February 2023 Issue
by Edwina Hoyle
Photography (top) by Cassidy Dunn Photography
Some people enter our lives for a season, some for a reason. Krista Barlow’s husband, John, entered her life for both. Their marriage was a short season of only 20 days, but the reason John was sent to her is still unfolding five years later.
Hurricane Matthew hit in October 2016. Krista and John did not evacuate because John had chainsaws and power tools and felt he needed to stay to help. Matthew didn’t spare their home, though. A large tree fell and came through their roof. Krista said that John kept telling her everything would be okay, that God was preparing them for something even bigger than a downed tree. He was right.
John and Krista were together for five years, and in December 2016, they were engaged to be married. They planned a wedding to be held at a beach house in Hilton Head in April 2017. Then tragedy struck on Valentine’s Day. At only 43 years of age, John was diagnosed with stage four gastroenterological cancer, and the wedding was canceled.
“I was so focused on building our life together that I was blind to the real meaning of the diagnosis,” Krista said. “I believed we would start our life together, that we’d get him healthy. I was in denial. No way did I know he was dying.”
Friends and family encouraged them to consider getting married even though John was sick because they could see John was dying, despite Krista’s denial. So, on April 1, 2017, Krista and John tied the knot on the front porch of her mother’s house. “Everyone felt more love on that front porch than in any church,” Krista said. Twenty days later, John was gone.
“We had been together five years, and he brought me back to faith. It was the core thing he taught me in my day-to-day life. I didn’t grow up in a family with strong faith. John was a member of Cornerstone Church, and he would tell me, ‘Sooner or later you’ll sing in church, and you’ll want to be baptized. It started to grow in my heart, and in 2016 I was baptized on the beach. I didn’t realize then how my relationship with God changed because of John. I quit smoking and cleared up all my debt. My life was a lot different before John.”
Three months after John died, Krista was on a plane and had a severe panic attack. She was so afraid to fly, that when it came time to come home, she had to take a train. Krista realized it happened because she had no control, so she started a year of therapy. “Therapy brings up things in your life that affect you more than you know. I learned how to forgive myself for mistakes and let myself off the hook. I realized the only person who could help me was myself. It gave me freedom.”
“What John gave me,” she said, “was so much more than what I lost. It took me five years to get here. At first, I was counting the days since he died—256 days, 325 days…. For the first year I didn’t know if I could get through it. Then I realized I had to start getting out of bed, start working, start painting, start re-engaging with people. Everyone has heartache, everyone has a story, but every story is unique.”
At the same time John spent six weeks at MUSC with Krista constantly at his side, his beloved 12-year-old dog, Elvis, was also diagnosed with cancer. After John’s death, Krista was alone, but Elvis was there to help her until five months later when he also passed away.
Krista’s depression had taken over her life. “It’s mind-boggling how God works,” Krista remarked. “After Elvis died, I was so depressed, but a dog popped up on Facebook, and I decided to get him. George Elvis John Barlow, an English bulldog, entered her life. She now has a second bulldog named Walter Wayne.
“If you told me that at 50 years old I’d be living with my mother with two dogs and that I’d be a widow, I’d have said you’re crazy! I have so many things to be grateful for. I don’t look at 2017 as the worst year of my life. I had to switch gears in my own head. I had to stop asking why God would give me John and then take him away. There were lessons to learn. I don’t take things for granted like I did before. Now I’m introspective, I have faith, and I know my time with him was a blessing.”
Through the COVID-19 pandemic, Krista lost touch with the church, but has since reconnected. A recent sermon’s lesson highlighted living your best life and what it means to be blessed. “What it means to me is being comfortable with myself, a calmness, peace, and not living in fear.”
The biggest lesson for Krista is that things once considered a coincidence in the past are much more. She believes God is leading her.
On the Move: Krista moved to Hilton Head from Reston, VA in 1996 followed by a move to Bluffton in 2008. John always told Krista that 9/11 brought him to the Lowcountry. He spent two months at ground zero because he wanted to help, but finally couldn’t take it anymore. Krista believes his exposure to toxins there may have contributed to his cancer.
Dawn or Dusk: Krista, who works in the food and beverage industry, spends her free time most days with her two bulldogs looking at the sun as it rises, or as it sets, over the May River. Both John’s and his faithful companion Elvis’ ashes were scattered in the May River.