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An accident at home killed her husband. Her grief pushed her to help others in his honor.

Posted at 12:50 PM, Jul 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-27 14:35:49-04

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Patrick and Kelly Barnett built their dream home on a Charlottesville hillside as a place to raise their family and create a lifetime of memories with children Colin and Bianca.

But in September 2015, life for the Barnetts changed in an instant.

Patrick, who had just retired as a JAG officer in the U.S. Military, fell from a ladder while working on his family’s property.

“I was literally five minutes from home," Kelly Barnett said. "When I got home, I saw him. The ambulance hadn’t gotten here yet. In my heart of hearts, I knew he wasn’t going to survive.”

Patrick Barnett was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in a ceremony honoring his service. In the days that followed his death, Kelly said she struggled to move on without the man she loved.

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“They were horrific. They were paralyzing. They were isolating. They were very difficult to accept,” she said.

Like many people who’ve suffered an unexpected loss, Kelly Barnett said she found it difficult knowing where to turn for advice, comfort, and closure. While family and friends were a source of strength, she said there were many questions and concerns she encountered while trying to navigate life without a partner.

“I think a lot of people get overwhelmed by the emotional component and then they can’t take on the tactical responsibilities of you know, rebuilding your life and closing out the life of your loved one,” she said.

In 2018, Barnett said she began envisioning an organization that could help widows and widowers find ways to move forward, not only emotionally, but logistically.

She created SoloSpouse, a step-by-step module to assist surviving partners in getting back on their feet. The website offers everything from legal and financial advice to parenting and social forums and links to community partners. A place where people can turn anytime for trusted resources.

“We want to be a partner for them,” Barnett said. “We want to take that place and say, we’re here and we’re going to walk alongside you. We’re going to shepherd you through this process and make sure you can get to a space where you can start seeing the light and happiness again.”

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Kelly Barnett said her husband was the foundation of their happy home. A loving husband, father, and serviceman.

“He was my Cary Grant, if I’m being honest,” Barnett said. “We were simpatico in almost everything. I feel lucky for that, really lucky for that.”

While Barnett said the road to healing is long and difficult, she believes it’s possible to find strength and joy again, while also remembering and appreciating the past.

She said she and her children can now look at old family photos and remember past times with happy thoughts.

“It took me a really long time to look at these and smile, but now I’m there,” Barnett said. “I’m totally there.”

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Today, Kelly, Colin, and Bianca are thriving.

Each year, they help give a service award to a member of the U.S. Military in honor of Patrick, who created a nationwide defense organization for servicemen and women when he was a JAG officer.

“He always had this compassion for protecting people,” Barnett said.

She said her dream is to continue paying that compassion forward, to honor Patrick’s memory, and to let others know that they are not alone. She recently retired from her career, to devote her full time to SoloSpouse.

“I was incredibly lucky to be his wife, and you know, this is partly my love letter to him,” Barnett said.

This segment is sponsored by WHOA Behavioral Health.