Jennifer O'Boyle always put up the Christmas tree. This time of year was filled with traditions for her family.
O'Boyle and her mother, Tammy Rosian, would tackle the holiday decorations at their Brandon home. On Christmas Eve, everyone opened one gift each, and as a family, they'd watch movies and munch on snacks.
But in September 2008, the family's traditions fell apart when O'Boyle died in a car accident one day before turning 25. She left behind a daughter, Summer Moll, now 5, who was badly injured in a wreck that authorities blamed on a drunken driver.
This year, the family celebrates Christmas with Summer at home and somewhat healthy for the first time since the accident. As the holiday season neared, Rosian said her grieving became more intense than it was during the first anniversary of her daughter's death.
"Putting up the tree was really hard," she said. "It took me about four days before I could actually put it up and decorate it."
O'Boyle's absence might hurt the most today, but it's felt year-round, especially by Rosian. The 48-year-old grandmother quit her job so she could take care of Summer. As a result, she and her family lost their health insurance.
"I went from working all day, to now, I say, 'Summer's my boss,' " said Rosian, a former employee of Suncoast Credit Union.
A hole in Summer's skull kept her from starting kindergarten this year. She is homeschooled twice a week and spends all of her time under her grandmother's watch.
At first they sat in the hospital together (Summer had four skin grafts after the wreck). Lately, they've been in and out of doctors' offices and therapy sessions.
Rosian changes the gauze on Summer's head at least once a day. It's a lot for someone who had retirement in sight. She misses her friends from work and plans to go back once Summer can go to school.
"I'd rather this had not happened," Rosian said. "Since it did, I wouldn't give up what I'm doing."
Although she has lost the normalcy of her life, Rosian has made friends as a result of her new role as Summer's primary caretaker. She has bonded with people at countless benefits for Summer's trust fund.
One of her new friends is Loretta Hart, whose teenage daughter was treated for an undiagnosed condition the same time Summer was in the hospital.
Summer stayed with Hart on a recent weekend so Rosian could go Christmas shopping.
"When you have your grandchildren, you expect them to be with their parents and you continue on with your life," Hart said. "After Jen got killed, Tammy's life went to a complete halt."
For almost a year after the crash, Summer's father was around. Joshua Moll, 27, moved to Tampa from Texas seeking custody after O'Boyle died. He was arrested on a charge of driving under the influence in February.
Moll received visitation rights after the arrest, but Rosian said she hasn't heard from him since the summer. He didn't show up to a July disposition for the DUI, resulting in a warrant for his arrest, according to Hillsborough County Clerk of the Circuit Court records.
"I really wish he would've been a father to her," Rosian said. "I should be the grandma. If she can't have her mom, I would've liked (for her) to have her father."
Rosian's husband, Arthur, who owns a flooring company, and her three sons take turns reading to Summer at night. Getting ready for Christmas this year was also a family effort.
Their yard is full of inflatable decorations, which Summer is finally warming up to, Rosian said. Inside, their tree still holds O'Boyle's ornaments.
Summer's favorite ornament is a soft red M&M character.
It was one of O'Boyle's favorites, too.
Kevin Smetana can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2439.