People have unique ways of dealing with the pain of losing a loved one. Some go back to living their daily lives, hoping to gain a sense of normalcy. In contrast, others process their grief by doing something they’ve never done before, such as starting new traditions, exploring new hobbies, and immersing themselves into fresh experiences. And that is resilience at work, everyone can harness it.
When Laura Fahrenthold lost her husband, Mark Pittman, in 2009, she decided to go with the latter.
After her spouse’s sudden demise, Laura would travel with her two daughters every summer to scatter his ashes in locations all over America and Canada. She is teaching them that with resilience at work you can overcome anything and it brings healing.
The idea of starting this tradition came to her on a camping trip to Oregon in 2010, around six months after Mark’s death.
“I had to pee in the middle of the night and I was terrified,” she said. “So I brought the box of ashes to the outhouse with me. I tripped and it spilled and dusted me all over. Now looking back, I like to say, that’s when he broke out of the box.”
Mark and Laura were together for 15 years. They met in 1994 as journalists at an upstate New York newspaper. He was a loving husband and an outstanding father to their two kids, Nell, now 20, and Susannah, 19. Though not in the best shape at 6-foot-4 and 280 pounds, Mark was a man who was married to his job.
While working at Bloomberg News, he gained international fame as the award-winning reporter who sued Federal Reserve for lying to taxpayers about the extent of bank bailout during the 2008 housing crisis. On November 25, 2009, in the middle of his court battle with the institution, he suffered a massive heart attack in the hallway of their Yonkers, New York home. He was only 52.
Mark had had another cardiac event nine years earlier that led to stent surgery. His doctors advised him to improve his diet and exercise more, however, he never really stuck to their recommendations.
Their daughters, then 8 and 10, witnessed as their father fell to the floor.
“I was 46 years old, and to have your husband drop dead with your two kids looking at you, it was like someone ripped our life apart.” Laura recalled of the moment.
The experience left emotional scars, and Laura didn’t want Mark’s death to define their daughters’ lives, who were both too young to witness something like that. She wanted them to become stronger and more self-reliant.
“I wanted to build them up so they would have experiences that were bigger than their dad’s death,” Laura said. “If they climbed the mountain, or went white water rafting or built a campfire, they could look back and feel that.”
With that, Laura and the girls pushed through with the yearly camping trip with another mission – to spread Mark’s ashes in different locations across the country. They went to Niagara Falls, Graceland, the Grand Canyon, the Badlands, and the largest picnic basket in Newark, Ohio, because Laura and Mark had a picnic wedding.
After a few weeks of pitching tents, they encountered an old RV for sale on a roadside in Washington State. Laura didn’t think twice. She purchased the fully equipped 1993 Toyota Dolphin, and they nicknamed it “HaRVey, the RV.” For the next five years, Laura, Nell, and Susannah traveled all over America and Canada during summers and school holidays.
“You name it, we’ve probably sprinkled Mark there,” Laura said. “And another part was, wherever my girls went as they grew up, their Dad would always be there.”
In 2015, they made the final stop at Kansas where Mark’s boyhood home was. Then they went to the sunflower field where he proposed to Laura and released him there for one last time.
Today, the girls are successfully pursuing their chosen fields. Nell is a photographer studying at FIT, and Susannah, an EMT, teaches sailing and navigation for Tall Ships America.
Looking back at their adventures, Laura said, “I think there’s nothing better than road therapy.”
This amazing mom wrote about their story in her memoir, “The Pink Steering Wheel Chronicles: A Love Story,” which you can purchase here.