On March 19, 1989 my life and the lives of my children changed suddenly and dramatically. It was on that day that my first husband, Alex Ringelheim, a 40-year-old vibrant father of three, died of a heart attack on his way to join his oldest daughter at a Sunday school service. I was left as a single parent of Jenna, age 8, Matt, age 5, and Kayla, 3 months. Many of the hopes and dreams that we had for our children were shattered in an instant.
Warmth and an outpouring of support from family and friends surrounded me. Friends took turns staying with me over the first few weeks and sending meals for several months. My neighbor, who happened to be the director of a day camp where my son was enrolled, told me that his tuition would be taken care of. I had an internal sense of being held by the world, despite how difficult life had become.
Still, the emotional recovery from my own grief, the care of my children, and the financial responsibilities felt monumental. The realities of single parenthood posed numerous challenges. It became clear that the plans we had for our children would be very hard to accomplish on my own.
The loss of a parent was overwhelming enough for my children to endure. It was difficult for me to face the possibility they might also lose opportunities that could enrich their lives.
The Gift of Camp
As a child, my first husband Alex loved camp, a strikingly different environment than his home in NYC, and had often shared his cherished camp memories with me. He had clearly wanted our children to have the gift of this experience, themselves. After his death, I resolved to make this possible. I ultimately connected with several camp directors who graciously extended themselves to make my children’s attendance a possibility.
My children’s participation in wonderful overnight camps provided incredible healing for our entire family. Summer camp provided my children with a myriad of experiences that would be hard to capture at home—the mentoring of counselors, close new friendships, the soothing qualities of nature and play, quality instruction in sports and the arts, and a place to “feel normal” and grow without the constant reminder of their loss. These special times for my children also provided a welcome and much needed respite for me as a single parent. It gave me time to step away from the overwhelming demands and worries. It enabled me to restore myself.
A Time to Give Back
With time, our deep sense of loss and grief softened. Fifteen years after that traumatic time, my grown children and I were about to embark on a new phase of our lives. With my marriage to Steve Birnbaum came the idea for Wildflower, inspired by the kindness and generosity of friends, family, and many camp directors, as well as the positive impact of my children’s summer camp experiences. Steve encouraged me to fulfill my dream of supporting families like our own who had experienced the trauma of loss. In lieu of wedding gifts, we asked for donations to launch a new nonprofit. And Wildflower was born.
Started as a simple idea in 2004, Wildflower has become a thriving well-respected resource to support children and families who have experienced the loss of a parent. It has been a community effort, strengthened by the support and collaboration of many friends, foundations, and businesses. My children have also been involved in this heartfelt endeavor. Together, we have all created something magical.