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After Wife’s Tragic Death, 1 Woman’s Message Stops Him Cold.

When someone young dies suddenly, it’s a painful reminder of how life can suddenly change in the blink of an eye.

Both Steve Ullmer and Erin Stoffel have experienced the pain of losing a loved one suddenly. One second, they were laughing alongside their true and trusted life partner; the next, they were alone in the world, trying to make sense of it all. Steve and Erin’s story shows that reaching out to someone else who’s in pain can open doors you thought might remain closed to you forever.

Amy Fiedler Photography

Steve, 38, is the father of four sons in Sherwood, Wisconsin. He and his wife Wendy met in high school, and their love had only grown over their 13 years as a couple. Wendy had even stuck by Steve as he struggled to overcome an addiction to drugs and alcohol.

Here I was, nearly 13 years later,” Steve wrote. “Life was good, life was…comfortable. Our marriage was strong, far from perfect, but never better. We’d been blessed with four amazing kids — all boys. Wendy was a healthy, vibrant 36-year-old in the prime of her life. We had just moved to a new house and it felt like we were starting a new chapter in life, a chapter I was eager to see unfold.


One night while Wendy and Steve lay in bed, he heard her take a strange, gasping breath. Alarmed, Steve decided to wake her up, but found that he could not.

“I shook her, started screaming her name, pleading with her to wake up. But there was no response. My mind struggled with the reality of it all. I called 9-1-1. No pulse. Her breathing had stopped. I performed CPR until help arrived. Sheriffs, EMTs, a whole team of strangers in my bedroom doing everything they could to save her. Nothing was working. I saw the looks on their faces. I could feel her slipping away, and I was struggling to hold it together.”

On March 17, 2017, Wendy’s heart gave out for the last time, and she passed away in the hospital.


Steve was left trying to pick up the pieces of his life. Trying to hold it all together for the sake of their sons, Steve describes the days following Wendy’s death as a “sleepless, nightmarish haze.”

While he received an outpouring of support from friends and relatives, he remained overwhelmed and felt utterly alone in the world. “There is a loneliness that comes from a loss like this. How many have walked down this road? How many can relate?” he wondered.

Three months later, Steve received a message from someone whom he’d never met, but whose name he recognized instantly.

So many reached out to me, so many cards, letters, text messages…I lost count.But this one stopped me cold.

It was a simple message of encouragement, from a person I had never met. It wasn’t the message itself that got my attention, it was the name attached to it. Erin Stoffel. That name had become known by almost everyone around this area in 2015. It was a name that brought a story so heavy, so dark, it was hard to believe she actually lived it…


Erin Stoffel’s name had been in the news because she’d been the victim of a violent crime that left her husband and daughter dead.

Erin and her husband Jon had also been married for 13 years and had three children together. Their oldest, Olivia, was eleven. One Sunday, the family decided to take a walk on the Trestle Trail Bridge in Menasha, Wisconsin, when tragedy struck. The family saw a man near the pavilion, and when Jon approached him to see if he needed help, the man whirled around and shot Jon.

“He then turned the gun on Erin and 11-year-old Olivia, shooting each of them once. All three went to the ground. Erin’s 5-year-old daughter Selah stood frozen next to her.”

Defining 78 Photography

Erin was shot two more times as she struggled to get her two youngest children to safety. Miraculously, she survived the attack, which turned out to be a completely random act of violence. She awoke from multiple surgeries many days later and scrawled down her husband’s last words to his killer: “May God forgive you.”

Now, Erin was reaching out to Steve and offering the support he’d prayed for — the support that only a fellow victim of tragedy could offer.

“The feeling was immediate, tangible, real. Hope because I knew what Erin had been through, and I knew that we both followed Jesus. If He could carry her through the horror that she had faced, and take her to a place where she was reaching out to help others…I knew I could make it.”

The two corresponded for weeks, and they finally met a month later at a Christian music festival. They talked for hours on end, trading stories about their spouses and forming a tight bond that surprised them both.

“There is a spark to her, an underlying joy you can’t miss. Grief had changed her, but not in the way you would expect. It was grief that brought us together, but a relationship based on that alone won’t survive. I remember the day she told me, ‘You help me too Steve.’ I began to understand that God was using us to help heal each other.”

Soon, the couple brought their children into the picture, and amazingly the kids all got along too. Erin and Steve had both worried about their kids going through life without a mother or father, respectively, so when they connected, it just felt right.

“This was yet another confirmation about our relationship as it progressed beyond friendship. Erin had become so special to me. A beautiful girl, with beautiful scars. A beautiful heart, marked by unimaginable loss. A bond so deep, a love so strong, the path forward was clear…”

Amy Fiedler Photography

Erin and Steve were married on June 28, 2018, just a year after she reached out to him with that fateful text message.

“Every day we embrace the chaos that comes with a blended family of 8. It’s beautiful, it’s messy, it’s amazing, it’s hard. It’s life. Grief will always be a part of our story, but it doesn’t define us.”

Defining78 Photography

Congratulations, Steve and Erin. Your story is so encouraging. Even in our darkest hours, it’s important to know that we’re not alone. There’s always someone out there who can relate to your story in some way. Sometimes you just have to hold on and wait for them to arrive.

If you agree, please share this story.

This story was originally published on Love What Matters.

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