Love, loss, and the ugly parts

Kimberly Holmes Wiggins '02 on grief

“I don’t understand why we don’t understand grief,” says Kimberly Holmes Wiggins ’02.

It’s a frustration both immediate and ongoing for Wiggins. On April 16, 2016, her husband, Rasheed Wiggins ’99, M.B.A. ’10, was killed in a still unsolved hit-and-run crash in Orlando, Florida. That was the beginning of a new title for her—widow. The label, she says, was hard to accept, hard to even verbalize.

 “I can say it now,” she says. “For the first two years, it was so black and white, such a reminder of my loss. Because in that word is a story of a life, a marriage, hopes, dreams…that word holds all of that.”

In fact, she says, because she lost someone integral to how she lived and how she saw herself, his death was like her own. In a sense, she’s become a different person, a shift others have found tough to accept. “People in your life want you to be the old you, they want to know when you can go out again,” she says. “When it comes to grief, people want you to hide the ugly part and come back a year later and be better.”

Of course, that’s not how it works. The “ugly part” can happen at any time, she says; anything and nothing can remind her of Rasheed and send her reeling. Moments later, she could be laughing again. So, she tells friends now, “Let me be sad and just be there for me. Let me take these steps at my own pace but don’t leave me. Just be here with me.” 

She has much to say about how to support those who are grieving. “Don’t tell me to be strong. That’s the number one thing that will make me want to punch you in the face,” she says, laughing. “Say the person’s name. That’s actually comforting. When people don’t say Rasheed’s name it feels like I’m alone in keeping his spirit alive.”

Wiggins has used what she’s learned about grief to start Still His, a faith-based organization that supports widows and widowers in a variety of ways. There are sister brunches where women can 
“let their guard down and talk about how they truly feel, not how their friends and family want them to feel” over hot cakes and biscuits. She sells T-shirts; the proceeds support free Love Boxes, filled with items that are sent to widows. On Valentine’s day, she delivers roses to local widows. “I find ways to spread love, the love Rasheed left me,” she says. She’s also written a book, also free, that helps friends understand what widows might need.

Part of dealing with her grief has been working on projects inspired by Rasheed. At the suggestion of Howie Rhee, managing director for student and alumni affairs at Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship, a prize was established in Rasheed’s name that benefits emerging entrepreneurs or startup teams. (An ardent man of ideas, Wiggins competed in the annual startup challenge multiple times.) In March 2019, she launched a 5K run, that started at Duke’s East Campus quad that drew 150 participants, to benefit the scholarship fund.

Wiggins has also established a scholarship fund at Rasheed’s Newark, New Jersey, high school. She’s taken up his unfinished passion project, R-hyv, a social collaboration site. Recently, she’s rejoined the effort in Florida to establish a kind of Amber Alert for hit-and-run incidents. Previously, she’d pushed for a system that would have all the information the police have shared on billboards and with body shops to capitalize on the critical first few hours after an incident; it made it to the state legislature but died in committee. By that time, she was exhausted and needed, she says, to “live in the light, a bit.”

In January 2017, Wiggins took what she considers her first big steps. She moved to the eastern shore of Maryland to take a job as the morning anchor on WBOC. With her dog, she bought a house. She got through Christmas. “It didn’t feel the same, but it was not as heavy as the first two felt.”

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