Family trying to rebuild after crash

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By Susan Sharp

They promised each other a lifetime.

What they got was three years.

But Melissa Podstawka wouldn’t trade those three years with her husband Daniel for 50 years with someone else.

“I will never find anyone to replace him,” she said as tears threatened to spill down her face. Sitting in a room decorated with family photos, Podstawka is still reeling in the sudden death of her 28- year- old husband.

On July 19 he was driving to work at Camel Manufacturing when his 1998 Ford Explorer hydroplaned. The vehicle then left the interstate crossing the median. After striking a guardrail twice, the SUV overturned. Daniel Podstawka died because of injuries he sustained in the accident.

The Podstawka’s story is a unique one.

In August 2006 Paradigm Church traveled to Poland on a mission trip. It was there that Daniel Podstawka and Melissa White met. He was serving as guide for the mission group. She was a member of the group.

It was love at first sight that would later say in a November 2006 interview with the LaFollette Press.

Almost four years and two children later, Melissa Podstawka is now a widow at the age of 24. Heartbroken at the loss of her husband, she is determined to keep his memory alive. Melissa Podstawka is trying to give her feelings of pain and loss to God, just as her husband would want her to.

But before she can move forward, she must spend some time looking back.

During the couple’s engagement, Daniel Podstawka moved to LaFollette living with Brandon and Christie Elkins, who had also been a part of the mission trip. Not long after their wedding, the Podstawkas moved back to Poland.

It was something they “felt led to do,” Melissa Podstawka said. It was also trading places moment for her. Throughout the couple’s courtship, Daniel Podstawka had been the stranger in a strange land. In fact, he was so overcome by American culture and his struggles with the language, he once ran away from someone while he was out for a walk for fear he couldn’t communicate with them. When Melissa Podstawka recalls that memory, a smile breaks through the sadness embedded on her face.

From March 2007 until October 2007, their places were reversed. “I stayed home most of the day,” she said. As time passed Melissa Podstawka found a kindred spirit in another American girl who had married a Polish man and moved around the world. The two forged a friendship. With a newfound friend and beginning career teaching English at a church, Melissa Podstawka began to settle into her new home.

“It was hard but it was nice,” she said. “I just enjoyed the beauty of everything.”

However, news of a baby brought the couple back to LaFollette.

“He also thought she was homesick,” Linda Sharp, Melissa Podstawka’s mother interjected.

The impending birth of a baby brought the couple even closer together. But as time passed, their bond and faith would be tested. For Melissa Podstawka the spiritual battle was much harder for her to wage than it was for husband.

When their son, Ethan, was still an infant, the family became embroiled in a legal battle that could have destroyed them. But again, Daniel Podstawka encouraged his wife to lay the struggle at God’s feet. He assured her that was the only way she could find peace with it.

Ironically, that is the same advice she believes her late husband would now give her in dealing with his death. Without God and Daniel’s advice, Melissa Podstawka says she couldn’t survive in the wake of her husband’s death.

There are scores of things Melissa Podstawka wants Ethan and his four-month-old brother Armin to remember about their father. She wants them to know what a wonderful husband he was and how lucky she felt to be chosen as his wife, she said. Along with that, Melissa Podstawka wants Ethan and Armin to know how much they were loved by their father as well as how much he loved his Heavenly Father. Whether it was taking his Bible to work to share it with his fellow employees or being the spiritual head of the household, Daniel Podstawka was never afraid to show his love for God, Melissa Podstawka said.

“I want them to see the father and husband he was,” she said as the tears begin to creep back into her eyes.

Instead of the two of them planning how to raise their sons, that task now solely rests on Melissa Podstawka’s shoulders. But it is an undertaking she feels her husband prepared her for.

In the home, Daniel Podstawka only spoke to his children in his native tongue. His wife spoke to them in English. This was to ensure the boys would know both of their heritages.

As Ethan ran from room to room on Thursday afternoon, he would disappear for moments at a time. “He is watching cartoons in Polish,” his mother said gesturing to his bedroom.  

To keep their father’s memory alive, Melissa Podstawka plans to show her sons the many videos he shot of them that went back home to his parents. They are narrated in Polish as well, she said.

They will also soon visit their father’s homeland for the first time.

Melissa Podstawka is working through reams of red tape so she can return her husband’s ashes to Poland, “It is what he would want,” she said. In the wake of Daniel Podstawka’s early death, Melissa Podstawka said that was one of the few details she was sure of.

Daniel Podstawka’s death left his family with moments they wish they had back. But for Melissa Podstawka there is one that rings clear.

“Every morning before he left for work he would come in and kiss me,” she said. The morning of the accident Melissa Podstawka didn’t open her eyes when she received her kiss.

For her that goodbye feels unfinished. “I wish I would have opened my eyes and looked at him,” she said.