Love Like Dawson

A few weeks ago, the unimaginable happened. On a day that started like any other, I got a phone call – Dawson’s missing. The words brought me to my knees as I cried, prayed, and begged God for him to be okay. All I could think was “Not Dawson. It can’t be him. Anyone but him.”

The minutes turned to hours and that dreadful day that I wish would turn into a blur in the back of my mind was engrained into my memory forever. After hours of searching, praying and hoping, the tragic news came in, tearing so many hearts to pieces.

The person who was my whole world, my other half, and my absolute best friend for so long was suddenly gone and I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t eat, sleep, or hardly breathe as I tried to fathom the reality in front of me. And somehow, someway, amongst all of the tears and heartache, I felt peace.

I have always been a Christian. I grew up going to church – I actually met and came to know Dawson through our church’s youth group. But like so many others, I had doubts. I had trouble giving God everything. But on that day, I realized that God already had everything – He had the person I loved the most in the world. It’s hard to explain, but all of a sudden, there was a moment where I had this overwhelming, undeniable assurance that Dawson was with God. Then, I could just imagine Dawson in heaven, basking in the joy and peace that we sometimes question, begging me to let go of all of my doubts because God and heaven are so real and more than we can ever wrap our earthly brains around. It was like He wiped every doubt I ever had from my heart and filled it with this supernatural faith.

In the moment where I felt like I had nothing, like everything was ripped out from under me, I realized I still had God and that I would be with Dawson again one day. Suddenly, that was enough.

This whole experience has drastically changed my life in so many ways, but one change that is so profound is the way I view the world. This world is so meaningless (in the best way possible). We put so much emphasis on our time here on earth – our majors, jobs, money, etc. – when, in the end, none of that matters. Literally the only thing that matters, what people will remember you by, is the impact you have on others. The relationships you build and the love that you show. People who show others this type of love so well throughout their life are even able to continue spreading that love once they’re gone – just like Dawson.

You never know when you’re going to die and that used to scare me. If you know me, you know that I’m terrified of airplanes. I would literally get chest pains from the anxiety and thought of crashing (dramatic, I know – but sadly true). But, I’m going to Ireland next week and I can honestly say I’m not afraid; death has no hold on me anymore. If God wants to take me, I’ll be with Him and I’ll be with Dawson again – and I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty good to me. But until that time comes, I’ll live how I’m supposed to here on earth with the absolute best angel watching over me.

And don’t get me wrong, there are moments when I am stronger than others. Each day is an emotional roller coaster from the moment I wake up until the moment I fall asleep. Sometimes I can look through pictures, read letters, and listen to voicemails and they bring a smile to my face, while other times they make me sick to my stomach. Sometimes I even feel angry. Knowing that I’ll never be able to hear Dawson’s contagious laugh, be engulfed in one of his tall hugs, look down at my phone to see his weirdly funny snapchats, or even call him to tell him about the most insignificant parts of my day is so unbelievably hard. He brought complete joy into my life I’m honestly not sure how I’m going to get through my time here on earth without him but God knows, He’s faithful, and He will get me through. By knowing that, I know that I’m going to be okay.

Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit,” and the past few weeks have been such a testimony of that. This is by far the hardest thing I’ll ever have to experience in my entire life and yet I’m still able to find peace – a perfect example of Gods miraculous love.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” Losing Dawson was sudden, tragic, and heartbreaking – but God is making it beautiful. #LoveLikeDawson is showing so many, myself included, how to live in a way that’s meaningful and memorable. It’s also helping to spread love to children living in poverty all around the world. The non-profit organization, found at, is collecting donations and all proceeds go towards Water of Life’s Global Outreach teams, where so much love will be spread across the nations.

With all that being said, life’s hard. I never knew just how hard it can get until recently, but God’s love is unfailing in this world full of suffering. Not a day goes by where I don’t miss Dawson and I don’t think that will ever change. But, there’s a grace and peace that’s so much greater than all of this pain. I hope everyone will come to know that kind of peace and choose to love others the day that Dawson did so well each and every day. #LoveLikeDawson



  1. February 26, 2017 / 2:48 am

    Hi Maddison.

    I am just a person who used to watch those reaction

    Anyway, I saw your tweet and felt like I should check out what had happened. I came here and read your story.

    I don’t even know what to say. I am so sorry for your loss. My condolences.

    I too went though a similar experience. A few years ago, my brother went missing. The next day as I was looking for him, I found my brother deceased face first in a ditch full of water. I had to call my family and that was so hard telling me family that I had found him dead. I’ll never forget my mother screaming, “NO!” and crying. It was the hardest thing I have ever experienced. I am mostly good at blocking the event or even that whole day but I remember so very well. Gratefully, I too had a wonderful church family that helped my family during this tragic time.

    It’s totally okay to go though all the emotions. I think it is very natural to want to feel any anger – even towards God…thankfully, he is so forgiving.

    Anyway, I know I may be a stranger to you…but I’ll be praying for you. *HUGS*


  2. Crissa Collis
    February 26, 2017 / 3:51 am

    I am so sorry sweet girl. This is completely heart breaking. I’ve been praying for you and I will continue to pray for you and Dawson’s family. I know that God has you. Im glad to see that you are finding your strength in Him. Please come over any time you need a friend, prayer or a shoulder to cry on. Jamie and will always be here for you.

    (Jamie’s Mom)

  3. Tyler
    February 26, 2017 / 4:02 am

    Hi Madison.

    This is such a beautiful message. It’s crazy how something like this could happen. I know that Dawson’s in a better place and he’s watching over you.

    My thoughts and prayers go to you and anyone else affected by this tragedy.


  4. Pam
    February 26, 2017 / 5:22 am

    Thank you for sharing that was beautiful 🙂

  5. wayne combs
    February 26, 2017 / 5:34 am

    Madison..I truly feel for your loss…I know how it feels to lose loved ones..Grandparents..Pets that were at times Were nearly like brothers and sisters I never had…MY dad,Who died in `06,on May 9th..It all hurt so much…I Truly Know how it feels to lose such beings that LOVED with all my Heart,and When I read your post,i cried for you,and for the pain you were in,it just reminded me What it felt like,to LOSE loved ones you care/cared for so much,And I truly and Really Empathize Towards you and your pain *hug* But I will never forget the good Times I had with them,And know they are in a better place,And soon I hope to join them,and I know you will Join your dearest Dawson when you Go to heaven…But wanted you to know I feel for your loss,I TRULY Empathize,and you got my support as a friend,if you ever need one online. Just contact me on Twitter or Skype,If you ever need a Ear to chew on,Or a Net Shoulder to cry on! Bless You,Madison XOXOXOXO

  6. Emily Scott
    February 26, 2017 / 9:00 am

    Hey Maddie
    God has given you a gift for writing. He has given you a loving heart and Dawson surely was loved, I don’t know him but girl I’m sure he had a big heart an loved you very much and is smiling from above. You and your family are in prayer an always will be. Love you
    Emily Scott

  7. Sandi Fisk
    February 26, 2017 / 2:59 pm

    Hi Maddie~
    That was so sweetly, vulnerably, and beautifully written. I don’t know you, but I know and deeply love the Hartwigs. I have been praying so much for all of you!
    Psalm 34:18 was part of my reading on Friday. It’s amazing!
    I’ll still be praying! Thank you so much for sharing your heart!

  8. Teresa Alexander
    February 26, 2017 / 3:36 pm

    So beautifully said. I pray for blessings for you and Dawson’s family. I didn’t know Dawson but live in Lake Arrowhead and feel our community’s shares in your loss. My heart is so saddened for all you. Your faith is truly allowing God to bring beauty from ashes. I pray many will come to know the Lord as all of you Love like Dawson ❤

  9. Steve
    February 26, 2017 / 3:57 pm

    Hi Maddie,
    Thank you for sharing. Your faith in God is a blessing and encouragement.
    Dawson’s Uncle Steve

  10. Taylor
    February 26, 2017 / 4:20 pm

    Hey Maddie, I felt really sad hearing the news and I’m so happy you’re ok. I too find my strength in God and i’m muslim. I have never done this before and I never push people to believe in my faith but I really like you truly. The difference between islam and christrianity essentially is that muslims believe there is only one God and that Jesus and Mohammad are both messangers of God (along with other through the human history) and that God is one and only, and that we must love jesus but as a messanger and as a human who also believed in God just like us.

    I really hope this reply won’t cause you any annoyance and I know you’re going through alot and this might not be the best time but i’m iust giving you something to think about and I wish you all the best I truly do

  11. Dawn Monge
    February 26, 2017 / 4:26 pm

    I don’t know you, and only know of Dawson through other friends at WOL, but believe me when I say I have been in mourning with you, but have also been rejoicing for Dawson’s victory over death and his homecoming to be united with our Lord.
    Losing the love of your life is the most devastating loss I have ever been through. When my husband went home to God nearly two years ago, the family at church gathered around me, and became my support. While those without the deep peace of Christ can’t understand the joy and peace we feel, knowing that His plan is grander than anything we could ever imagine on earth. Like you, the things that used to worry and scare me are no longer a concern. I, too, have moments of a deep sense of sadness and loss, but they are becoming fewer and farther apart as time goes on, filled instead with the happy memories, and the new memories I am creating with my children.
    You will get through this, Sister, with a deeper love for Jesus, and a peace that only those who know Him can ever possess. He has a bigger plan than we can ever imagine, and He tells us that over and over in the Word. I have continued to use Jeremiah 29:11 as a rock during my times of trial, but your mention of Psalms 34:18 spoke deeply to me this morning. Thank you. It will surely be a comfort to me in days to come, that may be difficult.
    The Lord has blessed you with a gift of writing, and your heart has much to say. Use that gift to share and enlighten the world, and keep loving, just the way Dawson would have wanted. He was obviously a very special person, and I feel privileged to learn more about him through you and others who continue to share his life through personal reflection. May his legacy of love live on through WOL Global Outreach.
    I will continue to pray for you and the entire family.
    Be blessed,

  12. Bonnie Kennedy
    February 28, 2017 / 2:11 am

    Hi Maddie:
    Thank you for sharing your journey through this most difficult time. I am truly so sorry for your loss. I love how you expressed your realization of how we spend our finite amount of time while here on earth. Please know that everyone in the Lake Arrowhead community is shocked and saddened for this tragic loss and even though most of us didn’t know Dawson, his loss affected us deeply. Praying for you!

  13. Dory Evans
    February 28, 2017 / 6:04 am

    Hi Maddie,
    We haven’t met but I’ve been writing on the website #LoveLikeDawson. Alot and the feeling of this wonderful person who died so much sooner than one would expect… his death somehow grabbed me like a swift swoosh and reminded me of my brothers death… very similar. I always remember my brother and how it happened back in 1989, but I never forget him. I felt from the beginning… when I heard of a 20 year old missing .. and then finally found… I want you to know from the beginning I Prayed for Dawson and for You and Dawson’s Family and his friends.. I didn’t want it to be true.. I cried my heart out and talked in length to my family about this and how you must be feeling… I was so worried for you that you might feel lost without Dawson and I’ve prayed you would be comforted by Jesus but also by Dawson…. You’re so young to go through all of this.. but thankfully you were raised Christian and I feel in my heart that You will be with Dawson again. You have such beautiful words that came straight from your heart and put here onto your Blog… Beautiful, Sincere words of Love & Faith and especially Love of Your Love for the man You Love and always will, Your Dawson…
    I’m a Mom so I have “Mom Tendencies” such as wanting to make sure you have plenty of Support too and I know you do… and please always take care of yourself and try to eat a little something… I love what you said about not being afraid of “death” anymore… I know that it’s the Lord working in miraculous ways to help You be able to continue and go on DAY by day… Sure we can’t understand everything about God, but as long as you know and feel he’s helping you through this… This has even strengthened My Own Testimony of Christ… and I Thank You Madison Perry for this gift… I am grateful that you had a chance to know and truly understand what Real LOVE is. Because You have known such Love with sweet Dawson and you know God loves you dearly… I Love you too Maddie… I will always love you and Dawson and I will never forget you. You are in my Prayers forever and ever… God Bless You Sweetheart and I Pray Dawson is your Guardian Angel.. I bet there’s not a thing that could stop him from doing so due to the “True Love” that you share… Cuddle with things he gave you and replay his messages over and over as long as it comforts you… I know you will stay strong both physically and Spiritually….
    Your New Friend,
    Dory xo

  14. Dory Evans
    February 28, 2017 / 6:35 am

    Hi Maddie,
    I noticed I made a mistake in my writing to you and what I had meant to say at one point is that I noticed you had written on your blog about the past month. As I began to read you took my breath away with your beautiful words and I began crying.. It’s so very hard not to feel sorrow and mourn with you and Dawson’s family. I can’t imagine what you’re going through but I lost my Mom on my Wedding day… I know that she needed to make sure I was okay and I feel God let her stay long enough to know that I was going to be ok because I am the youngest by two minutes but my Mom made me feel like it was years… Without having Christ in my life I would have never have gotten through my Brothers burial and my Mothers burial.. I was asked to say the Eulogy… I was surprised but accepted. I accepted not knowing what I would say… To this day I cannot remember. But I didn’t cry my eyes out at either… and that’s because I believe that I will see them again.. There’s no such thing as the end. For those like you and myself being Christian means we are Blessed. God never gives us more than we can handle and during those two times in my life… I know this TO be true.
    Just wanted to share a little of what I’ve experienced and how God helped me and continues to be with me everyday.. I’m guessing you’re in Ireland now.. I truly wish you a beautiful time. I Pray Heavenly Father watches over you always and keeps you safe, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

  15. Maritza Martinez
    March 5, 2017 / 10:01 pm

    Hey Maddie,

    I just wanted to say that my heart is crushed for yours because I know how it feels to lose someone close all of the sudden. I also was praying the night before that day that Dawson was safe when I heard through my church friend at Water of Life that he was missing. I am so sorry that this happened, but I also wanted to say that Dawson is probably so proud of how you are handling this. There is no “right way” to deal with this, but God is soooo near sister. His heart is hurting with you because it hurts Him to see you hurt, but just know that the Lord is the BEST comforter of ALL TIME. He can use this to draw you closer to Him if he hasn’t already. This will make you stronger because one thing I know about God’s character, is that He always takes bad things and turns them around for His good. Just like when the devil thought he won when Jesus was hanging on the cross and took His last breathe, three days later He rose from the grave! God is going to do that with your heart if you let Him. He is going to raise you up! Dawson is happy and probably so excited for all the amazing adventures that God has for you ahead! Thank you so much for being obedient to Jesus by sharing this blog, being real, and showing how God is working through you to make the world a better place. You truly do have a #LoveLikeDawson.

    Numbers 6:24-26 — “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

    Maritza Martinez

  16. Deepti
    March 7, 2017 / 3:58 pm

    Hey Madison,
    I used to watch the react videos from the very beginning. You were my favourite so I followed you everywhere. And I eventually found Dawson,so I followed him too.
    I’ve been following you twon on social media for about 2 years now. I got to see all the wonderful pictures and member that you share. But I heard the news about what happened..And..I couldn’t believe it. It almost felt like I knew him in person.
    I really am sorry for your loss. I can not imagine the pain you are going through. From the videos that I see, I always find you to be the sweetest. I can’t believe something so tragic could happen so suddenly. I hope you find the strength and love to continue living a beautiful life.
    Love from all over the world.

  17. March 21, 2017 / 11:30 pm

    Waddup Maddie.

    I just wanna say from the bottom of my heart that I always have faith in you. You always have a beautiful heart and you always strong & independent. Dawson is in a better place & his spirit lives on. Keep you head & don’t give up.

  18. Jonathan Serrano
    April 19, 2017 / 5:01 pm

    Hey Maddie
    I have seen you in teen reacts and I’m deeply sorry about what happened to your boyfriend, I study and teach people about the bible and there is alot there that can help you in John 5:28,29 Jesus said “Do not be amazed by this, for the hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tomb will hear his voice and come out…” and that is something i have faith in, because the bible says so. God has promised to end death in the future and his kingdom will bring a new world where there will be no more suffering and death Isaiah 25:8 and Revelations 21:3,4 reads these texts for yourself and visualize them see what God has promised to do for you and everyone else. He gave his son so that we can have eternal life. He loves us and he doesn’t take anyone away from us but sometimes horrible things like this can happen but thinking about what Jehovah God will do for the future will comfort you, thank you if you want to know more go to the website there is a lot of good information there that will help you all free and based in the bible to help people know the lord better

  19. gaby
    May 30, 2017 / 4:12 am

    hi maddie! I just read your story and I wanted to tell you how gratefull I am for your decision to talk about this. I lost my boyfriend a year ago and although I am feeling great right now, in that time all I could wish for was death so I could be with him. I remember looking for similar stories on the internet and I couldn`t find anything that would make me feel less lonely. But YOUR story might help a girl like you or like me one day, and for that I thank you. You and Dawson have inspired me to help others. I wish you peace and happiness.

    btw sorry for the grammar mistakes, Im from Mexico and Im not the best at speaking English 🙂

  20. Brendon
    June 6, 2017 / 11:31 pm

    I stumbled upon here via a React video

  21. Brendon
    June 6, 2017 / 11:33 pm

    I stumbled upon here via a React video. It encourages me to see you strong in your faith and a light in an often dark world. Your peace from your loss is awesome and you are being that salt and light the Bible tells us to be. Keep up the good work, be strong, let your light shine before all men.

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