Moving Forward Hanging On... 

My mission: To help those who are grieving find healthy, well-adjusted ways to "move forward" with living, while "hanging on" to the spiritual and symbolic relationship with their loved one. 

In the Chicago Tribune

Lake Forest family preserves memory of 11-year-old son through signs, symbolism and rainbow


Maria Malin tried to grieve the “right way” after her 11-year-old Steven was killed by a freight train as he walked home with a young friend.
She read 24 books on grief, begged her priest for answers and took her two surviving children to counselors. The family moved to a different house in Lake Forest, one farther from the accident scene, away from the nightmare-provoking blare of train horns.
“We just could not follow the rules,” said Malin, who felt she was supposed to adopt a solemn pall, memorialize her son who died in 2003 and never look back.
Her family has chosen, instead, to keep Steven’s presence alive by looking for what they consider spiritual signs that he is near them and by filling memory boxes with stories and souvenirs. They continue to sign Steven’s name on holiday greeting cards, drawing a halo above his name.
“We want our kids to continue to be focused on Steven’s life so that his life remains bigger and his death remains smaller in their minds,” she said.
Malin describes with brutal honesty the family’s descent into a nightmare and back in a book recently published by an Amazon affiliate.
Proceeds from “When You Just Can’t Say Good-bye, Don’t,” will go toward starting a scholarship in Steven’s name at Lake Forest High School, where he would have graduated in 2010.
The first chapter plunges into Malin’s initial shock and horror of cradling her son’s broken body at the hospital, arranging the funeral and the mind-numbing days trying to carry on. 
Steven had been walking home with a friend at 1:30 p.m. on a sunny day before Easter. He had given up pop for Lent and was celebrating with his first soft drink in 40 days. The friends were trying to cross railroad tracks when a freight train hit Steven from behind. The other boy was uninjured.
“My faith was shaken,” said Malin, 45, who with her husband, Steve, 49, has two daughters, Brianna, 15, and Francesca, 20. “What did I do to be punished so much?”
Over time, she realized that no one could provide satisfactory answers and that God was not punishing her. She began to search for signs of Steven’s presence, small reminders in day-to-day life that were comforting and provided laughter.
Today, family members include Steven in their thoughts, buying him small souvenirs while on vacation and storing them in a treasure box. A third-floor loft in their home is devoted to him, filled with his memorabilia and memorial tributes as a place for reflection. His photographs are displayed alongside his sisters’ pictures throughout the house.
Benjamin Garber, a psychiatrist and former director of Barr-Harris Children’s Grief Center in Chicago, described the Malins’ approach as unusual but said if it works for the whole family, he sees nothing wrong with it. He would not recommend it for everyone, because, for some, the daily emphasis on the loss of a loved one might cause friction between family members if there is not a consensus. Malin agrees that there is more than one way to grieve.
Each member of the family carries a small memento of Steven. For his father, it is a glove worn beneath the mitt, that his son wore during games.
“People might think we’re crazy, but I have it with me all the time,” Steve Malin said. “We all have little things that keep him close to us, because that’s all we have. There is no right or wrong way of dealing with this.”
Maria Malin said that no one in her family is in denial about Steven’s death. But she has been convinced from early on that her son was looking for ways to reassure her that he is fine.
Six weeks after his death, his classmates at Deer Path Middle School organized a softball tournament dedicated to the 5th-grader. His homeroom had made it to the championship game and as the team batted for the last time in the game, children began yelling for his mother to look at the sky. 
She saw a “colored bolt of rainbow that hung solidly above the baseball diamond alone,” she wrote in her book, adding there was no rain that day, and adults took photographs through their tears.
“It’s Steven! It’s Steven!’ the kids screamed. “He’s here to make sure we win!’ ”
“We all felt, including the kids, it was Steven wishing them good luck and ensuring their win,” Malin said.
“The kids were jumping around, yelling, ‘Hi, Steven!’ ”
The team went on to win. “It felt like he was just reaching to us through the rainbow,” Malin said. “It was so healing.”
Malin also has a Web site at


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