From Tragedy to Triumph

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Singer/songwriter Nita Whitaker LaFontaine faced the biggest challenge of her life, the death of her husband. Don was gone and Nita was left to pick up the pieces. She tried to be strong in front of her children, but she was full of pain and anguish. It seemed that everything just stood still and her world was silent. There’s so much you want to say, but the words become void and suddenly you’ve lost yourself in the process. Encouraged by a friend, Nita went to a writing class to release her sorrow and out of those writings she found her voice again.

In her book, Finding my Voice: My Journey through Grief to Grace- Living with the Loss of Don Lafonatine, is a raw heartfelt story of Nita cherishing the years she shared with her husband as she struggled to regain her identity.  “I just wanted to share the truth that I’ve learned walking through the road of grief and what it looked like for me,” says Nita Whitaker LaFontaine in an interview with the Slate. “Several people who are walking through whatever kind of lost it is will see themselves on those pages.” Every detail she writes in the chapters gives you a sense of their dynamic relationship. Don and Nita may seem like opposites at first, but they had so many similarities that would shape the course of their lives. Nita grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana. She realized early on that her voice was something special. “I was making sounds and holding tones before I really knew what I was doing,” Nita replies. “Singing for me is like oxygen and it’s something I’ve done for as long as I can remember.” Nita has conquered the genres of soul, pop, jazz and gospel, appeared on stage, in TV and movies. She has performed with artists such as Barbara Streisand, Celine Dion, Michael Buble` and Stevie Wonder. Don was raised in Duluth, Minnesota. When he was thirteen his voice cracked giving him a distinctive baritone that made him legendary. His voice was heard in movies, television ads, radio and network promotions. He was called the King of Voice Over and the phrase “in a world where” became infamous.

Though Don and Nita were both accomplished and successful in their own right, they were an invincible force. “We really worked together as a team,” says Nita. “We had so much fun, we laughed, we never argued. He was the big picture guy and I was the detailed girl and we complemented each other perfectly.” Their love was full of joy and adventure with twenty years of marriage and two daughters they had it all. Then on August 22, 2008, the unthinkable happened. Don was sent to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. He was in critical condition and spent nine days in the hospital fighting for his life. While Nita and the rest of the family members were praying for him to recover. Nita recalls, “That was the hardest part for me to see him not able to be himself.” “I had to put wife in another place and I went into my nurse mode. I needed to be efficient and clear on his care.” Watching her husband suffer was the last thing Nita wanted to do however, she had faith that he would get through this. They fought every obstacle that came their way, how could this be any different? Sadly, Nita was about to face her worst nightmare. Don LaFonatine died of complications of cancer treatments on September 1, 2008 just six days after his 68th birthday.

Nita was in agony, knowing that the man she shared half of her life with was no longer there. At that point, she was just trying to get through the day and in the midst of the loss she couldn’t find her voice. She couldn’t find her place without Don being by her side. They had a partnership, she did one thing and he did the other and now Nita was the one responsible for carrying the weight of the family through this ordeal. Her main priority was her two daughters, Skye and Elyse. “My passion in those early months after he died was just my children,” Nita says. “How was I going to keep them going, how was I going to grab a hold of my life again?” They had to adjust to the dynamic changes in the family. Saying it is one thing, but actually doing it is another factor. Nita states, “That first year it’s like we held our breaths getting through birthdays, father’s day, holidays and we just kind of held ourselves together we held on to each other we surrounded ourselves with people and we stayed busy and acknowledged that we had made it through that first year.” As time passed on, Nita and her daughters are healing from the pain of Don’s death and she engrossed herself in her singing. “Initially, I strained to find my voice again,” Nita responds. “I knew I couldn’t fall apart. I had to pull myself together enough to be there for them.”

Writing the book was a healing process for Nita. It allowed her to put things into perspective. Nita says, “I think I have grown since the book.” “I just think I’m more open to embracing more of my life. I continue to sing and perform and work.” “I found strength and empowerment in having survived the loss of the love of my life and I think that is exactly what Don would want us to do.” Nita is helping others who are going through a loss so that they know they are not alone. She makes it ok if you want to cry, to take a moment and slowly cope, and to have support around you. There’s not a day that Nita doesn’t miss Don, but it is the love she carries that gives her the confidence to go on. “He would have been proud of how we’ve continued and how we continue to honor him,” Nita says.

Death is something that we can’t control; although it is unbearable to deal with we have to come to terms with it. For Nita Whitaker LaFonatine has no regrets about her life with Don; she has memories that will last forever. Nita is very fortunate to have met someone like Don, a man she truly loved and has gone through this journey with. It’s rare to have a love like Don and Nita’s and if it does happen, make the most of it. Nita’s story, teaches us not to take anyone you love or the time you have for granted, you never know when your life may change.

 

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