In this conversation with Denny and Karri Allen, they bravely share their story of losing their son Asher and how their grief journey led them to founding Healing Hope Ministries to serve families who have experienced child loss.
Healing Hope Ministries, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, was founded by Denny and Karri Allen in March of 2016. The creation of Healing Hope was sparked by their own personal grief journey. On July 2, 2012, Denny and Karri lost their precious son, Asher, when he died suddenly at just 15 months old.
The first year after Asher's death, Denny and Karri felt a deep need to talk about Asher and talk to other parents who had lost children. It was a way for them to process their own grief and seemed to bring some comfort to their hearts. They attended a 4-day retreat at Smile Again Ministries, located in northern Minnesota, which changed the trajectory of their life. This time on retreat opened up communication between the couple and helped them learn how to navigate life moving forward.
With this intense desire for a community who understood our grief, Karri and Denny continued meeting with other parents who had lost children. In the summer of 2015, they both felt God calling them into ministry to help families who've experienced the death of a child, grandchild, or sibling. With the idea to bring a grief retreat setting to South Dakota, Healing Hope Ministries was born.
The vision of Healing Hope is to hold a safe space for families to intentionally work through their grief. Denny and Karri, as retreat facilitators and peers who have walked a similar journey, hold space for families to share stories, have hard conversations and learn more about grief and mourning. This intentional work provides a pathway of hope.
Healing Hope Ministries relies heavily on the material developed by Smile Again Ministries as well as the teachings of Dr. Alan Wolfelt. Dr. Wolfelt, of the Center for Loss in Colorado, is known around the world for his compassionate messages of hope and healing as well as his companioning philosophy of grief care. In addition to these resources, their personal life experiences and many grief support training courses, the Allens are also certified Grief and Loss Coaches.
Asher was born on March 25, 2011 to Denny and Karri Allen. He was a very happy baby and so full of joy! He had beautiful red hair and bright blue eyes. Asher was a very good natured boy. He loved to greet his dad at the door every night with a big smile as Denny would come home from work. Asher loved music so much that he figured out how to turn on the family radio and would listen/dance to Life 96.5 KNWC. You could often find him dancing in the back of church to the priase and worship music as well. Asher also liked to play hard, especially outdoors with sticks and dirt. He had a love for Mickey Mouse and an infatuation with brooms. He was a very healthy boy with lots of energy.
July 2, 2012 started out just like any other day. As Karri laid her 15-month old son, Asher, down for his afternoon nap, something seemed off to her. She stayed outside his door, listening as he cried himself to sleep. Except that isn’t what happened. Asher went completely silent and she knew something was deeply wrong. As she rushed into his room, she found Asher lifeless in the corner of his crib. Asher died that day and so began their grief journey.
I called 911. Before I knew it, people started rushing into my house and no one seemed to be able to help my baby! They carried him out to the ambulance where we waited for what seemed like an eternity. All I can remember thinking was, please God, please let him be ok. We made it to the hospital and that’s when we were told, our son had died. I was completely shocked. This outcome hadn't even crossed my mind. I didn't see how this could be possible. He was a healthy baby. I was in so much shock and denial that I don’t even think I could get any tears out. I didn’t know what to do. I thought to myself, how do you even go forward from here? Honestly, I didn’t want to move. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I didn’t think I could go on with my life. All I wanted to do was sit with my baby in that hospital room and rub his sweet face. I just couldn’t believe he could be gone. We were broken. Our hearts were broken. Our families and freinds were broken. And our marriage? Surely it would break too. I remember one of the first things someone told us was that a high percentage of marriages don’t survive the loss of a child. Not the news I needed to hear at that moment.
Once we got home, our house started filling up with people. Later that evening, my husband had disappeared. Fear and anxiety quickly overtook me and I found myslef worried I was going to lose him too. He had struggled deeply in the past with depression and PTSD from being deployed and losing four friends in the war. When I found him, he was in the bedroom on his knees clinging to his Bible. I remember getting down there with him and heard him say, “You know, we have two ways we can go with this. We can trust God or we can turn the other way. I know which way I’m going, are you coming with?” This caught me off guard, but I knew in my heart it was the only way. I said yes I will trust God. I have to admit I was reluctant. I was mad at God. I thought, "God, how could you let this happen? Why did my baby have to die? Why me? How will our marriage ever survive this heartache? How can I survive this?”
Asher’s sudden and unexpected death put us in a state of shock, denial and hopelessness. The grief was so intense that our bodies showed physical symptoms of pain. This intense pain lasted for several months. Through the first year we struggled to even prepare meals for ourselves and lost the desire for almost everything in our lives. Days were long and after the funeral, everyone else seems like they’re moving on with their life. And there you sit, stuck; feeling like you can hardly breathe most days. You watch the world go on around you and feel like you will never be a part of that again.
This wasn’t something we could ever survive on our own. God carried us through and he’s the only reason we’re still standing here today. Our family verse quickly became, Phil. 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” We had so many people praying for us. We knew we had some work to do ourselves if we were going to “get better, not bitter.” We started attending counseling and joined the Compassionate Friends group. We went to counseling weekly for a while and then every other week for at least the first 6 months. We needed something more though. That’s when Denny stumbled across a place called Smile Again Ministries and we decided to check it out. Smile Again is a retreat center in northern Minnesota for families who’ve lost children. This four-day commitment most likely saved our marriage and quite possibly my husband’s life. Throughout Denny's life, he had struggled with depression, alcoholism, PTSD. Attending this retreat showed us how to move forward and assured us that someday we could find joy again as a family. After the retreat we were not fully healed, but we were different. Our eyes had been opened and our hearts had been changed.
A few years later, we were blessed with two more boys, Elijah and Isaac whom we love dearly. Even though the boys never physically met Asher, they can tell you all about him. Asher's short life has impacted the life of so many people near and far and for that we are incredibly grateful. Asher has taught us how to embrace whatever life throws our way and that we must cling to the glimpses of Hope along the way.
Troutman, North Carolina