This blended family is the definition of love.

Not everyone is able to abide by those old wedding vows, “til death do us part.”

After all, life happens, and sometimes relationships fall apart. And sometimes, tragic things also happen that bring a couple’s marriage to an end. That doesn’t mean the love has disappeared, though.

Or at least, it doesn’t in the case of this beautiful story of love and new beginnings.

Marrying Her High School Sweetheart

a couple taking a photo

Kristen Armstrong and Brandon Smith met and fell in love when they were still in high school. They married when they were in their early twenties. Life was great for the pair… until it wasn’t. In 2008, just two years after Smith and Armstrong married, she received a phone call that changed her life: Smith had been in a terrible car accident.

“They couldn’t tell me if he was alive or not,” Armstrong recalled to Today. “I remember asking my mom, ‘What will I do if Brandon is gone?’”

According to the publication, Smith had been T-boned by a commercial truck while driving, and it was pretty bad. He was in the neurotrauma intensive care unit when Armstrong arrived and had suffered a traumatic brain injury. He would be forced to spend two months in a coma, and doctors didn’t have any great answers about his future.

“Even though Brandon’s doctors warned me that if he did wake up, he would be forever changed because of his severe traumatic brain injury, I held onto hope that a miracle would happen and he’d be the same Brandon,” Armstrong said. “But he wasn’t.”

Adjusting to Their New Lives Together

When Smith woke up, he needed around-the-clock care and was moved to a facility in Texas. It was one of the most difficult times in Armstrong’s life. She was 24, and her husband was only 23, yet everything they had planned for their future together was no longer possible. Smith struggled to communicate, he needed help with basic things like eating, using the toilet, and getting dressed, and he struggled with short-term memory.

“Every morning, I woke up, and I was hit by this train of sadness. He was my soulmate, my best friend,” Armstrong added. “I was grieving a living person, and that was very complicated and isolating.”

Armstrong knew she would always be by her husband’s side, but she was young, and she wanted a future that involved kids. She began to see Smith as a brother figure, especially when, one day, he randomly called her “lil sis.” She made the difficult decision to get a divorce, but she also wasn’t going to give up on Brandon.

“I had a lot of talks with God, and I decided I was going to take care of Brandon until the day he died.”

Kristen Armstrong

When Armstrong went to file the paperwork to become Smith’s legal guardian, the judge wanted to know what would happen when Armstrong had a family of her own. Would she still be able to take care of her ex-husband? And what would that look like?

“I’m not going anywhere,” Armstrong replied. The judge granted her guardianship.

Meeting Someone New

two men and a woman taking a photo

Eventually, Armstrong did meet someone else: a man named James Armstrong. They met online, and James thought Armstrong’s story was beautiful. He had a son from a previous relationship, and Kristen fell in love with him. Meanwhile, James fell in love with Brandon, too.

“The first time James met Brandon, we went to church,” Kristen shared on TikTok. “I got up to go to the bathroom, and when I came back, James’s arm was around Brandon… At that moment, I knew what my future held.”

Kristen and James married in 2015 and had two little girls. In their wedding vows, James promised he would always love and care for Brandon, too. He’s stayed true to those vows, and the family regularly visits Brandon and includes him in family moments. These days, James sees the man as another son, completing this gorgeous family.

“He’s our family member. He’s like one of our kids; we love him the same,” James said in a follow-up TikTok video. “He’s a central part of our family. He’s a central part of our life.”

Embracing Love

Life doesn’t always work out the way we think it’s going to, and plans can change in a heartbeat. It can be jarring to pivot and find a way to work through complex life changes, especially when it comes to grief and figuring out how to embrace our lives when we’ve lost things that matter most.

That’s why this story is so heartwarming. This wife was no longer able to have the future she envisioned with the man she wanted, but still, love prevailed. She found a way to keep Brandon in her life, and so did the next person she met and fell in love with.

It’s such a good reminder to embrace love where we can and to appreciate the moments and people who make our lives special while we can. Above all, family isn’t always the traditional blood relations of the past — family is what you make it. One thing every family needs is love, and this crew definitely isn’t short on that.

So the next time you feel low, or life doesn’t go your way, or you have no idea how you’re going to carry on, look for the love. It may take a while, but love will always guide the way to where you’re supposed to be next.

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