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Honoring a Mother’s Legacy, a Father’s Commitment, and a New Family Heirloom

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“My mom would go to my dad’s gigs and she’d dance,” says Chelsea Lonon as thought back on the memory of her dad’s love of music and her mom’s unconditional love and support for his passion.

“She brought me a couple of times and it was really embarrassing. She was really bad at dancing!”

It’s a scene straight out of the generational waltz between mother and teenager: the older embracing the moment, the younger weighing too heavily what everyone else might be thinking.

“It made her stand out,” says Chelsea of Sherri, and you can hear the smile come across her face through the phone as she recalls those nights.

It’s a sound heard often in the call with Chelsea as myself and Adelle, co-founder of Eterneva, called to walk her through the process of creating a diamond from ashes, and to learn more about her extraordinary parents.

The two died in 2018 when Chelsea was 18 and her younger sibling only 12.

A Mother’s Legacy Lives On

From turning their master bedroom into an Everquest gaming room in the years before their youngest child was born to teaching their children how to fight for what’s right and back up their beliefs with reliable sources, Sherri and Terry taught their values to their kids through action and repetition instead of words.

Sherri spent the better part of 27 years writing for her local community, the Land O’ Lakes region in Florida, no matter what the circumstances.  

  • She covered the Pulse nightclub attack for weeks on end, highlighting the lives of the victims and the aftermath of the shooting.

  • She stayed up all night –– often without power in her own home –– during Hurricane Irma in 2017 to keep the community up-to-date on the storm and its havoc.

  • She embraced vulnerability to tell the story of a miscarriage her and her husband experienced 9 years earlier in order to help readers understand the power of new Florida legislation that allowed the state to issue certificates to parents who suffer miscarriages.

Those endless nights and dedication to community were a big part of why actress Anne Archer choose Chelsea as the winner of the #RememberingMom campaign, which honored the legacy of a mother's love for those moms who had passed away as a way to celebrate Mother’s Day 2019.

The win not only won her a diamond from her parents’ ashes, but also coverage in the local news, continuing the legacy her mother began.

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On January 11th 2018 the world suffered a major loss. Sherri Marie VandeSande Lonon passed away. She was only 46. She was funny, smart, beautiful, caring, loving, and kind. She was also my mother. In November of 2017 she was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer that metastasized to her bones. It only took two months to claim her life. My mom was one of the last few journalists who lived and breathed for local news. She kept her community up to date with all things important to the area. My mom loved rock music and she loved to dance.. even though she wasn’t very good at it. She loved to read and write. She loved anything mid-evil or renaissance related. Our house was covered in mid-evil art work and swords. She loved gaming, specifically Everquest, if anyone even remembers that game. It was based on the renaissance time period. Most of all, she loved spending time with her husband and children. When I lost her not only did a lose my mother, but I lost my best friend. After losing my mother I realized no one will ever love or care for me like she did. I will never be loved like that ever again. After losing her I realized there are many nevers for the both of us. Pictured is my mother and the family she left behind. I was 18 at the time of her passing and my sibling was 12. Only 5 months after my mother passed, my dad began neglecting his diabetes and passed as well. Both were cremated. @eterneva is a company that turns loved ones ashes into diamonds. Someone as beautiful as my mom should only be remembered as such. They are selecting one person to have their mothers ashes turned into a diamond for free this Mother’s Day. It would be so amazing to honor her in such a way and I would be so thankful. #rememberingmom

A post shared by Chelsea Marie (@_chelsea_marie_) on

Of course, Sherri wasn’t the only one teaching her kids how to achieve a well-lived life. Back at home, her and husband Terry were busy modeling a great, long-lasting marriage.

“My dad treated my mom really well. It really helped me see how someone should treat me. Now, I don't put up with people treating me poorly. The second anyone ever did, they were gone,” says Chelsea. “

I learned that from my mom. I got schooled from my mom and my dad because they both treated each other really well. They were best friends. In that way, I was really lucky. I don't know many people my age whose parents are still together. I was really lucky to have mine still together and still really like each other. That’s not so common anymore.”

It was a bond not even death could break.

Defying Bets, Embracing Change, and Rocking Out

When Sherri lost her life to a short battle with cancer in January 2018, Chelsea recalled how her father continued he and his wife’s parenting style in her absence.

“My parents taught me to be my own person,” says Chelsea. “They didn't want me to be what my family wanted. They wanted me to be what I wanted to be –– as long as it was a good person. I'm super involved in the politics of my community and my views are completely different from my mom's and dad's.

I definitely know I drove them crazy because we thought so differently, but they were proud of me for being my own person and standing up for what I believed in.

My dad even told me that. He said ‘Your mom would be so proud.’ He died 5 months after her, and even the stuff I was doing during that time, he said: ‘You drive me crazy, and you would drive your mom crazy with this, but I'm proud of you and your mom would be proud of you because you're standing up for what you believe in.’”

Those weren’t easy words for Terry, Chelsea explained.

Instead, they had been the culmination of years of marriage, love, and respect between him and his wife. The two originally met in high school, but Sherri wasn’t a fan. She was focused and following a straighter path. Terry partied more often and Sherri wanted nothing to do with that.

Years later, after a divorce, Terry was in a similar partying stage when he ran into Sherri again. This time, he pulled out his guitar, and it was over.

“He was a really big music lover. He taught himself to play guitar and he sang really well. He was always in some sort of band and was always the lead singer. The most recent stuff he was doing was 80's and 90's rock covers. He wrote a lot of original music, but never did much with it. They were pretty good, and he's got some videos on YouTube that he posted, too. It's so nice that he posted them. I can still watch them and hear him sing even though he's not here. There are even some videos on YouTube where he's laughing. He had this really specific laugh and it's nice to have that. A lot of people don't.”

Six months later, they were married.

“They were so different,” says Chelsea. “All of their friends made bets on how long their marriage would last. It really was until death do us part.”

Contrary to their friends’ bets, Sherri and Terry’s differences began to shrink throughout their 20 year marriage. Sherri’s passion for storytelling, community, and fact-gathering persuaded him more and more to her side.

“She really made him a better person when they got together. My dad grew up in a very prejudiced community. When you grow up around that, it can be hard to change, when my mom and him got together, he really started to. I think he realized that ‘Oh, these people aren’t so bad like I had thought,” says Chelsea.  

“He still had a lot of growing to do, of course, but overall he was a mostly changed person. My mom really showed him the way. And sometimes, that's what it takes because you can't help what you're taught, but you can change your views.”

Owning Her Story and Building for What’s Next in Her Own Life

If Chelsea sounds like a 19-year-old wiser than her years, it’s her parents we have to thank, as well as her dedication to happiness and hope after their deaths.

Her entry to the #RememberingMom campaign was uplifting and bright –– and sped up the timeline on a process she was already beginning to save money for.

“I’ve been looking for something to do with the ashes like this. I think turning ashes to diamonds is really cool –– but I was going to have to save money for a long time in order to do it.” says Chelsea.  

“And to be honest, I’d heard about this before but I didn’t think memorial diamonds were actually real diamonds. Then when I saw the #RememberMom campaign for Mother's Day, I looked it up again and was like, ‘Oh, this is a real thing. They are actually made into real diamonds!’ It's so amazing how science has advanced and technology has advanced. There's a lot of people who were not able to do this because it wasn't a thing a while ago! I just think it’s really cool.”

Fittingly, she and her sibling got the call on Mother’s Day about the diamond. They were sitting there with their grandmother and were in shock.

“I never win anything,” says Chelsea. “I've got horrible luck. I was really in shock when I found out, but also really excited because at that point in time I thought it was just going to be my mom, but she was such a great person and to me she was like a diamond when she was living. I felt there's no better way to memorialize her than like that.”

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“There's only one recording I have of my mom’s voice. I got it from the house phone before our phone shut off. I got that recording tattooed. It's a sound wave and it takes up my entire forearm.”

Since talking more to the Eterneva team, however, Chelsea has decided to use ashes from both her parents in the diamond, meaning Sherri and Terry’s ashes are headed through the diamond creation process, with Chelsea and her sibling following every step. It’s a 9-month road ahead as the diamond is individually created under pressure naturally found in the Earth’s mantle.

As for Chelsea, she is looking forward to the day her parent’s diamond comes home.

“It'll feel like I have them right with me because I'll be wearing them every day. That makes me really happy.

Plus, I'll feel a lot more connected to them because I have a little urn necklace, actually, that I wore but people would look at me weird so I stopped wearing it.

With the diamond, I will have them with me but it will be personal. Not everybody will know, ‘Oh, this girl lost someone.’ It’ll be my story to tell when I want to.”

Learn more about how your loved one can become a diamond, or download an information pack below.

Tracey Wallace

Tracey is the Head of Brand Marketing at Eterneva, where she works with customers to tell the incredible stories of their loved ones to help us all live better, more thoughtful lives right now.