Navigating through the Journey of Loss

I have had the great honor in life of walking alongside many as they have experienced deep loss in their life.  This was only since I myself had experienced some of my deepest losses very young and through this journey for the last 16 years I was able to help others navigate through these tumultuous waters, including being widowed at the age of 19 after my husband Eric was murdered… we were only married two and a half months. 

He was driving to work on his motorcycle when he was hit head on by a man under the influence of drugs and alcohol. In an instant my world turned upside down.  I didn’t know at first that he was murdered but felt the holy spirit tell me that on the way driving to the hospital.  Because he was the victim in the case, his body was evidence and I only had a few minutes to say goodbye as he was then rolled away.  That night as I was gathering my things to stay with my parents, I found his testimony written out laying perfectly on the inside of a box I never had opened.  At his memorial was the first time I spoke and asked people to give their lives to Christ  and to turn to Him in their sorrow. 

I understand how others who are grieving just hearing of others’ loss can be overbearing, so I do not share these losses to be a burden, but rather to express my rooted understanding in severe losses, tragedies and the peace, hope and joy that God can bring in the mourning.

Two weeks before Eric died, my grandmother, Ernie, died from pancreatic cancer.  My family was very close growing up.  My parents met and married each other since most of their childhood; they were neighbors who grew up across the street from one another.  For a portion of my childhood we lived in one of the houses next to my grandparents and my god sister lived a couple blocks away.  Our families all regularly met for holidays, birthdays and other gatherings.  I had a full life of knowing all my relatives and cousins.  As a matriarch of the family, her death was very hard on all of us.  I was so grateful to have my loving husband walk me through that time, but when he was killed just weeks later my life spiraled into what I never knew my life could be (more on that story later).  Just nine months after Eric was killed, my cousin, Stephen died in a car accident, he was the driver under the influence in his accident.  He was a little over a year older than me, left behind his girlfriend who had serious injuries and two beautiful baby girls, one an infant, one a toddler.

Shortly after this I started helping my past neighbor of 7 years out.  She had to work while her husband was sick.  I would go and sit with him, help him with lunch and try to keep him company, we watched a lot of afternoon game shows.  He also passed.

It felt like everyone around me was dying. I had struggled in my grief, isolation, depression and suicidal thoughts and attempts, especially in those first 9 months.  I had pockets of times where God would give me strength to help others and come out of the grief, but most of the time I was at home, alone, mourning.  Those pockets in time included helping with my cousins memorial, speaking at events including: going to anti drug and alcohol weeks at schools to speak, Mothers against Drunk Drivers, speaking for Homicide Survivors in Tucson, being a part of the Meth Free Alliance, youth groups, volunteering for a local nonprofit that did assemblies at schools, doing the National Day of prayer events in Tucson and God using me in my completely broken state to help other women going through their own tragedies, the first women I helped only 2 months after my husband died also lost her husband in a motorcycle accident, I didn’t understand why I was then one helping her, but God told me it was because I had Him. 

These pockets of time are what kept me going… It was as though in every situation God was drawing me, telling me, “I have a hope, a plan and purpose for you.”  The biggest breakthrough for me came the day the Lord led me to forgive the man that killed my husband.  I was at home late at night basically “pleading” my case before God.  Telling him what I hated about this man, why I wanted him to die, why it wasn’t fair he was alive and that Eric was dead.  In the middle of my grumblings the Lord sat me down and told me he wanted to tell me a story.  He sat me down and told me the story of how Saul in the Bible became Paul.  He questioned me in my hate.  “If as God, who created men in my image, can forgive a man that sought out to kill my people, can’t you forgive a man that was lost and hurting who killed your husband?” That night God helped me forgive him… his name is also Eric and I have prayed for him ever since.

Getting through that season was nothing short of a miracle… and miracles happened, lots of them and also more losses… including the loss of my job, someone stole a vehicle of mine, I “lost” the life insurance policy due to  a fine line in the contract (I had lawyers look into it) loss of friendships, and the list goes on.  One of the amazing miracles was someone gave me the exact amount of rent I needed at the exact time. 

Looking back I did not realize or even think one or any of these experiences would lead me to starting my own nonprofit.  I just tried to keep being obedient to God and reaching out to others when I knew they would need someone to talk to and be there with them.

Now, I know this part is really going to sound strange, but of my list of people close to me in my life that have passed, this is not all of them… again, for the sake of not drawing out what would probably be a very long, sad blog, I am trying to condense some of these stories.  Just alone of women I knew that have been widowed and their stories it is a very long list.  There are just some that radically change your life, and change the lives of those around you.  Some of those losses were not personally mine, but my best friends in life who have lost their children.  These stories are indeed very precious to me and have a huge part in my life story.  There are children in heaven that have taught me more about prayer, love and family than anything else.  Someday, I will tell their story.    

The second biggest loss of my life is when my god-sister, Amber, committed suicide in 2012.  She was the closest thing I had to a sister growing up.  Again, my life spiraled into depression to the point of not being able to function.  It wasn’t until that day that my pastor’s wife, Lynn led me in prayer of forgiveness to her and myself that I was able to move towards healing.  Lynn has since then also passed into glory.  It is indeed sobering to look back at all the loss and to know where He has led me in my life to love the brokenhearted and to start a ministry named Joy in the Mourning.  I really believe and trust in the verses in Job 42:2-3 “I know that You can do all things and that no plan of Yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this who conceals My counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.”  I realize some people never get past their grief to experience a life of freedom and abundance that God promises and calls us to.  I am not saying that there won’t be hard things in life.  Leading this ministry there are hard times, there are mournful times, but that is where He has and can transform ashes to beauty.  Where he can use our most painful experiences to bring redemption to others.  Where once we have experienced the comfort only God can give to bring comfort to others.    

Praying peace and comfort to you,

Ashley Hughes

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