Joe Walko feature photoJoe Walko understands the pain of losing a loved one. His wife, Debbie, passed away nearly three years ago. Since then, he’s been on a journey filled with pain, confusion – and surprising hope.

An avid outdoorsman, Joe is on an uncharted path through the grieving process. Along the way, he’s guided by a quote from Dr. Rabbi Earl A. Grollman, “Grief shared is grief diminished.”

So he is writing. And sharing.

Through his blog and his book, “Evening’s Light, A Journey with Grief”, Joe shares the struggles of loss and the joys of starting over.

He writes, “My wife’s passing has left two children without a mom, a husband without a partner and best friend, a household with befuddled boys at the helm, and a huge void filled with sorrow and emptiness. It is time to start working through and recognizing these issues and feelings and emotions, both as a salve for my spirit, and as an example to my children.”

A Dramatic Change

The dramatic change in their lives created a shift in priorities and plans.

“Deb was a stay at home mom. When she died, I didn’t even know where the laundry room was. There was homework to do, meals to make, and activities to get to, on top of my full time job. Then, the company I worked for was sold and I ended up with a demotion and a much more demanding position,” he said.

One year later, the stress became too much and led to a breakdown that played out in their back yard. His emotions were running at full speed when his job demanded now unreasonable overtime expectations. “All I wanted was to leave work at a normal time and for the kids to do their chores. One Friday I got neither, and I lost it,” he said.

This breaking point became the starting point for Joe.

“I went into work that Monday and quit. With no other plan, I walked away from my finance job.  We would be living on a quarter of what we used to. But I knew deep down things would be OK.

With the Affordable Care Act, we’d have health insurance. And we had an amazing turn of events. A life insurance policy the company  earlier reneged on came through. Then, I received an unexpected call that the stock options I had forgotten about were to retire the next day, and they asked if I wanted to exercise them,” he said.

Joe could now focus on healing. “Part of the grieving process is opening up to follow your heart, so I reached out to others,” he said. Joining a Forbes Hospice bereavement support group for young widows and widowers was part of that process. That is where he found hope – and new love.

Heaven Sent

“There are always angels being sent – even now. The most amazing thing was meeting Kim,” he said.

She was grieving too and silently reading Joe’s blog when she joined the group. “When we met, there was nothing left in either of us. She was as hollowed out as me,” he said.

Joe and Kim had much in common. Both of them had been married for 19 years to their spouses when they lost them to cancer just five days apart. They each have two children. Both of them have an adventurous spirit for all things outdoors. And their spouses, it turns out, are buried right next to each other.

“We have this vision of them sitting on this beautiful hill in the cemetery saying, ‘Wow, these two are a mess, let’s help them!’ And so they sent us each other.”  And we have helped each other, and our children, who were also struggling. Cautiously, we ended up falling in love,” he said.

Arriving at this place in his life hasn’t been easy. There were times spent alone, pushing the limits of what he could endure and soul searching for what lies ahead.

Joe explained, “When Deb’s cancer advanced, I did a solo, self-supported 130 mile biking, rafting, hiking trek through the southern Utah Escalante Desert. I wanted to test how far I could push myself. I knew that if I could do that, I could travel through whatever challenges came from facing a terminal illness in the family,” he commented.

Starting Over

Now, starting over is his newest adventure – and with their blended family of four children, ranging in age from 11 to 19, the journey continues.

Joe Walko family photo“I remember soon after my wife died, seeing a family out to dinner, and I thought I would never have that again. Now, we have a second chance.

Our goal is to get this blended family together, and we’re in the process of moving into a new house. It will be a lot of hard work, bringing these two families together under one roof, but Kim and I both believe it will be better for all of us. It will be good to have the time to really live again, to enjoy the simply things in life,” he said.

A new career may emerge too.  Joe does motivational and support speaking. He plans to take his experience and talent to another level. He remarked, “I don’t know where it will lead, but I’m going to make it somehow, doing something with the written word. I’m doing everything I can to better my craft.”

Joe hopes to have a new full length book out later this year and he is one of nine authors releasing a book this spring called “The Unofficial Guide to Fatherhood.” It’s a subject he knows inside out.

You’re Not Alone

“The one thing I’ve missed so much is just having a family meal. The other day we did that for the first time in a long, long time. Friends and family came over and helped us move, and after, we all sat around and talked. There was laughter and joy. It felt good,” he said.

He has learned and shared much about the grieving process.

Joe commented, “You’re not alone when you go through losses, even the deep ones. In fact, loss is often the opportunity to start over. Sit with your pain, listen to your heart, and find the voice within.  It takes courage and hard work and an open, honest heart.

At the end of the day, you realize that maybe this journey has a higher purpose.”

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