Helping others deal with grief on anniversary of child’s death

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The Patrick and Ashley Sullenger family | Courtesy photos

RIGBY — It has been six years since 18-month-old Preslee Sullenger drowned in a canal in Rigby. Her mom, Ashley Sullenger, turned to writing on her blog as a way of dealing with her personal grief.

Since that day, Sullenger has blogged about the grief associated with losing a loved one by sharing her story. The feedback she has received has been unbelievable.

“In the early years I was shocked about what grief entailed. I had never heard anyone talk about most of what Patrick and I found ourselves experiencing. As people reached out to us, we learned our experiences were normal, but talking about grief seemed to be a taboo topic,” Sullenger said.

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Sullenger started her blog early in their marriage to keep family and friends updated on their lives. Both Ashley and her husband Patrick grew up in Rexburg and were attending Brigham Young University-Idaho. Soon they found they were expecting their first child, who they named Preslee. They were so excited to have this spunky addition to their family. Life seemed perfect for the Sullengers.

But on the night of July 16, 2010, The Sullengers’ lives changed forever. Preslee fell into a canal and was pulled from the water by two farmers over a mile downstream. Preslee was taken by air ambulance to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center and then flown to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City.

As word spread to their family and friends about the accident, Ashley’s blog became the link from the young couple inside the hospital to people on the outside world.

As the days passed and Preslee clung to life, Sullenger’s followers grew from just a few friends and family members to thousands of people and hundreds of thousands of pageviews as people from around the world shared her blog asking for prayers on behalf of the family.

She and Patrick were amazed at the effect the blog was having on people all around the world. Complete strangers were leaving comments about how they were changing their lives just from reading her story.

Preslee hung on for seven days before Sullenger made the devastating announcement that, “Little Preslee went back home today to the God who gave her life.”

The days and weeks that followed were filled with heart wrenching posts from the 22-year-old mother who was learning to deal with her new reality. Thousands of readers grieved with her and continued to share her blog around the world. Many reached out to her, sending gifts and offering their condolences online.

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Giving back

Now, six years after the tragedy, Sullenger is still sharing her life with her readers, but her blog has evolved with a more defined purpose. She wants to help others the same way so many people helped her. The best way for her to do that was by sharing her story.

“I continued writing in hopes to educate people that there is no proper way to grieve and there shouldn’t be a time limit set on anyone’s grief. I’m still learning that grief will continue to be a part of our life for the rest of our lives.”

Her posts have detailed both the good and bad times through her process of dealing with grief over the years. She feels strongly about not holding anything back and that people need to talk and read about grieving.

Sullenger admits that even though it’s been six years, she is still learning to deal with her grief on a daily basis, but she has also learned that talking about it has helped her and her followers.

“Over the past six years, I’ve received a surprisingly high amount of emails from people stating they want to help someone going through a difficult time, but they aren’t exactly sure the best way to go about it,” she said.

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This last year she has started a new series in her blog called “We Can Do Hard Things,” where she asks other people who have gone through life-changing tragedies to share tips on how they have dealt with the grief and what has helped them.

“My goal is to feature different people’s stories who have experienced different trials,” Sullenger said.

Her hope is to have created a place where people can browse through hundreds of ideas when looking to help someone else.

“I ask them to share what they found most helpful during hard times, and my goal is to help readers learn how to help others, reminding them that we can all do hard things together,” Sullenger said. “They share what they found most helpful during that time.”

Sullenger has realized that people don’t just grieve when someone dies, there are other life changing events that produce the same feelings of loss and discouragement. Sullenger asked Avery McGuire to share her experience of how people helped her as she went through a divorce.

“Having not been around many people that have dealt with divorce, I didn’t really know what people went through or what to expect. The more awareness that is brought, more help we can be to each other,” McGuire said.

McGuire said she was happy to share her story, hoping that she could help someone that is going through what she did realize that it’s ok to grieve.

She has had many people thank her for sharing her story.

Sullenger continues to help others and plans to continue as long as there are people reading her blog.

To read her whole story and her “I can do hard things” series, you can find her blog at http://m.sullengers.com or follow her on Instagram at http://instagram.com/thesullengers.

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