Those Who Serve: Nancy

Like many of BHN’s employees, Nancy Hale’s personal experience in overcoming hardships is what led her to work with individuals with similar experiences. An author in her free time, Nancy has already published one book and is currently writing a second. Her first book, My Journey: A Military Wife’s Story of Faith, Hope and Courage, is a true story about her life after the tragic death of her husband. The book serves as an inspiration for individuals grieving after the loss of a loved one. In addition to her writing, Nancy’s work as a counselor at BHN’s Liberty Street Clinic allows her to use her own journey, on top of more than 20 years of experience, in order to help others.

Born in Springfield, Nancy was raised in Athol where she met her late husband, Chet, a United States Navy Seabee. Their story is one of love at first sight. With the Vietnam War raging on at the time, it was only a matter of time before Chet would be called to serve. At the age of 19, Nancy and Chet married, and, almost immediately after, moved to Mississippi where Chet was stationed. While living in Mississippi, Nancy became pregnant with their first child — three months later, Chet was sent to Vietnam.

Over the next several years, Nancy and Chet welcomed the birth of their two sons and Chet completed a second tour in Vietnam before transitioning out of the Navy in the late 1960s. Back in Athol, Chet struggled to find work over the next several years and, in 1972, decided to reenlist as a Navy Seabee and was assigned to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Nancy and their two sons followed Chet to Cuba. Though life was different there, they lived an enjoyable life together until Chet was killed in a motorcycle accident while Nancy and their two sons were driving behind him. Within a 48-hour whirlwind, Nancy and the boys returned to Athol, which, as Nancy says, “broke all the rules of grieving and moving on.”

Nancy recalls noticing how “apparent the silence was without Chet.” During his tours in Vietnam, Nancy and Chet sent dozens of letters to each other — after Chet’s death, Nancy would write letters as if Chet was still alive in order to distract from the silence. It was at this point that writing became a therapeutic outlet and healthy way of grieving for Nancy.

Yet, in Nancy’s own words, “my journey didn’t end when Chet died.” Not long after, one of Chet’s closest military friends, Ron, came into Nancy’s life. “It felt safe to be with him, because he and Chet had been such good friends…We shared the common bond of knowing how special Chet was.” Forty-three years later, she and Ron remain happily married.

As their sons approached adulthood, Nancy returned to school and finished her undergraduate degree in psychology from Bridgewater State in 1989, and went on to complete her master’s in education and counseling. Throughout her education and professional practice, Nancy notes, “It was evident that people grieved in their own ways and that there were no correct rules for grief.” As for her work at BHN, Nancy says, “My experience has helped a lot of individuals deal with loss and grief. When you have a traumatic experience and work through it in a healthy way, you can shed light on it for other people,” she continues, “Life experiences teach you more than textbooks can.” Her therapeutic approach focuses on self-empowerment and being mindful of staying in the present. “If you live in the past, you become depressed; if you live in the future, you become anxious — it’s important to stay in the moment. I teach people to use the resources and skills they have within themselves. My job is to show them what they’re capable of, and ultimately the goal is to have them progress to the point where they don’t need me anymore.”

Nancy’s second book, Write As If You Knew the Zip Code to Their Heart, is a workbook on how to utilize journaling as a way to heal from past trauma and pain.