A Michigan teacher lost her husband in January, and the pandemic upended her mourning. But she’s found beauty in this dark year, and commemorated it in a touching way.
TWIN LAKE, Mich.—Last Christmas, Christy Critchett Hester’s husband was hospitalized. In the year since, she lost her husband, welcomed a grandchild, saw her work radically change, and witnessed the time-tested methods of dealing with grief be upended by a global health crisis.
“With great love comes great grief, and I loved my husband very much,” she told The ‘Gander. “There are days that are okay and there are days that are awful. But I kinda know that that’s grief.”
The holidays are always a trying time for people who have lost loved ones. To have been in a hospital with her husband last Christmas, this year’s holidays feel all the more important to Hester. So, in a fitting homage, she commemorated her husband in the form of an ornament.
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Her husband was 89 when he died in January due to heart problems. The age difference between him and the 54-year-old Hester is often a point of curiosity for others, she said, but the story of their love was so much bigger than that. While people often thought he was the grandfather of their children, he was actually a stay-at-home dad most of their lives, while she worked as a teacher for over 30 years.
When she returned to work after his passing, she leaned in on the interactions with kids to help with the maelstrom of feelings. But she wasn’t able to throw herself into her work long. When the coronavirus came to Michigan, schools rapidly canceled classes before switching to virtual learning. As schools struggled to determine their course, routine was replaced with uncertainty.
The Brigham and Women’s Hospital recognizes the importance of routine in the early days of grieving. Adding structure to a day helps bring a sense of order while carrying the heavy weight of grief. The way the pandemic disrupted routines has been hard for everyone to adjust to, but is especially difficult for people already facing a traumatic shift in their daily lives.
This is even more true for Hester, whose work involved a social aspect and gave her a sense of hope.
Hester has, instead, turned to online support groups, and one of them presented her with an interesting way to commemorate her grief. She couldn’t participate in many of the rituals the bereaved typically engage in, so she took part in a new one.
She took pipe cleaners, acrylic paint, and orange and black permanent markers and turned her late husband’s glasses into a snowman ornament.
“It was funny because I wasn’t even sure why I was holding on to his glasses,” she explained. “After someone passes you get rid of some things, you keep some things, and I kept his glasses not really knowing why. Then when I saw this idea, it was just the perfect reason why.”
She already had everything she needed to make the ornament, so when it was done she shared it on social media, thinking that others grieving might find it, as she did, and take inspiration. She wasn’t prepared for the outpouring of both support and shared mourning she’s seen since.
2020 wasn’t just hard for her, it also had a beauty to it. Her husband died at home, and her daughter gave birth to Hester’s grandchild at the same home. She’s keenly aware of the poetry in that dichotomy.
“She was actually with me when he took his last breath, and then six months later she had her first child, a little girl, here at my home. She decided to have a home birth, and I was with her when her little girl took her first breath,” Hester recounted. “There is beauty in that, and it kind of brought us full circle in a way … There were lots of tears, let me tell you.”
When Hester’s daughter was in labor, they played music to ease the experience. At a particularly intense moment, a song that reminded them of her late husband played. Hester said the room felt quiet, as if his presence was almost tangible in the moment. That’s similar to how she feels about the attention garnered by the ornament.
As for what has kept her going through such a hard year, she wasn’t entirely sure at first. Hesitantly, she answered that she’s driven by that feeling he’s there, in some way, with her, and that this year hasn’t been an ending.
“It’s been tough to grieve during a pandemic. It’s been tough, certainly, to lose the love of my life,” she said through tears, “I believe I’ll see him again one day. I guess that’s what keeps me going.”