Mother's love for her daughter undimmed in wake of accident

January 16, 2011 

Editors note: This is the third of three columns about special people in our community.

Are there many different dimensions of existence in this world, or is it just our reaction to the challenges of life that separates us? Some people have never had a single bad thing happen to them. They live incredible lives of privilege, possibly without even recognizing or appreciating it.

And then there are people like Tracy Carli who just keep moving through one tragedy after another. They are driven by a selfless determination to make this life better for everyone else around them.

One of Carli’s best friends, Linda Shea, sent me this note: “Nine years ago, Tracy’s husband, who also served in the Army, committed suicide. Chet had been on anti-depressants for about a year, and didn’t like the side effects. Unfortunately, he was unaware of the dangers of quitting cold turkey, and his depression got the best of him.

“Tracy was left to raise their two teen children alone, as well as run the family business, Advantage Collision Center. Tracy still maintained her volunteer presence in the community despite the added stress. Tracy dealt with this situation with her usual positive outlook — while I’m sure she spent many hours comforting her kids, and crying herself to sleep, she always greeted company with a smile and welcoming heart.”

Carli struggled to keep her two teenagers on the right path. But her oldest daughter, Heather, strayed too far and Carli “invested in her daughter’s future” by sending her to an intensive behavior course in the wilderness of Colorado, in the dead of night.

Heather resisted and rebelled, of course, yet she came back a changed woman.

But another tragedy would cut short this happy ending.

Less than a year later, Heather was pulling onto state Route 507 on her way to the high school when she was broadsided by a pickup truck. Heather lingered between life and death for several days and now lives in a diminished state.

Faced with the awful decision of leaving Heather in a care facility, Carli instead made renovations to her home in Rainier so she could care for Heather in her familiar family surroundings. For the past four years, Carli has provided constant care, 24/7, because, “I felt like it was the only option for me.”

Carli drew inspiration from her own mother, a nurse, who raised three girls on her own.

“She taught us that life isn’t going to stop. Just move on,” Carli says. “I have my ‘sorry days’ but I choose not to live there.”

These days, Carli manages her auto body business in Yelm while raising her son, Joe, and caring for Heather. She got some help from the Army for a while, and now from DSHS, to afford a caregiver during the workday until 2 a.m. She’s only had to get up with Heather once a night lately.

Carli had a five-year plan to grow her business and maybe build a new house when Heather graduated. The accident derailed that plan, and now she just hopes to start taking better care of herself by maybe taking off one weekend a month.

“I’m a better momma when I can get my batteries recharged,” she says.

Between work — “I’m blessed with a great bunch of guys” — and caring for Heather and Joe (who has enlisted in the Army like his father), Carli still finds time to volunteer for the Rainier Education Foundation and the high school booster club, so other kids have an opportunity to go to college.

How does such a strong woman handle these challenges? Carli says, “What else would I be doing? Sitting around eating bonbons?”

Her mother taught her to trust in patience and persistence. “Don’t give up,” she said. “There’s a reason for all this.”

Heather has a website at   heathercarli.

George Le Masurier, publisher of The Olympian, can be reached at 360-357-0206 or

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