(Left to right) Larry, Caleb, Ella Grace, Lucas, Magdalene, and Stacey Freels. COURTESY OF FREELS FAMILY
Owensboro couple featured in first responder marriage series
‘Your job is to help people, so use that same mentality in your marriage’
BY ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD, THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed unique demands on married couples everywhere, but for couples who are emergency service workers, it has been particularly challenging.
Challenging, but not impossible, say an Owensboro husband and wife recently featured in a virtual date night series for married and engaged couples who are first responders and hospital workers.
Larry and Stacey Freels, along with their four children, belong to St. Pius X Parish in Owensboro. They were among four Catholic couples from around the United States featured in Witness to Love’s first responder series, which focuses on the power of resilience; prayer; living the virtues; and community and parish support during these stressful times.
Witness to Love is a national Catholic marriage renewal and preparation program.
“If you are a first responder profession, you obviously want to help people,” said Larry, a lieutenant at Owensboro Fire Department. He recommended that emergency services couples “use that same mentality for your marriage and do what you can to make it better.”
Stacey, a special education teacher with Daviess County Public Schools, explained that the pandemic has presented many challenges to their marriage and family life. And they don’t sugarcoat the reality of living in these circumstances.
“There has been a lot of overtime which requires Larry to be gone longer than his usual 24-hour shift,” she said in a Feb. 25 email interview with The Western Kentucky Catholic. “This leaves me to be a ‘single parent’ for longer amounts of time.”
She said that once, when an entire crew of firefighters was exposed to COVID-19 and had to quarantine, Larry had to work a 72-hour shift.
“This was especially difficult trying to teach from home and also be there for our own children who were having to do some digital learning as well,” she said.
Larry said he experiences the “added worry of bringing home sickness to the rest of the family, even with the extra precautions I take.”
“It is a constant thought in the back of my mind,” said Larry. “I feel bad leaving my family during longer shifts.”
Still, the Freels have experienced unexpected blessings to life during a pandemic. They have had a lot of extra family time, which they have used to watch all of their home videos, held a family Nerf war, gone hiking, and played indoor games.
“As a couple, we’ve dedicated more time to intentional spiritual growth,” said Stacey. This has included a consecration to St. Joseph, listening to the Bible in a Year podcast, and participating in Grace Marriage, a local marriage renewal program.
And while their children’s activities are starting to pick back up, “we are not giving up our nightly walks with just the two of us after dinner,” she added. “It may only be for 10 minutes, but it is 10 minutes of uninterrupted couple time.”
Even though Larry and Stacey – who have been married for almost 15 years – may not get to go on as many “date nights” during this time, they have worked to find other ways to grow in their relationship.
They said one way has been through participating in Witness to Love’s virtual date night opportunities, which include Be More: A Marriage Formation Retreat, to help couples gain community, identity and an understanding of their mission.
“While this pandemic has been stressful, I don’t want to give the devil control and let worries snowball in my brain,” said Stacey. “We can only do the best we can and take as many precautions as we can, but at the end of the day, God is in control and I need to trust He knows what is best.”
Larry echoed this, emphasizing that couples must “make the time to talk.”
“Even in my line of work, I can share about my day, but I also need to hear about my spouse’s day and what her stresses were,” he said. “We don’t need to keep things bottled up inside.”
He also recommended ways to make one’s spouse’s life easier.
“Learn his/her love language and do your best to make home a safe and enjoyable place to come home to,” said Larry.
Virtual Date Night Series for First Responders and Hospital Workers
Join First Responder Marriage Champions from around the country for a marriage enrichment and renewal date night series. We were made to be in community with each other. Join us as we build up church communities and support marriages. During this time of social isolation, our Domestic Church is in even greater need of relationships with God and others. To find out more or to register for free, visit witnesstolove.org/datenight.
More marriage resources!
- Learn about Witness to Love at https://witnesstolove.org
- Learn about Grace Marriage at www.gracemarriage.com
- Learn about the Diocese of Owensboro’s Office of Marriage and Family Life at https://owensborodiocese.org/office-of-marriage-family-life.
Originally printed in the April 2021 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.