For many, 2021 was filled with accomplishments and good memories. For one local family, tragedy dominated their year.

"Grief is like the ocean," Riley shared. "It comes in waves. That couldn't be any closer to the truth of how your emotions come and go your first year after the loss of a loved one." 

Kennidy Rae Riley was born to Mark and Michelle Riley on Aug. 17, 1997, and died tragically on May 03, 2021, at only 24. Kennidy's tragic death was due to mental health issues that ultimately led to an overdose. 

Michelle described Kennidy as having the most beautiful smile. She saw a little girl who was once filled with many hopes and dreams. A young lady filled with so much passion for life. 

"I see a daughter who loved beyond measure and who always held onto her faith," said Michelle as she described her daughter. "Daughter, granddaughter, niece, sister, aunt, mother and friend. That's who my Kennidy was. She wasn't perfect but she did have a purpose."
Kennidy's death's circumstances inspired Michelle and her family to bring awareness to the stigma against mental health. As a result, Michelle is committed to sharing Kennidy's story. Because, no matter how tough the task, she wants to educate others and hopes Kennidy's story will reach someone who needs help and inspiration to create change.

Michelle has spent countless hours sorting out how this started and what could have been done differently. Was Kennidy too proud to ask for help, or was she embarrassed? These are questions Michelle may never fully know, but she does know that this has to stop in our community.
"I will never be ashamed or embarrassed or feel as though I failed in some way," Michelle said. "I never failed, and neither did Kennidy. We just took it too lightly and thought that it would be ok. We all could have done different things, and I promise to address that with education."

Michelle plans to exhaust any outlet she can to make it easier for victims and family members to reach out for help. Ironically, May was when Kennidy passed, which was also Mental Health Awareness month. This inspired Michelle to share Kennidy's story while still grieving. "I do feel as though Kennidy tried to fill her purpose and wanted to do what's right," Michelle shared. "Kennidy, like many others, just couldn't connect the dots.” Regardless, Michelle knows part of Kennidy's legacy will help break the silence of grief for those hurting the most and highlight the severity of mental health.

"Our daughter has been gone 8 months today (Jan. 03. 2022), and it's still a hard reality to accept," Michelle said. "Mark and I have been down many roads together in this journey we call life, and looking back, I realize just how much love and strength God has blessed us with."
The family is committed to sharing Kennidy's story in its totality. "Kennidy Riley, a life lost too soon," part two, will continue in next week's edition.