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Fathering the Fatherless, Part IV: Amy's Story

Not yet 29, Amy Otto found herself facing her worst fears — and now, she had a baby to think about

It was cold that day, but spring was in the air. The birds were singing their beautiful melody. Too beautiful for the task at hand.

The young woman stood in the church yard, surrounded by family and friends. She was barely hearing the prayer. It all felt entirely too familiar. Except for her baby. Somewhere nearby — someone was comforting her 1-year-old.

It was silent now; it was time. She kissed the rose she’d held loosely in her
grasp, then placed it on the grave. She turned and made her way into the
church.

It was time, once again, to move forward.

Not yet 29, Amy Otto found herself facing her worst fears: She was a single parent, raising a baby alone without a reliable long-term income and needing to face decisions about how she would provide for herself and her daughter.

She had been young when she’d first married; she did not have a college degree. Critics who had said she was “too young to get married” and that it would "never last" had never dreamed that her marriage would end as it had —or that it would lead to this. 

But that was the first time around.

Grieving was one thing she knew. But being solely responsible for a little one’s life? That one thing changed everything.

This time. 

The most remarkable part of Amy Otto’s story is not that she had to learn to be without her husband at age 28. The truth is: She had learned to face that cold reality six years earlier when she’d first gazed into the mirror and saw a widow looking back at her.

No, the most unbelievable part of Amy’s story is not that she was widowed at age 28. It is that she was widowed at age 22. And again at age 28.

She had lost two husbands before her 29th birthday.

But the birds were singing the day Jeff Otto was laid to rest.

I know, because I was there, and strangely, even in the moment, it seemed to me a sign of hope.

Amy lost her husband. I lost a friend. I stood near the grave with my circle of friends, and collectively, we grieved our loss. But this wasn’t about us. It couldn’t be. It was about Amy. We needed to surround her and love her and help her, but we were all so young. We had no idea what that would look like. 

Answers would be revealed in the day-to-day of the months and years ahead. Some answers would never come. Amy would become my best friend, and our daughters would in turn grow up to be best friends.

For 13 years, I have felt a prompting to tell her story. I’m finally getting the chance as part of this series. There is more to tell than I could possibly do justice to here, and I admit that when I sat down to interview my best friend, it felt a little strange to assume the role of a journalist, asking questions, some of which I already knew the answers to (because I was there with her). But our time together was rich.

I wish that I could simply share the raw recordings of the interview. But my job as a writer is, in part, to disseminate information and to help my readers make sense of it, and that is precisely what I intend to do, even as difficult as this story has been for me, personally, to put together.

The way Amy has responded to hardship, the way she has raised her daughter, the way she has invested in the lives of others both personally and in her work, and (often personally at her work) is a true inspiration to many, but most of all, she is an inspiration to me.

Amy’s story is one of the most heart-wrenching I’ve ever heard of, and certainly the most heart-wrenching I’ve ever been a part of. Yet never once have I heard one word of self-pity come from Amy Otto’s lips. And I wonder: How could this be?

“I never had the luxury of self-pity,” Amy told me. “I had Chais, and I had to take care of her. Plus, it’s not in my nature — I don’t understand pity ...”

As a radiation therapist, Amy works with cancer patients, a career she chose after her second husband’s death. 

“If I have a patient come in with breast cancer, she is frightened and hurting. But the person after her may have just learned that his pancreatic cancer is basically a death sentence. There’s always someone worse off than you.”

“Every single person has a story, if you ask them. Everybody does. We all have that common ground. There’s not pity — we should empathize with each other and hold each other up,” Amy said.

Amy believes that God has a plan for every person’s life, and she feels that God “ushered her through the doors” of her life for a purpose.

“I didn’t want to be a single mom. I didn’t want to go to school. But God literally showed me each step of the way. You’re going to do this. Now go here …And there were people there to help me. I couldn’t have done it without them,” she told me.

“I’m not a ‘school’ person. You know I couldn’t have gotten through school without you..” she added.

The journalist in me came unraveled. Together, we cried.

Time heals wounds, but in touching the scars, we remember the pain.

Remembering is good.

It reminds me that Amy’s faith, positive attitude and sheer determination not only helped her make it through school and to start a career, but it also helped her to focus whole-heartedly on her daughter, to love her deeply and expressively and to raise her well. In time, she was able to open her heart to love again. (She is getting married this September.)

Amy has graciously agreed to share the details of her loss, along with the
direction her life has taken because of it and where she is headed next. I want to thank her for that and urge you, Dear Patch Reader, to read more of her story next week. It is my honor to do the telling as we continue together in “Fathering the Fatherless.”

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