Victoria Perry ChandlerTristesse Grief Center
Victoria Perry Chandler didn’t realize the level of grief she and her two children were experiencing after her husband died unexpectedly in his sleep six years ago.
“He had a rare heart condition, but we didn’t expect him to die so suddenly,” she says. “The last thing he said to me was ‘you’re beautiful, I love you and good night.’”
The next morning, her household was thrown into chaos with police responding to a home death.
The next several months unfurled more smoothly – at least on the surface.
Victoria was no stranger to death. She lost both parents at a young age, and other close friends who passed away very young. With all of this experience with death, she assumed she could cope.
“I thought I was getting better, but I was wrong.”
A friend referred her to the Tristesse Grief Center, a United Way partner agency.
“They immediately understood what I was going through,” she recalls. “I realized my children were being strong for me, but they needed help too.”
She joined a Young Widows Group for individuals under 50 at Tristesse.
Her son Adam, who was 12 at the time, and has the same heart condition as his father, as well as other specific needs, enrolled in the Healing Hearts Camp at Tristesse, a camp for children and young adults who have recently lost parents or other family members.
“I actually considered committing suicide,” Adam says, fighting back tears. “I thought if I did, I’d see my dad again.”
Adam flourished at camp and soon helped other participants facing similar experiences cope with their own losses.
“I had always been a United Way supporter at work,” said Victoria, who had a career in human resources at ONEOK and Dollar Thrifty. “I never realized my family would need the help of the United Way.”
Victoria and her family conducts an annual fundraiser in memory of her late husband. Guests at the event give contributions to the Healing Hearts Camp and to Camp Strong, a camp for children with heart conditions and cancer, offered by St. Francis Hospital. Victoria and her family match all contributions.
“Giving back is another strategy to cope with loss and grief.”