Claire Veseth loves to tell stories of her daughter Anne, a boundless spirit who loved trying new things and accompanying her mom on trips. Anne's passion for the outdoors led her to follow her older brother into the wildland fire service. And when she died in a line-of-duty accident in 2012, she left behind a deep hole in the lives and hearts of her family and friends. Claire talks about the unexpected connections she made after her daughter's death and the ways in which those relationships keep Anne close.
Jessica Seaburg was 13 years old when her firefighter father, Kevin Seaburg, died in the line of duty. She says she took on more adult responsibilities, often ignoring her grief to care for her mom and younger sister. Through the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, Jessica connected with others who had faced the death of a Fire Hero parent, including her best friend, Marisa. She calls this finding sisterhood through the brotherhood of the fire service. These peer connections helped Jessica travel outside her comfort zone to help others in her hometown of Selkirk, New York, and Charleston, South Carolina.
Laurel Van Auken describes what it was like to grow up in a big, rambunctious, loving family where her mom Gail was often the practical joker and fun ringleader at get-togethers. Gail Van Auken died in an accident while responding to a fire call in 2000, and her husband suffered a head injury. Laurel's aunt, Carole Chisholm, says she and her family knew all too well what it was like to lose a mother. She and other extended family members stepped in to provide needed connections to Gail's husband and kids, with support along the way from the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.
Mary Hollis understands the importance of connections. Her family, neighbors, and friends provided much-needed support after her firefighter husband, Al, died in 1991. Mary vividly recalls how Al's fellow firefighters honored him at the funeral service. She says receiving the first remembrance card from the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation reassured her that the fire service would never forget her and her children. When Mary met other widows in the Atlanta area and realized they did not have the same connections, she started her own community, the Next Chapter Widow’s Ministry.
Welcome to Season 2 of the Grief in Progress podcast! In the season's first episode, we introduce the theme of connections and their relationship to grief and loss. We also meet Katrina and Dwayne Murphy, childhood sweethearts who have been married for more than 34 years. Katrina is an educator, and Dwayne is a volunteer and career firefighter who followed his father into the fire service. Katrina and Dwayne share the keys to their enduring connection and the commitment they made to each other at the most difficult moment of their lives–the death of their son, Kendall.
Juliann Ashcraft and her husband Andrew were twenty-somethings with four young children when he died in the line of duty in Prescott, Arizona on June 30, 2013. In fact, he was one of 19 wildland firefighters who died in the line of duty that day, with just one member of the crew surviving. Overwhelmed with gratitude for the strangers who sent letters and cards and offered support, Ashcraft converted a 40-foot Greyhound bus into a home on wheels and hit the road with her kids on a gratitude tour that would take them across the United States. Juliann wrote about the tour on a blog, and in this episode she talks about how she’s always used her writing to process her thoughts and feelings. She also describes how she recently added the word “gift” to her personal definition of the word “grief”—for without her experience of losing Andrew, she would not be who she is today.
Syri Harris and her future husband Walter met in elementary school. Years later, when Walter died in the line of duty fighting an intentionally set house fire in Detroit, his young wife and co-parent became a single mom of six boys overnight. As Syri dealt with this immeasurable tragedy, the resulting arson trial thrust her—and her children—directly into the public eye, shining an unwelcome spotlight on their very private pain. In Episode 4, Syri talks about how she moved beyond outsiders’ expectation for her to be the “ideal” firefighter widow—and closed her circle as the protective “mama bear” when being the perfect public face no longer served her. Syri shares how she and her family navigated the public and private aspects of their grief journey and honored the dreams they shared with Walter, even after he was gone.
Carol Jones had sought a challenging career that would fulfill her desire to help others, make a difference in her community, and to be a part of something extraordinary. She found that path when she followed in her own father’s footsteps to become a career firefighter in Fort Worth, Texas. Over a decade later, she married Fire Chief Louis Jones of Roswell, New Mexico—only to lose him four years later in a tragic event when he was shot and killed in the line of duty. After NFFF honored her husband during National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend, Carol decided to “pay it forward” by escorting other families during the annual event that honors the fallen, which she does continue each year. She also provides peer support and promotes NFFF’s goals at various events. After tragedy, Carol has found great satisfaction assisting others in their time of need.
Ryan Woitalewicz was just four years old when he lost his dad Kenny, a volunteer firefighter in Nebraska. When Ryan attended his first NFFF Kids Camp for children ages 7-17, Illinois Fire Chief Chad Hoefle was assigned as his Big Buddy—a mentorship match that has stood the test of time. Over the years, Ryan and Chad returned to camp together until Ryan reached age 18. And the “found family” they created continues, as the two celebrate milestone events such as Ryan completing his education and becoming a teacher. They remain in close contact and enjoy any opportunity to talk about Ryan’s father and finding meaning in his loss.