Local Woman Thanks Community 16 Years After Husband’s Death?

The Anderson family — Hannah, Tanya, Emily and Eric — are pictured in 2004, several weeks before Eric’s passing. Submitted photos

It’s hard to feel grateful in the middle of what has been a horrific year for so many.

But several weeks ago, after submitting the final payment on my husband’s funeral bill from 16 years ago, I felt overwhelmed with gratitude that I felt I had to put into words.

I lost my husband Eric very tragically when he took his own life in August of 2004. He was my heart and my soul. He was the easy-going, help-everybody-with-their-homework kind of guy to our daughters, Hannah and Emily, while I was, admittedly, the disciplinarian. He was my best friend.

At the time of his death, my girls were 6 and 4 years old, respectively. I had just taken a job working third shift at WCA Hospital (now UPMC Chautauqua) in the laboratory and had just resumed going back to school to become a physician’s assistant — a lifelong dream of mine.

I had no idea how I was going to do any of this without him — but I knew that our daughters were going to come first. No matter what.

So, I gave up my dream of being a PA. I enrolled all three of us into counseling to help us cope with the tragedy that had just occurred. And right away, from the get-go, Lind’s Funeral Home made the process as easy as can be.

They set up a card table for the girls to color and have snacks at during the calling hours. They let the girls fill his casket with paper airplanes and all kinds of things they felt that their dad would need as he went to heaven. They let us play the Grateful Dead (Eric was a big “Deadhead”) during the wake.

No matter the task, they were there for us. And in the 16 years since that day, not once did anyone hassle me for money or rush me for payment.

Right there — every step of the way — were Eric’s folks, a well respected community-minded couple, who were so loving to the girls and I and continued to treat me no differently than had Eric been alive. They made sure that the girls always had Christmas presents for me when they were younger and included me in every family function and never missed a beat.

At work, my WCA lab family couldn’t have been better: I was kept on day-shift training much longer than I needed to make it through the holidays with girls. My work-friends slept at my house when the overnight babysitters couldn’t, they gave rides and did pickups. They have been fantastic.

When Eric’s viewing came along, and went on for hours-and-hours on end, I could not believe the amount of people who showed up. You don’t realize when somebody dies how much that means to those who loved him that there are those who would stand in an insanely long line just for the chance to shake your hand and tell you their sorry about the person the both of you loved so much.

When the girls were younger, they attended daycare at Jamestown Community College. During that time, the other mothers, some of whom were older mothers like me, and I had not been particularly close — limited time together and my work schedule just prevented that from happening. But, they came to the funeral home to pay their respects and while they weren’t my friends before Eric had passed away, they became family in the wake of his death.

Among them was Terry Smith. An elementary school teacher, who became a rock for me and my girls. She and her daughter Kaitlin became family to us.

Terry was always willing to ride-share and she took over on the weekends when the girls had outgrown going to their grandparents. She’d bring them to Sunday school and bring them home with her until I, still working third shift, woke up later on Sunday afternoon.

We even vacationed together and Terry took care of every painstaking detail. All I had to do was jump in the car.

She helped me discover the different programs that existed in this community for our kids and together, they took advantage of nearly every opportunity or camp that was available in southern Chautauqua County — gymnastics, ballet, ice skating, music lessons, Suzuki instruction. You name it. They did it.

In the summer, when our kids needed a place to go, they were enrolled in Kids College at JCC, the YMCA Summer Program, Audubon Camp, Fenton History Center Camp, Drama Enrichment Program Camp — there was something for them every week of every summer. Girl Scouts summer camps.

And when money was tight, the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation — and the organizations themselves — had scholarships available to make it affordable for us.

Along the way, my Hannah became fully involved in the Chautauqua Regional Youth Symphony and it was a blessing to work with those folks there as she continued to foster her love for her violin.

By the time the girls got to Jamestown High School, those in the school district knew of our situation and, as expected by this point, Jamestown came through again: the JHS ‘Red Raider’ Marching Band helped my girls grow, while the A Cappella Choir and school musical gave them an opportunity to use their voices.

Jamestown is not my hometown. I was born and raised in Clymer — a smaller community where I’m used to those pitching in and surrounding you and helping you when things are really bad.

You wouldn’t think that would happen in a much larger community like Jamestown — but it really does. For me, it has in such a big way. It supported me and my kids all the way through high school. I was always really involved in my kids things, not because I’m a helicopter mom but because I wanted to make sure my girls had that parental support.

And, let me tell you: there is nothing like seeing things through the eyes of your child during that first march down Main Street USA at Walt Disney World or that first state championship win in the Carrier Dome. Nothing compares to that excitement.

This community not only supports all of those organizations, but embraces them. It has given us so much and I am just so grateful for every person and every experience that was put into our lives like Joy and John Hurst, Traci and Mike Stevenson, Kris and Dave Paterniti, Mark and Carol Federko, Cheryl and Mike Russo, Michelle Ricker, Kim Dineen, Gary Kindberg, Ashley Noon, Marianne Boggs, Pattie Todaro and so many others.

This community sadly gets a bad rep. It, like communities just like it, has its fair share of issues.

But there is so much good here — good people, good traditions, and good programs that help our children to live lives of consequence. I hope more people can use our story as a blueprint as to what is possible.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. This village has done just that: Hannah graduates from Alfred University in a few short days and Emily is nearly finished with her degree from Edinboro University. I am so proud of them.

But this village has also raised a mother — one who, when faced with tragedy, felt enough love to overcome deep grief. And one who considers it a blessing to call this city my adopted home and to have raised my daughters here.

Thank you, Jamestown. Thank you.


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