When I kicked off my Hope of Christmas Tour 2012 in Manchester, NH, I had no idea the gift I would receive. To be honest, I’m usually sufficiently surprised by what happens when I do concerts and the amazing stories people tell me. But this one was different. Whitney Konz helped me out at the CD table for the evening, but it wasn’t until after the concert I learned her story.
There’s a part of my concert where I talk about how Christmas is an extremely difficult time of the year for many people. While the whole world seems to be celebrating and decking the halls with family and friends, many are experiencing intense feelings of sadness and grief due to death of a loved one, distance in relationship, depression, discord…I could go on, right? Then I sing “Emmanuel (You Are With Me)” [watch the video here]. But when I heard Whitney’s story, I knew she could probably speak to this topic better than I ever could.
On June 24th, 2011 Whitney’s world was shattered when she got a phone call that her husband, Kevin, was dead. He had been mistaken as an intruder and shot. She was only 26 years old and the magnitude of not only his death, but the manner in which he died, was so unbelievable that she didn’t know if she was going to be able to survive.
“I stayed up nights crying and screaming. I couldn’t help thinking that it was my fault and that I should have done something, anything different so he would still be alive. It took months and months of support groups, individual therapy, and support from friends and family to finally realize that this was not my fault and that even though I was going through unimaginable pain, in time the pain would not be so bad and I would eventually smile at his memory instead of cry.”
The first holidays without her husband were horrible, as you can imagine. “I just wanted to skip the holidays starting with Thanksgiving and ending just after Valentine’s Day. I got some advice from a fellow widower that helping others helped him through the holidays so I decided to sponsor a family for Christmas. I couldn’t do anything for myself so I asked others to help find a family—in particular, a family that had lost someone that year. I ended up with three families, which I loved even more. It meant more shopping for others and less time thinking about my own situation.
The first family only had one child and asked for very little. They didn’t have a single present to give to their 13-year-old daughter so I had so much fun shopping for Hanna Montana and teenage girls stuff, plus I gave them a gift card to Wal-Mart. The second family was a worker for my dad on the farm. I knew his wife had died in a car accident earlier that year and they did not have much so I bought gifts and food for him and his two young children.
The third family was very last minute for me. I received a call from a friend that this woman had thought she was on a list for the church and someone had already adopted her family but when she went to pick up her things the church turned her away and said they never had her on the list. The only information I got was that she was a single mom with six kids. It was Christmas Eve and I immediately said yes, it was one more chance for me to forget what I was going through and help someone else. When we dropped the gifts and food off at her house the amount of love and gratitude was overwhelming. She immediately broke down and explained that her husband had died in a car accident in May and she didn’t have any money to give her kids a Christmas which made going through the holidays even harder. I told her my story and we embraced and cried together. I felt like helping these families helped me get through the holidays more than I helped them.”
Whitney said she felt so incredibly alone in the beginning and that she was convinced she was the only person in the world that had felt a pain so intense.
“Once I opened up and listened to some of the people around me, I began to understand that others have also gone through tragedy and survived, they had similar stories of not sleeping, eating spoonfuls of peanut butter just to get something in their stomach, or wondering around random stores just to pass the time and ease the loneliness.”
She has also turned to writing much of the time. She started a blog early in her journey at whitneykonz.blogspot.com – mostly to stay connected with friends and family, and also because she didn’t really want to talk about it with anyone.
“The blog then became a way for me to poor my soul into what I was really feeling at times. I had so much anger in the beginning that my pastor suggested I get a ’99 cent therapist’ which was a notebook, and write about all my emotions. I wrote in this book often. It really helped get out all the crazy that was going on in my head and let go of what was bothering me at any given moment.”
I’ve got more to share from Whitney’s story, as well as one of her best friends, who is also a widow. But let me tell you this: It’s okay to feel what you’re feeling this holiday. It’s not easy. But you’re not alone. We have each other, and the incredible gift of God being with us, Emmanuel, the true hope of Christmas