RICHMOND, Ky. (AP) - Sarah Hall saw the picture of the young widow holding onto the American flag at her husband's funeral and couldn't fight the tears.
"She looks just like my daughter," Hall said of the picture of Jennifer West, taken by a newspaper at the funeral of West's husband, Theodore "Coty" West, in December.
Coty West, 23, a private in the Army, was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad on Nov. 28, 2006.
The months following her husband's death have been difficult for Jennifer. She had planned to graduate from Eastern Kentucky University in May and join her husband in Texas. His death left her
searching for answers.
"I've had my whole entire world turned upside down," she said. "You have your entire life planned out and then in a matter of two seconds, you have to start all over."
Now, three months after her husband's death, Jennifer West may finally be getting the new start she's looking for thanks to the help of Hall and talk-show host Oprah Winfrey.
Hall entered West in a contest in Oprah's "O" magazine called "Live Your Best Life." The contest required participants to briefly describe why they deserved an Arizona getaway.
Hall, who doesn't know Jennifer West, said the picture of the widow at Coty's funeral inspired Hall to enter West into the contest. Hall glued the picture of the funeral to a postcard and added just one sentence.
"I put on there that it was the least we could do to help Jennifer West with a new beginning due to her enormous loss, and it was a way to remember Theodore Coty West for his sacrifice for the freedom we all so value," Hall said.
An "O" magazine staffer soon contacted Hall, telling her it was one of the most compelling entries the magazine had received.
It was then that Hall had to admit to the staffer her problem: she'd never met West and had no idea how to get in touch with her.
A call to the Berea church where Coty West's funeral was held helped Hall make contact with Jennifer, which led to a bit of an awkward conversation.
"I took a deep breath and thought 'How am I going to do this?"' Hall said. "I called her and I started by saying 'Jennifer, you don't know me and all of this is going to sound strange, but ..."
When Hall was done explaining exactly what she'd done, West was
flattered but nonplussed.
"She immediately said 'I can't do it,"' Hall said.
West had promised her husband she would graduate in May, but had fallen behind in the classroom following the funeral.
"Right now, I am going through a hard time," West said. "I've got plenty of support, but it's hard to find someone to relate to me. I've got 18 hours of class and I'm trying to take care of all the paper work for everything concerning my husband.
All I do is go to school (and) come home ... then this lady calls me out of the blue, it's amazing."
With the help of her mother - who convinced Jennifer not to pass up the opportunity - and her professors, West will join the other 49 contestant winners in Arizona on Sunday. The weeklong trip will include spa treatments, inspirational lectures and various other activities, including a birthday party for Coty West, who would
have turned 24 on Monday.
"I haven't had a chance to get away from anything," Jennifer West said. "I'm just kind of hoping I can take a step back and get rid of all of the external forces and figure out what I need to do, to come up with a new plan. I just want to be happy.
I hope to figure out how to be happy again."
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)