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...I traveled the road to recovery after my husband of sixteen years committed suicide...
The true story of Secretariat is an inspiration to so many because it depicts the seemingly insurmountable struggles a young woman faces before accomplishing one of the most amazing feats ever recorded in horse-racing history. Learning about and internalizing stories like hers can inspire us to reach for something greater, to be proactive and not reactive, and to dream of something better, and make it happen.
This is one of the reasons I have written my story. I hope to inspire those who have had to endure tragedy and remind them that faith, love, charity, and time can heal even the deepest wounds.
I remember sitting close to my husband on my mother's couch the evening before it happened. We had recently moved in with her and my father due to circumstances related to the cause of his suicide. It was late, and he had fallen asleep. Some of our six children were sitting on the couch as well, enjoying the conversation that had earlier ensued, and as I looked at him, I said to my mother, "He looks like an angel when he's sleeping."
She laughed, realizing that that comment was usually reserved for sleeping babies. I laughed, too. He didn't laugh, though, and that's how I knew he was asleep; either that or he didn't think it was funny and was just closing his eyes. What I didn't realize was that he would indeed be an angel just a few short hours later.
I've written about how I found him and some of the events that occurred surrounding his suicide HERE, so I won't recap them in this writing, but what I would like to share today is how I went on; how I mustered the strength to drag myself out of bed each day and survive; and not only survive, but live.
The very first help I got was from acquaintances, friends, family and other loved ones who had heard the heart-sickening news. The visits and meals began pouring in only minutes after the suicide became known. My children, mother, brother, and father were all given priesthood blessings of comfort only hours after I found my husband's body, and it helped. The women's leader at my church printed out and hand-delivered scripture and other writings by prophets that inspired me more than almost anything could that day. My phone rang off the hook with calls from well-wishers who just wanted to express their sorrow, that they cared, and that they would do anything for me and the children, and I knew they would.
And the food..... so much food was brought over that it became impossible to refrigerate it and keep it fresh. We actually got to the point where we had to start giving it away to those who came to offer support and sympathy. People brought casseroles, of course, and cheese platters, and dishes we could freeze for later, and cakes and cookies, and individually-wrapped popcorn balls for each child, and fruit and vegetable platters and shrimp platters and all manner of any other kind of platter the mind can imagine. One dear friend brought over an entire breakfast for the whole family the morning of the funeral. I had never felt so loved as I did as I welcomed what seemed like hundreds of well-wishers into our home those first few days after my husband's suicide.
Then the letters and packages began arriving. Some were messages of love and sympathy, others were anonymous, and included hard-back books on how to find peace after suicide. Many had cash or checks folded within the cards. Some had gift certificates to McDonald's for the kids, and others had gift certificates to massage therapy studios for me. Cards came from the 4th-grade students at the elementary school where my mother teaches, many telling of the friends and loved ones they had lost.
Then there were the twelve days before Christmas (which arrived quickly after his death, which occurred the last week in November), when a large sturdy box was placed at our doorstep with a note attached telling us that each night before Christmas, at exactly 9:00 PM, a package would be placed in the box. We were to make sure we were nowhere to be seen or to see who would drop off the package, as the deliverers were to remain anonymous. We were obedient, and every night, between 9:30 and 10:00, to make sure we gave enough time for the late deliverers to remain anonymous, my mother, the kids and I would go outside and peek into the box to have a look at our new gift. Sometimes the box would contain six gifts, one for each child, from someone who knew them well, as each gift would be tailor-chosen for each child's hobbies, talents, or interests. Other times the box would contain something for me in particular, such as Bath and Body lotion and body spray. And one time, to my utter shock, left in the box was a 42" TV and DVD player.
Those hundreds of acts of kindness I will never forget. And people all over the world, people in congregations of other faiths, in other states, but who had connections to friends and family who knew us, prayed for us. And you know what? I could feel it. I felt so much peace and comfort during those first few days after my husband's suicide that it was almost as if I were under the influence of some form of anesthesia. I only wanted to love and serve others and God and The Spirit were so strong inside me. I know it was because of the prayers that were offered on my behalf.
As visits and calls from friends and acquaintances gradually began to decrease, my family continued to be a rock to me as I emerged from the cloud of shock and disbelief, to the horrendous realization that I was now a widow with six children... at the age of thirty-four. There is one particular incident I remember so vividly, as if I lived it yesterday, in which my family's love pierced so deep into my heart that I know this memory will stay with me for the rest of eternity. It's HERE if you would like to read it. Just the fact that my family ALWAYS, 100% of the time, made themselves available for me to talk to, and sometimes even initiated difficult, but necessary conversations with me and my children, and encouraged me to get out of bed and keep living, were nudges on the road to recovery more than almost anything else. I remember lying in bed six days after he died, listening to the sounds of my mother making Sunday breakfast for the kids, knowing that if I didn't attend church just this one Sunday that people would understand. I stayed in bed as the kids finished breakfast and I listened to the dishes clink as she rinsed them and put them into the dishwasher. Then I heard her walk towards my bedroom. She entered, sat on my bed, and said it was time to get up, that I was going to be late. I told her that I didn't want to go to church, I didn't want to face the sympathetic faces of hundreds of people who felt so sorry for me, and surely they would understand. My mother said, "Jennifer, you are going to church. Church is where we need to be and you know it. Now get dressed. We're going." She was right, and I did.
Christmas came and went, and January arrived. I was still walking through every day as if I was in a dirty haze, caring for the children, because I had to, but zombie-like. One day my mother stood in the doorway of the bathroom as I was fixing my hair and said, "Jennifer, it's time to get some help. You need to call the therapist." She was right, and I did.
Going to therapy was one of the most life-changing experiences I have ever had. Not only did a compassionate man help me get through a horrific tragedy, but he helped me realize that I had some other problems, too, and that fixing these issues would help in raising my children alone. I would highly recommend therapy for anyone who has problems of any kind with any relationship. Yes, that means you.
And so I went to therapy every week, and I moved out of my mother's home into a quaint little four-bedroom rental only four houses down the road. I got up every morning at 5:45 and drove my teen-aged daughter to seminary, then came home and got the other five children up for home school. I cooked, I cleaned, I tried to be the mom and the dad, and because my therapist told me to, I cried in front of my family, because he said they needed to know my pain, and that I needed to stop hiding it. I lay in bed awake at night and imagined how it would be to be alone for years to come, for surely no one would want to marry a woman with six kids. I yearned to be touched, have my shoulders rubbed, kissed, and to press next to someone as we were sleeping. I felt this was not to be, though, so each night, instead of going to bed early, I would do puzzles. Yes, I had decided that I would do puzzles to keep my mind busy and focused on things other than my loneliness. While I worked on my first puzzle I listened to all of my favorite music, and momentarily forgot that I would never get a break from disciplining the kids, that I would be the mom and the dad for the rest of their growing-up years.
And I decided that we would travel. When summer came, we would all seven hop in the van and go any place we wanted. We would stop wherever we wanted to and never rush to get there, and shop and eat and watch movies in hotel rooms.
But God had different plans. Before I was even able to finish one puzzle, John came into my life only five months after my husband died. We fell in love immediately, as if we'd known each other before we were born. If you want to read a bit of how it happened, you can go to the aforementioned link HERE. Long story short, we are now married...
...and in the five years we've been together, we have added four rambunctious boys to our already large family.
I remember once driving down the road about two weeks after my husband died. I was in such emotional agony, my stomach turning every time I thought of what had happened, and I wondered how I would feel five weeks after he had died, or five months, or five years. What I didn't know was that at the five-month mark, I would be madly in love with my soul mate, and that at the five-year mark, I would be remarried and have four more sons, including a set of identical twins, something I'd dreamed of all my life.
The story of Secretariat reminds me of my own challenges because just as Penny could not have succeeded without the help of veteran trainer Lucien Laurin, I could not have overcome the tragedy I was asked to endure without the love, support, and kindness of my family and friends.
Secretariat stars Diane Lane, John Malkovich, Dylan Walsh, and James Cromwell and will be released in theaters Friday, October 8th. To learn more, check out Secretariat via the following venues...
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Thanks for listening.