Mother turns tragedy into hope after losing son

She is on mission to help others work through their grief.

The death of a child is often a loss so devastating to a parent that many find it difficult to move beyond the tremendous grief they feel.

Hope Reger of Xenia gave birth to two sons – Brian and her youngest, Justin.

“I met my first husband, Woody, after I had just had Justin,” Reger said.

Reger and her husband were married for 15 years before eventually divorcing in 2015 after years of financial struggles that began when he became disabled and couldn’t work.

Looking for a fresh start, Reger moved to Columbus for a new job shortly after her divorce. At that time her son, Justin Mapp, was 18 years old – old enough to choose where he wanted to live.

“Justin wanted to stay behind in Xenia with his friends,” Reger said. “He would come to Columbus and stay for a short time, get a job, then get bored and go back to Xenia.”

In September of 2016, Justin finally decided to settle down in Xenia and moved in with two roommates.

Just a few months later on Nov. 17, Reger was at home in Columbus when local police officers knocked at her door. When she answered, they handed her a note with a phone number and told her it was urgent she call right away.

“I called the number and the person on the other line said it was the Greene County Coroner’s office,” Reger said. “When I gave them my name, they said it was about Justin.”

Reger received the news that would change her life forever. Her youngest son was dead at the age of 18.

Justin had gotten into an altercation with one of his roommates who had a gun. He was shot in the chest.

“Justin was taken to the hospital and passed away at 2 a.m.,” Reger said. “Everything in my life stopped at that moment. And I got in my car and drove to Xenia.”

Unable to see her son’s body at the morgue because of the open criminal case, Reger said she had no idea what to do next.

“I called one funeral home, and they wanted $10,000 up front, which I didn’t have. It was so overwhelming,” Reger said.

Eventually, Reger found a funeral home that was willing to help her. Once Justin’s body arrived at the funeral home, Reger could finally see her son.

“I still have no words to describe that moment,” Reger said.

Reger was drowning in grief, which only got worse after her son’s killer was released after the charges were dismissed.

“I was angry, mad and frustrated,” Reger said. “I wanted justice, and I couldn’t understand how the person who took my son’s life would have no consequences.”

Reger sought out professional grief counseling and was referred to a group session. Through counseling, Reger wrestled with her own demons, including blaming herself for her son’s death.

“I felt like I failed Justin,” she said.

Then out of the blue, Reger said she heard the words “Be kind,” and she suddenly knew that this was her purpose as she navigated this new version of her life without Justin.

“I realized that anger and frustration was going to cripple me,” Reger said. “And this wasn’t what I needed to honor Justin.”

Today, Reger has returned to Xenia and is married to husband Mike. She is close to son Brian Mickle and enjoys spending time with her granddaughters, Haylynn, Adalynn, and Brilie. She works full time for a major financial institution as a talent coordinator.

Since Justin’s death, Reger has helped people by volunteering and “paying it forward,” as often as possible. And in June of 2020, she realized that people were losing family members to the COVID-19 pandemic, and she felt instantly connected to people she didn’t know through shared grief.

“I decided that I could start something for people where they could share their grief virtually, like we did in my grief group,” Reger said.

Reger developed a seven-week program she called “Grief 2 Hope” and the first session launched via Zoom in October of 2020. During the introductory session, she shares her own story of loss and how she moved from incredible grief to hope.

“It’s as simple as telling people about your loss and pain and then getting up every day looking for whatever hope you can find,” Reger said.

Another part of Reger’s recovery has been writing and publishing a book “Grief 2 Hope,” which tells her story from her son’s deathpassing up to today, including how she created her grief program. The book published July 24.

“I want people to feel like it’s OK to laugh and be joyful again after losing someone they love,” Reger said. “Justin created so much joy in the world. We shouldn’t feel guilty because we want to be happy. That’s not what our loved ones would want.”

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