Lifestyle & Human Interest

Parents Share Heartbreaking Story After Family They'd Spent 3 Years Building Ripped Apart


Some stories absolutely captivate you. They are either so horrible or so hopeful, that you can’t help but follow along.

Ashley and Mike Lemieux’s is a little bit of both.

Ashley is the owner and founder of a jewelry company called The Shine Project. Her company employs high school students in inner-city Phoenix (and now also in Nashville) so that they can earn scholarship money to become first-generation college students.

She started the now successful company with only $300. She and her husband were young and struggling financially, so even that small amount was a huge sacrifice.

Ashley and Mike Lemieux’s life completely changed when they received a phone call asking them to become permanent guardians of two sweet children. They first met their children when they were 3 and 6 years old through a family member, but had no intention of becoming parents.

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They had only met each other three or four times because the children lived in a different state. A year later, the children needed guardians, and Ashley and Mike were on the list of people to call.

Mike was at work when Ashley received the phone call and she immediately said, “Yes!” She had felt a special connection to the children from the first day they had met.

When Ashley called Mike to tell him the news he said, “You know… I’ve never been a dad before, but I’m sure going to figure it out and I’ll love those kids like they’ve never been loved before.”

The children joined the Lemieuxs five days later. For the next three years, the quickly thrown together family of four built a loving, caring home together.  

Ashley described the transition into a new family as both hard and great. “Even beyond the hard times, the joy of it all and the work that we put into pouring into each other to really create a solid foundation as a family, those are magical times that have shaped the four of our lives forever,” she told Branden Harvey in an interview.

Because the Lemieuxs were permanent guardians, they had legal guardianship but the children were not adopted. After three years of being a family, they went to fully adopt their children to add permanency to what they already knew to be true: they were a family.

The unexpected response from the court completely caught them off guard. The children’s biological family had decided to follow through with a contested adoption. The court terminated Ashley and Mike’s permanent guardianship, they had to become foster parents, and they were required to appear in court.

The next year and a half was extremely difficult as uncertainty entered their lives.

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The final hearing was quick and unexpected, and the state decided to reunite the children with their biological family. Ashley was out of town for a work trip and she was only able to say goodbye through a letter while Mike had to drop the kids off at school as if nothing was wrong.

Ashley and Mike’s grief was overwhelming. They spent the first few days in Nashville, but when they returned to Phoenix the weight of reality set in.

Ashley described it this way, “The best word I can use to describe it is ‘hell.’ It felt like hell in our quiet, empty house.”

Ashley, who has a large following on Instagram, was required to keep the struggles of her family off of social media while everything transpired. But after the initial shock, she was finally able to share their story publicly.

In an Instagram post soon after losing her children Ashley said, “The grief is overwhelming, but in our darkest time, we have hope. Hope for all of our futures, hope that the love of God will continue to be present in all of our lives, and hope that we will learn how to fully live again.”

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There's no perfect way to deliver this message, so with the deepest breath and most broken heart, here I go… The past 4 years our lives have been filled with the biggest joy, laughter, LOVE, and growth that was all because of two of the most special little people I have ever known. We became a family unexpectedly, and our world expanded. The past year and a half has been exhausting and full of anxiety, pain, and hell as we had fought to stay a family. It was a private battle, so it's one we've done quietly. Unexpectedly while I was out of town this week, the children were returned to their biological family. As I was writing each of them a goodbye letter, trying to fit everything on one page that I wanted them to know and remember, I became so overwhelmed with humility and gratitude that I was chosen to be their mother for a time. And that I knew what was needed of me to do, was done. Since I was gone I couldn't even hold them and kiss them one last time, and that has ripped out my heart. Mike was given the absolute impossible task of packing up their rooms that consisted of their lives over the past 4 years. But you can't just pack up love and memories and togetherness and ship it away. We are clinging onto those things and they will be imprinted in our hearts forever. The devastation, absolute shattering heartache, pain, and loss that has engulfed us the past 48 hours is literally unbearable. The grief is overwhelming, but in our darkest time, we have hope. Hope for all of our futures, hope that the love of God will continue to be present in all of our lives, and hope that we will learn how to fully live again. Thank you for being a part of our family and for your support the past 4 years. We need support and prayers right now more than we've ever needed them in our lives. I love you kids, forever and always… you will always be the best and most loved adventure in our lives and I am honored that I got to share part of my life with you. I am honored to have been your mother While I don't fully understand the why of this trial, we're catching little glimpses of it and our miracle is coming in the form of feeling peace while buried under this mountain.

A post shared by Ashley Lemieux (@ashleyklemieux) on

Even a year later, the couple is still learning how to do just that.

She continues to candidly share their story on Instagram in hopes that one day their children will find her account and see how much they continued to love them even after they were separated and to help inspire others who are going through their own pain and loss. “Social media is my way to send loves notes to them that I hope they find someday… and a way to use my pain to help you through yours,” she posted.

And that’s exactly what she is doing! As you scroll through The Shine Project’s feed, you see message after message of hope and encouragement in the midst of complete turmoil.

She continues to encourage her followers to continue pushing forward even when the grief seems like its too much to bear — to “keep shining, even when it feels dark out.”

One of the biggest lessons she has learned and hopes to show others is that sorrow and joy can and do exist at the same time. “My joy is deeper now. When I feel it, it feels so much brighter than it used to because I know how deep the opposite feels as well. Heads up, friends… keep living, keep dreaming, keep smiling and keep forgiving. All your missing pieces are what makes you whole.”

It’s amazing how this couple has used such a heartbreaking story to ignite hope to their followers. If you’d like to follow Ashley and Mike’s story, you can follow The Shine Project on Instagram or visit her blog.

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Kayla has been a staff writer for The Western Journal since 2018.
Kayla Kunkel began writing for The Western Journal in 2018.
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