Peechaya Burroughs for TIME
Advice

Conservative Pundit Mary Katharine Ham on Going Back to Work After Suffering a Devastating Loss

Feb. 11, 2016

‘There’s a certain amount of freedom in having seen one of the worst things you’re going to see in your life, Lord willing, and coming out of the other side.'

Five months ago, conservative pundit Mary Katharine Ham suffered a devastating loss when her husband, Jake Brewer, died after being hit by a car at a bike race for charity. Two months later, she gave birth to her second child. She was one of the questioners during the Feb. 6 Republican debate in New Hampshire. Motto spoke with Ham about how she’s coping post-tragedy.

Motto: What was it like for you to experience such career highs this year alongside the personal low of losing your husband?

Ham: It has been the most surreal several months. One thing I said after Jake died was if you had asked him if I could handle this exact scenario of raising my daughters, he would have said yes without blinking. He was often more sure about me than I was, so one of the things that I took into this debate, despite being nervous and despite it being a very big stage, was that Jake would have told me, ‘No doubt, you’re gonna kick this a–.’

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Motto: How have you been able to deal with the loss?

Ham: On a practical level, it helps that I was pregnant because I had to look out for somebody who was not me. There are plenty of dark paths you can go down in the wake of something like this, and because I had to take care of somebody who was living inside my body, I could not go down those dark paths.

Motto: What advice do you have for people who might be dealing with tragedy?

Ham: Part of it is just faith. I prayed a mantra for strength and for peace, strength and peace, strength and peace. I’ve got babies to take care of. That helped, and then some of it is just how I’m wired. I am a happy person, and I’m not prone to depression, and I’ve been thankful for that. There was almost not a denial period involved. And I just said, “This is a terrible, terrible thing that has happened to you, that has happened to all of us, and there is absolutely nothing you can do to change it.” Embrace that, know it. The only thing you can do is live the best possible life you can moving forward.

A practical thing is to get out of bed every day and go outside if you can. Get moving a little bit. That’s really hard to do, especially if you actually become clinically depressed, but it can change your state of mind. I also talked to a therapist immediately afterward and check in every now and then.

Motto: Do you have any advice for people who want to help a friend through tragedy and who want to make their help matter, as you say?

Ham: It helps to have very specific offers of help, not just, “Call on me if you need me.” Somebody who says, “I’m going to come over and rake your leaves tomorrow”—that’s a better offer because people who are in the fog of that cannot make decisions about what they need and what matters.

Motto: Did your approach to work change as a result of Jake’s death?

Ham: It does give you a bigger-picture feel of everything. It also makes you look at a stage of very important people in front of millions and go, “Well, what’s the worst that could happen?” There’s a certain amount of freedom in having seen one of the worst things you’re going to see in your life, Lord willing, and coming out of the other side. There’s strength in that, and there’s freedom in it.

Motto: What would you want your daughters to know about how you’ve handled the past few months?

Ham: At the beginning of all of this, I said my two goals were to live life unafraid—it’d be real easy to get scared of everyday life because my husband died living everyday life. He had done 20 things just this year that were way more dangerous than what he was doing that day. But it ain’t going to help you live any better to be scared like that, so that was my first goal.

And the second goal was to not live life just mired in sadness. There’s always going to be sadness, and that’s O.K., but I didn’t want it to take over. I said after his service, “I’m seven months pregnant with the black dress, and I’m wearing my husband’s wedding ring around my neck.” I was like, “This is a bad Lifetime movie.” And I requested that people not look at us that way.

The last thing I wanted was for us to walk around and be a sad trombone when we walk into a room because we’re not that. My kids are awesome. I feel like I’ve fulfilled those goals. And I didn’t do it alone—I asked for help along the way.