Grieving fiancée inspires with viral photos

Photos courtesy Loving Life Photography
Jessica Padgett had been engaged to Kendall Murphy for more than a year before he was killed in action as a volunteer firefighter. Late last month, the Loogootee woman had photos taken when she visited her late fiance’s grave on what was planned to be the couple’s wedding day.

By ALLEN LAMAN
alaman@dcherald.com

JASPER — It was supposed to be the happiest day of her life. But when her wedding day ended, Jessica Padgett was not in the arms of her husband.

Jessica had been engaged to Kendall Murphy of Montgomery for more than a year before he was killed in action as a volunteer firefighter for the Montgomery Volunteer Fire Department in November. He was 27.

Kendall, who was a personal insurance agent at German American Bank’s main office in Jasper, was run over by another responding firefighter who has been preliminarily charged with felony impaired driving causing death.

Late last month, Jessica slid on her snow-white dress, had her makeup done and embarked on an emotional experience that helped her grieve Kendall’s death and inspire others across the world to keep pushing ahead.

The Loogootee woman had photos taken when she visited her late fiance’s grave on what was planned to be the couple’s wedding day. The photo shoot has gone viral, and has been picked up by national and international news outlets.

“I will remember it [as] an emotional day, but also, they helped me heal with taking those pictures,” Jessica said. “It really did help in a way. It was a special day. Even though it was a really hard day and sad day, it was worth it. Every single second.”

She continued: “I’ll definitely remember that day for sure. I’ll never forget the love and support that I had from everybody, and how special they made it for me.”

The photos, which were taken by Loving Life Photography of Washington, document Jessica’s journey to Kendall’s tombstone, surrounded by the wedding party and about 75 close friends and family. The stills are filled with both tears and smiles.

Jessica met Kendall through a mutual friend in 2013 when the two attended the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville. After getting to know him, she realized there weren’t many men like him. He was sweet. He loved her for who she was. And he turned her world around.

They shared a passion for Notre Dame football, and attended games together in South Bend. When he proposed, Kendall took Jessica on a closed tour of the team’s stadium and surprised her on his knee at the 50 yard line. It was a perfect proposal.

The two also went to many live music concerts with each other, and loved staying in and visiting with family.

Then, suddenly, he was gone.

Jessica placed the order for her dress in September 2017, and received a phone call in early 2018 informing her that it was ready for pickup. Initially, she didn’t want it, but her parents had paid for it, so she followed through and collected it.

Dress in hand, she decided she didn’t want to box it up. She and Kendall had scheduled Loving Life Photography to take their wedding photos before he passed, and Jessica phoned photographer Mandi Knepp and asked if she was still available on Sept. 29. She was.

It was a way for Jessica to commemorate the special day and remember it for years to come. She cried when she woke up that morning, and wanted to curl up in a ball and not show her face. But her bridesmaids, family and friends treated her to a brunch and painting session that eased her into the photo shoot. The support system they provide has been paramount as she continues to grieve Kendall’s death.

“If they weren’t there, there would be no way I could have done it,” Jessica reflected. “They’ve been there — my family, friends, everybody — they’ve been there since Kendall died.”

Jessica’s life has changed tremendously since that night. Following the accident, she spent most of her time crying in her room, and it took her a long time to finally go back out into the world. She constantly thought about his death, and played the “What if?” game, continuously wondering how she could have intervened and prevented the accident.

She has since stayed busy at her job at Ketcham Memorial Center in Odon, and organized a 5K walk and run over the summer, with the proceeds going to the Montgomery Volunteer Fire Department and a scholarship fund in Kendall’s memory.

“You’ve gotta stay busy,” Jessica said. “That’s the most important thing. Keep your mind off of it.”

She’s also reintroduced activities to her life that she loves, as well as pastimes that Kendall loved. Through what she calls “Kendall’s Bucket List,” she has attended a Kansas Jayhawks basketball game — Kendall was a big fan, but never attended a game — and also spent a week in Omaha, Nebraska, during the College World Series.

Jessica, who is Catholic, felt a part of him on those trips, and she also felt his presence at the photo shoot.

“He was definitely there,” she said. “I mean, how could he miss his own wedding day? I think he was there.”

She is still grieving, but said that day helped her tremendously. Since the photos were posted online, people struggling with loss from across the globe have reached out to her to tell her how her story resonated with them. Seeing her bravery and strength gives them a boost to push forward with their own grieving.

“That’s really cool that they reached out to me, told me their story. And me taking these pictures, I’m helping them out,” she said. “I thought that was really neat that they told me their story, and they’re telling me that just from my pictures, I’m helping them heal and go through their grieving process like I am.”

To view more photos from the wedding day shoot, click here.




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