Sarah Hartrum was twenty-three years old when she met Dave Decareaux on Laclede’s Landing in St. Louis. She wasn’t looking to fall in love and she certainly didn’t plan on running into the man she would soon marry on that cold December night in 2000.
While trying to escape another man’s request to take her out, Sarah ran into Dave standing at the rear of the night club. Hoping to give the impression that they were dating, she struck up a conversation with him. This conversation turned into a walk around downtown and from there, evolved into late night phone calls and eventually dating.
Sarah was a young woman who, up until meeting Dave, had never dated before. She fell in love with Dave quickly and honestly. The two discovered that they shared similar values, passions, and the desire to one day have a large family with many children.
When Dave and Sarah met, she was a student teacher and he was an airman on assignment at Scott Air Force Base. A few weeks into their relationship, Dave told Sarah that his assignment at Scott Air Force Base was coming to an end and he would soon be moving to Portugal’s Azores Islands, his next duty station with the military. Unwilling to part ways, Sarah and Dave decided to take the next step and get married so that Sarah could accompany him to Azores. By January 11, 2001, Dave and Sarah were married and soon traveled to their new home to begin their life together.
By March of that year, Sarah discovered she was pregnant and their dream of starting a family began. For the next nine years, Sarah and Dave moved many times; living in Idaho, England, St. Louis, Italy, and Germany, expanding their family along the way. By August 2010, their fifth child, Elise, was welcomed to the family adding to their children Kate (8), Dominic (7), Grant (5), and Finn (1).
The Decareauxs were a family of adventurers and loved being outdoors hiking, camping, and exploring national landmarks. The weekend of January 11, 2013, for their twelve-year wedding anniversary, Dave planned a trip for the family to visit the Missouri Ozarks. On Friday afternoon, the family of seven packed into their minivan and headed to their cabin in the woods. That evening, Dave arranged for the family to have a nice dinner at the lodge celebrating their anniversary. The Decareauxs didn’t know that this would be their last meal as a family of seven.
On Saturday morning, Dave and the two oldest boys, Dominic and Grant, planned to go on a hike. Dave, being an avid outdoorsman, and the boys being Cub Scouts, thoroughly enjoyed the outdoors and hiking together. Although the boys had been hiking many times and typically hiked all day long, they decided to make it a short journey in order to be back in time for a family campfire before a storm was to hit that evening.
With the necessities needed for a day hike, the three of them set out for their adventure. Sarah waved good-bye to her husband and boys, not knowing that it would be the last time she saw them alive.
While the boys were hiking, Sarah and Kate took the youngest children, Finn and Elise, to the stables to see the horses and then to the playground. On their way back to the cabin, it began to drizzle. Sarah was surprised to see that it was raining earlier than expected and anticipated her boys return.
Hours crept by and the afternoon drizzle turned into a steady rain; still the boys and Dave had not returned. Sarah was sitting in the cabin growing anxious when Annette, the lodge manager, knocked on the door. Annette told Sarah she would drive her van to the trail and pick the boys up to get them out of the cold rain. When Annette finally returned, Sarah was surprised to find that she was alone. Knowing her husband and children were skilled outdoorsman, she didn’t panic as a search party was assembled to find her family.
A fifty-person search party continued until midnight to no avail. Not wanting to panic, Sarah convinced herself that Dave must have left the trail to find shelter for him and the boys and would return once the storm had subsided. The next morning the search party continued and Sarah began to panic. Although she had not accepted it in her heart or mind, she knew in her spirit that her boys would not be coming home.
Around 10:00 a.m., a call came through that the boys had been found. Upon hearing the call, Sarah knew immediately that something was wrong. She called her and Dave’s parents and begged Annette to take her to her boys. Once Annette received more information on the condition of the boys, she drove Sarah to the hospital. On the way to the hospital, Sarah was told that her husband did not make it. Hearing that her life partner and best friend had been taken from her was too much to bear. Life drained from her spirit and Sarah immediately felt dead inside. When she arrived at the hospital she was taken to see her sons who were lying lifeless on their hospital beds. For two hours, a team of doctors and nurses did everything they could to bring the boys out of their hypothermic state, but their efforts were unsuccessful. Sarah was completely broken. She said good-bye to her two boys and went to the morgue to say good-bye to her husband.
Dave and Sarah’s family members arrived and took Sarah and her children back home. Back home, Sarah had no will to continue on with her life. She felt unable to function, much less provide for the children she still had on earth. Each morning when Sarah woke, she had a feeling of absolute emptiness, hopelessness, and darkness. Her emotions were paralyzing, and most days, left her unable to get out of bed. She felt that the suffering her boys had to endure meant she deserved to suffer herself. Sarah began tracking her life in weeks since the accident and her only goal was to survive.
In February, Sarah called Caritas Family Solutions to schedule a counseling appointment and spoke to Dr. Lillian Sullivan. Dave’s benefits allowed her and Kate to receive counseling services and Sarah knew she needed to seek outside help. Her first visit with Dr. Sullivan, Sarah cried through her entire appointment. Although she knew she needed help, she was angry and refused to listen to the advice she was given.
Seven weeks after the death of her husband and boys, Sarah was suicidal. She no longer wanted to go on living without her family and she was desperate to leave this earth. Her feelings about death were strong, but she hid them from Dr. Sullivan. Dr. Sullivan wanted Sarah to begin to structure her life and get back on a routine. This advice made Sarah angry. She felt that letting go of the grief and despair would mean she was letting go of her boys and that was a choice she was not willing to make.
Months passed and with Dr. Sullivan’s help, Sarah was able to survive the first year. She attended counseling sessions twice a week and finally, in the summer of 2014, Sarah’s life began to change. Her life stopped becoming about grief and became more about living. She wasn’t just surviving each day; she was looking into the future.
On the second anniversary of her husband’s and sons’ passing, Sarah was distraught and had no idea how to get through those three days. She began to write down the memories she had of that weekend. Letting it all come back to her, she wrote for eight to ten hours a day. Filled with determination to tell the story of her brave boys, she went to their gravesite and promised them that their passing was not an ending but a glorious beginning. By the end of February, Sarah had written so much it was enough for a book. She contacted WestBow Press and decided to self-publish the book about her journey. Sarah’s book, From Here to Heaven, went live on December 18, 2015.
Less than a month later, January 13, 2016, marked the third anniversary of her boys’ passing. Sarah finally feels hopeful and is excited to see where her journey takes her. She no longer feels that she is merely surviving, but living. According to Sarah, without the counseling services she received from Caritas Family Solutions, she would not be where she is today. She would not have the strength and the courage to tell her family’s story. She is forever grateful for the help she received.