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voices of columbine

TED HOCHHALTER

Columbine parent who lost his wife in October

By Kevin Simpson
Denver Post Staff Writer

Apr. 16- Ted Hochhalter eased into his daughter's wheelchair, as if his own lower body were numb, paralyzed, gone.

He wheeled himself through the house to feel Anne Marie's world - shoes bumping against walls, hands pinched and scraped between the chair and the doorway.

"I can't begin to imagine what she goes through physically and emotionally every day," Hochhalter says. "And I live with her every day." Empathy offered one way to cope with Columbine. But six months after gunshots left 18-year-old Anne Marie paralyzed below the waist, Hochhalter was tested again.

He lost Carla - his wife for more than 22 years, his best friend for even longer - to suicide.

She had been "a rock, a pillar," in the school shooting's immediate aftermath. But chronic depression eventually overcame the 48-year-old former teacher when the long-term implications of Anne Marie's spinal cord injury began to sink in.

His wife's death left Hochhalter, 50, as single parent to Anne Marie and 16-year-old Nathan, aided by a nurturing network of family, church and community.

But certain questions arise and confound him, whether they are profoundly personal or simply commonplace.

They are shopping, and Anne Marie asks his opinion about clothes.

Do these colors go?

Does this style look good?

"I'm not very good at color coordination or mixing and matching styles," Hochhalter admits. "Those are situations where a mother's touch would be invaluable." But he never asks himself: What would Carla do?

"To my way of thinking, she was irreplaceable," Hochhalter says, "and I don't want to even pretend to be able to do the things she brought to this family. The only thing I can do in those situations is ask for help from the people who knew Carla, respected her and loved her."

Hochhalter's job in emergency management with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, while hardly approximating the crises of single parenthood, did help him plan for the array of challenges - economics, logistics, media - that confronted him over the past year.

Other federal workers continue to donate leave time, freeing him from the workplace to devote himself entirely to his family. People tell him he's strong, but he shakes his head - no stronger than anyone else would be in his situation.

Little things trip him up.

"I look at my daughter and see a tenacious, courageous individual. Same with my son. I know we'll meet every obstacle thrown our way. But the most difficult times are when I'll walk into a restaurant that Carla and I used to go to. Or I'll see a TV ad, and it will remind me of something she said.

"It's difficult coping with missing her as much as I do." He concentrates on Anne Marie and her steady progress toward independence. He vows to devote more time to Nathan, who like many siblings of Columbine victims has lived in the shadow of more pressing needs.

And who looks out for Ted Hochhalter?

"It's not about me," he says.

In his search for understanding, Hochhalter recently took another glimpse of Anne Marie's world. He slid behind the wheel of his daughter's car, a '92 Saturn donated by a friend and equipped with hand-controls. Attempting a stop, he moved the control in the wrong direction.

The car lurched forward.

He stomped on the foot brake, and with crystal clarity he was confronted, again, with his lasting lesson from Columbine.

Take nothing for granted. "I don't think any one of us can grasp the enormity of what happened. People who have lost children come the closest. When you start talking about the word - Columbine - and what it represents in the American lexicon, it's synonymous with sadness. On the other hand, I like to think it's synonymous with hope."