Grief batters but love remains

Chris & Chris Ingram
Chris Ingram and his late wife, Christine, at Angels Stadium in Anaheim, Calif., April 2016. Tickled by their matching first names, they would introduce themselves as Chris Squared.

“I tell people that if I knew then what the outcome would be, I’d choose her and our life together all over again.” — Chris Ingram on his wife’s suicide

Chris Ingram’s future wife was a pretty pain for the Fifth Third Ballpark usher when they met: She was seated in his section, and she kept climbing up on the back of the seat to see. He’d tell her to get down; she would watch until he was gone and do it again.

“She was just like a little kid, and she was so dog-gone pretty,” he recalled.

He would find out she was a breast cancer survivor who had had a single mastectomy, and on their first date, she told him she had young onset Parkinson’s disease.

“It didn’t phase me. I think God had a hand in that,” he said. “She was the best thing that ever happened to me.” They married in 2007.

A cost too high to pay

Christine would learn that for her, trying to control the Parkinson’s came at a physical and emotional cost she ultimately would decide she could no longer pay.

Aug. 15, 2016 when her husband, came home from work, he found she had taken her life using his insulin, prescribed for his diabetes. Taken to the hospital, she was removed from life support the next day.

Three weeks after her death, following the advice of The Rev. Michael C. Fedewa, Rector of St. Andrews Episcopal church, Chris went to Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids for help dealing with his grief.

“I was a basket case who thought Gilda’s Club was only for people dealing with cancer. I thought I’d be here for six months, get a tuneup, and be gone, but I’m still here.

“Beginning the very first time I came here, I met people who gave me hope.”

“It’s going to get better,” a Gilda’s member told him Day 1.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel: It’s sunlight, not the light of a train. You’ve already been hit by the train.” — Fellow Gilda’s Club member

At Gilda’s, Ingram found what many others find: “You can show your true feelings and trust people and not be judged,” he said.

“For your needs to be met, they have to be known.”

He’s learned to follow the lead of a friend who “gives a pass” to those who haven’t been through it and can’t understand.

“You’re the one who’s hurting and others should be worried about you, not about them, but it doesn’t work that way.”

Suicide can spark all sorts of judgments and speculation.

For some people, the fact that Christine Ingram had uncontrollable Parkinson’s somehow makes her suicide OK, Chris said.

Understanding born of pain

He has grown to understand that “some people feel there’s no way out,” which is why, he said, he supports legally sanctioned assisted suicide.

That, and the fact that having a prescription to end one’s life does not mean taking it. reports that only a small number of people use the law to die; and about one third of those who do obtain the medication prescribed under the law never take it.

Physician-assisted suicide is legal in five US states (Oregon, Vermont, Washington and California, Montana) and the District of Columbia.

In states where it is not, such as Michigan, suicide can bring the police.

An hour before Christine was to be removed from life support, a detective came to the hospital to question Chris, he recalled.

“The fact that it was my insulin … “ his voice trailed off. “If I’d been present, I would have been in trouble.”

Although he is open about their experience, “I don’t want her to be remembered for that.

“When she died, the best part of me died, too.”

Chris has had his own physical problems: The same year he and Christine married, Chris was diagnosed with peripheral artery disease, and in 2009, he lost a leg to it. Swimming in the East Grand Rapids pool after that, he got to know head coach Butch Briggs, and hired on to help coach.

Find joy in what you love

Coaching continues to bring him joy.

“The best thing I’ve done since she died is I bought a hand cycle.” He competed in the Metro Health Grand Rapids Marathon in October.

“It’s important to find new things you like to do because everything I did reminded me of her in some way.

“It gives you your own identity,” he said.

“You have to take life a day at a time, and do the best you can do. There will be days you have to force yourself to do things, and it’s important to surround yourself with things you like to do.”

He’s also determined to visit all the Major League Baseball parks “before I die.” He figures he still has about 10 out of 30 to go. He also wants to return to Europe to visit Dunkirk, France. His dad was 19 when he was wounded there during WWII.

People compare grief with “getting hit by 100-foot waves,” Chris Ingram said. “And as time goes by, the waves get smaller and farther apart.

“I’ve learned to appreciate friends and loved ones more.
“Tell somebody you love them today – because tomorrow they could be gone.”

As time goes on, “you realize you’ll miss her every day – you miss the good times.  I’ll always remember her smile, and she was just so kind.

“I was one lucky guy.”

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