Nothing prepares us for the loss of a loved one, especially the one person we plan to spend the rest of our entire life with. We are pushed into this difficult path of grief and sometimes, it can feel like the entire journey through it can swallow us up. Baring her soul and heartache with us to offer hope during this tough period in our lives, our very own Tina Fornwald shares her own story. Her friend, Jerri Newson, takes over and interviews Tina about how she navigated through the grieving process from the death of her husband that she spent 32 years with. She also talks about what prompted her to create a show around widowhood, loss, and death. Being in this dark place can feel lonely, but it doesn’t have to be. Let Tina and the stories of many others bring you hope through it.
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Tina’s Story: Healing From The Death Of The Person We Planned To Spend Our Life With
Welcome to Widowhood Real Talk with Tina. You’re going to have an opportunity to get to know me better. In that chair is going to be my good friend, Jerri Newson. She’s going to give you an opportunity to know a little bit more about me while we’re here, while we’re doing this. I want you to get your tissue ready because this is not a pretend conversation. This is a real discussion about the death of my husband whom I spent 32 years with. This is an opportunity for you and me to connect on a very organic level and realize I am here for the real talk. I’m looking forward to hearing from you, your friends, your family, and your loved ones as we go on this journey together.
Tina, how are you?
I’m good, and you?
I’m doing great. Good. Thanks for having me over.
Thank you, and thank you all for being here with us for the very first episode of Widowhood Real Talk with Tina. This is my dear friend, Jerri Newson, who has agreed to interview me to get a little bit more information to you as far as while we’re here. I want to say I am sorry for your loss. I am sorry for the person that is no longer here in your life and that has driven you to be here with this conversation.
You’re doing fine. We are here together. Tell us a little bit about Tina.
I was born Tina Beckom in Chicago, Illinois. I am 1 of 5 siblings, 4 girls, and 1 boy. Part of my hood being from Chicago is my family. You will meet many of them in a little bit. Our brother is the last to be born. One of the jokes in our family is that we’re only here because they didn’t have him first because if he would’ve been born first, there would’ve been no reason for my dad to push through all those girls.
Thank you, Jesse, for being last. I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. I went in the Army for 21 years as a logistician and retired as a Warrant Officer in the United States Army. I went on to Civil Service where I currently work full-time now. I was married to Mark Fornwald for 29 years, which is why we’re having this conversation. I have two children, Katherine Alexander Fornwald, and I love people. I love connecting with new people.
I could be in a laundromat and start talking to somebody about what may seem the most random situation and people become transparent because I believe that we all want to connect with someone, but we’re afraid of being transparent. We’re afraid of making ourselves vulnerable, and I love when people open up and become who they are and share that. You’ll learn more about me as we go on this journey. I don’t want to give all the tea away right away, so there’s more to come, but that’s a good introduction as far as who I am.We all want to connect with someone, but we're afraid of being transparent. We're afraid of making ourselves vulnerable. Click To Tweet
I can attest that she does walk up to people or if they come even within any distance of her, she will speak to them and start asking questions.
They like it, though.
People like that. Tell us why you started the show.
Grief is a terrible thing. We have many opportunities and so many books about how to prepare to have a baby, and how to prepare for a wedding, but there is not a lot out there on how to prepare for the loss of the person whom we plan to spend our entire life with. Mark, my husband, passed from a massive heart attack while we were on a lover’s weekend on March 11th, 2017, my entire world was crushed. I did not know how I was going to survive that.
Someone I know that was a widow reached out to me immediately and said, “Tina, I cannot attend that funeral but this is the number to my therapist.” I was like, “I understand.” I started meeting with that therapist the day that I viewed my husband’s body for the first time. I reached out to so many widows and widowers, and they embraced me. They shared their story. They shared how they have been surviving this. Five years forward, I am having conversations with other widows or widowers that people are connecting me with.
Each one of those conversations is so enriching and helpful, but I know that I cannot talk to everyone one-on-one. My desire, in God’s prompting, is to share my story with people this way, to be able to give hope and encouragement, to let everybody know you are not alone, and this is what grief looks like. For the people in your hood, your family, your friends, your coworkers, to be able to ear hustle into some of these conversations and understand that person that is a friend of theirs or they love and want to be there and support them, but they don’t know how to do that and don’t want to ask that question.
This is an opportunity in this forum to create a safe space where nothing is taboo about death because it is a journey we all have to pass through, and it’s also a journey that is going to impact each one of us. Widowhood Real Talk with Tina is this show, and it’s also a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to be able to share resources. When I hear about somebody whose spouse has passed, I send them a book and sometimes a workbook on how to deal with this grief. Try to connect them with other people, therapists, and financial planners. There are many things that have to be unpacked.
We have some other things down the road that we’re looking to do, hopefully in October 2023 to have a conference on Zoom on how to deal with grief and prepare for the holidays. This show is the beginning. There is content on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube. Oftentimes a widow or widower is spending the most awkward times of the day dealing with so much loneliness and needing something to tap into at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning when they don’t want to bother a friend or a family member, but they’re feeling alone and needing someone to know what this looks like. That is my why and why we’re here.
You are not a licensed therapist?
No. I am not a licensed therapist. I am not a professional life coach, but what I am is a woman who has loved a man for 32 years, and in 1 weekend, he stopped breathing. I can share that experience and bring other people to this forum to share and encourage other people. I am sharing my story. You will hear life experiences from other people sharing in hopes of bringing you encouragement and us to do this together.
I want you to spill a little bit of tea. I want you to tell us how you met Mark and how you knew he was the man that you wanted to spend the rest of your life with.
Memories are good. Mark and I were both stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, and we lived in the barracks. The barracks are what you would consider when you’re in the college, the dorms. On one side were the males and on the other side were the females. Some guys I worked with were having a movie night, so I went down to the room and was hanging out with them. There were two bunk beds and people were sitting everywhere, on chairs and floors. I then went, and came back in, and what happened? People reshuffled the deck and I landed sitting next to Mark.
I was like, “He’s short. I want somebody tall.” I talked to him, but it wasn’t like I was feeling him or anything. A couple of weeks later, some friends of mine had a party in the parking lot and he was there. I was like, “He’s okay.” He started warming up too. He then asked me to go to the movies, and I was like, “Sure. I asked a whole bunch of other people to go to the movies with us,” and we saw A Few Good Men. I’ll never forget that. He was like, “Everybody?” I was like, “You said you want to go to the movies.”
You didn’t think that was a date?
No, but after the movies, he asked me to go out to eat, and I was like, “I’ll see where this is going.” We went to Pizza Hut and you had your cute girl walk on. I’m coming back from the bathroom, and he’s sitting at the booth. He’s looking at me all hard, and I’m like, “He’s feeling me?” He then looks down and goes, “You got some toilet paper on your shoe.” I was like, “He wasn’t feeling me. He was looking at the toilet paper on my shoe.” I was thinking, “It’s embarrassing, and this date is probably over.” I sit down, and then he commenced to pick up a knife and fork. He’s eating his pizza.
I’m thinking, “I have never seen somebody eat pizza.” I’m from Chicago so you eat full hands in. I was like, “This date is probably over,” but it wasn’t over, and we continue to spend time together. I then had orders to go to Korea, and he came to Chicago. He met my siblings and my dad. My dad was a 6’1″ or 6’2″ Chicago policeman. He had a snarky remark because this is the first guy I ever brought home. Mark had a snarky remark for him. I was like, “I see you. This is probably something that we can do.” He came back at him. I was like, “This is probably going to be it.” I was good after that, and we wrote letters.
To this day, I have this little basket that has yellow dollies around it and is pastel. We would send tapes back and forth like little miniature recorders because there were no cell phones, so there was only snail mail. We would have the little recorder and send tapes to each other. I remember when he passed, tearing the house apart to find those and listen to his recordings. We did that for eighteen months while I was in Korea. I came back about a year later and then we got married.
It’s wonderful. I love that story.
Did you hear about toilet paper before?
No. I hadn’t heard about toilet paper, but now I know. I’ll always check when I’m on a date. Here’s a hard question. It’s because Mark died suddenly. What were your thoughts about your life at that point?
People look at me a lot and say, “You’re really strong.” I’d been recovering from breast cancer. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. There were some signs that looked like it was turning into uterine cancer, and then in November 2016, I had a massive hysterectomy. I had been a concern for everybody. I was supposed to go on a work trip and I could feel God’s prompting I needed to spend time with Mark. He was here in Virginia, Portsmouth, working as an electrician, and we met in Delaware Water Gap.
You hang out with somebody and there’s no argument. It’s the perfect weekend. That was the weekend we were having. We got lost and misdirected. We laughed that off. Never would I have thought from that Friday to that Saturday morning, he would have a massive heart attack and would not be breathing. My life was shattered. I remember being in the hospital and the doctor telling me, “Your husband had a massive heart attack.” I was like, “What does that mean?” He started telling me the percentages of his heart that was impacted. I was like, “I should tell the children.”
He was like, “We need to see if we can get through the night.” I was thinking, “I’m going to take off from work. I’m going to do all this.” I remember walking through the hall, people talking about what they were going to have for dinner, and I was like, “I don’t even know when I would think about food again.” To fast-forward, this doctor came into the waiting room and told me that my husband was no longer in this world. Having to tell my children that, and literally losing my mind in that hospital room and my daughter coming in and friends came because we were in Delaware, in the middle of Pennsylvania and Virginia by ourselves.
My daughter asked me, “What do we do?” For the first time in her life, I told her, “I don’t know.” Watching the fear on her face and me trying to figure out, “How am I going to do life in his absence?” I didn’t know. Thankfully, a friend connected me with their therapist and I started seeing her right away. I saw her every week. I reached out to widows and widowers because I needed to learn how to navigate this life that I was in because I was still alive, even though Mark was not. I needed to figure it out. I didn’t go back to work for three months. I needed to figure out what Tina looked like, unraveled from Mark.
I couldn’t rush that because 32 years didn’t happen rashly, but I needed to take my time to understand what that looked like. Little by little, I started figuring out what it was like to say, Tina, without saying Tina and Mark, understanding what I was as an individual in that grief, still mourning him, and trying to identify who I was. What life looked like for me? It looked like sometimes moment by moment, hour by hour, and then it went into weeks, days, and months.
Moving from Pennsylvania to Virginia was huge. I waited a year before moving from Pennsylvania and selling the house where we raised the children because my mind was in such a fog that first year, and my therapist with whom I’m extremely grateful, said to give myself grace and time before making major decisions. Not moving right away, selling, and doing things, gave me time to take it in. Eventually, carrying through with our decision to move to Virginia was good, and so I’m glad I did that. I’m still figuring out life now.
I understand that very much. Take us back after the funeral and everyone had left. Tell me how you felt.
I am grateful that our brother, Jesse, stayed with me for two weeks. Some of my closest friends stayed for maybe about a week, at least 3 to 5 days. They stayed there and nobody wanted to leave me because after a funeral, everybody feels like they go back to their lives, and they’re leaving that person in that situation. It was hard but having my brother there does not seem like it, but I was not alone. After my brother left, one of my first cousins Kathy, came and was on deck for another two weeks. It wasn’t like right after the funeral, I was alone.
I had friends there and people were coming through. When Kathy left to go home, it had been four weeks. Mark passed in March 2017, now we’re in April 2017. The reality of his absence was huge. Before in a weird way, we were planning a party for him, but he wasn’t there. People talking about him, everyone wants to celebrate his life, and now he’s gone. Katherine’s back to work, and I didn’t return to work. It was hard. I was talking to my siblings somewhere on the West Coast, somewhere on the East Coast trying to figure that out.
I had a lot of journaling, a lot of time with my therapist, and working out because grief has to come out some way or another. I was trying to find healthy ways for grief to happen. There were a lot of long walks and time at the gym, grinding. I moved an elliptical machine into the front room trying to figure it out because I’m up at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, and my mind is racing.Grief has to come out somewhere or another. Click To Tweet
I rearranged the house because I went from this 2,600 square foot house bustling with 4 people to now both my children are in the military, my husband is deceased, and I’m walking through this empty house going, “What in the world?” I started making this house that was from everybody into my home independently in developing myself and figuring out what I wanted.
I remember opening the refrigerator and going, “Everybody else liked all this food. I don’t even want any of this.” It always happened at some random time like 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. I’m taking all the food out of the refrigerator, putting it in the trash, and going, “Tomorrow, I’m going to the grocery store to find out what I like.” Life has been like that, finding out who Tina is outside of everybody else, and has been a journey. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s the first time going into Sam’s Club without Mark and thinking he would go do all the shopping, and I wanted the free food on Saturday and give myself the grace to feel my feelings and then keep moving.Give yourself grace to feel your feelings and then keep moving. Click To Tweet
I’ve never had that experience. I applaud you for sharing that because people think that life goes on as normal and that you’ll continue doing the same things. Hearing what you said is that now you’re finding yourself and what you like. You’re rearranging the home. You’re doing things that would help you through the process. One question. How did you navigate being single other than changing furniture and buying food of your choice?
I’m always thinking about my next meal. I’m going to tell you that now. I’m surprised there’s not some food sitting here, but whatever. Dinner in our household was a production. I worked on base, so I would go grocery shopping. At the commissary, they bagged the food for you, and then somebody puts it in the trunk. I would pull up to the house, and Katherine Alexander would take the food out and put it away. Depending on who was cooking, which was generally me, Mark would get something out to thaw out, and then I was responsible for cooking. I remember going grocery shopping, going, “I’m not here for this, but I needed to eat. I didn’t want to eat out all the time.” I started doing Blue Aprons.
She was the Blue Apron queen. You should have done an advertisement for them.
I was like, “I want fresh food,” and so Blue Apron would deliver still, and I could make fresh food. The quality of that food was like a restaurant. It gave me joy in cooking. I didn’t have to worry about the grocery store doing that stuff. I started figuring out what to do that I could do in my space and trying to remain some type of normal. I connected with other friends and that’s one thing I’m glad that I have maintained friendships with people. That has been a strong thing for me, connecting with friends.
I did a lot of traveling. I remember going out to California for a widow support group to connect with other widows and widowers to be able to understand how they do this. I started leaning into everything my therapist was seeing, connecting with other widows and widowers, and embracing what life had given me.
I’m still alive in what that looks like, and that has still been what I’m doing here. It has evolved to still having this conversation because there are too many things about the death of the loved one that it seems like sometimes people want you to hush and not share. I cannot be quiet about someone I have loved for 32 years, and be concerned about somebody else feeling uncomfortable because of that.
I meant to share this with you. My daughter recently had two friends. One was a former coworker and another was a close friend who lost their husband. My daughter is not 50 years old. My daughter is in her early 40s. She is struggling to connect these people with your show because of this. I myself have shared it with two older women who are widows. One who recently lost her husband a few months ago.
It’s around the holidays.
He died suddenly. He was tired and going to go upstairs to bed. She was so thankful I gave her the link for the show you did on Facebook for the holidays. She was so thankful.
Did she see that already?
She saw that because we were at a neighborhood Christmas party. We were talking, and she was crying. I was feeling what she was feeling through what I’ve gone through with you. I said, “Let me send this to her right away.” There was someone else whom I sent it to.
You never shared that with me. I remember you talking about that holiday party.
You have given us a lot now, and I look forward to what we’re going to get from you later. I want to end with this. Thank you for being so transparent.
She’s thanking for you.
She is being transparent. She’s given you a lot of herself and I pray that you, reading, will be able to find even a glimmer of hope through this show. Tina is a wonderful person. It’s not because we are great friends. We’re like sisters. She is that person who genuinely cares about what happens to other people. I’ll share this one thing that I thought was so cute that you told me one time. When you’re in a restaurant and the waiter or waitress comes up to you, and you get their name, and then when they come back to the table again, you say, “Is there anything that I can pray about for you?” This is the person that you will come to know. I’m so thankful we could spend this time together.
Thank you for helping with this conversation, and thank you for joining us. Have a good day.
We just finished the first episode of Widowhood Real Talk with Tina. I didn’t think I was going to be able to pull that off but thank you for being here with me. This series that we’re on is called Family, and the next person that’s going to sit in that chair is my mom. Mrs. Addie, Beckom, and you’re going to have a conversation. My mom is 79 years old, but she is on fire, so be ready for the conversation. Thanks for being here with me. We are not alone. We are here together and there is hope. There is an opportunity for healing, and I want you to be encouraged that there are people here with you. We are doing this together. Talk to you soon.