Michelle Radke says it’s difficult to adequately express her gratitude for the support her family has received following the death of her husband, who drowned 2½ months ago while trying to rescue a teenage girl in Lake Erie.
“There are no words to thank everyone,” said Radke, of Medina Township. “We’re still getting cards in the mail.
“Not one card, not one email, not one text, not one Facebook message goes unread.”
Radke and her husband, 43-year-old Peter Radke, had been celebrating their daughter’s birthday with their children at Bay Village’s Huntington Beach on May 31 when he joined a group trying to rescue a girl who was struggling in the water.
The girl made it out alive, but Peter Radke did not emerge.
Radke’s husband was celebrated as a hero after his death. Community members raised more than $30,000 to benefit the family through a GoFundMe online memorial fund.
She said members of the community have done more than just donate — they’ve been supportive by naming events in her husband’s honor, and the family even received a donation from Home Depot’s corporate offices to have a tree fort constructed in their backyard for the children.
“We’re doing OK. We have our church and a lot of people helping,” Radke said. “I can’t even tell you know many people are here to support us. Some of them don’t even know me, Pete or my family.”
She and her family — 16-year-old Hannah, 14-year-old Brynn, 11-year-old Owen and 8-year-old Isaac — have been attending grief counseling at Cornerstone of Hope in Independence. There, she said, they can mourn with others who’ve lost parents and spouses.
“It’s still taking time to sink in. It’s almost getting harder” she said. “It’s sinking in that this is a lifetime for me without my best friend.
“You just take things for granted until they’re gone.”
Radke said other widows she’s spoken with were able to comfort their husbands as they died. She said it’s been hard because she wasn’t with him.
“I don’t know what he was thinking when he died,” she said. “That’s what’s really hard. But I trust he was comforted by our Lord.”
She said she hasn’t met the girl her husband helped rescue, but she intends to in the near future.
Her children have had a difficult time, she said, but she’s been trying to help them through it. They celebrated their father’s birthday on July 22 by going to the cemetery, getting his favorite foods for dinner and telling his favorite jokes.
“It was tough, but not as hard I thought it would be,” Radke said.
She and her husband would have celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary in December.
“That one’s going to be hard,” she said.
She said she hoped something good could come from her husband’s death — namely, she’s been working with her husband’s employer, Hitchcock Fleming & Associates Inc., to come up with ideas to make the beach safer.
“I don’t know what the Metroparks are willing to do, but I do know something better could be done,” she said, suggesting maybe an LED sign be installed to warn swimmers of choppy waters.
“That wouldn’t have changed my husband’s decision to go into the water, but it could have warned the girl’s family not to go into the water,” she said.
Finally, she said her husband’s death has taught her to work to help people.
“You don’t have to die to make a difference in someone’s life,” Radke said. “Just smile, compliment someone, go out of your way to do something nice.
“We should be focusing on finding a way to make a difference every day.”