FFA Advisor Lives Through Death

Family PictureBrian has led one of the most successful Agricultural Education programs in the nation for 25 years in Napoleon, ND. A proud NDSU  Bison graduate (1982), his FFA Chapter has earned over 100 individual and team championships, two national team championships and numerous other top 10 national awards. He and his first wife, Lorie, were married in 1984 and raised two beautiful daughters, Christina, 28, and Brianna, 26, both elementary school teachers. Brian married Mary Beth in December 2011. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his wife, fishing, hunting, going to concerts, working in the yard and garden, and playing cards. He also loves decorating for Christmas, something that began as a challenge from Lorie one year and continues today.

Here’s Brian’s Story

Cold sweats. Soaked sheets. Prayers through the night, pleading for a quicker sunrise. A nightmare?
YES. A nightmare called my life. No one should experience death and grief in the prime of his life. Unfortunately this nightmare centers around the death of a spouse. It happens to many of us and we live through it, maybe even grow through it.
Our Love Story
I married my high school sweetheart at the age of 20, halfway through my college education, against the advice of some who said we were too young. They questioned our thinking. I thought I’d found the lady I loved more than myself and I wasn’t going to let her get away! Were there hard times? Absolutely! There was never enough money. I battled alcoholism and, like many, we had everyday life struggles. But, the worst was yet to come.
The Nightmare
It started with my wife Lorie’s physician’s assistant finding a lump in Lorie’s breast. We convinced each other it was nothing. Lorie was only 32. But then we received the news that she had breast cancer and that we needed to react immediately. A mastectomy was quickly done and a decade of chemo, radiation and other medical procedures ended on May 24, 2006 when my wife of 21 years, 10 months and 18 days died in my arms with our daughters at her bedside in the old house we had called home for 15 years. The cold sweats and daily washing of bed sheets began that night.
Stages of Grief after Death
We battled her cancer for a decade. There were periods of hopeful remission and then re-occurrence. I went through the stages of grief multiple times: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. My experience convinced me this isn’t an inclusive list and varies from person to person and situation. What I can do is reassure you that with each day it does get better and that you will eventually reach acceptance of the death and loss.
Acceptance Journey
Reaching acceptance of Lorie’s death was slow and painful and not always pretty, but maybe my journey will give you guidance and solace.
1. First and foremost I grew immensely in my faith. We’d always been a church-going family that had a “normal” amount of faithfulness. However, this experience, and the loss of my mother four years earlier, intensified my inner faith. It had to in order for me to get up and move forward. I had to believe that Lorie was now pain-free in paradise alongside those who were faithful and had gone before her. And I had to believe God still had plans for me to make this world a better place and give me purpose. Otherwise, He would have granted my prayers and taken me instead. So I say, “Believe in the power of prayer and have those real and raw conversations with God.”
2. Family and friends will reach out to you. Accept the opportunities they present. This may be a conversation over coffee, a phone call or an invitation to do something. Even if you don’t feel like going out, I’d encourage you to do so. I am so thankful for the friends and family who reached out to me and invited me to shoot pool, attend a backyard barbecue, go to area races, etc. There were many times I wanted to say no but forced myself to say yes because I knew staying home wasn’t going to help me get up, get dressed and get moving. Ask yourself often, “What would my loved one want me to do?”
3. I’m an educator by profession with an 11-month contract because of supervised summer activities. Summer 2006, after Lorie’s death, began the longest, most painful summer of my life. I simply wasn’t busy enough. Although I didn’t want to not be busy, I subconsciously sometimes made this choice. The schedule was flexible, not fixed like the academic school year, and now I know I could’ve used the structure. There were times I needed to be alone, but it’s not healthy to withdraw and wallow in self-pity. One should return to a normal routine as soon as mentally and emotionally possible. It was the reason two weeks after Lorie’s passing that my younger daughter, Brianna, and I decided we’d attend the State FFA Convention. We also knew that’s what Lorie would want us to do. Once the new school year started, the routine got easier. Obviously I had to be at work, which includes many hours of after school activities. Keeping busy and returning to a schedule made the days go by quicker and with less pain as my mind was occupied with the activities of the day.
4. Find natural ways to release stress and improve your mental health. One of the things I truly enjoy is listening to music and singing along. It is scientifically proven music has mental health benefits. It doesn’t matter what kind of music you choose. I select the music that is appropriate for my current state of mind. Sometimes I listen to Christian music. Sometimes I’m listening to my “angry” music to vent. Sometimes I play tear jerking country and sometimes just some fun easy listening tunes. I also started exercising on daily basis-walking and lifting weights, not for the physical benefits but for the mental health benefits. Whatever your hobbies are, or if you have none, I would encourage you to continue them or find some. I would also avoid the use of alcohol and/or drugs. I’m a recovered alcoholic, so in my mind that was never an option. We all know that alcohol and some drugs are classified as depressants but yet many have some strange idea that it makes them feel mentally better when, in fact, it intensifies the depression we already have.
Gifted With a New Love

Two years after my wife’s death I started to experience something I never brian and marythought I would feel again. I fell in love. By attending activities with friends, I began to build a friendship with a beautiful lady whom I married three years later. It started as a friendship only because, honestly, I never thought I’d again feel the kind of love that makes a person want to commit themselves to another for a lifetime. But, I did. Falling in love and possibly remarrying are certainly not disrespectful to the one you lost. The love and memories you have for your deceased spouse are certainly not diminished in any regard. I relish the memories Lorie and I had. I see my wife in the beauty of our daughters and I will forever cherish the love we had.
Get Up. Get Moving.

If you allow yourself to fully experience the death of a loved, you will grow. How have I chosen to grow through this experience? I grew in my faith. I am more grateful for the people in my life. I love more deeply. I am more forgiving and less angry in my daily life. And, ironically this experience has made me a more positive person.
So, as hard as it may be-Get Up. Get Dressed. Get Moving! Your loved one would expect no less!

How has Brian’s story and journey touched you? Comment below.

Remember to encourage your loved ones to do monthly breast self-exams and to have annual mammograms.

©Copyright. December 2015. Linda Leier Thomason.
All Rights Reserved.

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