MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, December 11th. You’re listening to WORLD Radio, and we are so glad you are. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Dealing with grief during the holidays.
For many people who mourn, December is the hardest month of the year. WORLD reporter Kim Henderson recently met a young widow who has learned to trust God in the midst of her grief. Here’s her story.
AUDIO: [SOUND OF WELLS AND STAFF MEMBER]
KIM HENDERSON, REPORTER: Optometrist Channing Wells is 31, with a stylish curled afro and knee-high boots that peek out from under her white lab coat. Her dark eyes keep a steady gaze, even when she describes her worst day—the day she greeted a U.S. Marshal outside her examination room in Jackson, Mississippi.
WELLS: He said, “Mrs. Wells, there’s been an accident. I can’t give you details. We just need to rush you to Baton Rouge.”
Something had happened. Something terrible, 200 miles away at an aging roadside motor court.
AUDIO: [SOUNDS OUTSIDE THE ELM GROVE MOTEL]
On March 10th, 2015, Channing’s husband, Deputy U.S. Marshal Josie Wells, arrived here at the Elm Grove Motel in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It’s set in a tangle of oaks and enclosed by a crumbling fence—a good hideout. Wells was part of a task force attempting to arrest double-murder suspect Jamie Croom.
Today at the door to Room 9, there’s a cat and a maid making rounds. No signs of the shootout between the Marshals and Croom. But that day, one of the bullets found a space between Wells’ helmet and vest. His wife raced to Baton Rouge.
WELLS: While we were in the car after, on our route there, they pulled me over on the side of the road and gave me the news that he didn’t make it…
At the coroner’s office, she learned about her husband’s ride to the hospital, that he asked his fellow marshals to pray with him. Officials gave her his broken phone.
WELLS: He says, I love you too. We’ll talk tonight. And that was my last text message around 11. And then of course they presented him dead upon arrival at 12:01. So, that was, your life literally, you know, is turned upside down within a matter of seconds.
Wells was four months pregnant with the couple’s first child. She determined to focus on the baby’s wellbeing, and she says that helped her get through the funeral.
CLIP: [AUDIO FROM FUNERAL]
She even managed to listen dry-eyed as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder gave a eulogy.
Focusing on her son helped her that first Christmas, too. She could have gotten bogged down, thinking of December 25th a year before, when a pregnancy test revealed the couple was expecting.
WELLS: So 2014 was the best gift that I could give my husband, especially after two-and-a-half long years of trying to conceive and different fertility treatments. In 2015, that was the Christmas that I got to hold that Christmas gift that I wanted to give to my husband. So it was bittersweet…
Wells’ twin sister and their mother moved in after the baby was born and helped around the clock. But she’s on her own now with an active 4-year-old who likes dinosaurs and his mother’s chess set.
WELLS: It’s hard raising your child by yourself. There are some nights where in the beginning I was still angry with my husband because he left…
Wells says she’s learned to trust in God to take care of her.
WELLS: When I married my husband, I thought that was my lifetime partner. That’s my soul mate. But obviously God saw fit, you know, for me to have a second chapter to my story.
Wells went to Washington D.C. to receive her husband’s purple heart. She displays it in a special room at her home…
WELLS: We also have the medal of honor, his badge, the proclamation of the city of Baton Rouge…
The walls are covered floor-to-ceiling with plaques and mementos from Josie’s career.
WELLS: If you turn around there, there’s actually the picture of us at his graduation…
It’s her favorite photo in the whole room. She and Josie are all smiles, posing in front of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. Wells didn’t know she’d return there. Alone.
WELLS: He was actually standing in front of that wall that his name was put on, um, three short years later. So yeah. So I remember this day like it was like it was yesterday…
Even though Wells now shares her story as a motivational speaker, she says grief still comes in waves. Her husband laid a foundation in their family that helps: prayer.
WELLS: Every morning he would wake me up at four AM before he left to get on the road, and we would say what we called the watchword: “May the Lord watch between me and thee, um, while we’re absent one from another.”
AUDIO: [SOUND OF WELLS AND SON CALLING TO HORSE]
Wells still has Josie’s horse, a Tennessee Walker named BeBe. She keeps her in a fenced pasture beside her driveway.
And this Christmas, she’ll keep his favorite holiday foods—Oreos, ice cream, and his mother’s pound cake—on the table. That’s the approach she and the extended family chose their first Christmas without Josie.
WELLS: So everything that he loved, that’s what we indulged in. And we spent more time laughing at the memories versus crying for his absence.
Wells says relatives and friends should encourage that kind of joyful remembering this season.
WELLS: It’s a blessing to have such an impact on this world that your family loves you so much that they can mourn you . . . but you would do more benefit for your loved ones by celebrating the good times.
AUDIO: [SOUND OF WELLS AND SON OUTSIDE]
WELLS: You know, celebrate life. Celebrate them.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Kim Henderson reporting from Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Raymond, Mississippi.