lot of yellow on the parrots on the Gift of Time float, so when we saw it go by we knew our flowers were on there, somewhere, which was, you know, part of it. To say, hey, yeah, that is my float."

Tewalt says the overall experience of helping to create the float and watch it from the grand stand as it slowly drove down the road provided a sense of strength. Claire lived her life to the fullest, but continues to live through helping the lives of others.

Billie Sundgren Tewalt; Mother of Claire Sundgren>>"Even though we haven't met anyone that she's helped, but knowing she has helped 69 other people through her donations between Alaska and Arizona. So, you know, Claire's out there. Claire is there, and yeah it's sad, but at the same time it's very heartwarming."

Amanda Brennan reporting.