It was supposed to be a weekend to celebrate Jamie Stiles’ birthday.
Stiles and her mother posted a closed sign on their homey northeast Portland coffee shop and took the family to the Oregon Coast in January.
That Friday, they settled into a cabin at Cape Falcon, between Seaside and Manzanita. The next day, on Jan. 11, Stiles decided to drive with her mom to Seaside for groceries. Stiles’ husband, Jeremy, stayed behind with the couple’s two young children, William and Lola.
The kids were eating breakfast when the two women left.
Marilyn Romaine, Stiles’ mom, paused to kiss her grandchildren on the way out.
The family knew about the warnings for king tides and sneaker waves. They’d been to the coast enough to understand how cautious they needed to be.
But for a brief time that day, the skies cleared, Jamie Stiles said. Lola and Bill, as he was known by his family, wanted to see the sand. So, her husband and children headed down a walkway near the cabin that led to the water.
It’s unclear how close the three got to the beach before a powerful wave swamped the path, pulling all of them out to sea.
Romaine’s phone went off as the women loaded groceries into the car about a half-hour away. It was a text from Romaine’s husband.
“Sneaker wave. Kids are gone.”
Cell service was erratic, making it hard to call him back. When Romaine finally reached him, he was frantic.
A wave took Lola and Bill, he told her.
“The kids are in the ocean.”
Rescuers eventually pulled Jeremy Stiles and Lola, 7, from the water. They were taken to the hospital in Seaside, where Lola was pronounced dead. Jeremy, 47, suffered hypothermia and an injury to his arm.
Jamie Stiles, 38, said her husband’s biceps was damaged from straining to hold onto one of the children. He has been discharged from the hospital.
A U.S. Coast Guard search turned up no sign of Bill, 4.
Lola Faye Stiles was a first-grader at Vestal Elementary School on Southeast 82nd Avenue. William Henry Alan Stiles went to preschool at the Montavilla Community Center.
Jamie Stiles and Marilyn Romaine spoke about the tragedy, the grief that has consumed them and the support they’ve received from friends and strangers alike. Someone left two small angels in the family’s yard. A stranger on the coast reached out to say he looks for signs of Bill’s body on his daily walks.
Romaine’s iPhone holds thousands of snapshots of Lola and Bill playing, reading on the couch, dressing up, sleeping and playing at the beach. Short clips show Lola singing and Bill buzzing around the family’s coffee shop, Mother Lovin’ Coffee, next to the Stiles’ home on Glisan Street.
“I wanted to dedicate my life to my grandchildren,” said Romaine, who lives a short distance from her daughter and son-in-law and helped raise her two grandchildren.
Lola and Bill called her “Yaya.” It was the first word spoken by Lola and it stuck.
Lola was a curious and sensitive girl who could memorize a song after hearing it just once, her mother and grandmother said. She loved to dress up as a mermaid or Elsa from “Frozen.”
She doted on her brother, gently holding him when he napped. When she insisted that he dress up as a prince, he went along.
Stiles said when her son was a baby, she would wait until he was sleeping soundly before placing him in his sister’s arms.
Holding baby Bill was “heaven,” Lola once told her mother.
“She would sit and suck her thumb and pet him and kiss him,” she said.
Bill was a tinkerer and collector. He loved to play with Legos. On walks in the neighborhood with Romaine, the two would scour the ground for treasures. One day the pair came home with their pockets full of chestnuts.
On a walk this week, Romaine spotted an old twisted nail, just the sort of find that would have delighted Bill.
She picked it up and slipped it in her pocket.
Debilitating bouts of grief overwhelm her each day.
“The honor of knowing these children,” she said, “was worth every minute.”
Stiles aches from the loss of her children. She misses ordinary things that in hindsight made their lives so special.
Like those quiet moments in the morning before work and school. And evenings when she and her husband cooked dinner and hung out with the kids. He would wash the dishes before settling in with Lola and Bill to watch an episode of “Scooby-Doo” on the couch.
“I used to tell my husband all the time, ‘I just love our little family,’” she said.
She recently found a book she’d given Lola for Christmas years ago. She’d inscribed it to her daughter.
“You just made my dream come true, the only dream I ever wanted,” she recalled writing to her daughter.
“Now,” she said, “it feels like a dream for real that I can’t wake up from.”
She longs to see them again. To take them to McDonald’s for a treat or out for ice cream.
“They were starting to get to the age where I could go places with them,” she said. “It was so fun.”
She’d say, “Hey guys, want to go on an adventure?”
“All they had to do was put their shoes on and just go.”
The family donated Lola and Bill’s toys and games to Vestal and the nearby community center. The playroom, with its bright violet walls and tall cabinet for toys and books, sits almost empty.
Upstairs, Bill’s clothing is carefully folded and in boxes. Some of Lola’s dresses still hang in the closet.
Stiles, who works as an administrator at an online learning school, and her husband, who works in manufacturing, plan to return to work soon. He still cannot talk about what happened, his wife said.
They have scheduled a memorial service for Lola and Bill on March 1 at the German American Society.
It’s excruciating for the family to consider Bill’s remains may never be recovered.
On Wednesday afternoon, a package from Amazon arrived at the Stiles’ home. Stiles sliced open the box in her kitchen, her mother at her side.
Inside lay a single cream-colored ceramic urn decorated with delicate flowers. For Lola, the girl who loved to play dress up.
“They just saw so much magic in this world,” Stiles said. “Sometimes you can look at it and there’s nothing special.
“They just saw the magic in everything.”