Grief Support for a Father and Young Sons after Cancer Death

Though they both were born in the Midwest, Erika and Steven Williams met in Seoul, South Korea. She had traveled there in the summer of 2000 after graduating from college to teach English to school-age children. A U.S. Army officer, Steven was stationed there. Their unlikely meeting occurred in the co-ed bathroom of a bar where he helped free her from a broken stall.

It was love at first sight.

Just a few months into dating, Steven was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky and Erika followed him shortly after. Steven’s next assignment was in Colorado Springs, Colorado and within days of signing the papers on a home, the events of 9/11 and the war that followed took Steve on a year-long deployment. Before he left, Erika and Steven were married.

When Steven returned home, the Army took the couple around the U.S., and then to Italy, where they lived for several years. In 2017, the couple welcomed twin sons and they traveled the globe with them. In 2019, Erika was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer, which advanced to stage IV in 2021 and the family moved back to Iowa to be near family. Erika passed away September 4, 2022.

Losing his wife of 20 years and left alone to comfort twin 6-year-old boys, Steven learned about EveryStep Grief & Loss Services’ Amanda the Panda grief support groups from the funeral home he had worked with. Friends suggested he reach out to EveryStep, as well. The most important suggestion to find support in his grief, however, came from his wife. “Erika made me promise that I would seek treatment and get help for our kids to understand the situation,” says Steven.

The first EveryStep grief support group meeting made Steven a little nervous. “I didn’t know what to expect,” says Steven. “I knew my grief, but I didn’t know what to expect from others.” His anxiety didn’t last long. “I found another person in a similar situation and he helped me feel less alone,” remembers Steven. “I also found empathy for others and saw how grief takes its own course with each person.”

Steven found that having the opportunity to share with others the reasons why he loved Erika was helpful. “The best part of the group was when we highlighted our loved one through a presentation. It didn’t have to be elaborate, but it gave us a chance to show the others who we were missing. It felt good to give my wife a platform to be noticed and recognized again.”

Steven and his boys continue to receive counseling to help them deal with their loss and Steven says while there are good and bad days, they are working to move forward and through their grief. He says he would encourage others with a similar loss to seek out EveryStep Grief & Loss Services. “Give it a try and see if it helps. It’s better than not doing anything and it gives you a place to feel all those emotions and a platform to acknowledge them without judgement.

Life after the loss of a loved one is a difficult time of adjustment. At EveryStep, we are honored to listen to your story and walk with you during your time of sorrow and to help you navigate the many feelings associated with loss, such as sadness, anger, frustration, shock, numbness, denial, guilt, emotional distancing, lack of interest and confidence, relationship difficulties, anxiety and panic.

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, where EveryStep’s grief support professionals can also provide helpful resources and information for grieving families. All support groups are free and open to the public. Call 515-223-4847 to reach EveryStep Grief & Loss Services, or email to request resources.

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 at EveryStep staff will follow up with a phone call to answer your questions and provide assistance.