Jo and Jack Hamil


Midlife Moments'

Midlifer of the Week

Jo Hamil

She's Still on Her Feet

by Mike Bellah

  "I thought it incredulous that he would go off and leave me like that. He was my friend. That's what kept our marriage together. We were best friends." The words belong to Jo Hamil and describe her disbelief and grief when Carroll Wright, her husband of 29 years, took his own life after a long bout with depression in January of 1990.

As a survivor of suicide, Hamil belongs to a group that numbers in the hundreds of thousands nationwide, a group that includes an alarming number of midlifers, and a group that, perhaps more than any, understands the raw pain of grief.

I first met Hamil one year after her husband's death when she sold the family farm and moved to town, next door to the Bellahs. What has impressed me about her since then is her ability to not only deal with her own grief, but to comfort the grieving around her (My wife and I have been recipients of her gift).

So I sat with Hamil recently and asked her if she would share with me some of the things that can help us deal with grief. Following are the highlights of what she said.

Take time to grieve.

"I was so busy; I didn't have time to grieve," says Hamil, referring to the time immediately following Carroll's death, a time in which she completed her student teaching to become a special education teacher. Hamil says that sometimes we create our busyness to hide from grief. "You want to hurry and get through the pain as fast as you can, but you know what I learned? Once you're in the pain, you say 'Hey, I'm still on my feet. I'm still going.'"

Get help.

Hamil received help in working through her grief from a number of sources. Friends and family helped, as did individual counseling. Hamil also was aided by support groups like SOS (Survivors of Suicide) and EA (Emotions Anonymous).

But perhaps her greatest support has come from her husband of four years, Jack Hamil, whom she says is not a replacement for Carroll but a special gift and a good friend in his own right. "He (Jack) has let me talk out this grief," says Hamil. "It doesn't threaten him."

Trust God

Finally, Hamil asks me to tell others that God helped her through her ordeal. "God doesn't design these things, but he allows them. He knew it was coming; he set things up for me so it would be easier." Yet Hamil's trust in God did not come without a struggle. After "feeling his presence" in the initial loss, she says she avoided spiritual things for a while. "I shut God out. I couldn't go to church. It took three or four years to get back in."

Before ending our talk I ask Hamil where she is with her grief now. "I feel healthy," she says. "I'm teary at times. It's a loss. I appreciate who I do have around me more. Days mean more. Time means more."

And so Jo Hamil joins my list of midlife heroes, people who are successful not because they find a way to avoid life's tragedies but because they find a way to endure them, people who somehow learn to give even in their loss, people who find a reason to smile even in their tears.

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