"I have to go on:" Sen. Alberta Darling opens up on death of husband, living donor bill

2,000 people in Wisconsin are waiting for donor organs. But a bill co-authored by State Senator Alberta Darling will make it easier to become a living donor.

There's a very personal story behind Darling's fight - the loss of her beloved husband, who battled Type One diabetes all his adult life.

When you lose a husband after 48 years of marriage, photographs become your lifeline.  At her River Hills home, Alberta Darling opens up about love, loss, and moving forward.

Darling is still in mourning. It's been almost a year since her husband Dr. Bill Darling died waiting for a kidney. When she goes through the dark moments, Darling admits, "I cry. Crying helps. It gets off a lot of pressure. I talk to Bill and I talk to God. That relief gets a lot off my chest."

But through her pain, Darling stays strong and is determined to have an impact. She notes, "My goal is to make a difference, whether its with my family, my friends or the state of Wisconsin my goal is to make a difference."

Still, Alberta is clearly in pain. "It hurts and it feels like it's never going to end. The secret is to go on. If you stay home alone, the grief is just all-consuming."

The lawmaker adds, "Bill was such a strong role model that I can't just crawl up and just miss him. I do miss him but I have to go on."

Darling describes her marriage to Dr. Bill Darling as uncomplicated and easy. She shares, "I can honestly say he never said a bad word to me, never criticized me. People will say you're just remembering the good times, no, he was such a great soul!"

WEB EXTRA: Sen. Darling talks about her legacy as a mom

Despite her loss, Darling does not forget gratitude. She exclaims, "A lot of people never find the love of their life or the great partner that I had."

She's comforted by the kind words from those who knew her husband. Darling smiles and reveals, "A lot of people say he's the nicest person I've ever met, I've heard that a lot."

The biggest lesson Darling learned from her husband was to live every day in the present. She remembers, "He'd get up..and every day was a good day. That was his secret. Every day was gift to him, he made it a great day no matter what happened."

When her husband was in the hospital, Darling even questioned whether she should return to the State Senate. She's held her seat since 1992. Darling sits on several committees and is co-chairman of the powerful Joint Finance Committee.

Darling recalls, "While we were waiting for the transplant, I was still taking calls for joint finance and having conference calls. I said 'Bill, you know I really should give this up. We're not going to be home by April 9th.' He said 'yes, we will be home--we will be home for Easter.' Little did I know we would have his funeral on Easter."

Darling says one of the best and last gifts her husband ever gave her, was to convince her to stay on the job.

"People think I'm crazy if I say getting into the budget was actually a godsend. But it could get my mind off my tragedy and my grief."

So after the chill of winter, and the darkness of sorrow, Alberta Darling looks ahead to spring. But wrapped around her like a warm blanket is her husband's gentle spirit, cheering her from above.

Darling says softly, "Everyday I say thank you God for giving me Bill. I hear him in my mind saying go on Alberta, find joy in life." 

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