Throughout the series "A Life Lost too soon," the Riley family has invited the community into the pain, sorrows and even hope that have accompanied the loss of their 23-year-old daughter, Kennidy. Why? Because the Riley family knows change and awareness are needed for mental health and addiction, if only to save one life. 

Throughout the last year of anguish since Kennidy's death, her mother, Michelle, has begun to realize those who suffer directly from mental health and illness are not the only ones who need help in a tragic situation. As Michelle fights grief, she realizes she has to give herself a chance to understand her feelings and learn coping mechanisms. The realization has inspired Michelle not only to share Kennidy's life and struggles in a very open forum but also her struggle in the aftermath of her child's death.

Michelle has noted that each family member is handling grief differently as all struggle for answers. An evening out with her husband Mark brought the reality to light. 

"Mark and I had a really nice time last night," Michelle began as she described a recent night out with her husband. "I cause myself so much unnecessary stress about getting out but once I'm out, I realize it's not so hard after all." 
But Michelle telling herself her own practical advice doesn't mean it is easy for her to navigate something as simple as an evening out. While Mark has continued to work and keeps himself occupied Michelle has found comfort in the peace of her home.
"Home is my comfort zone, and although I suffered from anxiety before, since the loss of our daughter, my anxiety has only become worse," Michelle explained. "I can wake up in the morning feeling fine and grateful to be alive, but within an hour, I sometimes have anxiety so bad it's debilitating. My hands shake, I can feel my heartbeat in my stomach, and I become overwhelmed so easily." 

Michelle isn't satisfied with living a life blanketed with fear and anxiety. Instead, she is searching for the steps to improve and work on her struggle with anxiety. 

"I've taken many steps to improve and work on it, Michelle said. "I'm just waiting for the day I realize it's (anxiety) gone. Or that I at least have it under control a little better. They say it takes as long to fix yourself as it did to fall apart, and the truth is we've been through a lot. I've accepted that life may not be exactly how I want it to be, but I still know in my heart that good things are yet to come."

Meanwhile, she shares what's helping during this stage in grief and what drives her to continue. A local grief support group has been a welcome start.

"I've been attending a grief support group locally," Michelle shared. "I actually look forward to it every week. It helps me understand that we are not alone in the way that we feel and that there is no right or wrong way to grieve." Michelle continued sharing what else drives her hope to move forward. "We just have to be patient, keep God a priority in our life, and never give up. I would love to report that life is good and that we've never been happier, but the sad truth is it's not. Not saying it never will be again. We're still adjusting to the new normal, and to be brutally honest, the loss of our child has been the most excruciating pain I think we will ever experience in this lifetime."

As Michelle attends the weekly meetings, she is learning more about handling grief and wants to share what she has learned with others who may need the same support as the Riley family.

"It is suggested that family members attend the meetings for two years," Michelle said. "For anyone looking or needing a little extra support, feel free to reach out to Kathy Bauman. She is hosting the meetings (Grief Share) once a week in Cedar Grove at the Holy Guardian Angels School building on Monday nights at 6:45 p.m.

"Kathy, along with everyone else who attends, have been a blessing to me, and maybe it's exactly what you've been needing," Michelle questioned. "Regardless, we all have to keep moving forward, always looking for ways to heal our broken hearts." 

Michelle often wonders if Kennidy's story is a part of a bigger plan that God has in store, but is still waiting on guidance from God on how the family proceeds. 

"I do have faith that God has a plan, and right now, I'm just putting all my faith in him and allowing Jesus to take the wheel and guide us." 
Next week will be the final article in the Kennidy Riley series.