ALEXANDER CITY, AL (WSFA) - It's a situation no parent imagines, and it happened in an instant, changing the Hirn family's lives forever.
Now 14 years later, they've found a way to smile again.
"The tire came apart, and we lost control of the vehicle," Ron Hirn said. "The interior burst into flames, and there was gas everywhere. We were not able to get Ryan out in time."
There they were, severely burned and watching helplessly as their 7-year-old son Ryan was trapped inside the car. Ryan died on a Texas highway that day while the rest of the Hirn family were flown to a burn unit in Dallas. Ron, Dawn and 2-year-old Tyler survived.
"For Ron and I there was nothing to live for, except that 2-year-old," Dawn Hirn said.
"That kind of depression weighs on you like a wet blanket," Ron Hirn said. "You don't see any happiness in your future at all."
Dealing with the sudden loss of a child can take a toll on different people in different ways.
After the crash the Hirn family needed a fresh start. So they moved to Lake Martin in Alex City and basically withdrew from society..
"The grief involved is terrible when you lose a child," said Nancy Thomas of the Samaritan Counseling Center. "It's also the loss of dreams and everything planned for the future. The grief can sometimes last a lifetime. People grieve differently at different rates."
Getting through a tragedy like this can rip a family apart, but the Hirn family, who have two other sons now, decided they had to push forward.The catalyst though, may have come from Tyler, the youngest victim from the crash.
"He was in the eighth grade, and he came to us and said do you think we can be normal now and go to school," Dawn said.
So that was the plan. After five years of home schooling, the three Hirn boys were going to a traditional school but not before one big family adventure. Before Ryan died, the Hirn family loved to travel. So they decided to take a trip around the world before putting the children in school.
"I think I just came to the point where I was ready to embrace life and living again," Dawn Hirn said.
So they did it. They visited 32 countries in six months, and they hired a videographer to document their journey. It was a way to show what happens when some sheltered children go out in the world and experience everything new. The videos turned out so well the family is now pitching it to a networks as a reality show called "Our Backpack."
Mom explains how Ryan was with the family every minute of that trip and how they came up with the name for the show:
This trip was a way for the Hirn family to find their smiles and find each other. They realize not everyone can just pick up and circle the globe, but there is a way to fully enjoy the loved ones who are with you every day. As for the trip, well here are some clips that will likely show up in the reality show. It's safe to say they had a blast:
You can see a lot more of the Hirn family adventure "Our Backpack" by going to their website. They hope to know which network will carry their show in the next month.
Wil Smith also knows what it's like to lose a child. His son died in a rodeo accident at Auburn University. Smith now helps families who've lost kids as a way to pay it forward. He says often times families really need help weeks after the death of a child. Once the funeral is done people eventually get back to their day to day lives even if you're in no position to move forward.
Here's the story of Wil's son David and how he turned that tragedy into something positive.
The counseling center has some tips for parents who find themselves in this horrible situation. Nancy says again it will be different for everyone, but these tips can help:
- Honor your grief and allow yourself to feel the depth from the pain of your loss.
- Grief encompasses the mind, body and spirit but everyone experiences grief differently, there is not a right or wrong way to grieve.
- Grief is a life-long process that changes over time
- Be gentle with yourself, your other children, spouse, family and friends
- You are not alone, allow others to join you in this journey
- Slowly you will begin to incorporate your loss into a new normal with family, friends, faith, and future
- Seek pastoral or professional help if you feel stuck in despair, anger, blame and resentment.
You can reach the Samaritan Counseling Center at (334) 262-7787 or check out its website.