March 12, 2016


Death eventually sneaks into everyone's lives, and tends to catch people off guard as they find themselves saying goodbye to a loved one. Family and friends are forced to adjust to a new way of life as they learn to survive without the person they love. My husband Patrick and I found ourselves in this very situation just a few years ago, and we have been working on adjusting ever since. 

On a hot summer day, my husband and I were happily enjoying a night out, just the two of us. We left Preslee, our 18 month old daughter, with family and were enjoying our time away at the movies. As we were walking out of the theatre, we received an unexpected phone call, a police officer calling to tell us to rush to the local hospital where our daughter was being airlifted to. Upon arrival, a doctor informed us our daughter had fallen into a canal and had been miraculously found by a farmer over a mile downstream. Hours later, Preslee was air lifted to SLC, UT, where seven days later she passed away in our arms.

My husband and I had no choice but to adjust as we returned home to an empty house. We packed away most of Preslee's belongings, and shut the door to her bedroom.  The emptiness was a painful reminder of what was missing. We adjusted to the abundant tears, heartache, and depression that often presents itself after losing a loved one, and we adjusted to the many stares, avoidance, and even abandonment by friends who struggled knowing how to interact with us.

Patrick and I have continued to adjust to the changes that overcame both of us, as a big piece of ourselves was buried along with our daughter. The life we had grown accustomed to, up until that point in our marriage, suddenly disappeared and we were forced to make adjustments to keep our marriage together.

But even though the past few years have been extremely difficult, positive adjustments have also been made. We were able to experience an outpouring of love, kindness, and service, which taught us to put aside our pride and let others help us, when we found ourselves at an all time low. We adjusted as people shared our daughter's story, and strangers from all over the world left words of encouragement on our family blog. We were astounded when we learned complete strangers were continually praying for our family.
Humbling? Incredibly so.

We've adjusted our view on life, as we've learned to focus on what is truly important. We now look at life with an "eternal perspective," and have learned we are capable of accomplishing hard things. We’ve come to learn that people are truly amazing, and many have inspired us to follow their example, as we try to focus on putting others before ourselves.

And though we’ve struggled over the past five years, we find ourselves continually adjusting our relationship with our Savior, Jesus Christ. Not long before the accident, I prayed my relationship with our Savior would be strengthened... never dreaming my prayer would be answered in the way that it was. I've learned that Jesus Christ is real, and He lives. I now understand that when I seek him, He will carry a large portion of my burdens. It is He, who took the majority of my load, and carried enough weight to make it bearable for me to stand.

I can't help but think back seven years ago, when Preslee was placed into our arms for the very first time, and we adjusted to becoming parents. I’ve come to realize that was, without a doubt, the most important adjustment we ever made. Little did we know our daughter would teach us more than anyone else ever will.

Even though most of the adjustments we have made over the past few years have been extremely difficult, I think it’s safe to say we would both do it again in heartbeat. Alongside grief, gratitude has developed and we are grateful for growth, and the different path we now walk. Though we miss Preslee terribly, we’re grateful that this life isn’t the end. We now work hard as parents to teach our three little boys who their older sister is, and marvel over the fact, they truly do have a relationship with their sister. We will continue to adjust until our family is reunited, and for that knowledge alone, we have a reason to stand.

 Ashley Sullenger is a writer and a mother of four children. She currently lives in Salt Lake City, Utah and writes at Sullengers.coma blog that reminds people that we can do hard things. You can also find her on Instagram and Facebook.

Related post: Moving Forward


Heebs and Britt said...

I lost my 16 month old girl last month in a freak accident at home and to say the least- your story hit close to home. The grief/guilt is unbearable right now and it's hard to believe other families have survived and even thrived through the same thing. Thanks for your encouragement.

Ashley said...

Oh, my heart hurts for you. The pain is consuming in the beginning. Hang in there, and remember you aren't alone. Sending all my love.

Millie Garza said...

We lost my husband Darrell in a motorcycle accident on March 7,2016.I and my 3 children are struggling on trying to deal with life without him here but like you and your husband we are trusting in our Heavenly Father for comfort.Thank you for sharing your story it did my heart good.Please pray for our family and we will pray for yours.
Love,Millie Garza

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