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Pat and Ron Dietz were happily building a new life in Hudson when Ron died of a heart attack last June. Today Pat says Ron's death has left a hole in her heart that nothing can fill, but she is also building a new life on her own with the help of family and lots of friends. Submitted photo

Looking forward: When life changed, family, friends and a new home helped

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Pat Dietz points out that since the days of Noah's Ark, a lot of things in life go "2 by 2." But all that has changed for her, and while it wasn't what she was expecting, she is determined to keep on going forward.

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Ron and Pat Dietz moved to Hudson from Bismarck, N.D., in 2006 in order to be closer to their daughter and her family in Hudson and a little closer to their other daughter and her family in Topeka, Kansas. They had lived in Bismarck for more than 20 years near Ron's big family and where Pat had taught high school English and drama.

Pat believes that God had a hand in their decision to move.

"Right from the start, the move was uneventful and everything went well. Our daughter here was glad we would be closer. Our house in Bismarck sold in 10 days and we found one here in a neighborhood we loved right off the bat."

On their way to one church in Hudson, they felt drawn to stop at another, Faith Community, and they felt an immediate connection. "It was like we were supposed to be there, and we both felt like we had found not only friends but a church family."

Pat Dietz found herself in need of those new friends and neighbors last June when she returned home to find Ron dead of a heart attack in their home. She remembers seeing him on the floor in a lower-level bedroom and knowing that he was not breathing. "All I remember is thinking 'This can't be good.'"

The days that followed Ron's death are still something of a blur, but what Pat does clearly remember is the outpouring of support she received from neighbors and friends.

"I remember going out and just sitting on the front step that first day after Ron died and the neighbors just sort of came out of the woodwork to me. And our friends from church ... it was just so comforting."

In the months since his death, Pat said she has run the gamut of emotions that spouses left behind often experience, including anger, sadness and feelings of abandonment. A lifelong reader, she has found comfort and insight from writers like Joan Dideon and Max Lucado.

"Dideon wrote about her husband's death. 'John was talking. Then he wasn't.' And Lucado says, 'Loneliness is not an absence of faces but the absence of intimacy.' It creates a hole so deep, nothing can fill it."

But Dietz said that in addition to friends and the love of family, she is also blessed with a gregarious, outgoing personality like her father.

"I am grateful for those genes, especially now."

Dietz also believes that her move to Hudson has helped her as she has started to build a new life for herself. While she loved and misses Ron's family and their friends in North Dakota, she thinks her adjustment to the single life would have been more difficult back there.

"It is like a fresh start here. It was for both of us, but since Ron's death, I still feel that. It seems like I can have ties to both here. I see a lot of our friends and family from there because so many people show up around here on their way to someplace else. And at the same time I feel secure here, that I belong and that I am a part of things. If you want to get involved here, you can."

Dietz said it has taken some time to get used to "this business of being one." She doesn't believe she has been treated differently just because she is a widow although she does find eating alone bothersome.

"I think it is about perceptions. I know I'm a widow and that's part of why I'm eating alone, but no one else does. There are lots of reasons why people might eat alone. And what about all these Valentine's Day specials for couples? What does that say to all the wonderful singles out there? I don't like it when people ask, 'Are you alone?' What business is it of theirs?"

Dietz said her friendships have only deepened since Ron's death, and she is always grateful for the love and support of her daughters and their families. Her grandchildren are a source of not only pride but fun as well.

"I feel the hand of God in bringing me here. Just days before Ron's death, the neighbors came by and helped him with something, and he was so moved by it and felt good about living here. I think God knew I was going to be alone soon and he fixed it so that when I was, I really wouldn't be."

Dietz says some days are harder than others, but she is proud of the fact that she has only gone back to bed once since Ron's death.

Instead she has done what appears to come naturally to her. She landed a role in The Phipps production "Drop Dead" last fall. She volunteers at church, does a regular Bible study and works with Youth Action Hudson, currently helping to plan a talent show. And when she isn't actually doing something, she is thinking of things that would be fun to do -- like a Saturday coffee and singles group and a regular dance (see related story below).

Dietz said grief is what she expected in some ways and entirely different in other ways. She recalled something another writer said. "Initially it is what we imagine it will be but after all the fuss and ritual dies down, you are left with the unending absence that follows. I'm a hugger, and I am lucky to get lots of hugs in my life now, but there is nothing like his hug. There is no substitute for the touch of your beloved."

That said, Dietz says it "blows her mind" when she thinks of everything she has -- family, friends and a community she loves. And while she will always miss her husband of 36 years, she is moving forward -- independent but not alone.

Looking for those who love coffee and cuttin' the rug

"Tired of drinking alone ... coffee, that is?"

Catch phrases like this are kind of a specialty of Pat Dietz, especially if she is trying to get some attention for one of her good ideas.

This one is for the "Saturday Social for Senior Singles," held the second and fourth Saturday of every month at Family Fresh, 2351 Coulee Road. She came up with the idea while shopping at the store on senior discount day.

"I looked around and saw a lot of people by themselves like me. I got to thinking that it would be nice to get to know some of them. We already have at least one thing in common. There are probably a lot more things we share. And with the coffee shop right there, it seemed like a natural," said Dietz.

She contacted manager Herman Raboin, who liked the idea and Dietz' enthusiasm. Almost on the spot he endorsed the plan and promised to provide the doughnuts.

"She is a very nice lady and I liked the idea. It goes along with what we want for the store -- to really be a part of the community and do what we can to help."

Dietz said the group is getting off to a slow start, but she expects it will pick up. In the meantime, she is building a network of names and e-mail addresses and, with Raboin, is determined to "make some connections."

Her next project is to find a venue and some musicians for a monthly community dance. She loves to dance and knows there are lots of people, seniors and others, who feel the same.

"I have to believe if we could find a space, we could also find some folks who used to play in a band or who want to who could provide the music. We could put out a tip jar or ask for a donation. I really think people would come, and what's more fun than dancing?"

Anyone interested in helping Dietz get her dance off the ground, or for more information about the Saturday Social, can contact her through Meg Heaton at the Star-Observer, mheaton@rivertowns.net, (715) 386-9333.

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Meg Heaton
Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
(715) 808-8604
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