As I think about sharing my story, it hits me that I’m not really sure what my story is or who I am. Where the story starts or where it ends, how can I help others by sharing my experience? Most days I’m trying to figure out who I am. Prior to December 14, 2011 I would have told anyone I was just Coach Howard Bell’s wife and Keshia and Kameron’s mom. That was my identity and that is how everyone saw me and I was happy with that. I started dating Howard when I was 15 so it is safe to say we grew up together. Unfortunately we were not able to grow old together.
I happen to be one of those that believe in a one true love, a soul mate, that one person God truly intended for you. Howard was that person for me. His diagnosis with ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, on that December afternoon changed my life forever. Unfortunately the only outcome with this disease is death. Patients with ALS are given a life expectancy of 2- 5 years. We immediately (okay, immediately after one week of holing ourselves up in the house crying and being scared of what was to come), committed ourselves to focusing on living and not dying. We knew he was going to die- everyone does- we just didn’t know how soon. The question I couldn’t shake was why him? He was a beloved teacher, coach, a man who fiercely loved his family and friends. He was so much to so many different people. I tried to be angry at God and pleaded for an explanation as to why this was happening to him, to us, and to our girls. Howard would set me straight every time with his simple comment of – why not me? Well if he wasn’t going to be mad at God what gave me the right to and that was the end of that! Howard and I believe God was using Howard’s situation for something positive but it was so hard to find the good in watching Howard slowly become trapped inside his body that was no longer working.
We had to get out of God’s way and when we were able to do that we realized we were not supposed to keep this to ourselves. We were supposed to share our story and our struggles with our community and bring awareness to this mostly unknown disease. We got back way more from others than what we would ever be able to give. The community literally took care of us on so many levels and allowed us to focus on the simple act of living. Howard told me one time that most people die never knowing if their life mattered. He said he was so blessed because he was dying knowing that he had made a difference in the lives of so many people and he felt lucky. He wasn’t afraid to die but what I couldn’t share with him was that I was afraid to live without him. I was so very scared. I didn’t think I could do it - I didn’t want to do it!
Howard died March 29, 2013. Now what? Who was I without Howard? My only identity was as his wife and the girl’s mom. I had no idea how to move forward just being me. It had always been Howard and Kim. Kim sounds funny, weird, and lonely. I like the sound of Howard and Kim much better, but I had to figure out who I was and how to move forward. I had always been a proud coach’s wife and now I was a widow. Our life revolved around his life and now that he was gone I felt like I had no life of my own. I was never going to be the person I was before so I had to figure out who I was going to be moving forward. I didn’t know how to even get out of bed most days and it felt like my body had forgotten how to breathe and the only thing I could do was constantly cry.
One evening after a year or so I was getting ready for bed and suddenly realized I had not cried all day!! How could that have happened? I missed Howard terrible, he was constantly on my mind and I had gone all day without crying? How did my life keep moving forward without him? As I write this Howard has been gone two years six months and one day. I still cry and most the time it will be for no apparent reason. Grief is funny like that, it never leaves you. Some days it suffocates the life right out of you and other days it allows you to take deep breaths. I promised him I would be okay and I have to keep that promise. I love the way his story inspired people and I want to keep his memory alive by doing the same thing. I want to help patients with ALS and their families. I want to be an inspiration to them and encourage them to concentrate on living and not dying. I’m proud to have played a very small role in helping to get the new ALS clinic started in Springfield. What a blessing this clinic is going to be to so many families.
I’m excited to say I am stepping out on faith and following a dream that Howard and I had together and starting my own business. He always believed in me more than I believed in myself. I have realized that trying to figure out who I am without Howard is ridiculous. I don’t have to learn how to live without him because he is always with me. His love, his kisses, and even his stupid jokes live on in my memories and some days the memories hug me with the encouragement I need at just the right time. Best of all, Howard and Kim, live on in our beautiful daughters. Keshia and Kameron are a beautiful reminder of the love Howard and I shared and that life truly goes on. I will always be Coach Bell’s wife and Keshia and Kameron’s mom and now I am Sawyer Lee’s Grammy.
I still like the sound of Howard and Kim best… but Kim doesn’t sound so bad anymore. Grammy sounds even better.
In 2016, Kim pursued her dream of opening her own business. She had the grand opening of "The Barn at Belamour". A fabulous event space that is already becoming the talk of the town. For more information, click HERE
Coach Howard Bell Fund Information
The Coach Howard Bell Fund was founded to support the ALS Clinic, which is housed in the new Jared Neuroscience Center at Cox Health Systems. The official launch of The ALS Clinic is set for January of 2016. For more information on The ALS Clinic, contact the CoxHealth Foundation at 269-7150 or at www.coxhealthfoundation.com.