Zack took his oath to serve our community very seriously. It wasn’t just some cliche or box to check to him. He felt and lived it with every fiber of his being. I firmly believe that I’m called to pick up the torch Zack carried and continue my husband’s legacy by serving those who were like him—like us.
— Gracie Parrish, founder of The Shelter Foundation
In the early morning of Dec. 31, 2017, I was startled awake by the sound of distant gunfire. It unsettled me, and I couldn’t go back to sleep. I tried telling myself it was some kid lighting off pre-New Year’s fireworks. I wasn’t convinced.
Later that morning, during Sunday morning church service, a pastor announced that a member of our church, Douglas County Sheriff Deputy Zackari Parrish of Highlands Ranch, was killed in the line of duty just a couple miles away.
Since that awful morning, I have seen the unfolding story of Zack’s widow, Gracie, from afar. I didn’t know Gracie personally, but we attend the same church, live in the same south Denver area. I’ve been married to a cop for more than 20 years. Gracie’s story felt personal.
I was heartbroken for this young mother faced with the prospect of raising two babies without her husband. Even from afar, it felt like a dark place.
But then, I caught glimpses of light shine from Gracie’s evolving story. I heard about Gracie’s The Shelter Foundation. Despite being a newly single mother, dealing with grief and the unknown, Gracie got straight to work creating a faith-based community and educational resource for first responders and their families.
Here, Gracie talks to Highlands Ranch Lifestyle about The Shelter Foundation and how she is working to inspire others.
Instead of retreating after the tragic loss of Zack, you chose to get to work, publicly. What inspired you to create The Shelter?
I knew almost immediately that even in the midst of the shock and overwhelming grief, God was with me and carrying me. I’d just lost my husband, my best friend and the love of my life, but I sensed that God had a calling and a purpose for me in this, an opportunity to serve those Zack served with, and the families that stood with and behind them.
Even though we had only been a first responder family for three years, I’d experienced firsthand how hard life can be in this career—the loneliness, the missing holidays and birthdays and other family time, the jaded cynicism, the feelings of isolation and being disconnected from not only those outside the first responder community, but also those within. I felt strongly that while far too many first responders merely just survive alone, I could be a part of building something through The Shelter Foundation where they could thrive together.
What do you hope comes out of The Shelter?
I hope to see as many first responders as possible connected in godly, healthy, authentic communities, filled with peace and a renewed passion to serve, thriving together on both good days and bad.
We’ve already seen the start of this in so many ways through our first year of men’s and women’s Bible studies—the spark of hope return to a wife’s eyes; tough men who are secretly struggling that have found peace with others who are similarly struggling; marriages healed; safe, healthy communities formed; families united and bound together.
Zack took his oath to serve our community very seriously. It wasn’t just some cliche or box to check to him. He felt and lived it with every fiber of his being. I firmly believe that I’m called to pick up the torch Zack carried and continue my husband’s legacy by serving those who were like him—like us. I want to build something I wish I’d had in my days as a first responder wife.
What has surprised you?
How fast we’ve grown in such a short time. I knew this was needed, but it’s blown us away to see just how much it’s needed, and how many out there in the first responder community who are just like I was—craving for safe, healthy, godly communities where we can see and feel that we’re not as alone as we think.
The response we’ve received has been enormous and oftentimes, overwhelming, both here in the Front Range and nationwide. We’re trying to keep up with Him, and it’s an honor to be a small part of how He’s moving in the first responder community.
Who inspires you?
The young widows who I’ve met across the country these past 21 months are who inspire me the most—women raising their kids alone, grieving yet still taking incredible steps toward hope and healing. They remind me that our stories are not done yet; there are still chapters yet to be written, yet to be lived in the years ahead of us, full of joy and hope and peace and redemption.
How has The Shelter changed your life?
I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined being here, a widow who is recognized whenever I’m running errands around town, shopping at the store or in line at the DMV. It’s been surreal.
I see Zack’s name and our picture everywhere, even still today, almost two years later. And while I never asked for this, I’m constantly asking God what He wants me to do with this platform He’s given me and this name that’s become known. It’s helped me move forward in hope because there’s more than just loss that marks me. There’s a purpose and a promise of hope for both me and those I serve.
What words do you live by?
“Redemption” is the word that’s resonated with me the most these past many months. I choose to rest in His promise of redemption for my life and my story; the idea that while I’ve been in the dark of a long, hard night, my sunrise is coming. I can already see the slightest, gradual color on my horizon, God’s promise of a bright dawn and that in that morning, I will see and experience what David was talking about in Psalm 27:13—the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. I just have to keep choosing verse 14, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”
I’m choosing to wait in hopeful expectation.