Photos by Amber Koelling
Unfortunately for Angie Phillips, her worst nightmare became a reality when she tragically lost her 20-year-old daughter, Hallie, in November 2022. What Angie didn’t expect was to be able to turn this unbearable ache into something beautiful. “I had no plans to write a children’s book at all but going through something so traumatic … allowed me to feel all of it and process it, and I started thinking, how can I keep her memory alive, how can I honor her, how can I tell a story about her that helps other people,” Angie says.
While reminiscing on all the wonderful moments in Hallie’s life, Angie thought about the moment Hallie gave her the nickname, “mama bird,” and how Hallie told others, “You teach your baby birds to fly, and when we aren’t sure about taking flight, you give us that little nudge.” It was that connection, along with Angie’s urge to make sure all young women understand their self-worth, that became the root of the story. “A lot of girls don’t understand their self-worth, and they cross paths with many people in their lives that tear them down, that are negative, with socialmedia and comparisons, and Hallie struggled with that,” she says. “We would constantly tell Hallie, ‘You are beautiful, and you are worthy, and your worth does not come from someone else.’”
So, in one day, just a few short weeks after losing her daughter, Angie wrote her first children’s book, Feathers Matter, from start to finish. “I realized that’s what I have to do; I have to get this message out somehow to honor Hallie, and the conversation starts when you are young,” Angie says. Whether it’s a parent reading to a young child, a teenager picking up the book or even an adult, the goal
is for everyone to know they matter. “We all have special gifts,” Angie says. “Sometimes it takes a little while to figure out what they are. We all matter.”
Angie hopes those who read Feathers Matter will take away the message that it matters who you surround yourself with, as friends can fly with you and help pick you up when needed. It also teaches that though people will be unkind, it doesn’t diminish your worth — everyone is beautiful, brave and unique, Angie says. Learn to help others when they are struggling and know that even when we fall, we have the power to get back up if we put our trust in God. “That is why feathers matter.”
And just like a bird, Hallie always knew how to lift others and help her loved ones through hard times in life. “Hallie was comfortable in hard times where many people would try to shy away,” Angie says. “We recognized she helped a lot of people who were struggling, and in doing that, you give a gift of strength to other people, and that’s really the gift she gave back to us.”
To help this empowering story come to life, Angie asked her friend’s daughter, Kynsie Engelbrecht, who was a senior in high school at the time, to illustrate the book. This created a heartfelt collaboration that infused the narrative with warmth and a genuine connection to the emotions surrounding the loss. “I said, ‘She can do it. I know she can do it,’ and I wanted her to be as creative as she can,” Angie says. “I left it wide open to her.”
Throughout the book, you’ll notice several small hidden messages tied to Hallie. “Hallie always rocked headbands, and in one of my favorite photos of her, she has a big gold headband on,” Angie says, as Hallie was a junior at Mizzou and loved representing her black and gold. “So I knew she needed to have a headband in the story.” There are also several green hearts scattered throughout the book; sunflowers, which were Hallie’s favorite flower; horses sketched throughout, which Hallie had a deep connection with, and many more hidden gems that add a special touch for family and friends to find.
And hopefully, those gems bring a little bit of joy to the heart amid the heaviness of grief, offering a glimmer of light in the shadows of sorrow.
You might even notice that the final page of the book represents Hallie’s honor walk in the hospital. Showing the love and support Angie and her family received from friends, family and hospital staff, as Hallie was walked to the final room to help save many lives as an organ donor. “It’s a beautiful and painful walk,” Angie says. “Something I will never forget.”
Sharing Hallie’s story and seeing the book have an impact on people and their families has caused Angie a tremendous sense of joy, while also realizing that it’s still all rooted in pain. “It’s overwhelming that beauty can come from so much pain,” Angie says.
If you or someone you know is dealing with grief, Angie says time may never heal the pain; instead, you must figure out how to live knowing there will always be a hole in your heart.
Writing this book for Hallie is just the beginning of sharing her story, helping others as Hallie once did and finding purpose in the pain.
Angie is preparing to publish a sequel to Feathers Matter in the fall. To purchase your copy of Feathers Matter or to learn more about Angie, visit blendedblessedalwaysamess.com or visit Hockman Interiors Gift Store at 601 Business Loop 70 W., suite 207, to purchase a copy.