This article was written by John Thompson, husband of Open to Hope contributing writer Jill Kraft Thompson.
March 25, 2015, will mark the thirteenth anniversary of the day my wife Jill lost her family. Of course, I am not talking about our son Franklin and me, but Jill’s previous husband Bart; their two young sons, Benjamin and Samuel; her mother Shirley; and her niece Sarah.
Jill, Bart, and their sons were living in Avezzano, Italy, when Jill’s mother, sister, and niece came to visit during their spring break in March 2002. They decided to travel north to sight-see. Bart was driving their minivan on the autostrada just outside of Bologna when a US Army truck traveling in the opposite direction clipped the back of a semi-truck, which then lost control and whipped through an emergency turnaround before hitting the family’s minivan. Bart, with only a second or two to react, turned the minivan so that he suffered the brunt of the collision, saving the lives of my future wife and her sister.
Often people ask me how I can live with a woman who is engulfed in such pain and grief. I can vehemently say that for the first years I was with Jill, she was a wreck, since we met in May 2005, only three years after the accident. At the time we were getting to know each other, I was interested in seeing if there was any way I could help this grief-stricken woman because I had also experienced grief and thought perhaps the lessons I had learned could help Jill.
Beyond that, getting to know Jill was really not much different from getting to know any other person—because everyone has a past—Jill’s just seemed so impossible to bear. Though we did talk about the accident and her family, it was clear from the beginning that she was a lot more than her loss. I quickly saw the spark behind the tears. And it became my goal to see her smile and hear her laugh. Many times, I saw the dark cloud descend over her before she did, which happened almost daily during the first few years we were together.
Gradually, with her persistent work on becoming healthy and happy, and, I would like to think, my devotion to helping her, she became stronger and happier. There are several concrete ways I tried to help her. I always made sure she got some exercise. Even when she had trouble getting out of bed, I urged her to at least go outside and walk around the house. On days when there was no hope of getting her outside, I made sure she ate nourishing food, tried to give her space, and just listened when she needed to scream and talk through her feelings.
As I fell in love with Jill, through her stories, I also learned to love her lost family. Jill’s eyes lit up as she told stories about the funny or mischievous adventures of her boys. The pride she expressed while speaking of them warmed my heart and made me aware that I wanted to experience parental love for children.
Some people also wonder how I can love a woman who is so obviously in love with another man. Don’t get me wrong, I know Jill is in love with me, something I have never doubted since the beginning of our relationship. What’s different is that she has also has told me, in no uncertain terms, that her love for Bart will never die. However, I would never expect it to since when someone dies your love for that person does not.
Bart was very much a part of Jill’s past life, and her heart aches for the loss of him and her other family members. Yet Bart is not my competition. If anything, I am thankful to him in many ways, first and foremost for his family—not just Jill and the memory of their boys, but also Bart’s parents Duane and LaVonne, brother Todd and his wife Lisa, and their two children, Joanna and Brian. In them, I have gained another family and truly love being a part of their lives. I also have enjoyed getting to know Bart’s coworkers and friends, many of whom have become friends of mine.
Bart was a good man. I have gotten to know him through the many family members and friends who continue to love him. I am not a replacement for him because he died. Truthfully, Bart and I could not be more different. But one thing we have in common is the love we both have for Jill.
In April 2006, Jill and I married, and although we went into our marriage with the thought of not having children, that Christmas break I leaned across the table and told my wife that we needed to start trying. What made me change my mind? I have always told Jill that she is a mom, and I wanted to watch her in action; also, I wanted to experience being a dad myself. Subsequently, we were blessed with our son Franklin. Jill has taught me the depths of love one can experience—for which I am a lucky man.
Jill has chosen to share her story in the hope of helping others. I am proud of her for her courage. She often tells me that she could not have done this without me. What I know is that as much as I support her and encourage her endeavor, she does the same for me. That is what marriage is all about.
John Thompson lives in McCall, Idaho with his wife Jill Kraft Thomson and their young son, Franklin. He fully supports Jill on her courageous journey of recovery and healing.