Fathering the Fatherless, Part VIII: The Hope of Healing
Keeping the memory of her late husband alive helps Carly Engrish-Desphy extend hope to others
When Pam Washburne’s husband passed away unexpectedly, one of the first women to reach out to her was Carly Engrish-Desphy. Carly’s presence was especially meaningful because she understood, beyond the shadow of any doubt, what Pam was going through.
Carly had lost her husband 2 and half years earlier and had discovered her own need to be among people who understood. Carly spoke with Pam, listened to her, and brought books she herself had found helpful.
“When you’re grieving, you don’t have the time or desire to get on Amazon and start searching. All you can think about is how sad you are,” Carly said.
Carly hopes to provide that type of support on a broader scale by supplying starter kits through the group she co-founded, Heartache to Healing in Canton, whose mission is to help young widows/widowers (under 50) through the grieving process. The group focuses on social interaction, but Carly has vision for the organization.
“We want to reach out to the kids, too.”
She would like to establish a grief camp for kids and adults, modeled after Camp Comfort Zone in New Jersey.
She is considering non-profit status in order to gain funding for its efforts.
“People can be OK with the right support,” Carly said.
Helping others has helped Carly. Being a part of the group allows her to “miss, love and honor” her late husband, Jove, who was 49 when he died.
Described by his doctor as in better shape than most men 15 years younger, Jove was an athlete but had high blood pressure and some cholesterol issues he was advised to “watch.”
On Oct. 5, 2009, Carly was up late studying while Jove was at a hockey game at Center Ice. The phone rang; it was Jove’s teammate Sebastian.
“He said, ‘Carly, get to the hospital.’ I was thinking: concussion. But the
way he said it, I knew...”
Carly called a friend to stay with their 7- and 9-year-old children. On the way to the hospital, she contacted her adult step-son.
During the game, Jove had made his way to the bench and collapsed. His friends had attempted to revive him, to no avail.
“He was a super-healthy guy,” Carly explained. “It was a complete shock.”
Carly discovered that hers was an all-too familiar story. She has since met many others whose athletic husbands died suddenly from conditions that were being “watched.”
“If there’s a message I’d like to get out there, it’s this: If there’s an issue,
don’t just ‘watch it.’ Treat it.”
After Jove’s death, Carly experienced many adjustments.
She was parenting two children alone, and she also had two adult step-children. She soon became a young grandmother (Jove's son has a baby and a 2-year-old.)
She knew that her kids needed to feel loved, to have someone they could depend on, and to be spoken to with truthfulness. These were her parenting goals, along with keeping Jove's memory alive.
"When a child's daddy dies, the child doesn't lose the love of that deceased parent if the surviving parent discusses memories, keeps pictures on the wall, and journals past experiences ... The surviving parent needs to show the child it is OK to be emotional, to miss dad/spouse, but ultimately, to pull it together enough to model good coping behavior and give the child a sense of hopefulness that things will be OK again," Carly shared.
She believes children to be "resilient" but they know when adults are hiding things or treating them as if they can't handle something. Realistically, a child who has lost a parent has handled a situation many adults have yet to face.
"I remember when my daughter said to me 'Mom, YOU still have YOUR dad ...' I never thought about that before that moment."
In considering the title of this series, Carly believes we don’t need to help “father the fatherless” because, "These kids aren’t fatherless."
"Their dad is their dad until forever. They just need to be reminded that their parent loved and adored them and is watching over them. Heartache to Healing is in existence partly to be a safe place to talk openly and freely about the father these kids so desperately miss, but we aren’t sitting around crying. We are celebrating the love we were all so fortunate to have had and will always hold onto!"
One thing that was Carly struggled with after Jove's death was her perception that everywhere she went (in the community and among friends) people felt sorry for her.
When she was with others who had lost spouses, however, she found camaraderie, not pity. Even with that support, one of the most difficult adjustments was life without her husband’s affirmations.
“My husband complimented me every day. I craved that.”
She fought against the “stigma” of the mourning process. She asked: How long should a person mourn? How long do people expect a person to mourn? Do I have to mourn forever?
“I wanted to go on a date. I wanted to feel beautiful again,” Carly remembers.
Eventually, Carly was able to find love again with Dan Zaidman, a competitive cyclist whose interests complemented Carly’s as runner and triathlete.
She felt she had Jove’s blessing.
“I looked at the sky and said, ‘You sent me a cyclist!’”
One thing she appreciates about Dan (besides the fact that his kids are the same ages as hers!) is that he understands and supports her need to continue her efforts with and vision for the Heartache to Healing group.
“Jove was a great human being who had to leave the earth too early. I still love him. I want to continue to talk about him and keep his memory alive. Dan gets that.”
Carly feels hopeful about the future, and she wants to hold that hope out to others.
“Things work out the way they are supposed to if you are open to the possibilities. You have to be open to the possibilities.”