by Terry Birdsall
Editor in Chief

After 21 years of marriage and three short months, my family of four was reduced to a family of two almost overnight.

On Jan. 2, 1996, I lost my husband Ross, 43, to suicide. We were separated during the last year of our marriage while he was trying to recover from his problems with drugs, alcohol and the law. Ross was drinking the night he shot himself.

Three months later, on April 9, my daughter, Stacey, 17, was killed in an automobile accident with three of her friends; only one survived the accident. An elderly man in a motor home had run a red light just three miles from my Chino Hills home. I was stunned and shocked beyond belief. I had not even absorbed the death of my husband, and now I had to deal with my daughter’s death. Every day, someone loses a loved one to a tragedy or illness. Most people think it will never happen to them-and then it does.

I have never felt so much love in my life as I did when these losses occurred. Family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, churches and schools all reached out to my son Jeff, 15, and me. It had a rippling effect on the whole community. Even strangers felt the impact of our losses. The first year was like a whirlwind-attending three funerals and all the events held in memory of the children: candle light vigils, a tree planting at the school and a concert in the park.

I am so grateful my son did not go with my daughter that fateful night. Although Jeff and I both lived in fear of losing each other, it gave me a reason to live. Both of us found it difficult to mourn the loss of two people at the same time.

One year later, I quit my job to be with my son full time. I was determined to help my son get on the right track and finish high school. I had to make sure that we came out of this tragedy in a positive way.

Regardless of all the mayhem, I continued to make strides in my life. I went back to college to set a good example for my son and to prepare for my future. I received my A.A. degree at Citrus Community College in 2000 and will receive my B.A. in 2003. Jeff graduated from high school June 1999. He is now 21 and received his A.A. degree from Westwood College of Technology in May 2002. Today, Jeff and I are closer than ever. He is my best friend.

We both started out on a destructive path but found our way toward a new life while learning valuable lessons along the way. We found that it is better to allow feelings to happen so the healing process can take place. Grief just waits until the feelings are felt. Tragedies happen because God allows us to have choices, and everyone makes mistakes. No one has control over other people. God suffers along with us and provides us with an over-abundance of love to weather the storm.

Death is never easy because people touch our lives, and when they are gone, it causes a void. It is better to talk about the person. It hurts more when people change the subject.

Ross and Stacey live on in our hearts. Jeff and I treasure the times we had with them. We think about them often and enjoy talking about them. We realize first-hand that each day is a gift from God, and we try not to take it for granted.

What is really important in life is my belief in God, my family and my friends: my hidden treasures.