EASTON, Kan. - John Medley strolled around the garden in front of his Easton, Kan., home. The bright-colored perennials, filled with life, remind him that life goes on, but they also stir painful memories of the one who would have loved this garden the most - his wife of seven years, Michelle.
"She loved putting out flowers and gardening," said Medley.
Michelle was the love John found the second time around. Their blended family included three children. Together, they added Isaiah.
"She was smart, very loving, and caring," said Medley. "She was taking online classes and in-house. She'd go to campus every couple of days."
Michelle was hard at work at Colorado Technical University on a Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice.
"She already had an Associate's Degree and she wanted to move on. She wanted to get her Master's Degree," said Medley.
Michelle was on track to graduate this week, but John lost her last fall.
"She had slipped and fell on the ice coming into work and broken her ankle," explained Medley
Michelle underwent surgery a few months later and was taking prescription pain medication, but somehow died of an overdose. Michelle's death, at the age of 34, marked the second tragedy in just a few years for this blended family.
In 2009, John and Michelle lost 3-year-old Isaiah to a brain stem tumor. Tears filled John's eyes as he proudly pointed out Isaiah in family pictures.
"He was very outspoken, very loving, playful. For his short little life, he did a lot," he explained.
It is more grief than any husband or father should face, but John said he gets by.
"It's rough at times, taking care of two boys, with the help of my parents. But it's rough to not have her around, and not to have him around," said Medley.
The memorial garden is a place where John and his older children reflect and find peace. It was a gift completed with donations from students at the Leavenworth school where Michelle was a substitute teacher.
The family remembered what they lost and what they have, as well as the things Michelle was passionate about, like school.
Thursday evening, at what would have been Michelle's graduation ceremony, it was John who walked across the stage in her place.
CTU presented him with an honorary degree in Michelle's name. As applause filled the auditorium, Michelle's family and friends wiped away tears.
John, clutching the leather bound diploma, could not have been prouder.
"It's a great honor to receive that for her," he said. "Because she would have loved to done it herself."
Before the family could dry their tears, there was one more surprise from the stage.
Little Isaiah had received treatment for his cancer at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis. Because St. Jude gave the Medley family so much support, CTU made a donation to St. Jude in John and Michelle's name.
It was a night when one family, doubly hit with loss, felt doubly proud.