“Her heart was broken,” Sara’s mother, Patricia Cartwright, told The Washington Post.
After the funeral, Nowak and a neighbor got into a vehicle to do a “burnout” — spinning the wheels with the car still — in honor of her husband, who loved working with automobiles. But the driver lost control, sending the vehicle into a ditch, officials say.
That evening, Patricia and Randal Cartwright got a call that their daughter had died in the crash — just hours after she had held her husband’s April 1 service and traded stories about him with loved ones. In the wake of the two deaths, the sliver of solace her family has found lies in the thought that the couple is back together in heaven, Cartwright said.
“It’s just hard to imagine her being without him,” she said.
Sara, 42, and Louis, 54, met as neighbors in Hartland, Wis., more than a decade ago. They were friends for years before they both got divorced and later struck up a romantic relationship.
The pair found common ground in their love for camping, home-cooked meals and adventures with their six children from their previous marriages.
When they got married in September 2017, the couple didn’t say their vows to one another. Instead, Louis, wearing a white button-down shirt, and Sara, with a crown of blue flowers in her hair, turned to face their children during the ceremony, which took place in a field just outside Palmyra, Wis.
“They included the children — that they would always be there for them,” Cartwright said. “And they’re going to be a big family.”
Recently, the Nowaks had been building a summer house near Clam Lake, Wis. Sara had grown up visiting the area, where her family had a summer cottage, and the couple wanted to create another home beside it for future vacations.
Last year, both Sara’s grandfather and Louis’s grandfather died of cancer within 10 months of each other. Wanting to be cautious, Louis went in for tests as well. He got a liver cancer diagnosis about four months ago.
The news was hard on them, Cartwright said. Soon, when Sara wasn’t working or taking care of the children, she was at the hospital with Louis.
“She just wanted every minute to count,” Cartwright said.
Through it all, though, Sara remained her “bubbly, very positive,” self, Cartwright said. Sara tried to keep her husband’s spirits up, telling him that someday, they were going to “laugh at this in the future,” she added.
Louis died on March 19. His family remembered him in his obituary as someone who “would always be there to lend a helping hand, or to have a great conversation.”
After his funeral on April 1, friends and family gathered in the Nowaks’ yard for a bonfire, as they had done with Louis many times before — though, this time, it was to reminisce about him.
Then, Sara and a neighbor decided to get into a car to do a burnout near the house in memory of Louis, Cartwright said. While doing so, the driver lost control and the car went into a ditch, according to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.
The car struck a culvert and overturned. Both Sara and the driver died on the scene. Officials are still investigating the crash.
As she processes both deaths, Cartwright reminds herself that Sara and Louis “have to be together.”
“Or else all this was just senseless,” she said.
Come Labor Day weekend, which would have been Sara and Louis’s sixth wedding anniversary, their family plans to make a trip to Clam Lake to plant trees in memory of the couple — something they talked about doing after the cancer diagnosis if the need arose.
Louis wanted a hickory tree because it was strong, rooted firmly in the ground. And Sara, when her time came, said she’d want a willow because she loved watching them sway in the wind, wild and free.
Now, their trees will be planted along with their ashes, side by side.