By Eileen Abbott
When her physician husband lost his life to suicide in February 2011, “there were days it took everything in me just to breathe,” says Jocelynn Crum Helmbrecht, a Charlottesville resident and mom of three.
“It felt like everything was broken—my heart…my children’s hearts, my entire world,” she wrote in a blog documenting her family’s journey after she was widowed at age 40.
Crum Helmbrecht says she tried to stay strong and positive for her three sons, including her middle son Wesley, who has nonverbal autism and communicates through sign language. He was also born with deletions on his first chromosome and uses a wheelchair.
A family with special needs knows many profound joys that others may take for granted, but there are also significant around-the-clock challenges.
“It is difficult to believe someone would get a glimpse into my world and say ‘sign me up.’ But he did,” she says of her new partner, Steven Easton.
Nine years after her husband’s passing, there is love again in Crum Helmbrecht’s life. Her message, especially to single parents of special needs children: “Do not give up hope on finding love.”
It happened after a serendipitous meeting at a coffee shop about seven months ago. Easton, 39, had gotten to know Crum Helmbrecht and her family years earlier, when he worked at Ruby Tuesday. It was one of the family’s favorite restaurants at the time, and Easton, a waiter with a fun sense of humor, would make them smile.
The two bumped into each other at the Mudhouse, while Crum Helmbrecht’s children were at the park with her mother. Conversation came easy as they caught up on life over coffee. Easton says he was moved by this gorgeous woman with the beautiful heart, “her capacity to love, her unbelievable resilience.”
Easton had his own pain to overcome, including the death of his son and a divorce. The two felt a deep connection.
“We knew we would see each other again,” says Crum Helmbrecht.
The very next day, the couple met for dinner downtown, for dumplings at Marco & Luca. “We walked around the mall and held hands,” Crum Helmbrecht recalls. “It felt like the most natural thing in the world to be doing.”
They’ve been inseparable ever since. And Easton has become an active part of the family’s life.
“Every day he teaches Wes a new sign. He plays with him. He feeds him. He steps up without being asked. He loves Wesley exactly as he is,” Crum Helmbrecht says about Easton’s dedication to her son. “I never even hoped I’d find someone like him.”
Easton insists he is actually the fortunate one. The love from Jocelynn and her sons, Easton says, has healed his once-broken spirit.
The couple share a deep religious faith, and both say there is an abundance of smiles and laughter when they’re all together. The secret, they say, is being committed to choose love and joy no matter what life throws at you.
While life can be busy, the couple makes a point of making time for each other. “Every single night without fail, after the kids are in bed, we spend time together—catching up, snuggling, and solving the world’s problems,” Crum Helmbrecht says. “If it’s a nice evening, that means sitting on the porch swing and just being together.”
Recently, the entire University of Virginia football team honored Wesley and his family, after Wesley was nominated as a Thursday’s Hero by the Virginia Institute of Autism.
“Sometimes you don’t know where the road is going until you get there,” Crum Helmbrecht says, recalling her journey since her husband’s death. “The important part is to just keep going.”