Editor’s note: This is part seven of a portrait series highlighting ordinary families in the community. Earlier this year, Sheridan Press photojournalist Justin Sheely asked local families several questions: How has having children for the first time changed their lives? What are the challenges they face? What advice would they offer to new parents or those about to have their worlds changed forever?
SHERIDAN — In May 2014, Kristyn Schultz found herself being ushered into the chapel at Campbell County Memorial Hospital after waiting more than an hour for her husband’s arrival via ambulance. She got the phone call about Colin from her brother earlier that morning. The highway had been shut down since 7:30 a.m. and she heard reports of several injuries from the multi-vehicle accident.
A doctor entered the chapel, confirmed her identity, and told her that her husband was killed instantly in his car after being struck by a bus.
Waves of emotions swept over her: shock, anger and denial. She yelled at the doctor that there must have been a mistake.
“It was a day I wish I could forget but never will,” Schultz said.
Schultz had known Colin since she was 17. She never pictured her life without him. But his death meant she would have to deal with the emotions and devastation of the loss, not just for herself, but also for her children, who were only 3 and 5 years old at time.
Schultz sat both of her children down to explain what happened. Wyatt was too young to grasp the magnitude of the event. Brooklyn, who was very close to her father, was crushed.
“She broke down immediately,” Schultz said. “Her questions to me were, ‘When will daddy come home? Can we visit?’”
Schultz found the situation very hard to explain to someone whose world was gone. Brooklyn didn’t want to hear any other answer than, “He’s coming home.”
The days that followed were difficult. Schultz lived in denial. Every time her phone rang she hoped it was her husband calling to let her know that he was fine.
Brooklyn recognized her mother’s need for encouragement. She would hug her leg and tell her that they were going to get through this.
When Schultz was not able to sleep for days, a friend pressed her to get professional help. Eventually, Schultz sought counseling and was able to get out of the foggy state she experienced.
“When I finally came to the realization that there was no going back, I have to go forward — that was the turning point for me,” Schultz said.
But a greater reality set in for Schultz; the understanding of her new role as a single parent stunned her.
“I realized that I literally had to do this on my own,” she said of the change. “It scared me to death.”
The new role lent confusion and doubt as Schultz navigated raising a family. She and her husband had made every decision together.
Now she makes them alone.
While Schultz second guesses herself, she resolved that she will always put her children first.
Not all decisions are so simple. About a year after the accident, Schultz decided to move her family to Buffalo to start a new life without moving too far from her family in Gillette.
As time passed, she met Bart Clingerman, and a relationship began to blossom. Schultz said dating while raising children is challenging. She questioned if it was even the right choice to date.
Her boyfriend has served as a male role model for her son Wyatt. Schultz admits she doesn’t know how to fish, let alone teach her son how. Clingerman and Schultz have been dating for more than a year, and he has taken a parenting role in the children’s lives.
Brooklyn has come to adore Clingerman, and the two have forged a relationship of their own, which is encouraging for Schultz.
Schultz has determined that she can make her family’s life better and live happily. She talks with her children about choices that come up and they make decisions as a family.
“I have a more positive outlook now,” she said.
The family keeps horses as Brooklyn, now 8, desires to compete in barrel racing. Wyatt started kindergarten this year.
After a tremendously difficult loss and working through it, Schultz offered this advice: “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
Schultz said that she didn’t initially seek help after her loss. She thought she could get through it on her own. But her approach, she said, made things worse. When she finally went to counseling, Schultz described it as a life-changing experience.
“It doesn’t make you any less of a person [to seek help],” she said. “The people who really care about you and love you are still there for you.”
To recommend a family to be highlighted for this project, email firstname.lastname@example.org.