Widow Finds A Secret Stash Of Letters Her Late Husband Wrote To Their Daughter

Because losing a loved one poses such a big change, moving forward with that grief is often totally uncharted territory. The one person you’d turn to for comfort may be the one person who’s no longer there. One father, who foresaw his own demise, found a creative way to ease that pain and emptiness for his family.

See, Ashley and Mitchell Whisenhunt had a fairy-tale love story. Just two teens from Longview, Texas, they met one another working at the Fastrack amusement park. But when tragedy struck, Ashley wasn’t sure she could go on — until she found the notes Mitchell had left for their daughter.

The multi-talented Mitchell enjoyed bowling, took part in theatre, loved to write, and aspired to be a zoologist when he grew up. His buoyant outlook on life was magnetic to Ashley, and they fell in love almost instantly.

Mitchell Whisenhunt / Facebook

In 2010, everything in the couple’s lives seemed to be going right. Mitchell was working at the Longview Target, and Ashley was studying in college and working at a local hospital. With stable jobs and education prospects, they were on top of the world.

Mitchell Whisenhunt / Facebook

It got better. Mitchell proposed to Ashley, who of course said yes. They set a wedding date, and couldn’t wait to spend the rest of their lives together — but they had no idea what was coming.

Mitchell Whisenhunt / Facebook

On July 10, 2010, after two years of dating, Mitchell and Ashley tied the knot. It was the happiest day of their lives, and they celebrated by going off to honeymoon in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Crazy Family Adventure

But that night, trouble struck. Mitchell began having chest pain, and felt unwell. Though Ashley was experienced dealing with medical issues, something told her this wasn’t normal, so she drove to the local Walmart to grab a thermometer.

Ashley Whisenhunt

When she got back, they found out Mitchell’s temperature was a terrifying 106.7. This was definitely life-threatening, and the newlyweds rushed to the nearest hospital, where Mitchell was diagnosed with pneumonia in both lungs.

CHI St. Vincent

This illness would be bad for anyone, but Mitchell also had Marfan syndrome, a genetic condition that weakens the bones, heart, and lungs. He was released from the Hot Springs hospital with the knowledge that his health might again be at risk.

In September that year, pneumonia attacked Mitchell again. Ashley came home from work one day to find him collapsed on the floor. This time, he was admitted to the hospital with a collapsed lung, and spent almost a month in the ICU.

Ashley Whisenhunt

Over the next year, Mitchell was in and out of the hospital with chest tubes, and finally was scheduled to have a lung surgery. By August 2011, he had heart failure twice, but the hospital staff were able to revive him.

WordPress

Their life continued like this until August of 2012. Mitchell had recovered from over 20 bouts of pneumonia. Although he had nerve damage from surgery and often needed a feeding tube, he was still a fighter.

KLTV Staff

To add insult to injury, the couple had been trying to get pregnant, but sadly had four losses. Ashley had also dropped out of college to take care of Mitchell, and was selling wristbands and t-shirts to help pay for his medical expenses.

Ashley Whisenhunt

By that August, things started looking up. Mitchell was finally able to have his feeding tube removed, and could come home. Ashley was also pregnant again, with all good signs for a healthy baby. Their luck was finally turning!

Ashley Whisenhunt

Mitchell continued to improve, and in April 2013, Ashley brought their baby girl into the world. Overjoyed, they named her Brynleigh. She was the best thing in their life — their little miracle ray of hope.

Ashley Whisenhunt

For the first year of Brynleigh’s life, Mitchell was as present and loving as he could be. He still had run-ins with pneumonia, but they weren’t as bad as normal, and he always pulled through for his family — that is, until May 2014.

Ashley Whisenhunt

After Brynleigh’s first birthday, Mitchell was admitted to the hospital again, and his health continued to get worse. By August, he weighed just 92 pounds and had lost hope that he’d ever get better.

Ashley Whisenhunt

Heartbroken, Ashley made him as comfortable as she could. The three Whisenhunts took a last family vacation to the Dallas Aquarium and the Fort Worth Zoo, paying a visit to the animals Mitchell loved, and on October 18th, he passed away.

Ashley Whisenhunt

Unbeknownst to Ashley, Mitchell couldn’t stand to leave her and Brynleigh without hope. He’d never given up on writing, and when Ashley was cleaning the house, she found a notebook full of poems, and 30 sealed letters all addressed to her and Brynleigh!

Ashley Whisenhunt

There was one for each of their daughter’s birthdays until she turned 18, one for her graduation day, and one for her wedding. Ashley broke down into tears. His words would always be there for them, even if he couldn’t be.

Great Bend Tribune

Even as he was dying, “he thought about everybody else instead of himself,” Ashley said, astonished. “Through his testimony, there is so much [Brynleigh] is going to learn.” She’ll always have her dad — both in words, and looking down from above.

Ashley Whisenhunt

Leaving letters behind after death can be incredibly healing for surviving parties. Long-time partners get to see into the untouched parts of the dearly departed souls’. Letters can completely re-contextualize a relationship.

Netflix

When he was in his early twenties, Chris Martin was single. Hoping to launch him into the dating game, his good friend introduced him to a relative named Renee. The two did not hit it off.

Chris Martin / Facebook

Years after the introduction, however, after more than a handful of casual meetings, Chris and Renee ended up at the same party. It was there, hidden away from the thrum of music and the chattering of friends, that the two kissed for the first time.

Chris Martin / Facebook

Soon, the two were in love, and fully in the beautiful honeymoon phase. Every moment was exciting, every touch, beautiful. But for them, the phase never ended, and in just a few years, they made the ultimate commitment.

Chris Martin / Facebook

The two wed in a beautiful ceremony, and within years, they were raising a baby girl named Grace. In 2011, the couple delighted in the news that Renee was pregnant once more, this time with a boy. The honeymoon continued…

Chris Martin / Facebook

…until doctors delivered the bad news. Renee had kidney cancer and in the span of a doctor’s sentence, the couple went from planning their family to planning how to tell their six-year-old daughter that mom was very sick.

“I remember the day telling Grace that we didn’t know whether we were going to be able to beat the germs in mum’s belly,” Chris said. “If we couldn’t that meant that mummy’s body wouldn’t be able to live anymore and she’d die.”

Chris Martin / Facebook

The conversation was impossible both in its weight and its complexity, yet it paled in comparison to the 2013 conversation Chris had with his now-two children (Albi was born in 2011): at just 39 years old, their mother was dead.

Chris Martin / Facebook

Devastated and single again, Chris pulled himself together for his kids. But trying to be both a mother and a father for them — while processing his own confusion and grief — nearly drove the dad to insanity.

Renee Martin / Facebook

“I miss the companionship, the shared load, the daily debrief,” he recalled. “Those little moments in life are the things you tend not to think about, but they’re the things you miss the most.” He knew he needed a way to heal.

The kids helped. They gave him a purpose beyond himself, and more importantly, kept him focused on the present — not that hopeless, Renee-sized void staring at him from the future. But he needed something else. He needed a place to bear his soul.

So three years after Renee’s death, the Australian native started a blog — “Just a Dad.” One part self-therapy, one-part explanation to his family and friends. The blog helped single dads everywhere cope with loss and grief.

Just a Dad / Facebook

Chris wrote and raised his kids, trying to build a functioning home with a crucial piece missing. He never forgot Renee, but as the years passed, perhaps the exact sound of her voice faded to a fragment of a memory.

Just a Dad / Facebook

Time and writing ever-so-weakly stitched the wound of Renee’s passing, and slowly, Chris found happiness in raising his kids — he could smile again. That was, until 2018, when he faced yet another impossible moment in the grieving process.

Just a Dad / Facebook

Chris chronicled that moment in a 2018 blog post titled Mourning Guilt. “I was logged into Renee’s email trying to find some information,” the dad wrote. “I was simply skimming the contents when I found something…”

In this particular email chain, Renee had been conspiring with Chris’s family about a surprise 40th birthday party she planned to throw for him in 2014. Even dying of cancer, she had still been thinking of celebrating her husband.

Just a Dad / Facebook

What, exactly, Renee wrote about her husband, Chris kept to himself. Those were personal words he would cherish forever. But he shared that she’d so beautifully written about how much he meant to her.

Chris Martin / Facebook

“It was as if I could hear her voice,” Chris wrote. “Something I haven’t heard for so long, in the words printed on the screen before me.” As he read, every emotion Chris had held back and suppressed over five years returned.

Chris Martin / Facebook

“I was overcome by the same desperate sadness I remember so vividly after she passed,” he wrote. “I immediately felt the dreadful hollowness of being alone, of never being able to have exactly what I once did, again.” He continued…

Chris Martin / Facebook

“The tears flowed and I felt terrible guilt,” he wrote. “Guilt that I hadn’t thought or felt these things for some time. Guilt that I had seemingly forgone these feelings in the pursuit of normality and, dare I say it, happiness…Guilt that I’m here and not her.”

Chris Martin / Facebook

For his readers, Chris confronted that guilt. “Like everything else in life, it too passes,” he wrote. “But it serves as a reminder – like a hammer to my kneecap type reminder, that there is more to losing a loved one than the anticipated sadness, loneliness and longing.”

“There are no answers,” he added. “No solutions or no ways to manipulate the grief journey. It just has to happen. However it pans out, I just have to trust that I’ll be okay…It’s comforting to know I still care.”

Chris Martin / Facebook

Before Chris posted his blog, he gave one last thank you to the woman he so dearly loved. “Even writing this all down has been cathartic and I feel lighter already,” he wrote. “So I guess I should say thanks, Renee, for still helping me out after all these years.”

Chris Martin / Facebook

Chris’s dance with grief connected so many other suffering single fathers who were lost without their passed-on partners. By sharing his story, he hoped to show men that it’s okay to be vulnerable after a loss. “It’s cleansing. Healing. Normal.”

Just a Dad / Facebook

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