My Personal Story

This is my story that I would like to share with you.  Frequently I contemplate why I was given this life, and I don’t think I will ever fully understand why, but I am beginning to understand what I am supposed to do as a result, and sharing my story and hope is one of those things. Creating this website and foundation serves as another.

I am the youngest of four children, although the four of us were born in 5 years so we were very close. Both of my parents were alcoholics.  In 1969, at the age of 6, the four of us were called out of school and taken by police, to our home, to learn that my father had committed suicide. It was my mother’s birthday, December 15th. He had gone to a hotel and put a gun to his head. At the age of 6, I understood that my daddy had died, but I could never understand why he would have done such a thing – on the day that we were to put up the Christmas tree and on my mother’s birthday.  The same misunderstanding I felt the day he burned our house down, two years earlier. The four of us were not allowed to go to the funeral and it was forbidden to talk about ever again. Years later we learned of the double life we were living.

The decade that followed was full of abuse, abandonment, and my mother marrying a very cruel man only nine months after my daddy died. There were many times that us children would come home from school and find her passed out from drinking. Before we even found her, the smell of liquor lingering in the air would instantly tell us what we would find. I swore I would never be like her. We would drive her to rehab or detox and she would stay until she got clean. There were even two suicide attempts by her. She and my stepfather, who was a traveling salesman, would leave us alone for weeks at a time, giving us the checkbook to walk to the store to buy groceries. We had to swear to secrecy; as my mother feared the state would take us away again.

When I was a Senior in high school, my mom had divorced and I was living with her and my brother who was also a Senior. My two sisters had moved out of the house several years earlier and were married with children by the age of 17. From our viewpoint, our mom had settled down, was beginning to date a nice man and my brother and I were almost finished with high school. Little did we know, but she was unable to cope without the man that we all despised. We frantically searched all night for her, but with no luck. The next morning our fears became a reality. We received the call that she had taken her life. She had taken an overdose of sleeping pills and drank a fifth of whiskey at a hotel. I was so close to her and it was unbearable that she left us. She had us four children, and by then, three grandkids that called her Nana, but she couldn’t live without the cruel man that had divorced her.

Day to day, all I could do was try and survive. My brother and I were both still in high school and living alone in a 5 bedroom house, trying to graduate, working part-time, paying the mortgage and renting out rooms to help pay the bills. Also at this point, the drug use began escalating to other things besides marijuana – it was no longer just experimenting. I had to escape the pain. I didn’t have support or guidance from elders, and certainly no faith in God, and for seven years I used drugs and alcohol but was still able to keep my job – once again living a double life. There are so many times that I should have been killed. I overdosed one night, drove in blackouts more times than I can count, but by the grace of God he protected me and I thank Him every day.

When I was 25, Sam came into my life. He came from the “perfect” home, had a chemical engineering degree and had parents who had been married for 25 years. You can say, opposites attract.  He was the young man that any young woman would be attracted to and for some reason, he felt the same about me. Little did he know the double life I was living, but it wasn’t long before he realized the drug use and gave me the choice – one that I thank God every day I chose.

Five years later we were married and within four years we had three beautiful daughters. I was privileged and very grateful that I could be a stay at home mom from the day that Lauren was born and even still today. Unfortunately, I began drinking heavily again after I finished nursing Anna and found myself once again having blackouts almost everytime I drank. The alcoholic behavior had started and I was doing exactly what I said I never would – doing what my mother had done to us. In October of 2001, I had enough of this and began living a sober, freeing life. The girls were still very young and fortunately they had not witnessed the pain that I had with my mom.

Our girls were thriving in school, taking gifted classes, never having to study, doing extracurricular activities and had so many friends. Our house, from the beginning of their little lives had been the place to be and we always had our share of laughter and activities at our home. We had an open door policy and welcomed anyone who wanted to visit. It was a loud home and I absolutely loved it!  Many people discussed how hard it was to raise teenagers, but our relationship was close to perfect.  We were blessed with a beautiful home and the girls and I lived life to its fullest while Sam was climbing the corporate ladder. Lauren and Kathleen were role models to Anna and for the first time, she was going to high school with Kathleen. Anna was a Freshman and Kathleen a Senior. Lauren was to leave in one week to attend Miami of Ohio. She had been accepted to the Farmer’s School of Business, had earned a nice academic scholarship and was bringing in over 20 credit hours from taking many AP classes. We were very proud of all three girls.

On August 15, 2013, three days after school began, the day was spent with Lauren while her sisters were at school. We renewed her driver license, went out to lunch and tried to envision what her dorm room would look like by arranging it on the den floor. One of my best friend’s daughter was getting married two days later, so after Kathleen and Anna returned from school and cheer practice, we attended Bailey’s wedding shower. I have some beautiful pictures of the three girls from that night.

At 9:30, two of Lauren and Kathleen’s friends stopped by so they could say goodbye before they went their separate ways for college. They ran out of the house when they texted that they were here. A few minutes later I looked outside and realized they must have gone for a ride and then I heard the constant sirens. I began texting and calling both girls, over and over, with no response. I knew that something tragic had happened. Almost two hours later, when the three officers knocked on my door and asked to come in, I braced myself as I sat down. Then they spoke the words that I repeat – still to this day – “Lauren and Kathleen were both killed.” I thought I was going to die. My husband, Sam, was in California and Anna was sound asleep. I had to make a phone call to tell him that Lauren and Kathleen had died. The officers had to tell him the news over again. Penny and her daughter Gracie were the first to arrive. We had been at her house just hours before, celebrating at her daughter’s wedding shower. At that time they held me and began to pray. With the strength of God and my friends at my side, I woke up sweet Anna to tell her this horrifying news. I will never forget her terrified reaction.

God was ever-present and He stayed with us during those agonizing hours as we waited for Sam to arrive.
As it says in Psalms 34:18 – “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.”

The days and weeks and months that followed were a blur. The pain and grief and anxiety is tremendous, but at the same time, God’s love, peace, and hope were being shown to us by family and friends, through prayer, our community, church, meals, nature, books, cards and constant visits.

There have been countless stories of miracles, from around the world, that have come from the tragedy of losing Lauren and Kathleen.  Sometimes when I ask why, I think of these stories.

Here is one example of a story shared to me of a woman who accepted Christ after the accident:  A lady named Michelle wrote:

“I provide nursing services to a young woman who has Lou Gehrig’s disease. She has been stubborn for over a year now when I’ve talked to her about God’s love for her. She had no belief in God at all. My breakthrough came last Thursday. I showed her Greg’s message about Hope and the funeral service and she quietly listened. Finally, she gave in and accepted Him. She is going to die today. She’s at the very end right now. I just wanted to share that with you. Her name is Reeta, if you would want to pray for her. I’m praying that she goes quickly now. I know God has a place prepared for her.”

But the biggest miracle has been in our home:

It would have been so easy for our family to have blamed God for this accident and been angry, but we didn’t. People admire our strength and tell us how inspiring we are because we haven’t lost our faith. But there are many obstacles to overcome. I have a lot of forgiveness to work on and Sam often reminds me to pray about this.  I still ask why and the sound of sirens brings me back to that horrible night in just one second.

Most of my life it seems as if it has been just about surviving. But I now know how to survive with people and God by my side. Don’t get me wrong, days are hard, some very, very hard, but I know now that I am not alone. Luke 1:37, “For nothing is impossible with God.” I want to continue to be a mother to Anna and a wife to Sam and a friend to many. I want to continue to see the miracles that are happening as a result of their deaths. I want to continue to use my story to be an inspiration to those that are struggling. Proof that tragedy can be survived. I want God to use my pain to lead others to Him. He is giving my life a purpose and I can find things to be grateful for now, however small they may be, but I have hope that one day I will have joy again.

Thank you for reading my story. God is ever present and I am humbled by the love and prayers from around the world that have been given to me.  God Bless each of you.

Cheryl