St. Johns County mother uses her family's tragedy to help children through grief

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — When we lose someone we love, it's tough.  It can be painful and confusing.  It can cause a whirlwind of emotions.

Now imagine what it's like for a child to experience.

A local woman faced that tragic reality after her mother, Dorothy McCreery died in a crash in 2015.

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Rhonda Goodall helped her kids through the pain of losing their grandmother and is now using her healing words to help others.

It was January 2015 when McCreery fell asleep at the wheel.

Her car went off the road and into a pond just yards from the home she shared with Goodall's family in St Johns County.

McCreery was able to call her daughter and 911 for help.

"When I was on the phone I said start beeping your horn so we can find you. She said 'I can't because it won't work.' I told her to hang up and call 911,"  Goodall said. "I took off. I ended up at lake across from where she was. I was on the phone with 911.They had her on the phone they were talking to her. All of a sudden the 911 operator told me they lost connection with her."

Firefighters arrived and pulled McCreery from the submerged car and rushed her to the hospital.

Goodall was at her mom's side in the hospital.

"I looked at her and said, 'Mom you have to pull through because I really love you and I still need you.,' 'and although she hadn't moved, all of a sudden a tear came down her cheek," she said.

McCreery didn't make it.

"She was my very best friend, my entire life," Goodall said.

In the weeks after her mother's death, Goodall revisited some unfinished children's books she had and worked to get them published.

"As I was doing this, I realized how much writing was truly becoming a catharsis," Goodall said.

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As the fog of grief slowly lifted, Goodall realized her then four-year-old son Sage still struggled to even understand what happened.

Goodall recalled her son asking, "Did some bad man at the lake where Grandma crashed her car take her away from us?"

"You don't realize what your kids are feeling because you're so caught up in what you're going through," said Goodall.

Goodall found the words to help Sage grieve his grandmother and keep her memory alive.

She documented his journey to heal from a child's perspective in a book called, "Where'd Grandma Go?"

Goodall read an excerpt from the book that recounted Sage's reaction to a memorial garden they planted behind their home.

Goodall read, "We planted a beautiful garden out back for Grandma she loves roses. We have a sign hanging on the tree that says Grandma's garden. Grandma loves flowers."

Goodall read another part of the book, where Sage described what his parents told him to offer comfort.

Goodall read, "Mommy and Daddy say you have to have faith and hope and live by what you believe. They say by doing that it helps us get through losing someone we love."

While the pain of their loss is still very real, Goodall hopes by sharing her family's story she can help other children grappling with loss, while honoring the heart of their family now watching over them.

Goodall read from the final page of the book, "Now instead of just being sad when i think of Grandma, I can think of her and smile.  I love you Grandma, Love Sage."

Goodall said her collection of children's books focus on love, kindness and a sense of safety.   You can learn more about her work here.