Handling Grief With Grace

    By Dave Miller

"How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard." --A.A. Milne.

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” –A.A. Milne.

I knew I would have to write about this sooner or later. I’ve been able to get a lot of it out on my Facebook posts. (What a surprisingly effective tool Facebook has become for allowing us to bear one another’s burdens!) A college friend commented on one such post, “Being your Facebook friend has been a crash course in how to handle grief with grace. God’s blessings will continue to sustain you and your family, David.” And so it is and so they have. So now I’m putting down a few of the ways that, by God’s grace, I’ve dealt with my own grief.

It is certain that no one is immune from loss. Who has not been touched by the death of a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, a parent, a sibling, or a close friend? For the youngest among us, the passing of a cherished pet ushers in the knowledge of “the way of all flesh.” May my own crash course help in your own grief observed or to come.

The inexorable facts:

At 11:46 p.m. on Friday, February 15th, the cell starting to play my ring tone. I remember thinking, “Who could be calling at this hour?” It was the phone call no parent ever wants to get. Renee and I were in bed watching a forgettable movie that we’d downloaded from Amazon.com. We did not finish the movie that evening and I doubt we ever will.

“Are you the father of Marquelle Miller?”

“Yes.” I’m thinking this is not good.

“This is ____________ from Victim Assistance.” My first thought was Kellie had been assaulted. What else could this be about? She was living with her friend in Denver, a big city with more crime than in our little town.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you that your daughter was killed in a car accident this evening…”

“No!” I slam the laptop shut. By now Renee is standing up with the realization that something is seriously wrong. I speak out the words that will change her life forever, “Kellie was killed in a car accident.” As the sentence, like electricity, flows into her being, her legs buckle and she kneels on the floor crying out, “No God, please, no, not my little girl, not my Kellie…”

In incoherent sentences, I try to talk to the victim assistance woman. (She came over a half hour later, and was very kind to us in our grief.)

This was the beginning of a journey that we–and many of you who knew and loved our daughter and Malachi, the young man who was also killed–have been shoved into. It’s one we would never choose nor wish on anyone, but our path is irrevocable. As is all of ours…

Marquelle "Kellie" Miller and Malachi Bilson.

Marquelle “Kellie” Miller and Malachi Bilson.

Though it’s excruciating to remember those first traumatic moments, I’d like you to have a window into such a gut-wrenching loss and how I dealt with the events that followed. I can’t go into much detail here but hopefully enough to reassure you that you can handle more than you ever thought you could, even the death of a loved one.

In this kind of a loss, some of the things you do will be automatic, some will take more thinking, but be at peace with whatever you do or decide.

We drove through the night with our family to be near Kellie. We stayed at our niece’s house in darkness. In the morning, I contacted the insurance company, spoke to the coroner, made a decision about seeing the body—he advised me to wait. Try to sleep, drink water, can’t eat. My son-in-law proved to be a godsend as he made calls to the towing yard and the police when the grief would overcome me.

Arrangements have to be made: Transportation of the bodies (both Kellie and Malachi came back over the mountains for the last time together in a van), funeral preparations (some funeral homes require payment upon services rendered. Ours let us pay later), burial or cremation (burial), open casket or closed (open). Will the graveside burial be for close friends and family or open? We decided to have the burial be small and the memorial service be for the community at large. Upwards of 700 people filled the local high school auditorium to remember Kellie and Malachi.

Dealing with the raw grief in the first days: I built Kellie’s coffin. It seemed the right thing to do. Activity is good. A dear friend helped me design and build it along with his son, my son, and son-in-law. My two brothers helped put the finishing stain on the Alderwood casket. It turned out to be beautiful beyond words, a worthy container to hold such precious contents. Her cousins made the cushion and found a suitable blanket. They wrote poems and verses on the cushion and the boys wrote and drew on the boards below. With every board I cut came a little healing, even though the realization of what I was building would force its way in.



casketbuilding group

There is so much more to say. Just know that people will come around you, help you take care of details, support you, love on you, feed you, say well-meaning but sometimes insensitive things to you. Let them. This is their way to help you deal with your grief. It will also help them heal from their own sorrow.

Perhaps you’d like to get more of the “raw footage.” I aired my grief to the public on Facebook. Scroll down to February 15, 2013. I’ll warn you, though, the cost of tuition is your tears. For it is in your tears that healing comes. http://www.facebook.com/davidjoelmiller

Feel free to add your comments either below or on the FB posts.



    A professional educator since earning his teaching credentials at San Diego State in 1985, Dave’s 26-year teaching career has been both challenging and rewarding, often in the same day. He and wife Renee have lived and taught in San Diego, Germany, and Colorado, traveled to dozens of countries and are still raising six great kids. Along with his role as Guidance Counselor at The Garden School, Dave has been reinventing himself as a work-at-home dad and recently promoted to Vice President at Lightyear Wireless. Now he gets to teach people how to live the life of their dreams.


Is Literacy the Key to Happiness?

    By Marquelle Miller

(Elizabeth-or Lizzie-here. Today’s special guest post comes from Marquelle Miller. The following is a paper I received from Kellie when I assigned Persuasive Essays at The Garden School, and just happens to be the only paper of hers somehow saved on my computer. Kellie was one of those people who always brought a smile to your face with her joy, her own personal creativity, and all-encompassing hugs. She was a leader in all she said and did, and her sweet spirit continues to ripple into the hearts of many. Today it’s my privilege to share just a glimpse of that beautiful spirit with you.)

KellieCreativity is just as important as literacy. Have you ever noticed that there is a hierarchy in school of what subjects are taught? Kids have an infinite possibility of creativeness, why should it all be directed solely on math and science? The people who are good in those subjects are usually considered more intelligent than those who study drama and dance.

A hierarchical system is set up with math and science at the top, then Humanities, followed by the arts, music, drama, and finally, dance. I think that a balance of each of these subjects is necessary for people not to feel isolated. The expression on people’s faces is quite amusing when I tell them I do not take a math class and am required to be in a play. I’ve even had someone tell me flat out my education is stupid and that I need math and science to go to college. I have heard, time and time again, that character is more important than knowledge. But in order to grow in character, you need to be creative. Although there is a time and place for math and science, when a student is gifted in other things, having to sit at a desk solving math problems can and does suppress character.

Many would agree that people are gifted in different areas. For some it is being logical; for others, it’s dancing. Creativity is having original ideas that have value. There are endless possibilities of creativity, but schools tend to suppress it. Children will often have a go at anything, even if they’re unsure about it. School’s number one job often seems to be to stigmatize mistakes so the student feels downcast and stupid.

With this method it seems as though we are educating kids out of creativity. Being creative is very dynamic and interactive. Sticking kids in a classroom for hours upon end does not enhance artistic abilities. Everything kids do in school is preparing them for college, and if they don’t go to college they are, in the world’s view, a failure. While I’m not trying to elevate theatre and dance above everything else, I am saying those in the educational establishment could use a little stretching of their imagination, even if it’s not their calling or passion.

A hierarchy that values those who are more gifted in math and science is a rather crude way to measure people’s intelligence. Happiness is much more important than that anyway. If being creative is what makes you happy, why are the schools taking that away and forcing students to do other things? There is no reason not to follow one’s heart: if that means being a poor artist or musician so be it. Being creative should be a part of everything one does.


Kellie MillerSept. 22, 1994 – Feb. 15, 2013. Beautiful and talented, Kellie’s exuberant nature was a delight to all who knew her. Her legacy at the Garden School community as a student and her roles in school plays will live on. Kellie attended New Hope Church and had a strong faith that her friends couldn’t help but catch. She was active in the Glenwood Center for the Arts, and last November sang and danced in Aspen Community Theatre’s production, “Crazy for You.” We only got to be with her a short time, but her dancing spirit will be felt in our valley and beyond forever.

In Memoriam: Marquelle May Miller

(For those of you following this blog who do not live nearby, the founders of The Garden School-Dave and Renee Miller-recently lost their eighteen-year-old daughter in a tragic car accident. In light of these events, we ask that you give us some time as a community to mourn this loss. Today’s post will focus on honoring the memory of Marquelle May Miller-a beloved daughter, sister, and friend to many. Next Friday we will have a special guest post, and two weeks from now on Friday, March 8th, we will resume our regular posting. Thank you for understanding, and please feel free to share your love and support by leaving a comment or prayer for the Millers’ or by sending them a private message at gsjournal@hotmail.com. Please also feel free to leave a comment describing one of your favorite memories with Kellie.)

Marquelle Miller

    Marquelle May Miller ‘Kellie’
    Sept. 22, 1994-Feb. 15, 2013

New Castle native, Marquelle (“Kellie”) Miller died in a tragic car accident in Denver on Friday, Feb. 15. Daughter, sister, and good friend, she was 18. A private burial was held Tuesday at Highland Cemetery.

Kellie is survived by many friends and family whom she dearly loved: parents David/Renee (Talbott) Miller; siblings Mackenzie (Christopher) Leader, Reid, Madeleine, Sophia, and Grace; grandparents Ross/Ramona Talbott and Joel/Frances Miller; and enough aunts, uncles, cousins and friends to fill a book.

Beautiful and talented, Kellie’s exuberant nature was a delight to all who knew her. Her legacy at the Garden School community as a student and in her roles in school plays will live on. Kellie attended New Hope Church and had a strong faith that her friends couldn’t help but catch. She was active in the Glenwood Center for the Arts, and last November sang and danced in Aspen Community Theatre’s production, “Crazy for You.” We only got to be with her a short time, but her dancing spirit will be felt in our valley and beyond forever.

“If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart, I’ll stay there forever.” –Winnie-the-Pooh

As for Me, I Trust in You

If I had the silver wings of a dove,
I would fly away from this earth,
Fly away to your Kingdom, Lord
From this broken world we live in.
Your love is like a dove within me–
My peace, my innocence,
My soul, I give you to keep
Safe and pure in your strong embrace

    –Marquelle Miller, 2011

    Fly away, sweet angel. See you soon.

    –Mom and Dad

Memorial service is Saturday at Coal Ridge High School at 1 p.m.

Memorial gifts may be given in Marquelle’s name at Alpine Bank.