Natalie Reid-Knutson didn’t know what to expect when she and her three boys boarded a plane to New York City on Christmas Eve 2018.
Her loving and seemingly healthy-as-a-horse husband, Wayne, died of a heart attack four months earlier at just 47, and needless to say, everyone he left behind was still struggling to pick up the pieces.
“It was our first Christmas without Wayne, and we didn’t want to be at home surrounded by all those grief triggers,” Natalie said. “I had a friend who invited us to come visit and stay in her three-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. I didn’t have to think or plan anything. We just showed up, and she basically became our NYC tour guide.”
She added, “It became a week where the boys and I could have a distraction from our life back home and create new memories as a family.”
More importantly, it was an opportunity for Natalie to take a faithful step forward, a step many widows struggle with.
There are over 700,000 new widows each year in the United States and 1.5 million children who suddenly find themselves living in a single-parent household due to the death of a parent. Perhaps those numbers aren’t near as staggering as the fact that the average age of those new widows is roughly 56 — not 65, 70, or even 80 years old. They have so much life left to live, and many still have children to raise. And yet, most feel incredibly lost, sad, overwhelmed, and guilty about moving forward and finding happiness.
There’s a lot of loneliness that comes with widowhood. Sure, they have a support system to lean on. But as time passes, everyone goes back to their lives, and these women are left making parenting decisions alone, figuring out their future, and trying to move forward — all while a cloud of grief hangs over their heads.
That’s exactly how Natalie felt, and ever since that fateful trip, she’s taken up the proverbial mantle of being a dedicated champion for young widows in helping them take the next steps on their grief journey.
Fast forward to today, and Natalie and her new husband, Kjell, are mere months away from unveiling a full-fledged non-profit grief retreat house for young widows and their kids called Broken Halos Haven.
Broken Halos Haven is a 100-year-old house located in the heart of Old Town Lewisville where grieving families can go and heal. According to Natalie, there are three main goals: to allow grieving families a stress-free, no-cost getaway, empower and build the confidence of widows who are now parenting alone, and to help these same widows realize that it is perfectly acceptable to have fun, enjoy life, and find joy again on their unchosen journey.
And here’s what’s unique about the entire process: after the widow’s registration is approved, she’ll have the opportunity to create a customized Grief Getaway Gift Registry based on her family’s needs. The registry includes a stay at Broken Halos Haven plus other items.
For example, if she has teenagers, she might choose to rent jet skis, select tickets to a professional sporting event, or take advantage of a gift card to a special restaurant. If she has preschoolers, admission to a children’s museum or trampoline park might be more her speed. Once her registry is complete, a unique URL will be generated that she can share with a trusted friend or family member who will serve as her coordinator. That person will send out the registry link to friends and family who want to gift items on her wish list.
“Since Wayne died, I’ve called myself ‘The Widow Collector,’ as it seems every few weeks, a friend reaches out to me asking if I’d be willing to connect with a new young widow who has lost her husband. There are about 30 of us now in the Flower Mound area that I’ve added to our private Facebook group, where we listen to all the hurt and pain and provide hope and direction. Some of us are further along in the journey, but the one common theme we all share is that feeling of guilt over moving forward and being happy,” Natalie said. “The fact that I got remarried doesn’t mean that I love Wayne any less. It just means I’m finding a way to heal and move forward. We want Broken Halos Haven to be that first step in the healing process for these women.”
“Yes, it’s a physical getaway for these women, but we hope it’ll also be a conduit that helps these young widows and their children take that next step forward,” Kjell said. “We don’t have it all figured out or know what this ministry will look like in three years or five years, but we know we’re called to this through our faith. We are excited to have this platform.”
It’s important to note that Broken Halos Haven is not a full-fledged 501(c)3 non-profit, but the wheels are very much in motion to get to that point soon. Natalie and Kjell purchased the 100-year-old three-bedroom, two-bathroom farmhouse in June — the week between their wedding and honeymoon. They’ve spent every day since working with sponsors, volunteers, contractors, and other community supporters to make their vision a reality.
As for the house itself, they’ve added an additional 400-square feet for a bunk room, kid’s attic hideout, and a huge covered back porch. At the same time, they’re saving and repurposing many of the original elements to create a unique mix of old and new. When widows are not using Broken Halos Haven, it will be available to the public as a short-term rental on airbnb.com. Proceeds from rental income will help offset operating costs.
“We’ve tried to salvage and maintain as much as we can of this old house, but we’ve also rebuilt a lot, so much that I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘Well, why didn’t you just demo the whole thing and start over?’” Kjell said. “To us, it’s easy to wallpaper over and cover up or tear down. But this house is a metaphor for the widow’s walk where she asks herself, ‘How do I honor my husband and maintain a love for the past while not feeling stuck in it?’ For these women, it’s a chance to move forward and have new beginnings but still have an amazing regard and reverence for the past.”
At the end of the day, it’s a chance to serve and give back to women who, just like Natalie, deserve to and want to move forward.
“It’s that first step to healing,” Natalie said. “We may never completely come to terms with why our husbands died, but the purpose is for the widow with young children to realize that yes, she can parent alone and that she can laugh and have fun with her kids, and that she can build that confidence. I want them to know they can take that next faithful step.”