As a young man, Ted Wiard had an ideal life. He married his high school sweetheart, worked as a schoolteacher and tennis coach in his picturesque hometown of Taos, New Mexico, and became the father of two beautiful daughters.
Suddenly, everything changed. Wiard’s brother died in a shipwreck in Alaska. Then his wife Leslie was diagnosed with cancer and passed away after two years of struggle with the disease. After adjusting to being a single dad, Wiard got the worst news of all: his two daughters and mother-in-law were killed in a car accident.
This was unfathomable. It was agony. How could so much tragedy happen to one man? “Everything was so sharp, so painful,” he told Jens Gould. “It was more than just salt in a wound. Everywhere I looked, I saw Keri, Amy, Leslie, Richard, my life.”
Wiard left Taos and found himself in Hawai’i, sitting on a beach, trying to make sense of this unthinkable string of calamities. As he explains in a recent Bravery Tapes episode, he felt numb and without purpose. He contemplated swimming past the ocean waves and never coming back.
“If this agony is what the rest of my life is going to be, then I need to be done with my life,” he says, recalling his thoughts on that Maui beach. “Everyday I contemplated if I should die. All I wanted to do was kill myself.”
Yet he did not. Wiard decided life was worth fighting for. He checked himself into a treatment center for alcohol and drugs even though he did neither. He figured his daughters were the drugs he was craving and he needed help with withdrawal.
While his time there helped him heal and move past suicidal thoughts, an unexpected byproduct of his visit proved even more valuable. Wiard realized there was an unfortunate lack of treatment centers for people dealing with grief and loss. “Why weren’t there just places where you could go and say, ‘I’m lost. I’m scared. I’m frozen?’” he asked.
So he started one, and channeled his tragic pain into a newfound passion for helping others dealing with similar trauma. Back near Taos with his new wife Marcela, Wiard opened up Golden Willow Retreat, a haven for people from all over the country to receive counseling, therapy and support to overcome loss.
“The death of Keri, Amy, Leslie and Richard are such an amazing part of the fuel that gives me the passion to do what I do,” Wiard says. “Due to all those experiences of their deaths, I get to help others and at the same time help myself.”
Watch Jens Gould’s journey to see Ted in Taos.
Produced and edited by Jens Erik Gould (braverytapes.com)
Filmed by Lauri Hakola and Tony Weiss
Edited by Greg Reitman (www.gregreitman.me)
Music by Jens Erik (jenserik.bandcamp.com)
JENS ERIK GOULD
Jens previously covered music for TIME Magazine and time.com, interviewing artists from Skrillex to Danger Mouse. He has more than a decade of experience covering multiple beats in more than a dozen countries across the globe, including covering Venezuela politics for The New York Times and Mexico’s economy for Bloomberg News. He is also a singer songwriter who has released three albums.