A Story of Hope

As with most things in life, your past, your experiences, and your hardships don’t always make sense in the moment … it’s only years later that purpose arises. This is how our life’s stories are shaped. Our experiences — and those of others that our lives intersect with — refine who we are and what we are called to do. I know this because I’m living it, and my story was shaped by experiences that happened over 40 years ago. I’d love to share my story with you … but to do so means I need to take you back to the beginning.

When my father, Jim, was in college, he became great friends with a man named Roger. Jim and Roger went on to meet their future wives, Kris and Pam. They stood up in each other’s weddings and enjoyed fishing and hunting together. They started their families and had children. Jim and Kris had two children, Jim, Jr., and Stacey (You guessed it, that’s me!). Roger and Pam had a son named Chad. On February 22, 1977, Roger was killed in a tragic logging accident, leaving behind his wife and young son. Roger was just 30 years old.

My mother, Kris, being of strong faith and a good friend to everyone, wanted to help Chad understand his father’s death. She wanted to help him make some sense of the tragedy and of his own grief. As a writer and a fine artist with talents she knew she could share, she had an idea and took action on it. She wrote and illustrated a book called What You Are Never Stops — a book to help Chad make sense of something that just didn’t make sense. She dreamed of getting the book published and tried for several years to do so. After receiving a handful of rejection letters, Kris put the book away and put her dream on pause.  

Life happened, and the book stayed tucked away for years. In 1989, however, the book would bring about a whole meaning. Since childhood, Kris had lived with a heart murmur that was an outcome of a bout of Rheumatic Fever. While she knew something was wrong, she had no idea that the hole in her heart — which was causing the murmur — had grown to the size of a golf ball and one of her heart valves was no longer working properly (and probably hadn’t been for years). The doctors informed her that it must be fixed and valve replacement was attempted but failed. Ultimately, a heart transplant was my mom’s only hope of survival. While she received a new heart, it ultimately didn’t save her. My mom, Kris Fenton Siwek, died at the young age of 42. 

In 1989, I was 16 years old and a sophomore in high school. My brother was a freshman at the University of Notre Dame. To say that our hearts were broken would be an understatement. I went searching for answers and uncovered the book my mom had written to soothe another child, never expecting it would be one that soothed me. Yes, the very book my mother wrote to help another child understand the death of a parent was now my own survival guide. I clung to it like a life raft. The book was full of lessons and of my mom’s illustrations of caterpillars and butterflies. It gave me some measure of peace. Butterflies became my symbol that my mom was near, looking out for me and sending signs when I found myself at a crossroads.  

I struggled during that time and for years afterward. A lot. I know now that the reason I struggled is that I lost a sense of security the day my mom left this earth. If my mom could die, anything was possible. Anything bad that I could imagine could actually happen. In fact, I started to predict my own future in relationships and these self-fulfilling prophecies I conjured in my mind were never positive ones. I anticipated the worst-case scenario always and — like someone who takes pleasure in causing themselves pain — I felt satisfied when I was right. I wondered if I’d ever be able to be happy. I stuffed my feelings into a proverbial box, like the box where I kept my mother’s few belongings, and I protected myself. The mere mention of her was enough to make me sob like a baby. I was NOT handling this well at all.  

I finally started to thrive when I met my husband, Alain. He is an eternal optimist and refuses to let me predict the future anymore. He made it safe for me to grieve the loss I should have grieved three decades ago. He lets me feel and talk about the pain but will not let me wallow in it too long. I needed that, and I still need that today. It was only then that I could start to assign purpose to my grief by focusing on what I can control, not what is outside my control. I can’t bring my mom back and I can’t gift myself back all the years I lost, but I can focus on ways that I can help others with their grief journey. 

My first order of business was to dust off my mom’s book and bring it to life so that it can heal others, as she had intended. I started to let my heart lead the way and I found that a high school friend has a book publishing company and when I inquired, she showed interest in my project and helped bring it to life. Through the process of talking about how to bring the book — Caterpillars Can’t Talk — to market, my heart led me to take things one step further, and One Million Monarchs (OMM) was born. OMM is a not-for-profit organization with a clear mission to support teens who are grieving the loss of a parent, sibling or close friend. It is my hope that through our work, I can help kids like me find purpose in their grief. And, this journey has brought me to continue to support and coach others in their grief journey through Epic Reboot. However you are grieving, I want to be a resource for you. If you have a child, or know one, who needs comfort, my mom’s book, Caterpillars Can’t Talk, may be a healing tool for them. I know it brought healing and understanding for me. And if I can be of any service to help you navigate your own grief or that of a grieving child, please don’t hesitate to connect with me. I’ve been there. I understand. I still live through it. And I hope I’m a beacon of hope that you can and will find peace and love as you grow through what you go through.

Stacey Sassine, certified grief coach and founder and chief transformation coach of Epic Reboot, helps individuals navigate grief by finding purpose in their pain. Through one-on-one and group support sessions, Stacey provides guidance on shifting one’s mindset so they can move from tragedy to triumph. She also is a sought-after professional speaker, and loves to share her inspirational story and tried-and-true tactics with those who could benefit from them most. Connect with Stacey today, and invite her into your life or your community.

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A Story of Hope

As with most things in life, your past, your experiences, and your hardships don’t always make sense in the moment … it’s only years later

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