Gift taken, gift received

After a recent vehicle accident, a Ramona man now lives without his wife by his side, and his five children no longer have their mother to kiss away their tears.

But thanks to the generosity of family, friends and strangers, each new day brings the hope of a better tomorrow.

Jim Thompson lost wife Teri after severe head injuries from a single-car accident Nov. 5 claimed her life three days later.

Members of the small community of Ramona immediately rallied around Thompson to help him as he struggled with the reality of his wife’s death.

“I am in awe of the decency and the love that this community has shown,” Thompson said.

“Speaking religiously, spiritually, this is what God intended man to do. It’s incredible. They sense something’s wrong, and they do everything they can to help. It’s really overpowering sometimes to see the amount of caring.”

At the time of the accident, Teri was working two jobs to provide an income for the large family-four boys and one girl, ages 5 to 14. Jim was home-schooling, taking care of the household and volunteering for the local fire department.

“That was actually her stipulation for moving here,” Thompson said about arriving in Ramona last year from California. “She wanted to go back to work, and I had to be with the kids for awhile, because she needed a break. And it was working very well.”

Teri was a certified nurse aide working full-time at Hillsboro Community Medical Center and moonlighting on days off at Parkside Homes.

Today, the kitchen of the family’s small Ramona rental home is stocked to overflowing capacity with food items-all donated beginning the first day of the accident. A month after the accident, the outpouring of help was steadily gaining momentum.

On Dec. 15, Ramona friends Tonya Stroda and Kim Young sent an e-mail to a Salina radio station about the Thompson family and their needs. They asked operations manager Sky Phillips to consider the family for the KSKG Angels in Disguise Christmas Wish program.

“Jim is a stay-at-home dad that home schools his kids,” they wrote. “And since the death of his wife, there is no money coming in. So this family has been through a lot. While spending time with the kids, they all talk about wanting to move into the house that Jim was redoing for Teri before she passed.

“So the Christmas wish for this family would be to get the supplies to finish the house, and they could move in. I know that the kids would give up toys for this Christmas if they could have the Christmas wish of a house that meant so much to their mom.”

After confirming the letter was genuine, the station chose the Thompsons as the sixth family for the Christmas wish program.

“We decided we would try to help 10 families that normally don’t qualify for social services and sometimes fall between the cracks,” Phillips said.

“It’s for those people who have extraordinary obstacles they’re trying to overcome while trying to support their family. We started getting phone calls from people in the community saying they know this family, and they’re good, quality people. The gentleman’s had a real hardship, and there’s a lot of things going on.”

By the afternoon of Dec. 15, Phillips was reading through a list of about 50 people who had called to offer supplies, services and monetary donations to get the Thompson house completed.

“We went on the air and during the half-way point of the show, the phone was just ringing non-stop,” Phillips said.

Among the items donated were a refrigerator, ceiling fans, coffee pots, toasters, light fixtures, stoves and paint.

Volunteers, such as carpenters, electricians, plumbers and Sheetrock installers, offered to help the weekend of Dec. 18 and 19 to make sure the house was ready for the family to move in by Christmas.

“I was so choked up this morning that I couldn’t breathe,” Thompson said the day of the broadcast. “I was so overwhelmed listening to everything going on on the radio.”

Thompson’s tragic loss of his wife was foreshadowed by a number of incidents that would probably humble the strongest of men.

Wanting to leave the big-city life of Sacramento, Calif., and find a home in a small community, the couple bought a home in Ramona -sight unseen-over the Internet.

Thompson quit his job as a computer technician and came out in June 2003 to get ready for his family to follow him to Kansas about a week later.

“We found the house in condemned condition,” Thompson said, his voice cracking. “The foundation was crumbling. It was fraud. We lost everything there.”

Persevering through their loss, the family found another home built in the 1900s and located just about one block away on the edge of town. They bought it last year with the financial help of Thompson’s younger brother.

The two-story home needed extensive renovation and lacked insulation and a furnace. But the family lived around a wood-burning stove and struggled through a cold Kansas winter while Thompson tried to work on the home.

By spring, they moved out of the partially gutted home into their current rental home until Thompson could finish the work needed.

From that point on, they’ve dealt with a broken water pipe that destroyed the Sheetrock work completed in the dining room, daughter Cassy was in an accident that left her blind in one eye, and contractors walked off with unfinished roofing and Thompson’s money in their hands.

But life dealt them the cruelest blow when Teri’s life was cut short one morning while she was driving to work in Hillsboro.

After working a 12-hour shift until 10 p.m. at HCMC on Nov. 4, she decided to work an additional four hours on top of that at Parkside.

“I told her I didn’t think it was a good idea,” Thompson said. “She was tired and was going to have to get right back up at 4:30 that morning and go back to HCMC. But she said, ‘Well, Christmas is coming, and we need the money. I can do this. I’ve done it before.'”

She arrived home at 1 a.m. and left about four hours later. But she never arrived at HCMC.

No one will ever know why she lost control of her vehicle and ran into a telephone pole near the intersection of Quail Creek and 290th.

She never gained consciousness and on the last day of her life, Thompson was at a Wichita hospital when doctors gave him the bad news about his wife’s condition.

“She was getting plenty of blood flow and oxygen to her brain, but it wasn’t going past the brain stem,” Thompson said.

“Nothing in the higher brain was getting any blood or oxygen. For all intents and purposes, she was gone. It’s hard,” he said struggling to gain composure.

“The organ-donor foundation came in. I think that was the hardest thing-talking about donating organs. I couldn’t think.”

As per Teri’s wishes on her driver’s license, others now live with her kidneys, pancreas, liver and spleen.

“Next year, at the one-year anniversary of her death, the recipients and the donor family have the option to meet,” Thompson said. “I’m hoping they will want to meet us, because I’d really like to see who Teri helped.”

Although the children were doing as well as could be expected by mid-December, Thompson said their resiliency occasionally broke down.

“There’s moments at night when they’ll start crying, because they’ll start thinking,” he said.

“The little one, my 5-year-old, C.J., won’t leave my side since the accident. He’s scared to death to have me walk out the door. And my daughter is having a hard time. She’s very scared that she’s gong to lose me, too.”

Soon after Teri’s death, oldest son Ben stepped up to begin assuming the role of helping his father with household and child-raising chores in his mother’s absence.

“I tell my kids their mother is happier than we could ever think of being right now,” Thompson said. “Although we miss her, she’s in the best place anybody could ever hope to be. And she’s always looking down on us and protecting us. That brings so much comfort to them. It does.”

Friends, family and strangers continue to reach out to help him and his children by offering emotional support.

But they can only help to a certain point in his journey since Teri’s death. In his quiet moments, Thompson said he wants to believe that life should be for the living, but he’s still struggling.

“What I’m dealing with is just purely me missing my wife,” he said. “It’s hard. Obviously, I have my moments. Some days, I almost feel guilty because I don’t feel bad. And then other days, it’s hard to get out of bed because the grief just hits me.”

The burden of the family’s income with Teri gone now falls squarely on his shoulders.

“I was in the process of opening a computer-repair business in November,” Thompson said. “That’s obviously on hold now, but I’ll eventually do that. I can’t get a job outside the home, especially with my 5-year-old. I want to be here with the kids, and I don’t want to change home-schooling them.”

An insurance policy established through her work will help take care of most of the funeral expenses, and Thompson will receive Social Security death benefits.

Friends have established the Teri Thompson Children’s Fund at First National Bank in Hope as a memorial.

“I have no idea how I would have survived this without my friends in this community and my family,” Thompson said.

“I’m here forever. This is the reason why we moved here. What I’m experiencing right now is what we thought country life was like in small towns. This is the way it’s supposed to be everywhere.”

The Teri Thompson Children’s Fund has been established with First National Bank, 112 N. Main, Hope, KS 67451.

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