630-912-9426 hope@IansPlace.org

Our Founders Story

On August 1, 2019, we lost our son Ian.

Everything happened so fast, it felt like the whole next year was a blur. To make matters worse, everywhere we looked, there were no local resources that said, “here’s how you deal with loss.” Instead, it was a lot of general information, but nothing tangible we could hold.

The only thing we had was each other, and our faith.

So we created Ian’s Place for Bereaved Parents in his honor, to help those who feel lost, alone, and don’t know where to go.

We aim to help those who need to grieve in a safe space, with people who have experienced the loss of their child.

In Loving Memory

Stories from Members of Ian’s Place

Click on a portrait-circle below to read our stories.

Evan Melau

Anna Faye Trent

Grant LaRocque

Cameron Chana

Alex Kierstead

Kendall Pickering

Alec Hardy

Evan Melau

The night my 15-year-old son, Evan, died was, and will be, the worst night of my life. You never think it can happen to you, but it can and does to so many others. It was just another night for Evan, riding around on his bike with his friends. He had plans all week to go miniature golfing with his friends that night. It was about 5:30 pm, when I saw his face and heard his voice for the last time. If only I knew that! I could’ve hugged and told him I loved him one more time. A little after 8 pm that night, his friends and he were waiting in line to golf. It was so crowded, and the boys grew impatient, so they decided to leave and get some ice cream. Instead of going to the light to cross the street, they decided to cross a 6-lane road where there was no crosswalk or light. Evan decided it was clear to cross, but the vehicle turning right into the parking lot created a blind spot for him. As he almost got to the middle of the six lanes, an illegal immigrant without a driver’s license hit Evan’s back tire which resulted in him being hit by multiple vehicles. It was around 8:45 pm when I got the phone call.

I’ll never forget turning that street corner and seeing a white tarp covering something in the middle of the road with my son’s baseball cap lying on the ground only a couple feet away. I was told he died on impact with the first vehicle. I hope so because the last thing I would want is him feeling any pain. I hope there wasn’t time for him to even realize what happened. Over the next few days, all we could think about where the what ifs. What if, we didn’t move to this town in 2018? What if, I kept him home that night like his dad wanted to for fighting with his sister? What if, I offered to drive him around? The guilt I had felt was unbearable at times. Was God mad at me for something I did? I should have been there to hold him. As his Mom, I felt it was my job was to protect him and I wasn’t able to. I am certain that nothing will ever compare to this pain.

Over the months, I learned everyone handles loss differently. No matter what you do, nothing you do will be wrong, aside from hurting yourself. His room is still how he left it that night. I go to his room to say “Hi” or talk with him multiple times a day. I journal to him every night to tell him what happened that day or give him updates on how his little sister and big brother are doing. You need to do what’s best for you! I take it minute by minute each day. I now have a frightening new identity – a mother of a lost child. I felt so alone! I didn’t know anyone who had lost a child suddenly. None of my family or friends would ever understand what I was feeling or thinking. I learned I wasn’t alone! Many moms are going through the same thing. I was lucky to have a mom reach out to me. We are now great friends who can lean on each other for support. I even got connected with a group of moms that I can meet with. I wish I never met any of them, but glad I did. I will never get over this pain, it’s just a part of who I am now. It’s slowly becoming the new normal and I’m sure over time the pain will soften. I am told, I will find moments of joy again. Now my goal is to live each day to make Evan proud. He wouldn’t want me to give up, he would want me to keep going for his sister, Zoe (10) and brother, Jake (21).

Evan always gave 125% in everything he did! He was a 3-sport athlete at Downers Grove South. He played football, basketball, and baseball. Outside of school he was also part of a travel baseball team and he also managed to stay on the honor roll all through Jr. High and High School. I can honestly say he lived his 15 years to the fullest and he was loved by so many.

He will be forever in our hearts. RIP Evan #5.

Jamie Melau

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Anna Faye Trent

Anna Faye Trent was our second daughter and a child blessed with an overflowing amount of personality and blonde hair. Like many 4-year-old girls at the time, she loved wearing sparkly dresses and watching her favorite movie, Frozen. She was an extremely loving child who frequently gave her signature hugs to all her extended family.

On Father’s Day 2016, one week after Anna turned 4 years old, we, along with our extended family decided to spend the afternoon at a local private pool. We spent several hours swimming as a family and enjoyed dinner next to the pool. After everyone finished eating, we decided that it was time to pack up and head home. While some of the adults cleaned up, several of the kids asked if they could return to the pool for one last swim. We watched as Anna returned to the shallow mushroom play area for what we thought would be a few minutes of additional fun. Moments later, our lives were forever changed. Though the pool was mostly empty and surrounded by lifeguards and adults, Anna slipped into a swimming area where the water was slightly above her head… our beautiful little girl was gone in an instant.

My husband and I have worked hard to make sure that Anna continues to be at the center of our family and that our 3 other children remember and cherish their sister. Finding others who share a similar journey has given us so much comfort and strength as we deal with our grief. I feel blessed to be Anna’s mom and I can’t wait for us all to be together again!

 

Katie Trent

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Grant LaRocque

My healthy son was diagnosed with a terminal disease after a freak accident with a wiffle ball hitting him in the eye! My son, Grant, due to his eye injury developed glaucoma. He had emergency surgery to relieve the pressure in his right eye. During surgery, the doctor noticed swelling in his optic nerve, which led to an MRI. The MRI showed a rare neurological disease. We were all in disbelief (including our pediatrician)! After many tests, our worst nightmare was confirmed: our son, Grant had Leukodystrophy.

Grant went from being a carefree eight-year-old boy, to a boy with a ticking time bomb. His degenerative disease became more obvious when he was in junior high. Grant became a bit awkward in his gait, his one eye crossed, had scoliosis, along with other issues. Despite these issues, Grant always had a smile on his face.

To know Grant was to love him. He enjoyed every day to the fullest and never asked, “Why me?” He was the biggest Cubs fan (I think it had something to do with the World Series in 2016). He enjoyed going to the Blackhawks game and even had The Cup pay a visit to him at our house! Music was his favorite escape: especially Jack Johnson. His favorite song was Upside Down. Grant was always the guy that would be in the kitchen and help to prepare meals. If you were to ask him: He would say one day, he was going to be a Chef.

I remember asking the doctor what we should look for as the disease progressed. His response was, “One day, Grant will no longer walk or talk.”

That day came while Grant was attending Elmhurst College. I received a call that he had taken a bad fall and was taken to the hospital by ambulance. All of our lives changed that day! Grant was never able to walk again. The impact that it had on our family was tremendous. Grant’s twin brother and sister were away at college. His youngest sister was in middle school. Each member of our family dealt with this terminal illness in different ways. It was difficult for the entire family. Grant was cared for at home for 3+ years. His life ended on June 19, 2014; 9 days short of his 24th Birthday.

Everyone grieves in different ways, and it is important to respect all the different steps we each take in the process. Many people questioned, “Why Grant?”

I found comfort in knowing he enjoyed life to the fullest and always had a smile on his face. Our common phrase was: Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass… it’s learning to Dance in the Rain!

 

Janet LaRocque Novak

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Cameron Chana

May 30, 2009 was a perfect late Spring day in the Midwest that held the assurance of continuing warmth and long sunny days. It was one of those Saturdays that were filled with late season soccer games, kids returning home from college, and lots of studying for school finals. Summer was about to begin!

We are a family of 6! Our boys – Cameron, Christopher and Cole – were born in quick succession with their little sister – Carley – born 5 years later. Center to our world is our faith and our family. Our four children were constant companions, sharing rooms, competing in sports, working together, experiencing all the “firsts.” They were always together, always there for each other.

Family dinners were the highlight of our day. Over dinner we share unconditionally, laugh, cry, encourage, resolve problems, love each other. Our family is representative of our kitchen table – a sturdy foundation held in place by 6 unique, yet similar legs all connected, balanced, strong yet so very reliant on each other’s contribution. I am especially happy when our kitchen table is full.

Cameron started college at Eastern Illinois University in 2005 where he majored in Marketing. He absolutely blossomed in college excelling in academics, extracurricular activities, club sports, and his beloved Sigma Pi Fraternity. After graduation, Cameron declined multiple job offers opting to begin his MBA program. He was a beacon positioned to make such a positive impact.

A long-standing tradition to kick off summer was the annual houseboat excursion to nearby Lake Shelbyville. This year was especially meaningful for Cameron since 13 of his Sigma Pi pledge brothers would be attending – one last hoorah before starting new jobs or heading to grad school. This would be the first year a bus was contracted for transport to and from the outing. From all descriptions, the day was almost perfect. Almost, until the open-air double decker bus took an unauthorized route as it returned to campus. Two young men were killed instantly as the bus went under the bridge.

At 7:20 on the evening of May 30, 2009 we received that dreaded call that is every parent’s worst nightmare, “There has been an accident.” Our beautiful 22-year-old son, who graduated college 3 weeks earlier, who was starting grad school, who has so much to give to this life would not be coming back to our home. We were told he was brain dead. The circle of life was out of sequence. Parents are not meant to bury their children. Our son, Cameron, was dead.

This was the day our lives collided with the world of donation.

We were now participants in an incredible process – a process beyond anything we could have imagined. For you see, Cameron left us the first of many blessings after his death – he had taken all appropriate steps to be an organ, eye and tissue donor. He had registered his choice to be a donor! That simple act saved us from having to make that difficult decision. There was no question that donation was in complete harmony with the way Cameron lived his life.

For the next 36 hours, we witnessed teams of doctors, nurses and staff working together for the purpose of bringing the gift of life to those in need. We found ourselves rooting with encouragement as matches were found for each of Cameron’s precious organs. At 22, he was 6’4” of total goodness and a perfect donor.

On June 1st, recovery teams arrived. Cameron’s recovery surgery began a domino effect of hope as prayers were answered for 5 people near-death that were awaiting their gift of life. Cameron’s heart, lungs, liver, 2 kidneys, 2 eyes and 34 different tissues would benefit their recipients. Five life saving gifts, 36 life enhancing gifts – 41 in all. Cameron gave the ultimate gift of love – life through organ, eye and tissue donation.

As a parent, the donation process has provided comfort and purpose that would otherwise not be possible in Cameron’s death. There is nothing that can replace our son; however, we have truly been given the gift of hope through Cameron’s ultimate gift. Our family is out of balance – a seat remains unfilled at our table.

Imagine what our world would be like if upon our death, each one of us positively changed the lives of 41 strangers? Register your decision to be a donor – educate others – be a leader.

Lori Chana

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Alex Kierstead

On the day before Thanksgiving 2016, we lost Alex in a house fire while he was at college. He had just been home to celebrate his 20th birthday in October and to this day I can still remember the tight hug he gave me before he left to go back to school. There are just no words to tell you about how this changes your life. But what I can tell you is that our friends and Alex’s friends surrounded us and held us up, we held each other up.

We heard about the fire from his roommate’s mom, who texted us. It took several hours to learn that he was the only one home at the time and had perished in the house.

So many of his and our friends were calling that we decided to gather at our house just days after his passing. We really didn’t know what to expect, but we ended up celebrating his life late into the night with stories about him and his antics. This was truly the most loving and amazing experience. Nothing I say can describe the love and support we received that night. Alex was an amazing young man who touched the lives of everyone who knew him in powerful and lasting ways. He was only 20 and yet still had a huge impact on those around him. He lived every day, every moment, fully and present. He lived with confidence and passion, without fear, without reservation, without regard for conventions or limitations. Many people reminded us of how he gave courage to those around him by believing in them and how he had touched their lives in significant ways.

It was on that night, when we all gathered together on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, that we decided to wear tie dye, something else Alex was known for, to his service. In the weeks that followed, friends and neighbors joined us to fill baskets with tie dyed scarves for people at the service to take and wear and keep. And we all tie dyed clothes to wear. On the day of his service the church was a sea of tie dye.

We continue to gather on the Saturday after Thanksgiving to celebrate Alex’s life with those same friends, people that we are now intimately connected to. And Alex’s sister, Thalia, goes camping every summer in the Shawnee with Alex’s friends, who are now like siblings to her.

We scattered Alex’s ashes in his beloved Shawnee National Forest with a group of his closest friends that spring. My husband, (who often calls me Christina), said these words as we gathered there:

Today isn’t the first step of our journey, and it won’t be the last, but what we are doing here today is a significant milestone. For me at least, today is about release.

That word “release” works in more than one way here. First of all, we are releasing Alex to let him move on. Now, I don’t know what happens in the spirit world and I don’t know if it’s even possible for us to have any effect on him at this point. In fact, Christina says that for her, the idea of us being able to hold him back isn’t even a thing. You guys know Alex and you know he is NOT one to sit still. Never in life and certainly not now. “Let’s bounce!” Right? So, Christina is probably right. But if we are somehow holding onto him, I think we owe it to him to let go and let him move on to whatever his next activity might be.

And also, we need to release him so that WE can move on. And maybe this one is not so much a “release” as it is an acceptance of the change in the connection we have with him. I feel like we can honor his memory most not by looking back in sorrow and regret – tempting as that might feel sometimes – but by absorbing the things he taught and showed us – exemplified for us – and carrying them forward into our encounters with the rest of our lives in this world. We could surely do worse than to carry a little bit of Alex with us into tomorrow. An open, curious mind, a previously unseen connection, a random enthusiasm, a kind word.

Alex was in love with the forest and would hike several times a week. He liked to thrift and skateboard with friends, to play and talk about music, life, and philosophy. He was known for his wild dancing and his mosh pit antics. He was always ready for adventure. Nothing could dissuade or discourage him. He was a poli-sci major with a journalism minor and produced feature stories for his local NPR station. And mostly, he gave of himself to those around him, unconditionally and expecting nothing in return, giving them hope and courage and love. He was an accomplished artist and musician, a scholar and friend. Because of his love for learning, we established the Alex Kierstead Memorial Scholarship and gave five scholarships to high school seniors and one to a college student.

We spent the next few years filling our house with life and love at every opportunity. We were always feeding a house full of people: Alex’s friends, our friends, Thalia’s friends. At least for me, it was necessary to have life and noise in the house all the time, and especially young people. All that came to a screeching halt when COVID hit. And 2020 was the first year without an Alex memorial gathering on Thanksgiving weekend and no camping trip. Honestly, we don’t know how we would have gotten through these last years without all the people to break our fall.

“What do I do with the years I have left that don’t belong to you?” We continue to remember and honor Alex’s life by trying to live the way he did, fully present, taking risks, loving and giving unconditionally. “If there is any way to live without you, it’s to live with all the love that you gave.” (Lyrics from “One by One” by Dispatch, one of Alex’s and our favorite bands.)

There will be joy, laughter, singing, and most certainly tears. There are always tears. But the tears are just part of our journey now and we shed them and share them and hold each other up.

 

Chris Kierstead

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Kendall Pickering

Kendall was my second born daughter who I had later in life. I was 40 when I had her, so it was such a blessing to have this healthy child. Even as a newborn she was remarkable. The nurses said she was born with determined lips. She was the easiest, most loving toddler. She had so much empathy as 3-year-old. I would always tell her she was my empathetic child up until the day she passed. She was strong, too. As a toddler she could knock over the dog, and it was a retriever. She took to swimming early on and with her strength she excelled. Her determination would not allow her as a child to miss a swim practice. She was very mature for her age and would try to please others and her coaches. Yet she was humble. She would tell me as a carpool mom, not to bring up swimming with her friends. She wanted the conversations to be about them. After she passed, some of her friends had no idea how amazing of a swimmer she was. She broke 16 school records and would have gone to the Olympic trials.

On December 14th, 2020, Kendall went on a trip to North Carolina with her Dad to look at colleges. Their plan was to look at seven different schools. The night of December 15th, three Hinsdale police knocked on my door. I would never have expected what they were about to tell me, which is the worst thing that I could ever imagine. They told me right up front that my daughter and her dad were in a car accident and died upon impact. I asked about her dog, Zoey, and she was also killed. I contacted one of Kendall’s friends and told her she was in an accident. She replied, “I know, Mrs. P, but she is okay.” She then sent me a snapchat picture of Kendall taken the night before standing in front of a car that had been in an accident. I was hoping that the Hinsdale officers had received the wrong information. It turned out that there had been actually 2 accidents on this trip and unfortunately, the officers were correct. I had to get her home from North Carolina, and my employer, American Airlines, flew her home with an honorary tribute as an American Airline family member.

I have received so much support from the local community and the swim community. It has really made a difference in my healing. By being a part of Ian’s place, I hope to be a support to others.

 

Kim Pickering

 

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Alec C. Hardy

Wow. We were asked by Ian’s Place to try and write our story. I actually think I tried to do this a few years ago but wasn’t able to. Alec has been gone for 5 years now. I can’t believe it’s been that long ago. My best wish is that he is still just away at school.

Alec was 21, living his dream going to school in one of the most beautiful places in the U.S. – Santa Barbara. He followed his sister and went to Santa Barbara City College and was waiting out the summer before starting his junior year at Cal State Channel Island.

As a parent, sending your kids off to college is always hard. Alec was the youngest of 4. He was the most loving, hugging, funny kid in our family. He was the baby!

As a mom, I always felt I had to keep my eye on him just a little more than the other 3, but I didn’t mind because he always gave me so much love. I was happy when he finally left for California. That’ s where I was born and raised and still had lots of friends and family there, so it didn’t bother me that my 3 of the 4 were out in California at some point going to school.

Alec had made so many new friends and had a beautiful girlfriend. Just like most 21-year-olds, he enjoyed life, working, school, parties, and lots of skateboarding to get around.

Alec was to fly home for his 22nd birthday before starting back to school.

It’s funny, when you lose a child, you always remember the details of the last time you spoke to them. For me, it was Sunday night late because there is a 2-hour difference. He called and wanted me to say hi to a new friend he made at work. That was so Alec to put a perfect stranger on the phone and ask me to say hi. Which of course I did. We talked a few minutes and Alec got back on the phone to say they were going out for a few beers. I told him to have a great time, be careful, and couldn’t wait to see him in a week or so. Pretty normal conversation, but I always looked forward to any phone call from him, even late at night.

Of course, I always worried about Alec because he was so carefree, never a worry. I would get a few texts with pictures of his falls on his skateboard, even one from a slight crash off a moped he had for a brief time. These are things we moms always worry about and pictures I didn’t want to see.

Moving into that evening, all we could put together was sometime after 1:00 AM and after having too much to drink, Alec took his skateboard and rode/walked about 1/4 of a mile to his house. We don’t know what happened between 1-3 AM, but he did get home without his skateboard and a big knot on the back of his head that I don’t think any of his roommates were even aware of. Fast forward to about 7:00 PM the following night after he didn’t show up for his afternoon work shift and everyone started to try and get in touch with him. Alec survived his fall in the early morning hours, but little did he know that after trying to pull himself together that day, he couldn’t.

Finally, some of his friends showed up at his home and realized Alec needed help. His older brother showed up, called me and the nightmare began. Alec had been conscious most of the day, but the fall had started his head to bleed down into the brain stem. Getting the call and then knowing he was taken to the hospital, I thought he will be ok, not realizing until a few hours later how serious his situation was. His dad and I jumped on the first flight to Santa Barbara arriving the next day by noon. You can see where the story ended.

Alec was pronounced brain dead the following day with all the family around him as he lay in a state of existing only to go into surgery a few days later to recover organs for transplant.

The grief is unbearable, but we were surrounded with love and stories that we probably would have never heard before. Alec was loved by so many, just as all our children who have passed are.

God is my rock and I thank him every day for the 21 years he gave me my son. I’m not angry. Alec lived a beautiful life, and he was so happy. What more can a parent want. After five years now, I still have 4 children. One is just out of reach right now.

Kirsten Jepsen

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