My father was an Army Chaplain, so our family moved quite often. Although we visited incredible places and met some wonderful people, I felt the pain of continually leaving home, losing friends and missing valuable time with extended family members. I married Tom Leedom a few days after my High School graduation from Black Forest Academy, in the beautiful little village of Kandern, Germany. He was funny, kind, gentle, well-loved by all who knew him, and one of the most handsome men I had ever seen in person. I felt like Cinderella marrying her Prince.
Life seemed like it would be a wonderful fulfillment of wishes I had never dared to dream.
Instead, it became a series of nightmares that haunt me to this day. Within a year our first child, Joshua Thomas, was born. Soon after, my 23 year old husband was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer. We endured weeks of radiation and chemotherapy. For months Tom couldn’t drive our car or even walk in a straight line. It was heartbreaking. I remember one afternoon watching him carry our trash to the curb. I don’t know how many times he staggered and fell, so determined to do a man’s work.
After three years of tedious rehabilitation, Tom’s doctors became optimistic about his prognosis and suggested we grow our family. We added another son, Christopher Joe. A month later another brain tumor was found. Tom died the following year; he was 28 years old. I was a 23 year old widow with two young sons, ages five and one. A year and 3 months later I married Ross Brodfuehrer, a tall and handsome man with a gentle spirit, brilliant mind, quick wit and a love for me and my boys. He adopted Joshua and Christopher and we became a family. We added another son, Benjamin David and daughter, Elizabeth Anne.
Cinderella had found another Prince and was off again to the ball. Or so I thought.
A few years later my brother’s infant son, Dan Campbell McCall (III), became ill following a routine surgery. We watched in horror as his tiny body shut down and died. Then, when my Christopher was 17, he was killed in a car wreck. My world shattered and the music of my heart stopped. Five years later my dad, my hero, was killed when his tractor rolled over on him. It might as well have crushed me, too.
Although it’s been a few years since these people have been in my arms, at times it feels as though they just left. Thirty three anniversaries without Tom. Twenty birthdays without Campbell. Fifteen birthdays and Christmas mornings without Christopher. And eleven Father’s Days and without my dad. Yet, here I am living (well most of the time) and breathing. I hate to admit it, but there are days when I do well just to exist. Still, I put one foot in front of the other and try to do the next thing. I have a wonderful family to do life with. The God who created them loves me and treats me like a beloved daughter. He is helping me collect the shattered pieces, carefully, as though each one fell from a delicate chandelier.
My experiences with grief, loss, and recovery motivate me to help others recover from the effects of their own heartaches. I hope there is some way I can help you.
Debbie (McCall) Brodfuehrer is a Grief Recovery Advisor in Louisville, Kentucky. As well as being widowed at twenty-three, Debbie’s seventeen year old son and her father were killed in tragic accidents. Combining personal experience and extensive training, she walks alongside those in the early stages of grief and educates bystanders in ways to effectively support the grief-stricken.