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On Our Minds is the name of KERA's mental health news initiative. The station began focusing on the issue in 2013, after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Coverage is funded in part by the Donna Wilhelm Family Fund and Cigna.

What is life like after losing your spouse? North Texas parents talk about grief

Hung Chern and his daughters pose for a picture in winter gear.
Hung Chern
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"I try to go day by day," said Hung Chern, who lost his spouse in 2020. "Every day is a new day for me. So I try to make it a good day for my daughters."

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way people grieve and find support.

Kellye Ambler and Hung Chern met as part of a grief support center in North Texas for families. Chern lost his wife in October of 2020, and Ambler lost her husband in March of 2020. Both started attending virtual support group meetings later that year.

They share what it's been like finding support for themselves and their kids, and what it was like to grieve in isolation during the pandemic.

On virtual support group meetings

Hung Chern: I'd never done any sort of group counseling before. So I was a little apprehensive about the whole thing. Zoom made a little bit easier, because you're not in front of people all the time. You could click the camera off and just disappear.

I think the group thing is actually really good. If you lose a spouse, you lose the person you're intending to spend, after your kids are grown up, the rest of your time with. You have a sense of loneliness. (In the group,) you have people there who are going through the same things, maybe at different stages, but you see what people are like, and that there's some progress at the end.

Kellye Ambler: Telling your story is hard. You know, it is still hard for me sometimes. I still get choked up. And it's been two years, and I can't believe it's two years. That's insane. And, you know, of course, up and down. Some days are easier, some days are harder.

Grief processing with their kids

Chern: What made the first meeting easier for me was (my daughter) had her Zoom call the night before. Even though I let her have her own space, I could hear her talking. I'm thinking well, if you're able to do it, I can do it. They say children are resilient, but I think they don't have the baggage that adults do sometimes.

Ambler: It's a different perspective. And that's something that I did tell all of my kids. I, at the time, didn't know what it was like to lose a parent. I lost my best friend. But I don't know what it's like to lose a parent. Your feelings are different, your relationship was different and the way you're gonna process it is going to be different.

I've always encouraged (my kids) to feel all the feelings. It's okay to be happy. It's okay to be sad. It's okay to be angry. I don't think (people) realize that (grief) looks different for everybody. And it feels different for everybody. And I know that until I experienced it, I never knew what to expect.

Kellye Ambler and her family celebrate a graduation on a bus.
Kellye Ambler
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Kellye Ambler joined a grief support group in 2020, after the death of her husband. The group helped her find joy and laughter even through grieving. "It's okay to be open and honest with someone about how you're feeling, because a true support group does that: they support you," she said.

Being alone and moving forward

Ambler: I'm sure people tell you, you're so strong, you're so strong, I don't know how you're doing that you're so strong. And, you know, you get tired of hearing that.

I don't have a choice. I have a son. I have to get out of bed. I'm also very independent, and that's just the way I was raised. (My husband) traveled a lot so I was used to being alone. And I think that kind of helped.

Chern: You should see when no one else is around. I think for like six months, I would drive into work, I would break down, cheer up, drive home from work, break down, tear up. I would wake up at 3 a.m. in the morning every day for six months. Right? What they see on the outside, is what you let them see, because you have to move forward with everything.

Ambler: And you don't want to sit around and be pitied all the time. It also made me realize you never know what someone else is going through. So hopefully I'm a little more empathetic towards people.

For grief support for parents and families in North Texas, connect with Journey of Hope, Grief and Loss Center of North Texas, and The WARM Place.

Got a tip? Email Elena Rivera at erivera@kera.org. You can follow Elena on Twitter @elenaiswriting.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.

Elena Rivera is the health reporter at KERA. Before moving to Dallas, Elena covered health in Southern Colorado for KRCC and Colorado Public Radio. Her stories covered pandemic mental health support, rural community health access issues and vaccine equity across the region.