Sharing Grief, Sharing Healing
Two Baylor Arts & Sciences alumnae — Lori Prichard (BA ’93) and Ella Wall Prichard (BA ’63) have suffered through intense personal loss. In Lori’s case, she was blindsided when her husband of 15 years committed suicide without any warning. Ella enjoyed a close marriage lasting 46 years but, when her husband died, she discovered that she was unprepared for some of the unforeseen crises her widowhood would bring.
Both Lori and Ella — who share the same last name but are not related — eventually made the tough decision to publicly share their stories of successfully coping with the loss of a spouse. Lori, a television broadcaster, delivered a popular TED Talk that’s been shared online, while Ella, a trained print journalist, wrote a book.
What follows are accounts of how each woman has learned to survive and thrive and the responses they receive when they offer their advice and insights to others going through similar challenges.
Lori Prichard: The Courage to Speak
By Charis Dietz
Lori Prichard is no stranger to telling hard stories. As a TV news anchor and two-time Emmy Award-winning journalist, she has navigated countless complex narratives, seeking to communicate each one with fairness, integrity and compassion.
But the most difficult story Lori’s ever had to utter — the one she’s been sharing for the past two years — is her own about the loss of her husband, Travis, to suicide.
It happened on what should have been an ordinary Friday. Right alongside the shock and shattering grief of suddenly losing her spouse and the father of their two children, Lori had to grapple with the haunting realization that there had been a hidden battle raging in Travis’ mind for a long time, and no one had known about it, including her.
Searching for the why
“Travis was the kindest man I’ve ever known,” Lori said. “I say that to my children all the time because I want them to remember how good he was.”
A gentle nature and genuine desire to help people were the traits Lori noticed about Travis when the couple first met on a blind date. It wasn’t long before they both knew they wanted to get married. Career choices and a mutual love of the great outdoors led them to Utah, where they settled in the Wasatch Mountain Range, a beautiful backdrop for hiking together and later raising their two children. Travis, a physical therapist, was working toward his doctorate. They loved traveling as a family. Life together, as Lori knew it, was good. And then he was gone.
“We had been married 15 years, and, as much as I’m embarrassed to say it, I never knew Travis suffered from depression.”
– Lori Prichard
“We had been married 15 years, and, as much as I’m embarrassed to say it, I never knew Travis suffered from depression,” Lori said. “He was active, engaged and got more done in a day than I ever did. He was an incredibly loving father and spouse. He was highly educated, had a successful career and had wonderful parents.”
It made no sense, she said, until she began the painful process of investigating Travis’ internal life more closely and found a paper trail.
A couple of weeks after Travis died, Lori came across journals he had been keeping for the past few years. The entries within offered a window into his ongoing struggle with depression, which Travis had called “the bully in the brain.” And that bully, his writing revealed, was relentless — silently inflicting pain, doubt and intense feelings of failure.
Lori was stunned to find that a search of Travis’ computer browser history brought up hundreds of journal articles, all on topics surrounding depression.
“He was trying to treat himself, to pull himself out of that hole of depression without anyone knowing,” Lori said.
Lori later learned that Travis had spent 12 minutes on the phone with the National Suicide Hotline the day before he died. But when he had gotten home from work that evening, he’d never said a word about it.
“If I had known, I would have gotten him help. I would have taken him to the hospital. I would have had him admitted,” she said. “I play those scenarios in my head a lot.”
Exposing “the bully in the brain”
Travis’ silence around his own depression and thoughts of suicide became the catalyst for Lori — even in the midst of her own grief — to speak up around a topic that is still too often stigmatized.
After her husband’s memorial service in October 2019, two months after his passing, Lori shared the circumstances around his death with her followers on Facebook.
“It didn’t even cross my mind to try to keep it quiet or just keep it within the family because, as a reporter, I ask other people to share their lives and raw emotions with me,” Lori said. “And, I felt that it would be really disingenuous if I couldn’t share what had happened in my own life, especially if there was a chance it could help someone.”
The knowledge that there are others out there quietly trying to treat their own depression in isolation is what compelled Lori to agree to share her story in a TEDx Talk filmed in August 2020 — a year after Travis’ death.
“I’ve never watched the TED Talk myself,” Lori said. “It’s still too difficult for me. That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
But many others have viewed it. Almost one million times, in fact. And the response to what she’s shared on TED and other platforms has been tremendous. In the last couple of years, Lori has received more than 5,000 social media or email messages from individuals all over the world. Whether those reaching out have experienced depression themselves or have lost a loved one to suicide, they all share the desire to connect with someone who can relate.
“I’m not an expert or a therapist, but I want to convey my story because if I can reach that one person who feels like they’re drowning — if I can nudge them in a way that helps them think of a different alternative and choice than suicide — then that’s all I care about.”
Lori urges those who have been suffering in silence not only to share what they’re going through with a professional but also to tell someone who loves them, someone who is in their everyday lives. And she has another message, too, for those whose loved one may be experiencing depression.
“Don’t let the person you love talk you out of your concern for them. I let him get away with it.”
“Don’t let the person you love talk you out of your concern for them,” she said. “There were times in our marriage when I knew Travis was struggling, but it was always centered around his job and wanting to be further on in his career. He didn’t want to talk about anything deeper than that, and I let him get away with it.”
Still asking the questions
Today, Lori has been in the news industry for more than 18 years, and currently serves as a morning news anchor at KSL-5 TV in Salt Lake City.
But her career path into journalism wasn’t something she had planned on. After earning a BA in economics from Baylor in 1993 — a degree offered through the College of Arts & Sciences — Lori moved to Dallas, where she helped run a political campaign for the city clerk. In that role, she got to experience working with the local media for the first time.
That opportunity was all it took to spark Lori’s interest in reporting. Graduate studies in journalism soon followed, and she found that she had a special knack for information gathering, interviewing and building trust with people. Little could she have known how she would need and use those skills today as she continues to learn about the relationship between depression and suicide and how those left in the wake can carry on.
When she’s not at the news desk or following up on an assignment, Lori’s often interviewing individuals who have reached out to her after hearing her story — those experiencing depression, survivors of suicide attempts and those who’ve lost spouses or parents to suicide.
“I want to better understand what Travis was thinking and why it led to what it did,” Lori said. “And I want to learn how I can live with this and how I can protect my children.”
Perhaps one day, she said, the interviews can be used to create a book so that others can benefit from what Lori’s hearing and learning. She wants to do everything she can to continue encouraging more open dialogue around mental health and suicide. But for now, it’s personal.
Where hope finds her
There are still many days when Lori would like to hide from the world, to make life a lot smaller. Sometimes it’s really hard to get out of bed. And on those days, it’s her children’s lives and futures that give her the grit to get up and greet the day. It isn’t the life she imagined for them, but they are learning how to be a family of three. Traveling together, especially on anniversaries that are hard, continues to be a beloved and bonding family tradition. And Lori still hikes or runs in the mountain trails around her home, often putting in 45 miles a week.
“It has nothing to do with my physical health, and everything to do with my mental health,” Lori said. “Every day I force myself to pause and listen to birds singing, to take in the beauty of colors on the trees or the way the sun hits the side of the mountain. If I didn’t, it would be easy to get lost in my own life. Being outside and a part of the natural world makes me look outward.”
Looking outward. Because she knows — and wants others to know — that we’re not alone.
Ella Prichard: Reclaiming Joy
By Randy Fiedler
In the spring of 1962, Baylor junior Ella Wall had just been chosen to become the editor of the daily campus newspaper, the Baylor Lariat, during the fall 1962 semester. The New Orleans, Louisiana, native — a history major minoring in journalism — had worked her way up from reporter to society editor, news editor and then managing editor before winning the top job.
But in the summer of 1962, as she anticipated the start of her editorship, Ella Wall’s life took an unexpected turn. During a summer reporting internship with the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, she met local businessman Lev Prichard III, and a whirlwind romance began. In a little more than five months — even before her time as editor of the Baylor Lariat had officially ended — the two were married, and in December 1962 she became Mrs. Lev Prichard. She remained at Baylor long enough to receive her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1963.
During the next 46 years, Lev Prichard entered the oil business, served on the boards of banks and charitable institutions, and he and Ella became ardent supporters of her alma mater — both as loyal Baylor Bear fans and generous benefactors of both athletic and academic projects. The Prichard family expanded with the addition of two children — son Lev IV and daughter Margaret, who goes by “Peggy.” Ella spent most of her days caring for her extended family but was able to carve out time for church and public service, including nine years spent on Baylor’s Board of Regents.
“Lev and I had this wonderful, old-fashioned, traditional division of responsibility,” Ella said. “I took care of the house and raising the children, and he took care of business. He did a very good job of that, so there wasn’t any reason for me to pay attention to that.”
Unprepared for change
Lev Prichard was one of those dedicated people who never intended on retiring. As he kept up a vigorous work schedule, his health eventually began to decline in the 2000s. When that happened, Ella realized she should probably pay more attention to the family business, and she did — but certainly not to the extent where she would be able to step in and immediately take charge if anything ever happened to her husband.
So, when Lev Prichard died in April 2009 at age 72 after a three-month hospital stay, Ella felt unprepared for all the changes suddenly thrust upon her.
“You get through the funeral, and then everybody leaves and you’re there, and what do you do?,” she said. “What do you do at 5:30 p.m. when he doesn’t come in the door? How do you spend the next five hours?”
Ella’s life became even more complicated when she learned that, despite his assurances, Lev had not left all his financial affairs in perfect order for her to easily understand. And when the inevitable crises occurred — including receiving a demand from her family’s longtime bankers that she must either give the bank total control over the Prichard investments or find new financial managers — Ella felt even more alone.
Searching for guidance
As a dedicated, lifelong reader, Ella sought out books on widowhood and grief in the wake of these new emotional and financial challenges. She was hoping for a comforting guidebook to help her chart a course through unknown waters, but after reading through many examples, she was disappointed.
“The books I found were just not any practical help to me,” Ella said. “The how-to books were horrible. One I remember was Widows Wear Stilettos, with a picture of red high heel shoes on the cover. It was one of the kind of books with messages in them like ‘How to Reclaim Happiness in 10 Easy Steps’ or ‘Six Weeks to Having Happiness Again.’ That’s all a bunch of malarkey.”
Ella also read a number of memoirs written by widows, but those were not much help to her, either.
“Many widows keep journals because that can be very effective, and then they turn those journals into memoirs,” she said. “But those books tend to be about the first year after losing a spouse, and that early on, the authors aren’t really recovered yet. They go into detail about the really dark moments they’ve had. Those books are instructive because they normalize your reactions — you learn that every widow thinks they’re losing their mind, and that’s good to know — but as far as being a comfort, they’re not.”
“Searching for the eye of the storm that swirled around me, in desperation I turned to prayer and Scripture.”
– Ella Prichard
As a Christian, Ella found her most useful reading in the Bible — specifically, Paul’s letter to the Philippians. That was the book she had instinctively turned to immediately after Lev died, and before she girded herself for the difficult task of calling friends and family with the news.
“To me, Philippians was the comfort and the how-to,” she said.
The inspiration to write
Ella’s dissatisfaction with the existing literature on widowhood eventually morphed into the inspiration to write her own book about her experiences as a widow. The idea came to her during a trip to Nantucket, one of her favorite places to relax. It was there — more than three years after Lev’s death — that she realized she had finally turned an emotional corner in her life.
“One day I was out walking on one of the historic downtown streets and, to my surprise, I realized that I was happy. I mean, it was like, ‘Oh my goodness — I haven’t felt happy in a good, long while,’” she said. “The immediate thought then was, I should write a book. I knew that writing a book would take a lot of time, so I decided I would give myself a year to think through it before I made a commitment.”
When she finally decided to write a book, Ella chose to begin amid the inspiring comforts of Nantucket. During an entire month spent there, she took pen and paper and wrote about 20,000 words in longhand, putting down whatever thoughts came to mind.
“It took me another three years to get it to the 30,000 words I needed for a book,” Ella said. “During those three years, I was reading the literature on grief and widowhood — books by the experts and the literary books, as well as more of the simpler books by widows themselves to see what they had to say. I also interviewed a few experts, including Dr. Helen Harris, the grief expert at [Baylor’s] Diana R. Garland School of Social Work. She taught me the language of grief and recovery.”
Looking for a structural outline for her book, Ella used the Biblical book that had given her so much comfort — Philippians — as her model.
“Searching for the eye of the storm that swirled around me, in desperation I turned to prayer and Scripture,” she wrote in her book’s introductory letter to widows. “Again and again, I read the Apostle Paul’s letter to the poor, discouraged congregation at Philippi — a letter full of love, encouragement and joy. It became my primer for widowhood. I prayed one prayer, which I still pray: Lord, give me wisdom and discernment and help me protect the family unit.”
Using the full text of Philippians as a framework, Ella’s book examines a range of actions and emotions that were both discussed by the Apostle Paul, and experienced herself during her widow’s journey. Its 28 chapter titles include “Grace,” “Gratitude,” “Courage,” “Expectations,” “Encouragement,” “Acceptance,” “Peace,” and, of course, “Joy.”
Baylor University Press published Reclaiming Joy: A Primer for Widows in 2018 under their 1845 Books imprint. Ella has shared it with a number of widows, encouraging them with the fact that she herself has reclaimed the joy she writes about. But she also offers a caution.
“I tend to tell new widows when I give them the book that it’s going to take longer and it’s going to hurt more than they ever guessed,” Ella said. “But I also tell them that eventually the fog lifts, and they will be amazed at how good life can be — if they’ll let it be.”
An expanded audience
In the four years since Reclaiming Joy’s publication, Ella has found that the audience for her book is not limited to widows, since the topics it discusses are of interest to persons dealing with other types of losses.
“I have given the book to people when they’ve lost a parent or a child. I have Baylor friends who lost their son recently. I mailed them a copy, and I just got a note back from them saying it helped — it’s encouraging to them to know they will be able to have joy again someday,” she said. “I also know some men — certain widowers who are a bit more introspective — who have found it helpful, but male readers will need to have the ability to see this story from a woman’s point of view and think through how this applies to themselves with their different set of circumstances.”
Ella discovered that her insights into dealing with unexpected loss also resonate with people struggling with divorce and its aftermath.
“When we experience loss, we grieve, and there are many things that cause grief besides death,” she said. “We grieve when life takes an unexpected change of direction. It’s not what we wanted, and suddenly the tomorrow of our dreams and plans and hopes is not to be. I’ve talked to several divorced women — in some cases, women who were married 25, 30 or 35 years — who had their husbands suddenly leave them. They told me that their grief was like my grief. It was the loss of their tomorrows — the life they had dreamed of and expected was gone.”
Today, Ella Prichard keeps a busy schedule, filled with time spent with her children and grandchildren and traveling across the country, including making appearances at Baylor to support her many philanthropic endeavors for the University.
“I have reclaimed joy, and my life is full and rich,” she said.
It’s evident that Ella has lived out the same advice she leaves her readers within Reclaiming Joy.
“When you have a choice, choose what is rewarding and fulfilling, not what depletes you. What works for one person does not necessarily work for another. Your circumstances may be very different from mine. Write your own script … You are not alone. You are not the first woman to start on this journey. You will emerge from the overwhelming cloud of grief. Life is not over. Make the years ahead good ones.”