Mother. Warrior. Advocate.


by Richelle Kimble

Every mother innately experiences the reinvention of her identity. The miracle of nurturing a child to life, although pure and inherent in motherhood, is humbling and unique. After months of preparing, learning and growing an individual with it’s own one-of-a-kind fingerprints, the first moment of discourse with the newborn is undoubtedly yearned for.

For this mother, those first words were “Hello, Love,” and were mumbled in between kissing and grazing her cheek on the tiny head of her premature son, Noah.

Anticipating the wonder of planning your first spoken words to a newborn child is a dream parents cherish. Finding the final words to bid a beloved child good bye is simply incomprehensible. Saying these words takes courage only someone as dear as kin could inspire. Seeing her son’s bravery as his last moments closed in is what fueled her and her husband to be peaceful as he took his last struggled breath.

“I’ve walked into the darkest place a human can walk into, and walked out the other side standing tall with my eyes focused on the future,” she said. “Noah was fearless when he died, and he made me fearless.”

After spending 17 years with their son, Roberta King and Mike Miesch comforted him as he drifted to heaven. As Roberta describes in her memoir, he slipped bravely and without hesitation to death.

Life With Noah

Noah began showing the physical signs of Cerebral Palsy as a toddler, and the reality of his cognitive disability was swallowed when his fourth grade teacher was sure that his reading skills were remaining stagnant. Noah’s personality was vibrant with humor, charm and flirtatious tendencies. He radiated the  playful nature and light-heartedness his parents raised him with to his classmates and teachers.

Despite Noah being dependent and reliant on assistance for simple daily tasks, Roberta assured, “My experience with my child is no different from that of a mother with a non-disabled child.” The daily morning routine of singing him awake, strapping him to the toilet, teasing him about the mole on his butt, feeding him, and dressing him seemed habitual. This selfless caregiving was ordinary to Roberta and Mike; it defined her motherhood and structured his fatherhood. Roberta describes her and Mike’s parenting journey with Noah as ordinary, yet extraordinary, too.

“Noah was magical. He brought a lot of joy, happiness and love to our lives. He was a great kid to be a mother to.”

Roberta chuckled as she explained that while he was delightful, Noah was far from being an angel. She openly recalled Noah prattling swear words when they were discussing his punishment for pulling the fire alarm at school. Even the scowling phone call from Muskegon Schools curled the edges of Roberta’s mouth; as much as it was a pain to stay home with a suspended child, it was a blessing seeing him push his boundaries and continue to grow.

After Noah’s death, Roberta was challenged by her constant whirl of emotions. Without an inkling of urgency to write, Roberta pushed herself to fill a journal she received at the funeral with simple and therapeutic words. Despite the tears, she was relentless; she knew that writing would help ease the pain. However, she had no idea that her sketched entries would one day be the foundation of a heartfelt memoir.

Her book, “He Plays a Harp,” is a composition of what seemed to be prescribed journaling during the grieving process and an act of celebration. The final product was a stapling of several completed essays, seven of which had been previously published. One of the most notable entries Roberta entered in her journal and used as writing inspiration was called a love list. The list captured 50 things that she loved about Noah that she was unwilling to forget.

“I don’t think I want to ever be healed completely from this experience, but to be healing — yes,” she explained. “[Writing the book] has helped me become more comfortable talking about his death, disability, and his story. I didn’t keep a lot of secrets.”


Beyond Motherhood

Roberta and Mike are currently parenting their 20-year-old adopted daughter, Tasha, who entered their family when she was 9 years old. After fostering Tasha, the pair realized that the capacity of love in their home was limitless and they looked forward to the joy that they could bring to this girl’s life and vice versa. Tasha loved being a sister to Noah.

In addition to being a full-time mother, Roberta is currently working her 10th year at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, now serving as the vice president of PR and Marketing. Her other community efforts include president on the board of Well House and a reporter for the Rapidian.

Beyond her success as a community member and leader, Roberta assured that being a parent is her most rewarding vocation.

“As much as my career has always mattered to me, and writing and running – I look at the things that define me [and realize that] parenting Noah and Tasha defines some of my character. It has made me resilient, brave, fearless.”

Life After Noah

Since Noah has been gone, their lives as parents have continued to change. However, a few things stay constant; Noah’s bedroom is intact and he remains a part of the family’s daily conversation. They pledged to reminisce or talk about their son daily to preserve the joy and buoyancy Noah brought to their life. This, Roberta said, is the key to staying focused on the future; loving the past and knowing that his influence is ever-present removes some of the sting. As advice to her fellow mothers, regardless of their child’s level of dependence, Roberta offers: “The only thing is to always be a part of your child’s life and allow them to shape yours. Talk about your child and keep them ever present. Don’t hide from grief.”

Some other rituals Roberta and Mike do in honor of their son include an extravagant celebration of Dia de Muertos (the Mexican holiday translated to Day of the Dead), an annual birthday celebration, and a trip somewhere warm on the anniversary of his death because Florida, specifically the Florida Keys, was Noah’s place of enchantment.


Noah Lives On

It took her three years to complete the memoir, and this year’s publishing marks eight years since Noah’s passing. The process was bittersweet—the emotional challenge of facing her feelings and state of mind strangely complimented the reminiscing she did of mothering Noah.

This mother, this warrior, has lived and persevered through an event that most can’t fathom. Even so, she humbly celebrates the completion of her book, mostly because she has stored her incredible journey somewhere tangible: on paper pages.

“The joy of the whole thing is that I have created a permanent reminder of Noah’s life and our life together. That is really important to me that I never forget and that anyone else who knew him never forget, and people that never knew him will know him. That’s joy and sorrow.”


The Title

“He Plays a Harp” is the outcome of Roberta’s inability early on to share with others that her son had died. She once was having a conversation with a stranger who asked about her children, and when prompted with what her son’s extra curricular activities were, she responded with “He plays a harp. He’s very close to God.”


When she’s not editing for WLM and spending time with her fellow staff members, Richelle enjoys exploring, traveling, writing, reading, cooking, learning and playing.

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