Five years ago today my friend Brenda stepped out of the shower, wrapped a robe around her very pregnant body and answered the insistent ringing of the doorbell. A single policeman stood at the door and said, “There’s no easy way to tell you this, ma’am. Your husband has been murdered.”
I didn’t know Brenda then, but I remember watching the massive news coverage of the murder. Joe was shot by a the son of a disgruntled employee, an illegal immigrant who already had one aggravated assault charge on the books. Because it was a politically hot topic (and still is), the media covered the murder relentlessly and unfairly.
Eleven days later little Trevor Joe was born. Brenda and I delivered our babies in the same hospital only one day apart. We remember the same inconsolable baby crying down the hall and we both remember flipping through the TV channels and seeing coverage of Joe’s murder on every channel. I thought, “Losing my husband, watching him vilified on television and then having a baby alone– that is my worst nightmare!”
After selling Joe’s business and paying all the debts Brenda was left with a bank account of $0– and she was grateful for that! With four children to care for and little work experience Brenda had no idea how she would care for her family.
I moved to this area six months later and met Brenda at the swimming pool. As we talked and I pieced the story together I could not believe that this vibrant, cheerful, beautiful woman in front of me was a widow of only six months. There was nothing pathetic about Brenda. She settled into her parents home, went right back to serving as the children’s chorister at church, found a job at a dentist’s office and worked tirelessly to cheer her children.
Brenda was and is wise about accepting help. One woman came and babysat her children every week, a sister filled her fridge with food, a neighbor fixed her car. She let people share her pain and take away a piece of her grief. Brenda had bad days, very bad days, but she never let herself slide into self-pity.
Faith is Brenda’s defining trait; her faith is simple, “God loves me and will lead me.” She isn’t troubled by politics, anti-Mormon banter or defending doctrine like I can sometimes be — she simply believes.
Today Brenda has a home of her own and a manageable work schedule. She is constantly doing something fun: playing tennis, sledding with her kids, visiting the neighbors to play ‘Guitar Hero.’ At the elementary she volunteers as a dance teacher and dresses thematically whether the dance is disco, line dancing, or ballroom. Neighborhood kids often stop by her house just to talk. My kids simply adore her.
Obviously I could go on and on, but the greatest lesson I’ve learned from Brenda is that your attitude– not your circumstances–determine your happiness.
Earlier today we went to the temple to remember Joe. The temple is so calm and pretty and full of sweet old ladies who look you right in the eye. On the way home she told us that she had finally had the courage to watch her wedding video with little Trevor. “Look my daddy talks! My daddy moves! Can we go clean daddy’s grave mommy?” Trevor has grown up with daddy as a story, a photo, a grave to visit, but never as the living, moving father he should have known.
When I dropped Brenda off at home she had a floral delivery of 4 dozen red roses— ah, people are still looking out for her, still taking away a piece of the pain.