Grief · Parenting

Mama Bear


I taught Ryan how to swim before he could walk.  I nursed each of my children for over a year to build immunities.   I had Ryan inoculated against diseases. I gave him healthy foods, used every child-proof gadget available, always put him in a child-safe car seat, and suited him up with a helmet, knee pads and SPF 50.  And I encouraged him every day of life and stood beside him in each disappointment.


So, why couldn’t I save him from death?


The guilt came when the shock wore off and has been a companion of mine ever since.  Some days ‘guilt’ operates in my subconscious; others it marches straight out ahead of me.  And believe me, that is not an easy place to be. So I stay busy- running here, running there, running for exercise and running for ‘running’s sake.’ And yet . . . .

The accident.  “It all happened so quickly.” ( Isn’t that what people usually say? )  Thinking backward now, what sounded like a gun blast, was a tire blowing apart causing the car to spiral out of control.   We rolled over and over landing passenger side down on the grass.   Complete silence was filled with suffocating smoke.   The pain from my legs being on fire was almost unbearable, but I knew it was only a matter of time before the fire overtook us all and I had to get to my children!  In pure panic, I fought my way out of the car knowing I had to find another way in to break my children free.   Parents are trained by flight attendants “in case of emergency, place the mask over your face first; then help those around you.”

IMG_5046.jpgI was on fire.   There was no time to stop, drop and roll when it comes to saving your children.  But if the fire consumed me, who would save them? Ron had gotten 2 yr. old Tyler out so he could fight his way through the fire to grab Ryan, who was in shock, unable to react to Ron’s shouts to unbuckle his seatbelt.


We failed.   Everything we did wasn’t enough, and we lost our little boy.

The years since have been plagued with “why’s and if-only’s.”  Every day of our lives we will be in ‘restoration mode.’


If I can ease the pain of one parent who has experienced this sort of tragedy, the book I am writing about the ‘gifts I have received from my great loss’ will be worth it.    More to follow.


Encouragement · Grief



That is the answer to the question people have asked me over the past ten years.

  • How did you get through losing Ryan?
  • How did you get past the pain of burns and skin grafts?
  • How did you (probably more like ‘Why did you . . .”) decide to homeschool three boys for six years?
  • How were you able to quit your jobs?
  • How did you afford to travel around the world with three boys?
  • How did you overcome your fear of more loss?

The process of putting together and now selling the Pilot of our adventure into recovery, is also about steps.  Painful!  As you probably know by now we chose ‘on-the-road rehab’ – not alone, but together. If healing means forgetting about the child we lost, Ron and I will never heal.  But we were determined to get past grief and willing to expose our trials and errors in hopes we could inspire others. Steps through recovery are uncomfortable, but we agreed to expose our flaws and failures as a videographer documented 180 of our days and nights. We didn’t want this show to become a carnival of abnormality, which so many networks thrive on, but want to inspire others to ‘get real and walk through their grief.’ We wanted to show others how to live ‘in the moment’ with your children, the time is “now”, not “later”  because “later” may never come. We have no more “later” on earth with Ryan. We had “now” with our other sons. On our Trip, it was my husband, my four sons and me.  The boys didn’t know their brother but gladly took turns carrying his favorite backpack containing some of his ashes.   If we could inspire others with our story, to show how to value the “now” with your loved ones, then perhaps the bad could be used for good.

The first step is always the hardest: for us it was deep, dark depression of knowing we would never hold our son on this earth again. We each go through losses in our lives:  loved ones, job, finances, home, security, health.  It’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’.  We hoped to help others get through it.

When you become a parent, the door to harsh criticism opens widely.   Naturally Ron and I wanted people to see us on our peaks rather than in our valleys.  But we willingly put it all out there, warts and all.  We certainly didn’t do everything right.  No parent ever does.

But like you, we are taking steps.




“You don’t say that to people,” my mom would say.  You say “excuse me.”download-2

I don’t mean that kind of move.  I mean the kind of move you scream at yourself after you go through the tragedy of losing a child.  And the reason I say “move” is because you can’t.  You’re stuck.   Does that make me a sadist?  Nope.  Just a realist.  Because the only positive way out of tragedy requires a step up, and that is the last step you want to make.

men after accident

You cannot simply erase the circumstance that has brought you to this level, by walking away.    Why should you deserve that luxury, when the person you lost couldn’t?  But meanwhile, you are dragging down all those who love you – those who follow you, those who walk beside you and those you lead.

Losing Ryan was beyond anything I had ever feared or imagined, and if I stepped away from that place of tragedy  I was certain it would be a terrible disservice to him.   But God had given me this precious child – not given really, lent him to me for a time.  It just happened that God’s timetable was different than mine.


Ryan is safe now, completely healed, walking, running all-boy in Heaven.  God’s promises have made me sure of that.   I was left here for a purpose.  I still have things to do,  to try to be a good wife, mother, sister, daughter, and friend, but also to encourage others who are walking this lonely gully.    I am qualified now, not by degree or title, but as a silent graduate of the school of loss.   Bit by bit I may have these things taken away from me too.  I’m not a fatalist – just a realist.

When you are stuck in a downward spiral, pray about it.  But be ready to take the first step in a positive direction, out of your comfort zone of personal pity, into the unknown.  Put yourself and those who love you back on the road to discovery. Head toward the gifts God has left you  — toward a hopeful expectation of joy.

Dawn & Colton London


Have a great weekend.


Encouragement · Grief

Vanilla or chocolate?

How many decisions do you make in a single day?  I checked Google and came up with a broad spectrum of answers:  One site said 35,000.  Another said 27.


It’s safe to say, it’s a lot!   We all know there are probabilities at play:  If you don’t pay down your credit cards in time, your interest rates will soar.  If you run in the rain you’ll get just as wet as if you walk.  If you eat junk you will feel like ‘junk.’  Few of the wrong decisions we make have long lasting ramifications, but when you go through something traumatic, it changes everything.  Decisions suddenly carry so much more weight.  “What ifs” and “Just supposes” impair judgement.


For years after we lost Ryan, we went over each decision leading up to the accident wondering what choices we could had made differently.  Well meaning friends suggested ways we could prevent lightning from striking twice in our lives.  With no disrespect to the Astrological chart, crystal gazers and fortune tellers, I would not choose to govern my life accordingly.


Regardless of how much planning goes into our lives, accidents happen.   We will never get over our loss.  But the story we wish to share is about our recovery.   And true recovery is never weighed down by superstition.

If you have gone through a tragedy, you know, it takes time to trust your decisions again.  Face this fact: indecision is also a decision.  Forgive yourself for what you ‘might have done’ and realize that if given the same set of circumstances, you probably would have done the same thing.  We all have the best intentions when it comes to those we love.

The only way out of pain is through it.  Move forward.  Never rush.  Remember, Jesus prayed the Lord’s Prayer, asking His Father for the gift of grace and blessings one day at a time.  It’s a Daily Bread-thing.


Live the life God has given you.  Find new adventures with your family. And the ones He has lent you will follow your example.

Got to go work on the script.  Talk soon!


Grief · Parenting

The thorn

Each day I read a little devotional called Streams in the Desert, written by Mrs. Charles Cowman in 1925. It’s not ‘fast food inspiration’ but often provokes me to think and weigh the words she has transcribed from her husband’s sermons.    This morning, it went like this:

“George Matheson, the well-known blind preacher of Scotland, who recently went to be with the Lord, said: “My God, I have never thanked Thee for my thorn. I have thanked Thee a thousand times for my roses, but not once for my thorn.”

“Yeah,” I thought, “easy for George to say. He didn’t lose his seven-year-old son in a fire.”  I surprised myself;  that is not really who I am at all!    When we lost Ryan, we suffered tragically like any mom and dad would.  Each step we took seemed to be just as painful as the last, until we set our sites on the “roses” in our lives.  Tyler was only two yrs old.  And then came Trenton.  And then, Colton.  And there it was:  the Hirn Bouquet!

We never got over the pain of the thorn, and don’t ever expect to.  But we began training ourselves how to adjust to the pain of the thorn by acknowledging the smell of the roses.   God had left us here for a reason.

Ron and I knew our purpose was to raise our boys to be kind and compassionate, to love mankind, without prejudice, without unrealistic fears, accepting people as they are.  To grow in grace.    Those things don’t  just fall into place.  We made a commitment!

Our six-month world trip with our three boys wasn’t all thorns and it wasn’t all blossoms.   But we knew if we wanted a sweet adventure there would be both.

Life is so hard.  The easiest way to endure a loss is to close your eyes and wake up to a new day.  But it never is a new day.  It’s the same with an even larger challenge requiring a bigger running start than the previous day.    You have heard all the analogies – the diamond in the rough being polished, the fire burning off imperfection. But when it comes to your family, there is no better illustration than family spending time together.

Engage with your family.  The same stem that produces the thorn, produces the rose.

Talk later!


Family · Grief · Travel

We’re in the news!

Yesterday, Alabama’s WSFA’s Judd Davis did a story about our family, what we had endured and how we handled it.  Check it out:

When we began putting together the pilot for television, Netflix, and Cable TV viewing, we found our story had so many layers:

Overcoming Grief: We had suffered a horrible loss.  As a family, we had worked through the loss and tried to turn it to good, to honor our first born. Each day was painful.  The fire that did such damage to our bodies, did worse damage to our minds as we remembered Ryan.

Promoting Travel: When running away (impossible to do, of course, with three little boys) seemed like the only way out, we ran as a group.  After a tragedy, communication is essential – it’s not easy!   We went ‘hardcore’ into a family relationship situation – traveling together in strange lands with our three boys (and of course Ryan’s little blue backpack) to more than thirty countries, for over six months, and if it is at all possible, we spent what seemed like more than 24 hours a day, more than 7 days a week together!

We were putting our story together to encourage other families to travel but also to show them how much we had gained as a family by our experiences.   This adventure  went way beyond travel.   When it felt more like work than a vacation, we mentally regrouped about our ‘purpose.’ Ultimately, we knew that we wouldn’t have given anything for the memories we made with those we loved most.

Our children are lent to us for just a breath of time.  Don’t let a day go by without talking to them.  Show interest in their lives now!   If you suffer the loss of a child,  spouse, relative or friend, you must work hard not to isolate yourself from those who love you.  There is joy in the world, but you have to look for it.   Live your life for the sake of the one whose life was taken.  

No matter how hard you try to you cannot constantly protect your child.  Trying to do so will make all of you nuts! Let your child discover life, adventure and mystery.   Better still, join them.

Have a great weekend.

Talk Tuesday!

Adventure with Engagement AWE · Encouragement · Grief


Let me back up a bit. We took a 180-day trip with our family traveling around the world, on the skinny, putting us together in some uncomfortable situations. The good far outweighed the bad.   I’m blogging about what we did and where we went and how we did it.   But many of you are wondering ‘why we did it.’


When we lost Ryan, in the fire that severely burned my husband, younger son and me, our family broke apart. Burn recovery is lengthy and painful. But the greatest pain came remembering Ryan, in waves of terror interrupting sleep and even fearing a simple car ride. We were thankful when God gave us two more sons, but one child never replaces another. And we had not healed.

We handled our grief differently: Ron internalized and I took out my frustration with physical activities. We had a marriage to hold together, three sons to raise, and none of it was going well. We isolated ourselves and homeschooled our kids, mistakenly thinking we could control the situation better. We couldn’t.

When one son asked: “why can’t we live normal lives?” I asked Ron “What does ‘normal’ look like?”   From that point, we backtracked:




Who had we been before the accident?

How did we live? We chose Adventure with Engagement –AWE.  Ron and I took Ryan and Tyler with us wherever we could, often resulting in discomfort and inconvenience, but we thrived on solving problems together. It’s how we grew as a couple and as a family.

Were we just stupid or naïve? Both. But it worked for us.

What had changed? We lived in fear of losing another child, afraid to take chances or allow our boys to experience risk.  We all needed to go back to those days, and grab a piece of what we had given up. It was time for a grand adventure with our sons – the treasure God had given us that we had been afraid to invest.

China Suzhou?

We prepared. Together. We studied the places we’d visit. Together.  We planned. Together. We discussed how we would do it. Together. We chose the hard way. Together.  And we are still together with wonderful memories!


“A ship is always safe at the shore – but that is NOT what it is built for.”   ― Albert Einstein

Blessed weekend!