I cannot get the image out of my mind—Daniel’s once healthy and athletic body, lifeless on the side of the road. The sight of screaming and wailing friends, neighbors, and family members, or the heart crushing picture of Vivien, his mama, laid out over him crying for him to come back to her.

And I was not even there.

A story like Vivien and Daniel’s does not come around often. The sadness experienced was immense. The loss of her son who meant the world to her threatened to consume her life, but the glimmer of hope felt in the foreshadowing of eternal life is where Vivien has found her solace. Her story is one of joy, regardless of her circumstances. Her joy is rooted deep in the knowledge of God’s love and the experience of His comforting peace in her life.

An Early Departure

At the very young age of 14, Daniel lost his life while riding his four-wheeler down the street. It was a fun activity he frequently did with his buddies. But that day wasn’t a normal day. With his girlfriend on the back of his four-wheeler and his buddies riding behind him, they were nearing home when something caught Daniel’s attention. He turned his head, causing him to swerve. And that little swerve sent him crashing into a mailbox. The mailbox impaled his chest, and Daniel died instantly.

The family and community were left stunned and reeling, grieving the tragic loss of this young life taken far too soon. They had questions: What could this mean? Why did this happen? How could God allow this to happen? He was her only son; didn’t God know she needed him? He was such a good boy, why him?

Through letters written to the family and Vivien’s first-hand accounts of Daniel’s character, the story of an incredible young man who left an incredible legacy for the glory of God has unfolded. This moving story is the only thing that can shed any light or even try to answer those resounding and sorrow-filled questions.

Full of Love in Life

An only child and a natural leader, Daniel was extremely athletic and adventurous. He was involved in multiple sports teams, and he was always busy—coming and going to practices, making friends and spending time with teammates. On the football and baseball fields, he was known for his prayers before and during the games and for the example he set of giving everything he had to benefit the team. With the energy, effort and dedication Daniel put forth in sports, he lifted everyone else up on that field—encouraging them, leading by example and loving every minute of every game. His attitude was infectious, and though he was only a freshman, the team looked to him as a leader.

Daniel not only poured himself into his friends and teammates, he loved his family and loved them well. He doted on his mama. They had an incredibly close relationship—confidantes, friends and believers—their conversations were often deep, and their connection was undeniably close. His father, though divorced from his mother, loved Daniel greatly and took advantage of every bit of time he had to spend with him. And Daniel loved his daddy tremendously.

He also enjoyed time with his stepdad, Keith, often spending weekends hunting together and trekking off into the woods. Daniel’s entire family, though not perfect, knew how to love one another, and they remained a closely knit family despite their untraditional circumstances.

How His Story Lives

Perhaps what affected people the most about this young man was his undeniably sweet, calm and mature spirit. Even as a young child, Daniel was wise beyond his years. He was very close to God and loved Him fiercely. His mother says it always seemed as if her little boy had a greater perspective on this temporary life. He was more concerned with the salvation of those around him than his comfortable or long-term existence. He did not fear ridicule for his beliefs, and he did not fear death.

In fact, from an early age, Daniel often talked about his feeling he wouldn’t live for long. He knew there was a purpose for his life, but he also knew there might be a greater purpose for his death.

And the community’s response to Daniel’s sudden death made it clear to those who knew him. The purpose of Daniel’s death was to reveal God’s great glory.

Through Daniel’s death, Vivien and her family were able to experience the sufficiency of Christ, to know that He is good even when times are unbearably hard. Through their sorrow, God demonstrated His amazing grace and love to them, and through them, to the ones who surrounded them in their time of grief. What they witnessed in the aftermath of their tragic loss was a family pulling together. Many friends and community members made professions of faith, including Daniel’s stepdad. Friends and family members also saw countless, selfless acts of love and kindness on the part of the grieving family as they reached out to others around them. The community surrounding this tragedy pulled together to console, to strengthen, to pray and to encourage all who were affected by Daniel’s death.

Locker of Legacy

Daniel’s legacy of leadership and love for others will never die. His old locker is reserved for the incoming freshman who displays the most leadership qualities. Daniel’s story is passed down from player to player, keeping his story alive. Every year, one talented football star who demonstrates true leadership qualities and characteristics receives an award in Daniel’s honor.

People will never forget; Daniel lives on.

His legacy of love lives on in the heart of their community as well. In the wake of confusion and tension, the only thing his family could do was attempt to love one another and their neighbors through Christ. They demonstrated a profound understanding that Daniel was a child of God who had been called home. They understood, although it hurt tremendously, that his time on Earth had run its course.

One little girl, who had suffered her own heartbreak when her mom left her as a very young child, wrote to Vivien.

You, Mr. Keith and Mr. Dave have taught me so much by just watching the way you all cope with everything. I love to see you, when I can, because you always hug and kiss me; that really brightens up my day, just knowing you care about me…watching all of you is such an inspiration to me. I have certainly learned how to make the best of many situations, where nothing at all seems to be going as planned. The love you all have and share for one another and the people around you is truly inspiring to me…

Continuing the Legacy

The beauty of Daniel and Vivien’s story is simply the fact that it is not finished. The pain still nags at Vivien, but her hope is evident. She wears her love for her son and her hope in Christ on her sleeve. This hope in Christ, evident in the lives of Daniel, Vivien, and now their family and part of their community, is a testament to the glory of God in all circumstances.

Daniel’s accident haunts her to this day, but something amazing has happened to Vivien. Even though she longs for the day when Jesus will take her home to be with her son, she knows her story is not complete. She knows there is a mission for her on Earth. So much work has already been done to the glory of God because of the life (short as it was) Daniel lived.

Vivien spends her hours being a surrogate mom and grandma to many. She is the first to help someone who is hurting. Her heart is as big as the ocean. Her hope is to share Daniel’s story and to help people, especially those people whose hearts are broken, troubled, heavy and burdened to understand there is a bigger perspective on life. Her pain is real, but so is her joy.

Finding Hope in Grief

You may be reading this, and you may be grieving. You may have lost someone—either through death, divorce or separation, and you may not know what to do. Vivien will be the first to tell you there are days when she just doesn’t feel up to putting on her happy face. It isn’t easy to go through pain and loss, and no one expects you to act like it is. But there is hope.

If you find yourself in a position of loss, there can be days when that hope seems distant, if not impossible, to glimpse. You are not alone in your heartache. You are loved beyond all measure. You can find strength, peace, hope and encouragement in Jesus Christ. You can be real about your struggles, and you can find a path forward to healing.

Here at AUTHENTIK, we don’t capriciously make how-to lists. Sometimes, life is challenging, and getting some step-by-step options from professionals can prove beneficial. Let us come alongside you and encourage you with some insight for seeking help with your grieving from Kim Allfrey of Eagle Counseling.

Understand that grief is a process and is unique to each individual. Be aware of how you deal with negative emotions, and don’t try to over-control them. The grieving process will happen whether you want it to or not.

Be generous with yourself. Expect to feel pain, sadness, anger and loneliness. These are appropriate feelings and are an acknowledgement of the love you hold for your loved one.

Simplify. Don’t expect to do everything you have in the past. Be realistic and give yourself permission to say, “I’m not up to it.” Communicating healthy boundaries to others alleviates the worry of having to please or take care of others.

Express your feelings to someone you trust. It is very important to acknowledge what you are feeling and to not isolate. Depression escalates in isolation and it is common to try to keep pain and sadness inside. Nurturing a healthy relationship will also increase emotional awareness, so you don’t lose yourself.

Have an exit-strategy from gatherings and events you choose to attend. This gives you a sense of control while processing through an overpowering range of emotions.

Take a breather and practice self-care. Be aware of how your body processes stress. Overindulgence or emotional eating or drinking can be an easy escape but only increases negative emotion and stress. Get enough sleep, eat healthy, take a walk or listen to soothing music. Spending just fifteen minutes to clear your mind may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do.

Don’t be afraid to make new traditions. You are strengthening your memories, not abandoning them. As families grow and change, traditions often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to and create new rituals to remember your loved one. Celebrate them and remember why you celebrate a particular holiday. Don’t be afraid of finding purpose in tragedy.

1. Buy a special candle to light on special occasions: birthdays, anniversaries, holidays. This can be a special time for the family, and you can decorate around the candle for the different holidays.

2. Some people want to leave the chair empty around the table where their loved one sat— for family and friends to say what they learned from the loved one and to be thankful for what they learned. Carry on their legacy.

3. Buy a gift you know your loved one would want and give it to someone special, or give to a special charity in memory of your loved one. Sponsor a family or a child in your loved one’s name.

Allow yourself to feel happiness. There is nothing selfish about celebrating or feeling joy. DO NOT think you cannot laugh or enjoy life. Recognize the feeling of guilt, and don’t let it sabotage a celebration of your loved one.

Always be willing to seek professional help or find a support group to attend. Grief groups are free to join and offered by your local church or Hospice organization.

Kimberly Allfrey is the Clinical Coordinator of Eagle Counseling, a division of Eagle Consulting. She has a master’s in Clinical Psychology and has been in practice for fifteen years. She is dedicated to serving and has a passion for making a difference in the lives of others.