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On Aug. 26, Virginia TV reporter Alison Parker of WDBJ7 was gunned down, along with cameraman Adam Ward, during a live television broadcast that later reverberated across social media. Parker’s boyfriend, fellow reporter Chris Hurst, reveals how he is coping with his grief, while still finding reasons to give thanks.
He shares his story as part of “2015 Voices,” a special series of essays and interviews with newsmakers behind some of TODAY’s biggest moments of the year.
The Thanksgiving meal was not as hard to eat as I was fearing. I was with Alison’s parents and her brother in Collinsville, Virginia. We ate smoked turkey, sweet potatoes, homemade cranberry sauce and green bean casserole. The half hour eating was actually very nice, mostly just compliments on how wonderful the food was.
My family in Philadelphia understood why I needed to be there. For Andy and Barbara and Drew. For me. And for Alison.
It was later that night that my wave of emotion overtook me. There was supposed to be another chair at the table. I cried out for her in the kitchen, and it hurt just like every other innumerable breakdown. I was physically alone, but she was with me. When I cry it always lasts shorter than I’d sometimes like; I’m trying not to measure my love based on its duration. You can think it’s part of the wonderful coping mechanism we, as humans, are given. I think she tries to help.
Many who are on a grief journey like mine have mentioned how the first holidays without the one you love are extremely tough. But I never got any with Alison. We barely started flirting over text messages during Christmas last year, along with sending pictures of our gifts. Our first date wasn’t until New Year’s Day, after she finished anchoring our morning news show.
The “firsts” that have been torturous for me have been the first time hearing the song she wanted to dance to at our wedding; the first great story I reported that I couldn’t tell her all about; the first time I ever had to physically see the ashes of another person, much less scatter them into the Nantahala River she loved so much.
The hardest continues to be rehearsing to dance in my first ever ballet performance. She signed us up to dance as a couple in a local production of “The Nutcracker.” She was an amazing dancer, and my heart melted every time I saw her get up on her toes in her pointe shoes. But I never got to see her perform on stage. Another “first” I never had with Alison.
But, for the first time in my life, I feel incredibly close and connected to humanity and to the spiritual world. With Alison, all I cared about was the adventure we had planned each day and giving my all to see her smile and send back that loving look in her eyes.
Now, with thousands around Virginia, the country and the world embracing me with love and support, I feel connected to you all in a way I never previously desired or imagined. I also never thought that I could feel a presence from beyond, and again, maybe it’s part of our body’s spectacular ability to help ease our confusion, but I no longer believe in coincidences.
I’ve written down all the “winks” I believe were sent by her. Like how that Ed Sheeran song she wanted to be our first dance came on the radio right before her best friends and I drove to spread those ashes. It ended precisely as we arrived at the riverbank.
How — after the love of my life was murdered live on television, my heart ripped out knowing that videos will circulate online for the rest of time — can I embrace the spirit of this season and be thankful? I know she’s been helping.
I want to give thanks to the many people, places and memories I have. I am thankful for the first responders who were traumatized that day, my colleagues who pressed on when I couldn't, my family who was there in an instant and my friends who provided me with invaluable support.
I give thanks for that first date where we anxiously talked and picked at our Mexican food; for our second, third and all the other dates where we stuffed our faces but always had great conversation; for our hikes, paddling trips, yoga classes (OK, maybe just that one,) and walks in the snow; for our quiet nights in and thrilling nights out; for our apartment-searching and then apartment decorating when we found our perfect place; for the creative and meaningful gifts she gave me and the meticulousness with which I spoiled her with jewelry I couldn't afford; for the early mornings with coffee and bagels and lox; for the performances at theaters in Roanoke, Martinsville and Staunton; for the dinners with her parents where I knew in my heart I finally found it all; for the butterflies in my gut, the lump in my throat, and the nerve I had to finally make my move; for the way I helped her zip up her dress each morning and the kiss I gave her in her car before she drove off.
I remember new things about my old life with Alison each day. That continues to be a gift, as much as it sometimes pains me to think about.
I give thanks for the chance to honor Alison in meaningful ways that have already made a difference. Strangers and new friends have donated more than a quarter of a million dollars to her scholarships. You have helped a girl recovering from child neglect — who meant so much to Alison — meet Taylor Swift.
Alison is now an Emmy Award-winning journalist. You have helped change minds to increase our awareness to violence and continue the movement toward sensibility. You have allowed me to give her a last testament with her television series on hospice that she planned and I finished.
It has all allowed me to mourn with meaning.
When it comes to finding solutions to the rhetoric, the violence and the easy path to hatred, maybe our continued thoughts and prayers are not enough.
But for easing me through the wilderness of grief I still find myself wandering, your thoughts and prayers have been enough to help me move forward.