“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”

Lao Tzu

The death of a child will undoubtedly teach you that life doesn’t go as planned. I remember, in the hours after Emily’s death, thinking, this is not supposed to happen to me! This is not supposed to be our story! As the saying goes, “life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” Emily’s death from fentanyl poisoning made me realize all I can control is my response to anything that happens in life. 

As I write this blog, I’m sitting in Wall, South Dakota, with 50-mile-per-hour winds whipping at the door of a small house where I unexpectedly find myself staying. We had plans to go skiing in the Black Hills as a family over the holiday, but life had other ideas. While I’m not where I thought I would be, death taught me that fighting against “what is” is futile. Instead, I’m actually grateful for where I am–stranded in a small town–about a two-hour drive from my final destination. 

I worked on the details of this Christmas vacation for some time because I find being home over the holiday horribly depressing since Emily’s death. Upon the advice of my meteorologist friends, due to an impending winter storm, I convinced my family we needed to leave a day early. It was smooth sailing the first few hours as we traveled, but then we literally hit a winter wall and found ourselves stranded, along with hundreds of other people in the western part of the state. We pulled off the interstate into the town of Wall, known for the famous Wall Drug, just as the barricades came down on Interstate 90

Video I took as a passenger of the blizzard on the interstate

Confusion descended upon our family. Would we be able to get back on the road to our final destination? What do we do next? The first moments of a crisis, big or small, always start with confusion. With the blizzard only expected to worsen, we figured we’d better get a hotel room. Out of all the hotels in Wall, a popular summer tourist stop, only a few are open in the winter. “Look on Airbnb,” my husband suggested as he learned the final hotel option was full. There was one small house on Airbnb in Wall, and I immediately booked it. We drove a few blocks to a small home. I was pleasantly surprised as I opened the door; it was tiny but newly renovated and clean. 

Accepting a new reality in Wall, SD
A little Christmas tree outside my window

My gratitude grew as I learned that 100 cars were stranded in a 60-mile stretch of Interstate. Some travelers chose to tough it out through the night in their car, as temperatures dropped to minus 20, and windchills made it feel like minus 50. The small Wall community center filled up with stranded people, as well as churches and schools in other nearby towns. This little Airbnb felt like a miracle. As I write this, my husband and one of my sons sit at the kitchen table playing cribbage. My other son and daughter are sitting on the bed, watching a show together on a laptop, laughing and talking. It doesn’t matter at all that beautiful hills and trees in a larger cabin don’t surround us. All that matters is we are together, and we are safe. 

The night before, we ate greasy burgers and played a game of pool in the bar next door to where we are staying. I know my adult children will probably remember this trip more than any others we’ve taken. In a way, it feels as if Emily is here with us. I can feel her presence, and we talked about her and laughed. There are miracles, even in the most challenging situations, and I find hope in the love of my family and a warm shelter from the storm. 

Faith, Hope & Courage,

Angela

53 responses

  1. Kathleen Roby Avatar
    Kathleen Roby

    I love what you are doing beautiful lady and family

    1. Angela Kennecke Avatar
      Angela Kennecke

      Thank you!

      1. Bob Johnson Avatar
        Bob Johnson

        Thanks for sharing, a lot of people will not be doing what they wanted this Christmas! Last time I was in Wall it was 97F in Sept. We rode in on motorcycle. It was 31F in the morning when we left Midland,SD, in the morning. SD weather is nothing if not extreme and unpredictable! Have a great day!

  2. Theresa Thorne Avatar
    Theresa Thorne

    Be safe and make memories this Christmas on your adventurous vacation

  3. Carol Daly Avatar
    Carol Daly

    Some of the best times are not what we plan!!! I know you will make it fun and special!!!
    I love the way you write Angela!!!

    1. Angela Kennecke Avatar
      Angela Kennecke

      Thank you, Carol!

  4. Carol Daly Avatar
    Carol Daly

    Merry Christmas!!! It is storming everywhere in the midwest it seems!
    Derek,Nicole,and Colin can’t get here for Christmas as planned!!! Bummed
    And who is going to eat all these groceries and Christmas 🍪 cookies?

    1. Angela Kennecke Avatar
      Angela Kennecke

      I’m so sorry to hear this, Carol! I hope you can all celebrate at a later date! Freeze the cookies??

      1. Thank you do much for this positive outlook on your change of plans. I lost a brother last Oct to COVID-19. Been feeling lost this holiday and then Monday tested positive for COVID-19. SURPRISE…we thought i had influenza. Can’t imagine losing a child. Just wanted you to know you help many no matter their story. Being home alone over Christmas isn’t the worst thing to happen. Thanks for that reminder! Merry Christmas dear heart!❄️🌬❤️😎

        1. Angela Kennecke Avatar
          Angela Kennecke

          I hope you feel better soon and I’m so sorry about the loss of your brother! My heart is with you!

  5. Linda Georgeson Avatar
    Linda Georgeson

    I appreciate each time you post a memory or thought you have, no matter if it is a new thought or one from the past. Some of what you have gone through I can relate to; some I cannot. But each time I read your blog, it brings some type of memory of my own to the surface. Some make me laugh and some make me cry. Coming up next month is a “mixed” month for me. It would be our 54th wedding anniversary on January 11, (I lost my husband 25 years ago to heart related issues) It will be 32 years since my then very young son-in-law lost his life in horrific motor vehicle crash in blinding fog on January 12 and my now son-in-law will celebrate a birthday on January 10. Life does go on, although there are often times I question what life would be like today, had the two deaths not occurred? We will never know, but I have learned to take what God has given me and make the best of my life that I am capable of. May you and your family have a blessed Christmas! Cherish the memories your and your family are making in that little house! I marvel at your strength.

    1. Angela Kennecke Avatar
      Angela Kennecke

      I write this blog, so others who experience grief (and we all will at some point) know they are not alone. I am sorry for your losses. Merry Christmas!

  6. Janet Kizer Avatar
    Janet Kizer

    I am happy you are safe and sound. You are making unforgettable memories with your family! I wish you a very Merry Christmas!

    1. Angela Kennecke Avatar
      Angela Kennecke

      Thank you!

  7. Tracy McClain Avatar
    Tracy McClain

    This Christmas is also not what we expected, my two granddaughters were coming to Aberdeen from Sioux Falls and they were almost here when they hit ice, spun out and hit another car. But you know what, they survived, walked away from a car that was totaled and the other driver was ok also. So had the best outcome we could ever ask far. So maybe this Christmas isn’t what we were hoping for but we’re all together and that’s the best thing ever!

    1. Angela Kennecke Avatar
      Angela Kennecke

      I am SO glad they are okay! I’m sorry you cannot be together! This darn weather!!

  8. Tami Bjerkaas Avatar
    Tami Bjerkaas

    I’m glad you and your family are safe! I’m from Wall and from your photo – you probably ate at the Red Rock. Ken the owner is a family friend and they always have great food😊 Safe travels.

  9. Tami Bjerkaas Avatar
    Tami Bjerkaas

    I’m glad you and your family are safe. I’m from Wall and guessing from your picture you ate at the Red Rock. The owner Ken is a family friend and food is always great! Wishing you safe travels😊

    1. Angela Kennecke Avatar
      Angela Kennecke

      That is where we played pool! The people here are great!

  10. Elizabeth Larson Avatar
    Elizabeth Larson

    Thank you for sharing this, Angela

    1. Angela Kennecke Avatar
      Angela Kennecke

      You’re welcome!

  11. I am so glad that you and your family are safe and warm! Enjoy each other and have the Best Christmas possible.

    1. Angela Kennecke Avatar
      Angela Kennecke

      Thank you!

  12. I don’t know how you do it. My step daughter is an addict and it breaks my heart to see my wife cry so much over her. I keep hoping she will see the light and come back from that dark place she is in

    1. Angela Kennecke Avatar
      Angela Kennecke

      I hope she will go into treatment and find recovery! This disease of addiction is so hard on everyone!

  13. You are exactly where you are meant to be. Your special energy was needed in Wall at this time. Thank you for all you are doing for humanity! ❤️❤️❤️🎄🎅🏻

    1. Angela Kennecke Avatar
      Angela Kennecke

      You are too kind!

      1. Kasey Jacobson Avatar
        Kasey Jacobson

        >Thank you for your lovely update on your weather happenings. I love that quote about “life is what happens while making other plans!” For me it brings me back in to focus on the present. I lost my son in 2003. He was 41! Taking one step at a time and finally one day at a time became my focus. I remember the day that I thought about Dean and smiled. I felt I had come a long way. I lost my husband in 2012 and started that process all over again. My holidays aren’t near the same as they were but I have developed a new kind of normal that I live with. As I was decorating my tree I enjoyed holding and hanging ornaments Dean made when he was a little boy. Also ornaments with pictures of him and my husband. Very special memories! I wish you and your family a very special Christmas and as always, thank you for sharing! God Bless!

  14. Christina Hertel Avatar
    Christina Hertel

    Dear Angela, Im glad your safe here in Wall SD. This storm has some bitter sweet memories. Even for my family and myself. Its been a ride through both blizzards for sure. We tried to keep our local grocery store open for as long as possible for folks to get food. What I hope people realize is that its time spent with family during the holiday … Stay safe AND WELCOME TO WALL SD

    1. Angela Kennecke Avatar
      Angela Kennecke

      We so appreciate your grocery store! Went there today for supplies! Thank you!

  15. Merry Christmas, Angela. I hope you enjoy the holiday and I want to thank you for all that you do for people.

    1. Angela Kennecke Avatar
      Angela Kennecke

      You are welcome! Merry Christmas!

  16. Jocie Davis Avatar
    Jocie Davis

    I’m so glad you found a safe and warm place to stay! Holidays are where family is and it sounds like you have all you need! Stay safe and warm and have a blessed holiday Angela! Know that Emily is there with you!

    1. Angela Kennecke Avatar
      Angela Kennecke

      Thank you!

  17. It was a perfect experience for your family! 🥰🥰🥰🥰🥰

  18. Donna Jensen Avatar
    Donna Jensen

    Dear Angela,
    Enjoy your time in Wall. It will be memories you’ll have the rest of your lives. When we were on the farm, we were snowed in onetime and ended up playing Trivial Pursuitt with our young son. Our older son was snowed in town with his Grandma, so none of us were alone.
    year 2000 w spent Christmas in Chicago with our 2 boys and our youngest son’s daughter. The boys were working there and got us the most fantastic suite in gorgeous hotel on Michigan Avenue. It also was a memory filled week.
    Merry Christmas!

    1. Angela Kennecke Avatar
      Angela Kennecke

      Wow, that sounds amazing!

  19. Judy Ryan Avatar

    Since you are safe and warm and with your family, it seems very fitting to have a South Dakota Christmas surprise on your way to the Hills!!! Merry Christmas

    1. Angela Kennecke Avatar
      Angela Kennecke

      Merry Christmas!

  20. Sharon Huizenga Avatar
    Sharon Huizenga

    Enjoy your unexpected stay in Wall with your family and make lots of memories. I love the photo of you on Santa’s lap in Wall Drug. Merry Christmas! 🎄

    1. Angela Kennecke Avatar
      Angela Kennecke

      Thank you!

  21. Cherie Buss Avatar
    Cherie Buss

    Sounds like you found solace even during a storm. Maybe a Christmas angel was seeing you through .Glad you and family are safe. Merry Christmas !

    1. Angela Kennecke Avatar
      Angela Kennecke

      Thank you!

  22. Angela, you express yourself in such a powerful way; even though our circumstances differ, it’s easy to connect with your emotions. Your sharing is a powerful example on how to bear the unbearable and survive the un-survivable and also to find joy in the midst of what life hands us.
    Merry Christmas to all of you.

    1. Angela Kennecke Avatar
      Angela Kennecke

      Thank you for those kind words, Delaine, and all of your support!

  23. Susan Stanley Avatar
    Susan Stanley

    so glad you and your family found a safe, cozy place to stay Angela. Merry Christmas

    1. Angela Kennecke Avatar
      Angela Kennecke

      Thank you! Merry Christmas!

  24. Angela Oliver Avatar
    Angela Oliver

    Since we all seem to be shifting to Plan B this year for our Christmas celebrations, your post is perfect and relatable, honest and heartfelt. Thank you for sharing your “adventure story” from Wall. Hope the larger cabin and skiing will make for a nice family Christmas.

  25. C Sunny Conkey Avatar
    C Sunny Conkey

    Welcome to Wall. I moved here 14 months ago and just found your blog this morning. I now have it bookmarked so I can read more later.

    Sometimes the most difficult journeys produce the best memories.
    Happy Holidays!

  26. I am so happy you all are safe and cozy! I picture Emily hanging out watching her family and smiling with the wise wisdom of her soul knowing this is what it is about – warmth of love that surrounds you. Blessings to you and yours! Pat

  27. Kevin Janousek Avatar
    Kevin Janousek

    Your story is definitely a blessing to you and your family. You had to feel Emily’s presence in guiding your decisions from above.
    These winter storms can be brutal in western SD!!

  28. Lao Tzu and you say it all, Angela. Wall SD might not have been “your” intended destination. Ended up being “the” intended destination, instead, because of uncontrollable circumstances. Way to turn bad, tragic situations into a force for good. Merry Christmas

  29. All of us who have loss a child to suicide whether it is from substance abuse disorder or a terminal mental illness can relate to the path you are on. Know that you are not alone and reach out to the well established programs already in place to deal with substance abuse and mental health disorders. Journaling is such a powerful way to work through your grief. Christmas Blessings to you and your family.

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