Coping with community deaths


Death …

I don’t even know where to start.

But I do know this … while searching the Internet, scrolling for the right inspirational quotes to help me get my start, I came across two.

The first one read: “Keep your head up. God gives his hardest battles to his strongest soldiers.”

The other read: “Today only comes once.”

Well, in our tiny village, we must be the BEST strongest soldiers because within the past five days, we have endured two life-altering battles.

And we are still here for one another, holding each other up through all the pain.

We will not break, oh no … but we are allowed to hurt.

And we are.

On Saturday, a mom whose children once attended the Keystone Schools, passed away. She was 36; and left behind two children. Her smile was infectious and her hair, stunning.

While parents were left wondering “Why?” and “How did this happen?” all while trying to explain to our children that Jessica is “in a better place” we are really trying to understand … is she really? Is there a better place other than being here on Earth with her two little ones?

So, for five days, parents living and working in the same community that Jessica once did, did the best we could to enjoy the Christmas holiday with our loved ones, all while trying to cope with our own grief.

We put on smiles, ate too much and watched as our kiddos opened presents on Christmas morning.

I’d like to say we were slowly coming to realize our worst fear had come true – Jessica was indeed gone too soon – but I still think most of us are in a state of denial.

Then, just as we began to piece our lives back together, our community and spirits came crashing down.

On Wednesday morning, the word that a 17-year-old Keystone High School student died from injuries sustained in a single car crash spread through the LaGrange and Elyria communities like wildfire.

Kayden Williams – a football player with a heart of gold who was loved by all families in the area – will never step on the football field again. He will never walk the halls of Keystone High. He will never live the life his parents dreamed of for him.

The worst part of Kayden’s death? I had to tell my son, a freshman at the same school, that a fellow student who he saw on a daily basis, died. How does a parent even do that? There isn’t a book, outlining the steps on how to tell your son that someone who had his entire future ahead of him has died. That there is no rhyme or reason why Kayden is no longer spending the holiday break with his parents and siblings.

My 9-year-old daughter said it best … “I know he’s in Heaven with Jesus, but Mom, he didn’t even get to play with his presents from Santa.”

So, on this Thursday – a day when I will be paying my respects to the York family – I will keep my head up.

I will be a soldier for my children, to let them know that bad things happen to good people, and there really is no explanation.

And then, then I will remind them to live each day like it is their last … because TODAY only comes ONCE.

RIP Jessica and RIP Kayden



An infectious smile, and stunning hair


“And with a broken wing, she still sings
She keeps an eye on the sky
With a broken wing, she carries her dreams
Man, you ought to see her fly”

– Martina McBride, “With a Broken Wing”

The infectious smile was the first thing I noticed about her.

And then, then it was her stunning hair.

But her life was more than her smile and hair.

She was a devoted mother, sister, niece, friend and employee.

Everyone loved her. And she loved them.

The last time I saw her was at a Jennifer Nettles concert at Lorain County Community College. She wore a vibrant pink dress, pink lipstick and white hair spiked up an inch high.

Never in a million years could I pull off that trendy/hip look. She OWNED IT!

Like a lot of people in our small community, our paths crossed mostly through Facebook or at local functions/sporting events.

Every day, she posted a new selfie on Facebook. She was the Queen of Selfies. But not in a vain way. She just wanted to give everyone a smile. It was her way of giving the world a gift. My personal favorites were of standing next to a country singer. Oh, how she loved her country music singers!

And her gift of going out of her way to help others in need. She would take a moment out of her busy day to help others by listening to their concerns, offering advice and just letting them know she would be there for them.

One time, after volunteering to help a local family in need by way of a benefit, she told me: “I wanted to help but wasn’t sure how. Apparently a couple other people felt the same way. I didn’t hesitate for a single second to offer my help in any way that I possibly could!”

And that was Jessica. In a nutshell.

Now the world is left without her smile. We will never see her vibrant hair – whatever color she wanted it to be – because she left Earth far too early. No one knows why. No one will ever understand the reason.

So, to you Jessica, may you Rest in Heaven. For those of us who knew her, I pray we will come together as a community and never let her kiddos forget the woman who smiled to all of us every day.


A broken heart that loved the world

A little girl who I only “met” via Facebook less than 24 hours ago has stolen my heart. And now, her heart and soul belong to Jesus.

Something happens when I troll Facebook and see what my friends are up to. Facebook offers me a glimpse into their world – good, bad or otherwise. And because I am naturally curious and compassionate, I tend to continually scroll through news feed after news feed to see how everyone is doing.

Week after week, I kept seeing a mom I know asking for prayers for a 2-year-old named Maryssa Rivas. I wasn’t sure who this little girl was, but because I am a mom, I wanted to know why she needed prayers.

I learned she is a twin. She was born in 2013 and recently celebrated her 2-year-birthday.

But unlike her twin, Maryssa has spent endless hours and days in hospitals, hooked up to tubes and IVs. Early on, Maryssa was diagnosed with a rare heart condition. Yet every photograph I saw of Maryssa showed a smiley toddler. Her blonde hair and toothy grin were enough to bring joy to those all around her – even in lonely hospitals. I don’t know why, but some children are put on Earth for only a short period of time, but in that time, they manage to capture the hearts of everyone they encounter – doctors, nurses and other patients.

And again, I don’t know Maryssa. I don’t know her parents. I don’t know her siblings.

But, what I do know is there is a lot of love and faith in the Rivas family that extends beyond bloodlines. It will be their love and faith that will get them through the next week and lifetime as they gather to not mourn, but rather celebrate a little girl who brought so much life into a world she lived in for less than three years.

Maryssa’s sister, Malinah, will forever have a Guardian Angel by her side through all of life’s ups and downs. And, when she least expects it; I have a feeling Maryssa will send her sister signs from the Heavens to let her know she is still at her side through it all.

Prayers to the Rivas family tonight from the outskirts of Cleveland.


To help the Rivas family, visit

‘Only the Good Die Young’ — RIP Lo’


Photo credit – Kristin Bauer

Take a deep breath, take a look around. Enjoy every day as if it’s your last. Life goes by too fast.

Rain showers are expected today and it’s supposed to be humid – I am guessing Logan Stiner had a hand in planning today’s weather forecast. He probably wanted it to rain a little so those who are mourning him and crying can do so without wondering if they are the only ones shedding tears.

That’s the way Logan was … he wanted everyone to feel loved and safe, no exceptions.

You see, Logan died on May 27 – just days before he was set to walk with his classmates at their graduation from high school. Before Logan’s death, the Class of 2014 agreed on Trace Adkins’ “You’re Gonna Miss This” for their song. It’s a song telling the story of a young lady who can’t wait for the next phase of her life to begin – high school, college graduation, marriage and kids. For Logan, this is what he would want for each of his classmates and it’s what he wanted for himself too.

The Keystone Class of 2014 was thrown a curveball when Logan died last week, but they handled it with dignity. They were forced to grow up far more quickly than other graduating seniors.

On Friday, they graduated. On Saturday, a benefit was held in Logan’s memory. On Sunday, the visitation at the funeral home went on for hours. Vehicles lined the parking lot, street and grass. Everyone who wanted to say good-bye to their friend did. Today, the Stiner family is lying to rest a son, brother, nephew, grandson and to Morgan, her boyfriend.

As a journalism student at Bowling Green State University, none of my professors taught us newbies how to cover deaths. There was no clear cut way to make a phone call or walk up to a house. No one told me it would be the hardest job assignment of your life. No one told me how to approach a family whose loved one died. But, you can’t teach compassion. It’s learned.

But on the evening of May 29, I became much more than a reporter as I sat on the garage floor, listening to 20 teenagers tell stories of the one they grew to love and admire over the course of 18 years. I became a sounding board.

I heard stories of Logan being terrified of spiders. I learned he loved chocolate milkshakes – minus the whip cream and cherry. He loved to fish in a local pond. To avoid edging grass at the golf course where he worked, he played, “rock, paper, scissors” with his co-workers – “BEST TWO OUT OF THREE.”

And, I learned he met the girl of his dreams one year and six months ago.

“She was his world,” a close friend said of the couple.

My hope is that Morgan carries the love she had for Logan in her heart forever, but that some time down the road, she lets a new love in. It’s what Logan would have wanted for her. And he will be with her through her life journey – never too far away – he will be there, because he wouldn’t want to miss it.

“These are some good times, so take a good look around … You may not know it now, but you’re gonna miss this”