Losing His Wife of 60 Years Suddenly, Jerry Finds Comfort in Grief Support

Jerry and Barb Thomsen

With a romance that began in college and continued for more than 60 years of marriage, Jerry and Barb Thomsen of Creston were inseparable. “She was my rock, my joy and my best friend,” says Jerry, who moved to Rockford, Iowa with his new bride in 1961. Barb ran a preschool for a time, taught special education and earned an advanced degree to become a school counselor until her retirement in 2003. Jerry also taught, coached and served as athletic director in the Rockford School District, but says Barb was the “hard worker.” Together, they raised three children.

After retirement, Barb and Jerry moved to Creston, and Barb continued to serve as a substitute teacher there until 2019 when she concluded her 53 years in education. “She was healthier than me!” says Jerry. “She had no cholesterol, no diabetes, no cancer, no nothing. She was active in book clubs and bridge clubs and church. On the day before her birthday, she was excited about meeting her girlfriends for coffee.”

Jerry says Barb was drinking coffee when he left to run a short errand that day, and when he returned about 15 minutes later, he found Barb in the bedroom unable to move her legs. An ambulance took her to the hospital, where a scan revealed she had a brain bleed. By the time a helicopter took Barb to Omaha, she was unconscious and doctors told Jerry she would not live.

Barb was transported back to Creston, where the EveryStep Hospice team began providing care. “I don’t know if she could hear us, but I hope she could,” says Jerry. “The nurses were very attentive and made her as comfortable as possible. I don’t think she had any stress.” The children and grandchildren, and Barb’s friends were able to visit and Jerry says she died peacefully. “She [collapsed] on February 11, died on the February 18 and was buried on the 25th.” Barb was 81.

Barb’s sudden death left Jerry unsure of himself. “I didn't know what I was supposed to do after everybody left,” says Jerry. The first week everybody's there, and then they go back to their routines. But my routine changed.”

Jean Walker, the bereavement counselor for the EveryStep Hospice team in Osceola called Jerry to see how he was doing. “Jean called me and offered assistance, but I had no idea what I needed. I just was sad. She wanted me to come to Afton to a grief support group there, but I didn't really feel like I wanted to do that,” Jerry remembers. “So, she asked if she could come over. She was super.” Jean continues to visit Jerry often.

“I keep telling her that after two years I should be able to do this on my own, but I just love her visits. We don’t just talk about grief. We may talk about a book, or something else. It’s just nice to have someone to talk to.”

Though Jerry is still grieving, he tries to use what he has learned to help others. “There’s a couple of other guys here who have lost their wives. I’ve encouraged them to go to the grief support groups.” He also uses the coping skills he has learned to help others who have suffered a loss.

“You know, I don't know how to describe where I'm at now. I miss Barb so much yet, but I just try to make each day the best it can be. I started playing pickleball and I exercise, go to coffee, volunteer. I work at the hospital four hours every Wednesday. I go to the food bank and haul food, and belong to clubs. I just miss the camaraderie of Barb. We did everything together.”

Grief support groups are hosted at EveryStep Hospice locations in seven Iowa communities and at the EveryStep Grief & Loss Services office (home of Amanda the Panda) in West Des Moines. EveryStep Hospice bereavement counselors are available to meet with families or visit by phone. These services are available to anyone. The counselor can provide families with information or simply lend a friendly ear.

If you or someone you know is struggling to find the support they need, please contact EveryStep at 515-558-9946 or complete the commitment-free, confidential “Find Care” form on EveryStep’s website here. EveryStep staff will follow up with a phone call to answer your questions and provide assistance.