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The Overcomers


Grieving is a deeply personal process. No one can tell you how to grieve but we can offer tools that may be useful (or may not). As a teacher, I developed a tool that helped a lot of my students deal with trauma they experienced in their lives. This project was one of my favorite lessons to teach, called The Overcomers Project. The assignment encouraged youth to research celebrities who have overcome insurmountable odds to become who they are. They had to research the celebrity's lowest point, who or what helped them overcome the hardship experienced, and a quote from the celebrity about their process.


Little did I know how much this lesson would help me in my own time of need. When I lost Damani I did not think I could survive this pain. I just knew that God would have mercy on me and allow me to join my son. I had constant chest pains, went about 18 days without solid food, and lost 20 pounds. I didn't believe that a person could possibly survive losing such a huge part of themselves. I started researching to try to find parents who died of Broken Heart Syndrome because I was sure that was what would take me out. Then one day out of desperation, I decided to search for other parents who have lost children...and still lived with purpose! I needed to know that others had experienced this and not only survived but found ways to live again. Surviving and living are two completely different things and I decided that if I was going to keep living then it would be with purpose.


I posed the question in one of our grief groups and put together this list of the Overcomers who found a way to live after child loss. I then read about each person's experience. Here is what I found:


Mary Jesus age 33

Prophet Muhammad buried 6 of his 7 children

Tony Dungy son 18 years old, suicide

John Walsh son 6 years old, kidnapped/murdered

Barbara Bush daughter 4 years old, leukemia

Elizabeth Edwards son 16 years old, Car accident

Joe Biden daughter 1 year old, car crash. Son 46 yrs old, brain cancer (also lost wife)

John Travolta son 16 years old, seizure

Eric Clapton son 4 years old, tragic fall

Afeni Shakur son 25 years old, gun violence

Sybrina Fulton son 17 years old, gun violence

Prince son 5 days old, genetic disorder

Carol Burnett daughter 38 years old, pneumonia/cancer

Neil Armstrong daughter 2 years old, brain tumor

JFK daughter stillborn. son 2 days old, Infant Respiratory Distress Syndrome

Marie Osmond son 18 years old, depression/ bullying/suicide

Iyanla Vanzant daughter 30, cancer

Keanu Reeves daughter, stillborn

Rick & Kay Warren son 27 years old, depression/suicide

George Strait daughter 13 years old, car accident

Pierce Bronson daughter 41 years old, cancer (also lost wife)

Winston Churchill daughter 2 years old, sepsis

Mike Tyson daughter 4 years old, treadmill accident

Charles & Anne Lindberg son 20 month old, kidnapped/murdered

Johnny Carson son 39 years old, car accident

Roy Orbison sons 10 years & 6 years old. house fire (also lost wife)

Mary Tyler Moore son 24 years old, accidental gunshot

Steven Curtis Chapman daughter 5 years old, accidentally run over

Erma Bombeck daughter, stillborn

Granger Smith son 3 years old, drowned

Duane Chapman daughter 23, car accident

Robert Plant son 5 years old, stomach virus

Sylvester Stallone son 36 years old, cardiac arrest

President Garfield age 1 and 3

President Lincoln son 11 years old, typhoid fever

President Reagan daughter 1 day, premature birth complications

President Roosevelt son infant

President Eisenhower son 4 years old, scarlet fever

Alexander Graham Bell son 2 years old

Bodie &Morgan Miller daughter 19 month old, drowning

Alan Pederson daughter 18 years old, car accident

Paul Newman son 28 years old, accidental overdose

Mark Twain son 19 months, diptheria

Gloria Vanderbilt son 23 years old, suicide

Craig Morgan son 19 years old, tubing accident

Toby Mac son 21 years old, Sudden death (autopsy pending)

David Kessler son 21 years old, suicide

Marquise Goodwin son 1 day old, premature birth complications

Mitch Richmond son 20 years old, sudden death (autopsy pending)

Babe Laufenberg son 21 years old, cancer

Adrian Peterson son 7 years old, cancer

Bill Cosby son 18 years old, gun violence

Dr. Dre son 20 years old, overdose


There is power in the knowledge that we are not alone. And if others have made it through this seemingly unbearable pain, then we can make it too! Below you will find a some reflections from a few of the bereaved parents listed above. May you find encouragement in their words and figure out a way to use the pain of your loss to fuel your purpose. Allow your child's purpose to permeate your soul and become one with your purpose.


“The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered...We know that. And yes, there are certainly times when we aren't able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It's called being human. But I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful.” -Elizabeth Edwards


"If I had lost a leg, instead of a boy, no one would ever ask me if I was 'over it'. They would ask me how I was doing learning to walk without my leg. I was learning to walk and to breathe and to live without Wade. And what I was learning is that it was never going to be the life I had before." -Elizabeth Edwards


“Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it's less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you've lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that's good.” -Elizabeth Edwards


"I truly felt her soul go out of that beautiful little body. I never felt the presence of God more strongly than at that moment." - Barbara Bush


“Evil prevails when good people do nothing.” -John Walsh

"My boy ain't here but he aint gone" - Craig Morgan


“I almost subconsciously used music for myself as a healing agent, and lo and behold, it worked … I have got a great deal of happiness and a great deal of healing from music.” - Eric Clapton


" It really takes a part of your soul . . . but the person you lost is still with you — is still part of you... Find a purpose — something that matters, particularly something that connects you to the loss you just had.” -Joe Biden


"I wanted to give people hope that through purpose you can find your way through grief. Think of all the people today who got up this morning and didn't have any help at all, and lost someone they desperately, desperately missed, and they put one foot in front of the other and they move and they keep going." -Joe Biden


" It was the worst thing that’s ever happened in my life. I didn’t know if i was going to make it...The church never left our side for two years, I don’t know if I would have made it through without their support. Our church is the number one thing that keeps us grounded.” -John Travolta

"Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what is going to happen next. "- Erma Bombeck


For happiness one needs security, but joy can spring like a flower even from the cliffs of despair." - Anne Morrow Lindberg


"I will not slave over a search for answers, but instead for meaning. I will focus and cultivate the light from a dark place, the good from the bad, God's will from my own plans. I can rest assured knowing that River's assignment on earth was 1116 days..." - Granger Smith


"We can’t handle pain unless we understand there is a purpose. The gospel doesn’t offer painless life on this earth, but it does offer us meaning, which makes pain bearable... Surrender is when you say I’d rather live and walk with God and have my questions unanswered than have all my questions answered and not walk with God. " -Rick Warren


"Every struggle in your life has shaped you into the person you are today. Be thankful for the hard times, they can only make you stronger." - Keanu Reeves


“Everybody has a purpose because everything God does is purposeful, and God is in everybody... And when we start paying attention, those purposes will all come together and it will blossom into something phenomenal for the planet. And it’s happening, it really is happening.” -Iyanla Vanzant


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