CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa 9 Who Care Winner, Jill Hockaday, took the most difficult time in her life, and is using that experience to help others.
Two years ago Hockaday's 16-year-old son, Chandler, died by suicide. Through her grief and struggle to answer the elusive "why," she found her voice and is using it for healing. "Life completely stopped for me, and I had no idea where to turn or where to pick up the pieces," said Hockaday.
The shock and sadness could have paralyzed her, but instead she tells her experience to others touched by suicide. She also reaches out as a guest speaker for those who work in grief counseling. Recently she spoke to a group of funeral workers, counselors and hospice nurses about how to help those just beginning the grief process.
"Coming out and speaking publicly about something that's so personal. Must be a very vulnerable thing to do, very impressed," said Wyatt Dagit of Iowa Hospice.
"She could be writing her own grief recovery book, actually," said Barbara Koch of Hospice of Mercy.
Hockaday also helps raise money and awareness to prevent suicide- she helps organize the "Out of the Darkness walk," in Cedar Rapids and a golf tournament in Chandler's name. And her phone has become a lifeline for other those who are new to her pain.
"Now it's just become something that's become part of my life so I want to help others and make sure they're aware of the places they can go for help," said Hockaday.
That spirit of reaching out and helping others is inspiring her daughter, Erica Gouchee. She's been volunteering while still in High School because of her mom's example. Gouchee also recognizes how important her mom's work is to her own healing,
"It helps her a lot, she gets out and takes her mind off things she doesn't really want to think about sometimes," said Gouchee.
Hockaday's story may include difficult chapters about losing Chandler. But she's refused to close the book on her own happiness and purpose.
Of the nine individuals honored as the KCRG-TV9 "9 Who Care." Jill Hockaday was chosen as the top volunteer. She will represent Eastern Iowa in competing for the Jefferson Award in Washington D.C.