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Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Flip Side

Well, with Holding It All Together, I also must admit that sometimes it also seems to all fall apart.

Ugh.  Days like today...they are so hard.  I have gotten good at holding it together for Gabriel. I have gotten good at smiling for him, playing with him, laughing with him, kissing and hugging him.  And it is never fake.  It is always real.  I am good at "him". 

But, then he goes to bed. I look around my house. I have laundry to do, dishes to wash, toys to pick up, work to do, my dog to pet.  Oh my goodness. I would love to just cuddle with Lily after Gabe goes to bed. I seriously feel like she is depressed lately.  She seems so needy lately, but really, she just wants some attention, and I just can't give it to her like I want to, like I used to.

Some days, I feel so strong, so motivated, so peaceful.  But then, nights like tonight, I feel so confused, so sad, so anxious, so lonely.  And I so much need a hug from him.  I just need him to come home. I need him to come to our home. 

At least these days don't happen all the time anymore.

When we were planning our wedding, and on our wedding day, my mom teases me about my Bridezilla Moments, which were mainly that I did NOT want to make any more decisions.  I didn't.  I just wanted everyone else to make decisions, because I wanted everyone else to be happy, and I knew that I couldn't do that.  And I really had no preference, and I didn't like to be the decision maker, and I don't like to be the decision maker, unless it is a cut and dry, right or wrong decision. Right now, I don't want to make any more decisions.  I want him to make decisions.  I have left lots up to him.  I have talked to him at his gravesite, and I have told him to just "fix it".  I never have yelled at him, we never fought, I have never had so much as a cross word with him.  But, to his gravestone, yes. I have yelled at him. I have told him that he has left me in this mess, and he has to fix it.  And I feel guilty for that sometimes, but I do not want to make the decisions. 

He said that he would always be there for me; that he would always be watching me.  I so hope that is true.  Death is so final- for the living.  I have tried and tried to make it not be final for us.  It can't be final for us.  I am not ready for it to be final for us.  I. Still. Need. Him!!

Today, and tonight, it rained. And rained. And rained.  Rainy days make me more emotional. I suppose it is because it suppresses my activity, and it is gloomy.  But, tonight, I felt like he was here with me, and that he was crying with me.  Or for me?  I don't know.  He is here, but I can't feel him.  Its almost like I feel him looking at me from the corner, or something, and he doesn't want to come close to me.

But I know I miss him.  I know I need him, and that I have a lot of life to look forward to, without him.  I am so thankful for the time we have had together, I will always be.  But, that doesn't leave me not wanting more.

Sometimes, I want to take my pain off the shelf and nurse it again, I guess.  My shelf is not dusty, it is always in sight, and it is always within reach.

I love you, sweetheart. I miss you so, so, so much.  I wish you would just come back...

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Holding It All Together...

I love nights like tonight. I love feeling like I am holding it all together, and doing it well.And I love nights like tonight where there is a clarity, and there is the ability to go above and beyond. That's my favorite part. I like doing more than I expected, and doing it better than I expected.

Don't get me wrong, there is nothing out of the ordinary that I did tonight. I simply had a good day, my headache went away this afternoon, and Gabriel and I did some shopping. Except we didn't actually shop. We went, and browsed, threw some things in the cart, I played with his feet and held his little hand, watched him giggle, and then decided that I didn't really need anything, so I put it all back and left empty-handed. I was actually just enjoying spending time with him, and reflecting on how thankful I am that he is in my life, and that I get to play with his feet, hold his hand, and watch him giggle.

When we got home, he took a good nap, and I got a lot of my grading done, attended a meeting, did the dishes, and even held an extra seminar for my class.

My class, so far, has been what has thrown me off. Well, one of the things. But, it is one of the big things. I have always been proud of myself as a professional, and taken pride in my work. I have always felt that I needed to do well in my position, as a way to define myself. If I didn't do well, then I often attributed that to my lack of being a responsible or worthy person even before I had grief to deal with additionally. However, today, I held it all together.

My students helped me hold it together tonight. Gabriel is teething, so his schedule is not as perfect as I would like it to be, but somehow, I still (barely) got him to bed on time, even after his long nap. During seminar, I had 9 students show up, even though it was not graded- optional- which meant that other than information, they got nothing out of it. They showed up. They showed up for me, and more importantly, they showed up for themselves. I cannot believe how much this group has grown. In the beginning, I was so worried that I had taken on more than what I was able to, and in the beginning, I was worried that I was not a responsible or worthy person. But, tonight, I have seen the growth, and the potential of these students, and realized that I have a part in that growth and potential that is starting to shine. It is a wonderful feeling.

I love November. I have always loved November. I love it because it is Thanksgiving, which is truly one of my favorite holidays. I love reflecting on what I am thankful for, and I love seeing others reflect on what they are thankful for. I love having the entire month of November to celebrate Thanksgiving, before heading in to the craziness of consumer-Christmas.

After grad school, I substitute taught at a preschool in my hometown quite frequently. One day, we were putting together a Thanksgiving book for the students to take home. What a great idea! I am definitely going to do this independently with Gabriel when he gets older. Some of their responses were so cute, and definitely should be cherished. I remember one little girl saying that she was thankful for her Mommy and Daddy. Another was thankful for his candy. Another was thankful for her pockets, and another was thankful for his belt! And, while we laugh at their cuteness and "simplicities", it also makes me think that I am thankful for the big stuff, and also the little stuff.

Ultimately, I am thankful for the little stuff, and the big stuff. I am thankful for my couch, my TV, my books, and my "woobie". I am thankful for my dog, my family, my friends, my baby, and my Angel Husband. I am thankful for my life; if you would have asked me that several months ago, I am not sure I would have been thankful. So, I am thankful that I am here. Now.

The coolest part of thinking about what we are thankful for is because it gives a moment, even if just a very quick moment, to think about how blessed we are in our life, and helps us forget about some of the sad things, or things that we wish we would have said, done, or had happened differently. And, it also helps us have a new perspective on those items that we maybe would have said, done or had happened differently. No matter what happened, or what was said, or what was done, ultimately, it has brought us to be the person that we are, with the blessings that we have.

More and more, I see how much life is a ripple effect. I see how much it is a chain reaction. Sometimes links are broken, but it gives us a new perspective. And when the chain comes back together, it is stronger, reinforced, and it takes more to be broken again. I did post a "thankful" blog last year, on December 6. I am still very thankful for all of those things today, and maybe even moreso. I think it is important that we stop and observe what we are thankful for, and maybe we should do it more often than in November. I feel like I have changed so much since then, but am still the same, just maybe a better version of me.

Tonight, I held it together. Tonight, I was good at what I was doing, in all areas of my life. Tonight, I realized that I am having more nights like tonight, just as I was promised by so many a year ago. Tonight, I know that they will eventually continue coming along, and I can continue healing.

Tonight, I am thankful for everything.

Monday, September 19, 2011

One year later, Still trying to Smile...

It's emotional. No doubt about it. My emotions this week are nearly as raw as they were the first week, minus the shock. I think the shock protected me. Now, however, I have Gabriel to think about, to hold it together for.

Thank God.

This week, for some reason (ha), is muddled with what I was doing one year ago...and also the What Ifs. I have struggled to keep the what ifs out of my head for at least the last three months, with only mere, vague appearances. Those are awful to deal with, hurtful to handle. I know what the "what if" answers would be. It would lead to a life of happiness, togetherness, oneness....Love, Strength, Protection. These are things that I do have, I just have them in different ways now, scattered across the many faces of those who have supported me, and our friends and family with this terrible loss. However, they are not as close as he would have given them to me; to us. They are not as "one" as he would have provided. I am still very, very thankful for them, but it doesn't replace him, and still leaves me with a need of...him.

I did a lot of driving today. I went to my Daddy's and it takes about 1 1/2 hours each way. Both times, the tears flooded their dam, and I could not hold them back. I haven't let that happen in a while. I don't want Gabriel to think that his Mommy is weak. I know he is little yet, but I also don't want to get in to the habit. I know that tears do not make me weak, but the breakdown that follows the tears- that is more pain that I would like him to ever know.

Songs spoke to me tonight. Songs I haven't heard in a while, but they brought back memories and thoughts- good memories and thoughts. When Paige took our engagement pictures, the background of our portfolio was "Use Somebody" by Kings of Leon. I haven't heard that song in months, and today, I heard it twice. I could remember that day, I could smell him. I could feel his touch, his kiss, his hug, and his love. I could feel the strength yet gentleness of his hold on me. I could feel the butterflies in my stomach, but those that calmly flutter, knowing with full confidence that I was where I belonged. I could feel the love in my shoulders. Have you ever felt love in your shoulders? It is a wonderful feeling. Where you just know. You just know.

I of course am taking stock of the last year. Who have I become? What have I done? How have I gotten to where I am? Would Matt be proud? I still don't know who I have become. I suppose that will be a long journey, just like it was to find myself the first time. I have done a lot. I have taken on many different personas, trying to find the right fit, and more than anything, I have allowed people to support me, which is something that was previously very difficult. I have leaned on April, my friends and our families a lot, and I am very, very thankful that they were here. I have taken on the most important role of my life- Gabriel's Mommy. I have no clue how I got to where I am. I didn't think I was going to make it this far; I didn't think that God was going to let me (or make me, depending on the day) make it this far. I did. We all did. I know that Matt would be damn proud of me, even with my mistakes along the way. I think that I have done everything possible to make him proud of me, and will always continue to do so.

With that being said, I still have a giant, empty hole. I don't know where it is at. Sometimes, it is in my heart. Sometimes it is in my stomach. Sometimes it is in my head. The lump in my throat has moved to a lump in my heart. I suppose forever it will stay there. It is easier to hide this way. Don't question it though. It is there.

When my hair started falling out, and I finally adjusted to this fact, I used to rationalize. I used to tell myself that I have been blessed in so many ways, and that I just can't have everything. I still believe this. I do still believe this, but it doesn't take away the pain that I feel that he is gone. I am so blessed, and with Gabriel, I am even more blessed than I have ever been before, but I can't understand why I can't have both. I should not have to rationalize having one for having the other. And I won't.

I know if Matt were still here, Gabriel would be OUR son. He would be. I know it. I know that Gabriel came from Heaven, and he came to me- to us- to our family, as part of a Greater Plan. Gabriel may have been carried by someone else, but honestly, if Matt were here, I know I would have carried this exact child myself, or this exact child would have found his way to us. Maybe we would have gotten pregnant on R&R, maybe it would have been when he came home; Maybe this exact situation would come up at the exact time, or maybe it would have come up years down the road- but regardless, Gabriel was sent here for us. Why can't Matt be in the picture? This is why I can't understand why he is gone. I need Matt in the picture.

This brings me to the next song that spoke to me. I first heard it when I was taking Gabriel to a hotel to "bond" the day after he came home from the orphanage. Blake Shelton sings the more popular version, but it is also found on the Christian Channels by David Barnes. "God gave me you for the ups and downs, God gave me you for the days of doubt. For when I think I've lost my way, There are no words here left to say, its true, God gave me You". Since the first time I heard it, I know that it is for Gabriel and I (although people usually probably think of their significant other...)

People say when you get through the first year, then things should start to "normalize". People start to expect that things will be back to normal for those that have lost. One year is not all it takes, I can tell you that right now. This is why I stopped reading the grief books I was reading. But, I desperately wanted a timeline, and I got my answer, as I wanted the "experts" to tell me. No one, except those that have been through this, have the guts to tell you that it lasts forever. It is true, it does get easier to deal with over time. It gets easier to wait until I get home, or I am alone in the car, to cry. It gets easier to push the pain aside until a more convenient time. But I suppose that is more trial and error, understanding triggers and timing than an "Easy Button".

Today, it rained, and it rained hard at times. I cried, and I cried hard at times. Laura Story's Blessings is another song that comes to mind, that helps me get through this. My friend Cinda first pointed this out to me, and it has so touched my heart since. "'Cause what if Your blessings comes through raindrops, what if Your healing comes through tears? What if a thousand sleepless nights Are what it takes to know You're near? And what if trials in this life are mercies in disguise?"

My faith has been renewed in the last year. Very strongly renewed. As in taken from the dead and risen again renewed. I know that would make Matt proud. I know that is what I want to share with Gabriel. I have had my conversations with God. I have had my horrible, hateful words with God for taking my very life away from me. I also know that He would not hurt me so badly without sharing His glory with me as well. Ultimately, Matt came in to my life, loved me, and made me realize what I am worth. Because of this, I can share with my son. I so wish that Matt were here. I know he is enjoying his life in Heaven, watching down on us, looking over us, and protecting us from above. I just want to FEEL him. I just want to talk to him, to hug and kiss him, to ask him questions, to tell him- to his face- that I love him, and for him to tell me. But, I don't want this as a one time thing. I want it for forever.

I am trying to smile for him, for the man that I love with all of my heart. I know that is what he would want me to do. I can still hear him: "Smile for me, baby baby. Just smile '-I don't want to-' Just smile for me." [And then I do.]. He tells me I have the most beautiful smile, and smiles back at me with the most beautiful smile. I feel his love, even from 10,000 miles away. I feel his love now, all the way from Heaven. I can stomp my feet and grind my teeth all I want to, but ultimately, that won't bring him back. So, instead, I smile for him, again. I always will, but sometimes I might need to hide in a corner for a minute...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

It Affects Us All.....

Ten years ago, I was in my senior year of college. I was a Resident Assistant to 40 men and women in the residence halls. I enjoyed life, I was young, naive, and thought I had it all figured out.

At about 8:45, my alarm went off. I had rounds the night before, so was up late hanging out with my residents, and trying to complete a paper I had forgotten about. My alarm went off. It was usually Bob & Tom, because I always jumped up to turn it off, as I can't stand their laughs in the morning. And now what?!? They are JOKING about planes and terrorism?

I woke up from my sleepiness and annoyance for how they actually stooped this low for a tasteless joke. I turned off the alarm, and turned on the television. Every channel, again and again and again, video of an airplane flying in to a building, and then, another hit. I still remember the newscaster scream when the second hit...live. And then, they fell....

It was a haze. Disbelief. Who could do this? Why would someone do this? It had to be an accident? What about my brother in the Navy? What about my resident's husband who is in the Army? She is now so close to me? What am I going to tell the students? WHAT IS MY MOTHER GOING TO TELL MY 19 MONTH OLD BROTHER?

The campus was silent. There were tears, many, many tears. No one understood what was happening. Candlelight vigil? We could find those everywhere. There were no loud stereos, unless it played "The Star Spangled Banner" or "America the Beautiful". Other than that, there was silence, and windows draped in American Flags. All across campus, our flag waved, or draped, or was carried.

My National Guard residents deployed within the week. We lost them as our fellow college students and peers to those holding our country together in the very beginning of this war in a week.

The world will never be the same. THE WORLD HAS NEVER BEEN THE SAME.

Fast forward eight and a half years later. One of my colleagues and very close friend now has informed me that she personally lost on 9/11. Her sister worked in one of the towers. She told me about her troubles and her fears, and how she has learned to cope, but that it never gets better, just easier to deal with the pain. This is not my story to tell. My friend informed me several times that she was so proud and thankful that my husband is fighting for our country, for our freedoms. She never met him, as I met her just after he deployed. I am so thankful for this friendship.

Last year, on 9/11, I honestly don't even remember what I was doing, other than worrying about my friend. She wanted to be alone, and her husband was out of town. I believe we may have talked about the issue, but I didn't know what to say, other than to be there for her.

Just ten days later, I had a better understanding of how she felt. At 9:30 in the morning, I hear a dreadful, unexpected knock at the door, and an unknown car parked outside my house. I immediately started screaming "No! No! No! No! NO!!!" April came out, wondering what was wrong, but immediately knew when she saw my face. I am so thankful she was there. I can't go in to what more happened that day. I remember it very, very, very vividly. I remember when my friend who was most thankful for Matt's service came to my home, and the notification officers were still there. I could not look at her, talk to her. I was lost in my own mind. She knew why I was going through what I was going through, and I couldn't talk to her. I couldn't form words. I wanted to wake up from the nightmare that I had had several times before that day. I just couldn't wake up this time...

Ten years ago, the ball started rolling for my life as I know it now, as we know it now. Ten years ago, someone, or some group, decided that they wanted to inflict harm on our country, on our people, on our way of being. Ten years ago, we united, we showed our strength, our resilience, and most importantly, our patriotism- Together.

Today, we remember. Today, we reflect, and today, we have middle schoolers who know nothing other than war. My brother, now 11, was just 19 months ten years ago. All of my nieces and nephews have known a world only with war. They have never known Peace.

It makes me wonder, with Gabriel, as well as the other children in my life, and in our country, and in our world, will they ever know Peace? Will they ever be able to turn on the news without the horror of war? Without the hatred that comes along with it? Without the tragedies that occur as a result? War is so far reaching. As I have discussed before, it is not just the military personnel that feel this. It is the families, the friends, the communities, and ALL of us who ever immerse ourselves in an environment with other individuals.

Today, I dedicated Gabriel to a Life with Jesus Christ, where he will know Him as our Savior. As much as my faith was interrupted and questioned in the last 355 days, it has been strengthened and confirmed ten times. I know I want my son to know our Lord, and I know I want my son to know that Jesus died for our sins, so that we may have Eternal Life.

During the sermon, the amazing Pastor who has been an incredible help in my journey, possibly some of the hardest parts of my journey, gave a sermon regarding Holy Response to a Divided and Violent World. His dedication of Gabriel, with an explanation of our situation, tied in beautifully to today's sermon, although it was just chance that Gabriel's dedication was today.

He talked about the violence that has errupted and continued the last ten years. He talked about our responses, first with patriotism, then with anger. He gave us GUIDANCE on how to move forward in this situation. He explained that we are no better than Osama Bin Laden, because, ultimately, we are sinners also. He said that it takes only one sin to keep us out of Heaven, as we are no longer perfect. Luckily, Christ died to forgive our sins, and for us to have Eternal Life in Heaven. He said that Bin Laden needed to find Christ to be saved.

He explained that the Bible says that we should not fight evil with evil. We should not rejoice in the pain of others.

I am so happy he said that. When we killed Bin Laden, I cried. I was in the airport, just coming off the gate and saw it on the television as I walked past, well, walked, saw and froze. I could not get out fast enough. People around me are cheering. I felt like screaming, because I was paralyzed with emotion. I am glad that we caught him. I am glad that we were able to find the man behind the horrendous pain that he has caused our country, the uncountable losses he has delivered to our people, and the unrest that he has forever placed in to this world. I am not glad that a man is dead. A man with a family. I felt guilty I felt this way. I felt guilty that, because of the actions this man started, my HUSBAND is DEAD! Why don't I have extreme hatred? Why do I want to cry instead of cheer? Crying to me now feels like mourning. Am I mourning Bin Laden? The most hated man alive?

I now understand it. I have an understanding of what grief feels like, and I have an actual empathy that can no longer be taken from me. I understand now. My mom and dad always taught me that two wrongs don't make a right. Now, God is telling me that you do not fight evil with evil, and you don't rejoice in the pain of others.

What we did, what the SEALS did, was not evil. It is what we believe as a hurt and scorned nation to be right and just, and deserved. But, today, I learned why I felt so differently than "everyone" else. Today, I was given the ability to understand- FULLY- that sin exists, and then understand the magnitude of the fact that Jesus died to forgive our sins. So that we may act in this world with the best of intentions, but they may not always be as God wishes. With the acceptance of the gifts of Grace, Forgiveness and Jesus Christ, our sins, no matter how large, are forgiven.

My husband did not die in vain. He died for a country he loved. He died for family and friends that he loved, so that we will never have our freedoms taken away, including our freedom to love our Lord. He died as a believer in Christ, and he is in Heaven, clean and free. My husband, I know, has so much joy that I have finally learned the Truth, and that someday, I will join him. I am lucky enough to know my Savior, and share this with my son, so that he may grow and understand, and share.

The American Soldier dies for Freedom. Jesus died for Forgiveness. Without one, you cannot have the other.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

There's No Place Like Home

Home. People say I am home. Maybe I am. This is where I grew up, or technically grew up. I know people, I know my way around (usually), and I have people I can count on.

Utah, then, could also be considered my home. Its a little different. I don't know my way around as well, but I know how to get to Him.

Tennessee is my home, though. Tennessee is Our Home. It is where Matt and I established our home. It is where we put so much blood, sweat and my tears in to, just to make it our home. It is where Matt spent his final days and weeks prior to deployment making the house ready for him to be "gone for a few months". Our home is on Broadripple Drive, with a large, steep driveway. That is our home.

I have been in Illinois for almost 7 weeks now. Don't get me wrong. We are having a wonderful time with family, and my Mom and Harry, Christy and her husband Shane, and even Dave, Dakota and Abby have been big helps with Gabriel. This part is wonderful. I appreciate this so much. But, today, I realize what we have been missing not being home.

Some of it is just mundane stuff that needs to be done when you own a home. Firstly, my "first of the month" list as I like to call it: Changing the air filter, putting the septic stuff in the toilets, changing the Arm & Hammer in the refridgerator...I have missed that since July, and that is because I was here visiting for a week, not knowing I would return a week later for my little blessing.

We are also missing other preventative and/or mundane things- I need to go to the dentist for my checkup. Lily hasn't gotten her hartguard, or her flea drops, I have other appointments I need to go to, I haven't been able to keep up with the therapy that I need to be doing and participating in. The grass may need to be mowed again. Lily is due for her yearly shots this month. The trailor is sitting in front of my yard, which is certain to eventually annoy the neighbors. Our mail is, I am sure, piling up. I asked the post office to hold it. I should ask them to throw all the junk mail away! But, what am I missing? I know there is something important in there from my employer, but I can't get to it. I am here. It is there.

I miss my family there. I miss my friends there. Lily misses her yard, I miss my yard. Gabriel is outgrowing the bassinet that my mom had for him, which means that he has outgrown the one that I have for him, even before ever laying in it. Gabriel hasn't met my best friend yet. I want to have his pictures taken, but can't, because she is there and we are here. Gabriel hasn't gotten to meet my other friends there, they haven't gotten to see the shear joy that this little man gives me.

I miss my pictures of Matt. I miss our bed. I miss seeing his clothes in the closet. I miss his shoes.

It's time to go home. Please pray that we can go home soon.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Dear Gabriel

As I sit here and watch you sleep, I just can't stop thinking about how incredibly lucky I am that God brought you in to my life. He brought you here at a time when I was not sure that happiness could exist anymore.

Looking in to your eyes, I see your Angel Daddy. Your eyes are only a little darker than his were, and it makes me so happy to think that you might someday, somehow, resemble your Angel Daddy. He and you both have very long toes. I love your long toes. It was our dream to have you, and be a Family. I know that he is always here watching over us, protecting us, and keeping us safe and healthy.

More than anything, I see your Angel Daddy in the way that you look at me. You look at me knowing that I am here to protect you, and that I will always love you. That is how your Angel Daddy looked at me. And that is how I looked at him too. We always knew we were a match made in Heaven. Luckily for me, I have had two opportunities at this.

I may not have carried you in my tummy, but I have carried you in my heart. I prayed and prayed that you would come in to my life, somehow. And now, here you are, just right next to me. Snuggling and comfortable.

I am going to give you the best life that I can give you, and all the Love that you deserve. Forever. I love you, my little boy. Thank you for making Mommy so happy, and for fulfilling her life.

Love,

Mommy

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Searching for a Purpose....

Wow. Almost ten months. So much can happen in ten months. I can't get over the thought of this timeline. Babies can be conceived, grown and born in this amount of time. Babies that I want to have, that Matt and I someday wanted to have, that would make our life complete.

Obviously, I have thought a lot about babies since Matt passed away. This is an opportunity that I may never have. When would it be my turn to be a Mommy? It has been difficult to know that Matt never will be a Daddy. That is heartbreaking. He would have been such a good Daddy. That is something that I really wanted to share with him.

But, at the same time, it is still something that I want. I want a baby. I want to be a Mommy. I have thought for nearly ten months about the correct way to approach this. I am 30 years old. Not an old maid by any means, but still old enough where my "timeline" is of concern. Especially considering that I am not ready to begin to even think about dating someone else. My life still revolves around Matt and my marriage to him. And part of that marriage and our goals was to raise a child. Should I continue on with this? My thoughts have been going wild over the past couple days. When is the time right?!?!? How do I know?!?!?!?

I started thinking about questions.

How will I know when I am prepared? I thought hard about this one. Matt and I talked about this in our premarital counseling. We both agreed that, other than the year that we wanted to have together before having children to "build" our relationship and prepare it for children, we didn't want to plan. We both felt that if we planned, we would never be ready. Babies are a blessing, and you take them when God gives them to you.

What if a child came in to my life that I could help out? What if I felt that I could give a child a life that he may otherwise not be able to have? I think that Matt and I, if approached with the opportunity, would without a doubt help a baby. We would adopt a baby and be able to provide it with a loving, caring, stable family situation. I think that we, like other newlywed couples, would try to conceive our own, but if the chance came to us, we would certainly have taken it. Sometimes babies are born into unideal situations, but when given love by the biological family, as well as the adopting family, the situation and life for the baby can be better than what they ever dreamed up. This is truly how dreams come true, I think.

I have so much love to give, when is the right time to be able to give it? How do I know I am ready? There is no way to say it, other than that the last nearly ten months have been very difficult, but I am getting through it. Day by Day, I prove myself to be more strong, to have more Faith, to take less for granted, but also to really, really crave a purpose. My purpose before Matt passed was most certainly to be his loving and caring and faithful wife, from this day forward. I knew that. I loved that, and I wanted nothing more than that. But, my life has changed. Death, unfortunately, has done us part. What is my purpose now? I love my Harley, but that is not a purpose. That is a hobby. It is a passion for some, but it is not a purpose. It is not a reason that God put me on this Earth. What is my purpose? For the last almost ten months, I have been dying to learn what my purpose is. Maybe now it is time to find out, and maybe a baby will allow me to have a purpose?

What if the situation was perfect, and it just felt right? Sometimes, as Matt and I talked about, and even Ron (Matt's dad) and I have talked about- sometimes a good situation is too easy to talk yourself out of. Of course- too good to be true comes to mind. Of course. No decision is 100% good. NO decision. There are sacrifices with any decision, I don't care how perfect it is. But, how much is one willing to lose in order to gain? What is the gain to loss ratio? Sometimes we miss opportunities because we are too scared to take the risk, we are too scared to sacrifice, or sometimes, we just don't pay attention to what is in front of us. I suppose if the situation was just perfect, I would have to consider it, weigh the sacrifices, gain to loss ratio, and make my decision.

What if it felt so right, I could tell that it was a Gift from Matt? As you probably know from previous blogs, I want and crave to feel Matt as much as possible. I want a decision such as bringing a child in to my home to have hints of Matt's approval, of his understanding, and more than anything, I want to know that he is here with me and for me!!! I wish, I wish, I wish he were here physically. Raising a child is difficult enough with two people, I'm sure. What about just one? That would be my scenario. But, I feel that if things aligned just so, maybe I would know that Matt is here, with me, helping me, and guiding me. He is always guiding me. Matt would be the baby's "Angel Daddy". I would be able to raise him knowing who Matt is, and what he died for, and also that he died for the baby and I as well. He would know "Angel Daddy", and he would know to love him, and he would know that "Angel Daddy" loves him too. "Angel Daddy" would also be able to assist me with allowing the baby to understand where he came from, and how happy he made Mommy that he came in to her life. He will always know that we will Love him forever, by the way. Bunches and Bunches. Forever.

What kind of support would I receive? Especially after having lost my husband? What if I had the entire support of our entire family and friend network? What if those closest to me were so supportive, happy, and also felt that Matt was a part of bringing a baby to me? What if I had so much positive energy coming my way that I just knew that it was the right and best decision? What if I had finally decided that those who may not be supportive are not worth my time and energy as a new Mommy? I think this is the healthiest way to raise a baby, with no time for negativity and only support, love and happiness from those that truly matter.


On Sunday, July 17, my life changed and my dream came true. I took in to custody and began the process of adopting 5 week old Gabriel Louis Wagstaff.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

'Til Death Do Us Part....

Nine months and nineteen days. 9 months and 19 days.

That's how long we were married, before my Husband on Earth became my Angel Husband. It seemed so short, but with so much hope, so many plans and we were so excited about the future ahead of us. Together. Forever. Forever would never be long enough. We were excited, and we couldn't wait to get started.

Today, it has been nine months and nineteen days. 9 months and 19 days.

That's how long it has been since my Husband on Earth became my Angel Husband. Since God decided He needed him more than I did, more than his family and friends needed him, and more than my family and friends needed him. More than our Country needed him. I guess the Big Guy always does need to come first.

Now, that same amount of time seems so long ago; so exhaustingly long ago. The future seems so scary, so desperate, so unknown. So Alone. Forever seems way longer than it ever did before, and I am exhausted, although I just got started.

We talked in our premarital counseling about the whole "'Til Death Do Us Part" thing. That is actually how I have made most all of the decisions of my and our life, so far. Our talk, our discussion, and the seriousness in which we took these questions, helped to determine our future and has laid a path for us, and now, for me. Alone. We discussed the "What happens if the other should die". We both said our peace, do this, do that, and "Move On and Be Happy". We both said that, both fully meaning it, both really wanting the other to still be able to live a happy life, but we didn't know that it was actually going to happen, so soon, so suddenly. We didn't know that we would only have seven weeks physically together after our wedding, and only nine months and nineteen days together as husband and wife. At least I didn't know, until he geared up and walked away. Thank God he didn't let me believe it.

I am not ready. I am not sure I will ever be ready. If I am never ready, is that letting him down? Is that not honoring this direct request of his? I don't know, but I am not ready. Don't ask me if I want to date your cousin, your brother, your friend, your cousin's dog's dogsitter- the answer is No. And quite frankly, depending on the day, I may not even want to get dressed, or put on makeup or even leave the house. I try (although sometimes it isn't enough). I try because I care, and because I care about what you think about me, but I only want him. I. only. want. him.

I am not ready for the journey that I HAVE to embark on. I am not ready to not think that I can hold his hand again someday. I am not ready to think that this love I have for him is not two sided. I know it is, and I know it will be someday, but I am not ready to let go.

Sometimes, I can see the path that I have to go on, and I can approach it bravely, knowing that I have to do it. Other times, I want to scurry and hide in a corner. The Uncertain is scary. And, unfortunately, Life is much more uncertain than certain these days.

I didn't want to be the one left behind. I didn't want to be the one to leave behind, either. But, I know that is how he felt, too. Life is Not Fair. Life is Chaos. Life Hurts.

Who knows what the next step will be. I will probably never again have certainty with what I need, or even WANT, to do next. I was naive thinking that the next step would always be there, always be "in order". I was too trusting of the world to think that we had planned it, so it would be so.

Some things I know I want for sure is stability. I crave stability. I need a solid place to land my feet, instead of this constant rollercoaster. Who knows if I will ever find it. And I wasn't even used to the fact that I had it yet...

The thing that hurts (or, one of many, I suppose), is that I have no one that I am responsible for, who is also responsible for me. Or dependent, maybe is a better word. Or, maybe those are both two completely different things, actually. I can't be dependent on him, or him on me. But, we cannot be responsible for each other. No one counts on me anymore. Nor am I able to be counted upon right now either. I am free from that, but I am lonely because of it.

My grief seems to be saturated with horrible, awful, confusing, heartbreaking dichotomies and conflict. I don't know if this is normal. But it is me now. I apologize, but then again, I don't.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Appendix A: How You Can Help the Military Widow

Reprinted with permission of the authors. This was taken from the book Military Widow: A Survival Guide (2006) by Joanne M. Steen, MS NCC, and Regina Asaro, MS, RN, CT.

APPENDIX A

HOW YOU CAN HELP THE MILITARY WIDOW

THIS SECTION IS FOR YOU IF:
  • your command has experienced a death, and you want to provide the right support to the surviving spouse;
  • you are assigned as a casualty officer to a new widow; or
  • someone you know became a military widow
We know you want to help, or you wouldn't be reading this book. Like most people, however, you probably don't know what to say or do, or you are afraid of doing the wrong thing.

HOW COMMAND PERSONNEL CAN HELP THE MILITARY WIDOW
Here are some suggestions for ways in which you and your command can help the military widow.
INITIAL ASSISTANCE
  • Treat her as you would like your own wife to be treated if she were in this position.
  • Don't try to protect her from information about her husband's death. If she is asking questions, she is ready for answers. She may not like what you are telling her, but she does want to know.
  • Never use the phrase, "I can't tell you." Even if your reasons are valid, she won't hear them. She will think you're hiding something from her. Instead, say, "I can't answer that question right now."
  • "I don't know" is an honest answer. Don't speculate or repeat rumors.
  • Never use the word "closure." It does not exist.
  • If she prefers not to talk with the media, have the PAO handle them for her.
  • Shock and grief can significantly slow down a widow's ability to make sense of what you are telling her. You may have to repeat information several times before she understands it. Be patient.
  • Bereaved people may behave in ways that make no sense to you. Grief reactions are not logical or rational. Again, be patient and nonjudgmental.
  • Don't assume she knows how the military works. Let her know what to expect and when. The military culture may be especially confusing to National Guard or Reserve widows, who have limited exposure to it.
  • If her husband died on deployment or at sea, ask her if she wants his clothes washed or returned as is. She may want his belongings to smell like him rather than laundry detergent.
  • Don't help out at her house without asking first. That squeaky door may remind her of her husband.
  • Don't assume she knows what she needs. Ask her.
  • Include the military family support group in assisting her and her family. They can help with meals, child care and refreshments for the funeral or memorial service.
FUNERAL AND MEMORIAL SERVICES
  • Remember, you are helping to bury a fallen comrade or shipmate.
  • If she decides on a military funeral for her husband, offer to let her personalize it. The same thing goes for the memorial service
  • If she is not familiar with the rituals and traditions of a military funeral or memorial service, tell her what to expect so she won't be blindsided. This may be especially important if she doesn't know about the rifle salute, the Final Roll Call, or the Missing Man flyby. She may not know she can obtain mementos from the services, such as the spent shells from the rifle salute.
  • Be sensitive to how her husband died. For example, if he was killed by gunfire, she may not want the rifle salute at his funeral.
  • Allow her and her family to see ahead of time where the service will be held.
  • Offer to pick up out-of-town relatives at the airport. Assist them with hotel and car rental arrangements, as well as base or post access and directions.
  • Find out how many family members will be attending and reserve enough chairs or pews for them. Have tissues available in the seating area.
  • Offer to videotape the funeral and the memorial services, especially if the widow has children.
  • Have a guestbook or scrapbook available so friends and visitors can share memories of her husband. Consider having a video camera at the funeral or memorial reception and encourage people to share stories about him.
ONGOING HELP
  • Make sure she has the correct contact numbers for ongoing needs, such as benefits and counseling.
  • Ask her if she wants someone to explain the accident report or autopsy results: they may contain graphic or disturbing information.
  • Tell her when the accident report will be released to the media. It may be carried as a news story.
  • Wherever possible, don't let her find out about developments in the investigation of her husband's death from news reports.
HOW FAMILY MEMBERS AND FRIENDS CAN HELP THE MILITARY WIDOW
  • If she is not having a military funeral for her husband, offer to help with the private funeral arrangements. This is probably the first time she has had to plan a funeral, and it may be overwhelming.
  • Ask what you can do to help. You can assist with small matters, like washing clothes, or big tasks, like making a picture collage for the service.
  • Offer to help her write thank-you notes after the funeral.
  • Don't avoid her because you don't know what to say. Sometimes, just your supportive presence is enough.
  • User her husband's name when talking about him. People think using his name will upset her. It won't.
  • Be prepared for a wide range of feelings and reactions for a long time.
  • Don't judge her behaviors. She is doing the best she can, given the circumstances.
  • Bring meals and nourishing snacks to have on hand. Comfort food is always welcome.
  • Help her return the empty casserole dishes.
  • Be a good listener.
  • Laugh with her. Share funny stories about her husband. She will love to hear these, especially stories she hasn't heard before.
  • Watch the kids so she can have some time to herself.
  • Help her sort through her husband's clothes, when she is ready.
  • Call her on significant dates, such as the anniversary of his death. It will make her feel good to know that her husband is remembered.
  • Seek out and suggest local support groups she can attend. Offer to go to the first meeting with her. It will help her feel more comfortable.
  • Offer to take her to visit her husband's grave the first time. Going alone may be more than she can handle.
  • During the holidays, remember this new widow. Don't ignore the fact that there will be an empty chair at her table.
  • Ask her if she wants to attend Memorial Day or Veterans Day ceremonies.
  • Make a donation in her husband's name to her favorite charity. Check with her first, though.

This book has helped me find some stable ground to stand on as I trudge through this unknown territory, and try to find footing in my new world. Please check out the website for this book at www.militarywidow.com. The book really helped me to gain perspective on what I am facing, and what I am going through. Many of the items in the list above I am now past, but these are great tools to help out future military widows. Unfortunately, there will be more of us. I hope that this helps many to be able to assist those in need in the future.

Thank you to Joanne and Regina for such an amazing resource that helped me tremendously. I know it will help so many others, and love that this appendix is in the book, so that those who are not military widows can help those that do, sadly, become one.

Please also note that Joanne will soon be coming out with another book aimed at the parents of fallen heroes, Military Parents: We Regret to Inform You. I am sure that this guide will be as helpful to the parents of the fallen heroes as Military Widow: A Survival Guide was to me.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Memorial Day

Yesterday was Memorial Day. Wow. What a difference from this year versus every other Memorial Day I have had in the 29 years before.



We have always stopped to think about the Fallen, since I can remember. We knew that people died for our freedoms. We were brought up that way. My Grandpa I is a WWII vet, and my Uncle a Vietnam Vet. We knew what they fought for, although I must admit until being completely submerged in to Military Life, I never quite understood what all that meant, even with my brother in the Navy. It was being submerged as a military wife that made me realize all the sacrifices that ALL soldiers and their families make, even without dying.


This one was SO different. Of course it was. How could it not be? The one Memorial Day weekend that I did have with Matt was also a bit different in a way too. He pushed the realization of this and of remembering even more than I ever had known. We got up early and we went to the zoo that Sunday. I love the zoo. We walked around and had a nice day, but we also talked about his friends that had fallen. How many people that he went to school with, was deployed with, had known in one way or another, had fallen. How horrible for them. How horrible for their families. How thankful we were for them and for their sacrifice. However, it didn't cross our mind that this could EVER be us. And now it is...

I didn't go to any Memorial Day ceremonies yesterday, and didn't plan to, although I would have liked to, but believe it or not, I didn't think about it. I didn't even think about the ceremonies that were here, on post or in local communities. I was angry at myself for booking the "cheaper" ticket to leave on Saturday instead of staying for the ceremony at the cemetary where Matt is laid to rest. I was just pouting and being a selfish griever. "His" ceremony was the only one I could think about. But, once again, everything happens for a reason.


Sunday night, I began quietly contemplating the changes in my life. When I was getting the flag, as it had to be just perfect, I realized that I am actually living the life of someone who has sacrificed so much for our country. Our family has sacrificed so much for our country. Our friends have also sacrificed so much for our country. And it just ripples down the line. It is amazing to think that probably every person, when they think of it, knows someone who has sacrificed over time for our country. Sometimes it hits closer than others, but everyone has sacrificed. You just never think it is going to hit "this close to home". And, I am not the only one. There are so many families out there where this hit "close to home". I am so thankful for everyone one of their service members, and also for every one of the families.


As I am walking around with the flagpole in my cart, as well as the sand and concrete, I find myself leaving this cart at the checkout and going for another. Next thing I know, I have a basket full of red, white and blue flowers, and a brick. What in the heck do I think I am going to do with this? I have never "built" anything like this. What in the heck am I getting myself in to? What if it is a complete failure? I don't think I can do anything tomorrow other than sulk, cry, and feel sorry for myself that my soldier died. My husband died. I tell the clerk I would like 100 bricks (for what? I am not quite sure, but I suppose I had an idea in my head at that time). Sometimes when I am numb, I just go through the motions.

While I was in Utah visiting his family and going to his beautiful sister and new brother in law's wedding, my flag was blown down by the storm. Again. (but caught by some wire I rigged up, so it never fell to the ground.) I couldn't bear the thought of having a Memorial Day without a flag, or even moreso, being a Gold Star Wife and not having a flag on Memorial Day. One of our wonderful UT PGR members reached out and got me in contact with a TN PGR member who came to ensure that I was able to get a flag up for Memorial Day. Honestly- I canNOT say enough about the PGR. Whenever you see them, please thank them for what they do for the Gold Star Families. It is unbelieveable how someone so unknown at one point can truly become some of your biggest support. I have a very hard time asking for help when I need it, so the fact that he reached out means the world to me. I had the flag up already, but it felt so nice to have someone come along and look at what I had done, and validate for lack of a better word, what I was doing, and that I was doing it well. And for someone (or several someones) just to care that this part was taken care of.


Yesterday, I had an incredibly emotional day. I swelled with pride when I saw the American flag outside my front door that I had put up the night before. I began working with the brick to figure out "what I was supposed to do with it". I cried as I dug, and all the neighbors could see. I became angry that all the neighbors could see me cry, and that they were driving by with boats, and I could smell their grills, I could hear music. I was happy to believe that we live in a country where we can recognize the sacrifice of our fallen, but then also be happy that because of them, we can be free and CELEBRATE it, and ENJOY our days no matter how we like. I was joyful at the project that was coming together in front of me. I was happy that I actually KNEW Matt was with me this entire time, helping me, and healing me at that moment as I put this together. He and I were working together again.



Look what this turned in to? From start to finish, it took about 24 hours.


Phase One: The flag pole post that I dug and made to hold his flag Sunday night. This will be here forever, I believe. I love that it is anonymous, so it can apply to all of the fallen soldiers. Note the Fallen Soldier Cross in the center of the heart (helmet, rifle, boot).





Phase Two: At this point, I had an idea of what I was going to make, and also that I needed more brick!




Phase Three: The finished product. I am hoping to get better pictures from April that can capture the full size of it and still show the detail. It was absolutely stunning at half mast, and so beautiful fully raised!





It is a beautiful tribute to my husband, and every other fallen soldier, and also for the pride that I have in our country. I am so proud of myself, and definitely feel the most pride for this than I have for any other project I have done. I was telling my Daddy today that I was proud of it, that it was beautiful and it wasn't something to be used for function. How wrong I was, now that I think about it. It absolutely has the function of honoring Matt, the other fallen, and our country. It has the MOST meaningful function of any other project, and THAT is why I am so proud! And I know Matt was with me all day long. I know that he is absolutely beaming at me for this one. I can see him: "Look guys, that's MY wife". :) And it makes me Smile, for him, because I know he was helping me, and I have found the answer to my question- "Are you proud of me?"


(After I published this, look at what the skies did? Rainbows and Beautiful Skies let us know he is "here")

























Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day

First of all, let me say Happy Mother's Day to all those Mommies out there. Today is a wonderful day of celebration of life, love, togetherness and happiness. I love my Mom, my dad's wife, and my Mother-in-Law. I love my sister and my sisters-in-law. I love my friends. I love my aunts, my cousins, and my grandmas and my grandmas-in-law. I love them all, and am SO proud of their accomplishments, and of the little (and some not so little any more) people that they have created, nurtured, raised, and watched in their own accomplishments. This really, truly is a special day to celebrate.

Today was a tough day. In the back of my mind, I knew that today is a day that I may possibly never get to celebrate, or should I say "be celebrated". However, I kept pushing it back every time it tried to come out. There are other people who this IS their day. There are other people who DO get to celebrate, and should celebrate. It is a day very earned, because from what I can tell, being a mother is very, very hard work. I celebrate them all. I love them all. Earlier today, I thought that this is not a day that I will miss celebrating, because I have never had it. I pushed it away. Besides, I was also licking other wounds today.

Tonight, however, it is hitting me really hard. It really is significant, despite what I was thinking earlier today, that I may not ever be a Mother. I may not GET to be a mother. I may not have that chance. If I ever do make that a possibility, I will never get to celebrate this day with him. I know that he would have made it very special. More importantly, I know that Matt would have been a good Daddy, an awesome Daddy. Together, we would have been awesome parents.

Not having a child is honestly one of the hardest things for me to deal with when looking at my life forward. I wanted that. We wanted that. I always saw myself with that. After I met Matt, I knew that our life was going to include children. It was going to include him being with me through a pregnancy, through labor, and through the glorious life ahead that we had. Boy, was I wrong.

It was taken from us. No matter what, HE will never have that chance. I will never have that opportunity to share it with HIM. I will never be able to look in to his eyes again, no matter what. I will never know the beauty that we could have created. I will never know what it is like to see him hold our child, our baby. To see him play catch, to see him teach her to ride a bike. To see him push them on a swing. To have a Daddy's Little Buddy, or a Daddy's Little Girl. We won't get that. I won't get a Mother's Day, and HE won't get a Father's Day.

We don't get to give that to our parents. They don't get to have our grandbabies. We don't get to have that special bond, we won't get to share in adding another generation to the family.

I feel as if I have been robbed. Matt and I have been robbed. Our entire family has been robbed. We lost him. Because we lost him, we lost our future.

Dare I say that God might have a plan for me, but he doesn't know what I want. He didn't hear my prayers. He didn't keep him safe. He took away the one who made anything in the world seem possible. He took away my happy. He took away my smile, and he took away almost all of my Hope. Its almost as if he gave me "fake it" as a replacement.

Kiss your little ones. Tell them you love them, and never, ever take them for granted.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Seven Ways Americans Can Help the Families of Fallen Warriors, by Joanne M. Steen, MS, NCC

Seven Ways Americans Can Help the Families of Fallen Warriors
By Joanne M. Steen, MS, NCC Author Speaker Instructor on Line-of-Duty Loss

(Reprinted with permission of the author. This article first appeared on the cover of The VOICE for Military Families, an NMFA publication, in July 2007. It has been modified and updated by the author.)

Since the days of colonial America, bad guys have threatened our freedom, values, and homeland. America’s first citizens were attacked at home and abroad, and fought to protect their families, homes, and way of life. It’s no different today.

More than two hundred years later, American citizens have been attacked in the United States, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Iraq, to name a few hot spots. Just as in America’s early years, the job of protecting and defending America belongs mainly to the United States military. And, it’s a dangerous profession.

The price of freedom. Since September 11, 2001, nearly six thousand service men and women in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard have died as a result of the Global War on Terror (GWOT). In addition to these war casualties, between 1,000 and 1,500 service personnel die each year in an active duty status. They are killed on training missions and in accidents, while others die from illness, disease and suicide. Most die while honing their war-fighting skills, preparing to protect and defend our country if -- or when -- their tasking orders are executed.

In peacetime and in war, the number of fallen warriors grows. A number of these service men and women were stationed in your city or town. To some, you can attach a name and a face. To others, you know the family that loved them.

The families of fallen warriors. Surviving military families are a cross-section of America, a blend of ages, races, nationalities, and backgrounds. They are ordinary Americans, coping with the unimaginable. A surviving military family has been dealt an unexpected and life-changing blow, and they struggle, often with great difficulty, to survive and adjust to a world they dread -- a world without their loved one. They possess no special skills for dealing with this nightmare, yet they learn to survive, cope, and eventually live happily again.

Seven ways you can help. If you’re like most Americans, you want to say and do the right things around the families of our fallen warriors. But sometimes, not knowing what those right things are, you say or do nothing, for fear of making a mistake. This is one of those times when silence is not golden. The grieving family can easily misinterpret silence as disinterest or abandonment. They don’t know you’re struggling to find the right words or actions.

The subject of death has a way of pushing buttons in many of us, even when we’re not personally affected by it. It’s hard not to be moved though, when you meet a family whose loved one has died in the service of our country. Here are seven practical ways you can help:

1) Learn about military loss. When a military death occurs, it’s both a personal loss to the military family and a national loss to America. When their loved one wears the uniform, no matter what their job or warfare specialty, family members believe their service member will come home safely, even when we go to war. No military family expects their loved one will die in the line of duty.

Military deaths have multiple layers of complexity. A military death is often sudden and unexpected, potentially violent, and sometimes in another part of the world. The surviving family members are often living at a duty station, far away from the support of family. The rites and traditions of a military funeral and memorial service are fitting tributes to a fallen warrior, but they’re profound and touch the deepest places of patriotism, love and loss. They’re also news events, forcing family members to expose their grief to local or national media. Reports and investigations can take months, and sometimes years, to be finalized, often delaying a healthy grief response. And, in addition to the bureaucracy that surrounds any death, surviving military family members must navigate through the resulting changes to their military benefit and health care systems.

A sudden, traumatic military death often leaves the surviving family members emotionally numb, psychologically fragile, cognitively impaired, and physically exhausted.

2) Be patient with the family. Military grief is complex, complicated, and sometimes just plain messy. When a family member is confronted with a sudden and traumatic death, the ability to accept this death is often compromised. It often takes more than one year for the reality of the loss to sink in. Many military survivors call the second year the ‘lonely year.’

Deployments add another layer of complexity and can make it more difficult to accept the death of a service member. Until the unit returns from deployment, a glimmer of hope exists in the hearts of the family members that the military made a mistake and their loved one is coming home with the returning forces. It’s not denial; it’s a reality of military loss.

3) Choose your words of condolence carefully. It’s a natural tendency to comfort a grieving family member with words of sympathy or encouragement. Occasionally, these well-intentioned words may sound like an attempt to fix the grieving person’s pain, and can be misunderstood by the family member as minimizing their loss. For instance, the words of comfort offered at the passing of an elderly person, (“It was his time,” or “Cherish your many memories.”) are often not appropriate when a young service member dies suddenly. It’s never a good idea to start a conversation with “I know exactly how you feel…” A good, safe choice of words of condolence is simply, “I’m sorry for the loss of your (son, Josh; daughter, Jenn; husband, Jack; wife, Julie).” Use their first names, not their rank. A family has lost a loved one first and a service member second.

4) Acknowledge the sacrifice of the family. At a military funeral, when the folded American flag is given to the family, it’s presented with the words, “Please accept this flag on behalf of the President of the United States and a grateful Nation.” This flag, and the sentiments that accompany it, honors the ultimate sacrifice made by the fallen warrior. In the years that follow, the surviving military family lives that ultimate sacrifice in big and small ways. We can honor the fallen warrior by personally thanking the family for their loved one’s sacrifice, and also by thanking the family, for their on-going sacrifices that never make the evening news.

5) Ask about their loved one. Everyone loves a man or woman in uniform, but a military family really loved their man -- or woman -- in uniform. Surviving families like to talk about their loved ones. In fact, they need to talk about them; it’s a healthy part of the grief process. Ask a surviving family member about their loved one. Don’t ask how he or she died. Instead, ask how they lived! And listen. You won’t have to say much.

If you’re stuck on how to begin a conversation, simply start with the basics: “Tell me about his smile,” or “What was her sense of humor like?” The conversation will take off, and you may even see a smile on the family members face.

6) Be a good friend, co-worker, or neighbor. If you’re not a listener, but want to help, offer some manual labor for the ‘honey-do’ list. Loss and grief tire a person out. Regular chores can overwhelm surviving family members. You can do your part by offering to cut their grass, clean the house, wash the car, or put up and take down the Christmas tree. It’ll all be appreciated. If you have a new widow in your midst, help her by recommending a good handyman and mechanic. Give her some guidance on what to expect.

7) Give a military family a break from grief. Grief can be physically and emotionally overwhelming, and just about everyone needs a break from it. In fact, a break is necessary, as it recharges one’s psyche, and strengthens a person’s resolve to keep working though their loss. Give the family of a fallen warrior a chance to recharge their batteries. Offer to do something fun with them.

Humor and laughter can give a grieving family member a few moments of enjoyment. Don’t be taken aback by their gallows humor. Finding humor in the midst of grief gives the family member a sense of control when they have little control over life’s events. Humor is not disrespectful to the memory of the fallen warrior; it’s reinvesting in life.

To the families and friends of the survivors. You’re not alone in trying to understand and help the families of fallen warriors. The families themselves are trying to grasp what’s taking place within them. They’re learning, in real-time, how to cope with their loss. And sometimes, they don’t know what they need.

As a friend, neighbor, co-worker, or professional you can help the surviving military family by recognizing that the family member may not be ‘back to normal,’ no matter how together they appear. Be patient with unpredictable moods. Be aware of their vulnerabilities. Protect them. And, treat them as you would want to be treated if, God forbid, fate placed you in their shoes.

I’ll end with some rock-solid advice: It’s better to reach out to the family of a fallen warrior in ways that you’re comfortable with, perhaps even making a mistake or two along the way, than to do nothing. Remember: In these circumstances, silence is not golden.

I welcome your thoughts and comments on this necessary, but sobering, subject. Write to me at Joanne@militarywidow.com or Joanne@military-parents.com

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Military Widow

I just finished reading the book that was first given to me on September 21, 2010, six months and 27 days ago, nine months and 19 days after I was married to the most amazing man that, I think, ever lived. I wish I could have known how the rest of our life would have turned out, and that it had a different ending. That is the largest wish that I have or will ever have.

Anyway, this book is called Military Widow: A Survival Guide, by Joanne M. Steen, MS, NCC and M. Regina Asara, MS, RN, CT (2006). Both authors are accomplished and credentialed in grief and crisis. Joanne was (-note, there is NEVER a was, so, is, but I had to leave this slip up in to prove a point) a widow of a Naval Aviator killed in the line of duty, and Regina, a military wife herself, assisted her with the writing and publishing of the book, and together, I feel they came up with quite a helpful product. I could go on about their credentials forever. They are quite impressive. If interested in this book, please go to www.militarywidow.com. You can purchase it there. I will be writing a review on it shortly.


The authors addressed the issue of military widowhood in all different branches, and filled a huge gap that I have been missing in many, many other titles that I have tried to read through. While some of these grief books applied in some areas to my situation, so much was always missing, which lead to me putting it down, and trying another, only to go through the cycle again. This book, while of course had many different scenarios, completely explained me and how I am feeling. I read, in almost every chapter, the book feeling like they were in my head and knowing how I was feeling. Thank goodness. I needed it.


This book confirmed that I am not crazy. I am not the only widow that has had a really hard time coming to terms with the reality of the situation, especially because it was during deployment- in fact, there was even a scenario where the widow thought her husband was on a secret mission (sound familiar?). It confirmed that I do feel alone, isolated, and as if I do not fit in. This also hit close to home for me, because, as it states, I do not still fit in to the military community, however, I do not yet fit again in to the civilian community, in my life at this point. This, to me, explained why I feel as if I am clinging with all my might to our military "family", still trying to fit in, while not being able to completely feel comfortable with my civilian friends and family, almost to the point of isolating myself, without actually intending to, because I do not fit in to that life, after having married Matt and lived this one. And the fact that many of our military family is soon leaving via ETS or PCS, I am inevitably facing further isolation and abandonment, while also feeling elated and happy for those going on to their new life paths, which may not be understood fully by a civilian realm. (I have read and re-read those last three sentences over and over again for clarity, but the confusion of the situation is such that it needs to be left the way it is.)


I have had people ask how they can help me from both the military and civilian worlds. They are reading my words and story, and also visiting from other blogs. I was featured on another blog offering a differing perspective. My perspective is the one that discusses every military spouse's worst fear, but one that no one really wants to talk about. Thankfully (although it sounds and feels weird to me to say that, but I have to find SOMETHING good about it), this experience has allowed others to view in to this life, without actually having to live it- Thankfully.


The blog that noted me as a differing perspective is To Love A Soldier. Megan's blog has been so inspirational for so many, and she truly has brought the different branches of service, different military experiences, and different difficulties as well as triumphs together, of the military life (http://toloveasoldier.blogspot.com). I was honored to be featured on her blog, so that spouses can get a different perspective.


With that being said, I found a major feature in this book, that hopefully no one else will have to receive in the manner that I did, that could help those wanting to know how to help a friend in need. This applies not only to military personnel and families wanting to help, but to the general public as well. I didn't even know how I "could be helped", but these suggestions are great for those wanting to know. I want to post the Appendix, however, I thought twice of the legality of it, and emailed the authors to ask permission. I hopefully can share it with you soon- more information to come.


Just know that to help a military widow, be there. Reading through this, I suppose my summary would apply to any widow, really. Offer assistance, but don't pressure it. Mean it when you offer it. Don't act like she is crazy, as she is going through a huge plethora of emotions, role changes, life changes, fears, anxieties and many other adjustments. Say his Name. Talk about him. Share stories- I promise, I will love them. Don't be afraid of her, its not a contagious cootie. I so hope I can post the Appendix, because I really can't verbalize this better than they did.


Note: I just received a call from Joanne Steen, one of the authors, and a military widow. We had a wonderful, hour long conversation about our lives. She has some more projects coming up, one that I am SO excited about! I am waiting on a response from her co-author prior to posting the Appendix, but hope to be able to share it soon. I will soon write a review of her book to share with everyone also.


Thank you, Joanne, for your call. You give me so much hope.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Matt's Prayer

So, I finally unburied my desk and found the prayer that my 10 year old brother David wrote for and recited at Matt's Memorial in Monmouth. I am so proud of my brother for his words, and for his insight in to life as we now know it. I love you, David. Matt loves you too.

PS- David has asked that no one copy his prayer. :)

Matt's Prayer

Dear God,

Please may you have lifted Matt's soul into Heaven, and let us keep him in our hearts for all eternity, for he was willing to give his soul for the country. But let us focus on being happy, instead of gloomy. May the wounds of emotionally hurt families be mended, may his friends see Matt in everyone they meet. And also may the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be with Matt, and us. Amen.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Turn My Grief to Grace


Wow. The last couple of months have been pretty much unbearable. The lack of focus, the confusion, the insanity- they are all impossible to deal with, really. And not only are they impossible for me to deal with, they are seemingly impossible for those I love to deal with also. Sometimes it is confronted, and it is addressed, and sometimes it is simply ignored-whatever seems to "keep the peace" at that moment. I am an active participant in these reactions as well. All any of us want is for the hurt to be gone, for all of us, but it just won't go away. Time. Time. Time. Time. TIME.


Tonight, I heard the most beautiful song that completely explains how I feel right now. I have heard it before, but it was always just a pretty song sung from a lovely voice. Tonight, I understood the meaning. One of my favorite shows, and one that Matt watched with me every week, as it was the only hour a week I cared what we watched, Grey's Anatomy, had their musical event. Well, I am certainly not a fan of turning Grey's in to Glee, but this song definitely hit a nerve.


Grace by Kate Havnevik



I'm on my knees

only memories

are left for me to hold


Dont know how

but I'll get by

Slowly pull myself together


(I'll get through this)


There's no escape

So keep me safe

This feels so unreal


Nothing comes easily

Fill this empty space

Nothing is like it seems

Turn my grief to grace


I feel the cold

Loneliness unfold

Like from another world


Come what may

I wont fade away

But I know I might change


Nothing comes easily

Fill this empty space

Nothing is like it was

Turn my grief to grace


Nothing comes easily

Where do I begin?

Nothing can bring me peace

I've lost everything

I just want to feel your embrace


This song explains what I am feeling in words that I have never been able to put it in. I never would have known what this felt like, I never would have had this complete understanding until this huge event in my life, until my husband died and left me. I've lost everything. Nothing that I have matters. Nothing Else Matters right now. I am trying to heal. And, apparently to heal, I must hurt immensely, and fake my way through each day. Sometimes I am better at this than others.


Someday I will find peace. Someday I will heal. Right now, my wounds are wide open and gaping. My heart is shredded. My life has been stolen. My spirit has been broken. I am trying to pull myself together. I want this to happen so badly, but, as she says in the song, it happens "slowly". More slowly than I am allowing myself. I know I need to be gentler on myself at times, but I want to be back to "normal". I said in the beginning that I was going to have to find a new normal. I have not yet found that. I was terrified of the new normal before, but now I am terrified of staying in this abnormal state for a lifetime.


I was just telling April tonight after dinner, before we watched Grey's, that all I feel is Insanity. My head knows that Matt isn't coming back, but despite that, and despite many, many comments and confirmations that this is the truth, that he is gone forever, my heart won't let go. My heart honestly won't let me believe that he is not coming home to me, that he is not going to be here for us to finish our life together. My heart won't let me believe this. My heart is much stronger than my head. My heart can talk my head in to anything.


There are side effects to grief too. I am terrified that those I love will leave me. They won't be able to continue this journey with me, and will leave me behind in their dust. I have already experienced this. You do truly find out who is there for you during these times. I am too much, or this situation I am in is too much. They move forward. I am stuck here. Or, those that are here for me, I am afraid God will take them from me too. This is my biggest worry. Unanswered phone calls instantly turn to desperation, anxiety, disbelief, fear of the worst. Insanity.


Also, more than anything, I just want a hug. That sounds so silly. I have had so many hugs. I have had so many people offer me hugs, lend an open ear, let me vent, let me go crazy if I need to, but I just need a hug. I have even denied hugs, because they felt suffocating. I don't need just any hug. I need the only all-in-one healing, protecting, compassionate, loving embrace that I have ever truly felt. I need his hug. I need his protective embrace. I need him to take me, hold me, tell me it is all going to be alright, and that I will get through this. In our short time together, I learned what his embrace meant. I used to want to step away, be left alone when I was having a bad moment, an angry moment, a sad moment or a hurt moment. I needed to shy away. I needed to walk away. I was taught through experiences with past relationships that an embrace during these moments reinforces the upset behavior. Or worse yet, they were given only because of sympathy. Never compassion. I didn't want that, so I learned to walk away. But, Matt taught me what strength, protection, compassion, love and trust in a relationship truly were. He taught me that his hug could be as soft as a friendly, loving gesture, or as strong as a protecting sheet of armor.

I feel like I should be so much further along than I am at this point. I feel like I should be more adjusted. I feel like I should be more acclimated to my new life, my new life without him. When I compare myself, I feel like I am still at step one. I can't let go. I can't stop looking for him to return home. I can't leave the time, the very short, and very, very important time, that we had together. Every forward step in life is a backward step in grief it feels. It is removing a sheet of that armor, exposing me raw, unprotected, naive and hurt.

I need a hug that is strong enough to hold me up when I fall to pieces. When that hug comes, that is what I will do. I feel like I have done that already, and that is what the insanity is. But, I can tell that I haven't allowed myself to fall to pieces to the full extent that I need to. I am not sure that I ever will. And thus, I need my Grief to turn to Grace. I need to learn to rely on myself, and the life and love that Matt and I had. Forever. Nothing Else Matters.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Drained

Yeah, I suppose that is the best word to describe me right now. Drained.

I don't know what is going on with me. I honest to goodness can't find positivity. I cannot find that little piece, and a major piece, of me lately.

But, not only am I drained, I am draining. I know what it feels like to be around people like me. People who can't seem to find the good, the positive, the happy, the funny, the....anything, in anything. It is draining.

I can't figure out how I found all of that before. Now that it has been longer- almost 6 months, and I feel worse off than I was at 7 days, 1 month, 3 months, 5 months? Why is that?

I no longer have motivation. I no longer have just a little glimpse of positivity that I can run with. I used to be able to take that little piece, run with it, and take it all the way home. Yes, I stressed, of course, but I could make something happy out of pea soup if I wanted to. I could FIND that.

I feel like all I have now is fear. Maybe I am thinking too much about the future. Maybe that is the problem. It is terrifying. Every scenario is so scary. My life has so drastically changed in the last 6 months. And, because it has so drastically changed, it is hard to look forward to anything, because what if that too were stripped away?

I am dreading upcoming PCS-es and ETS-es. What am I going to do without the very support system that has held me up so far? I am terrified of losing my friends to far away places, of drifting apart from them, or of losing them completely.

I am terrified of family issues. What if something happens to one of my family members? Every little thing, unanswered calls, late night calls or texts, calls from those that I don't hear from regularly, makes me gasp, a bad scenario runs through my head, and then I find out that whatever that scenario was didn't happen. It is like my panic is my very first, innate response, and it is way more short fused than it was before. And trust me, that is super short fused.

I really want to find the positive. I am definitely not me without it. I can't feel so sulken, so empty all the time. I am hurting my family and friends. I am pushing them away, because I am draining them. I can't do this anymore, but I can't figure out where it all went or how to get it back.

I know that someday, this will all be better. This will all work out. I am going to heal, and I am going to be fine. But, I am sick of waiting. I am sick of waiting on the investigation. I am sick of waiting on results, I am sick of waiting for the next day to be better, and to be let down. I don't understand how it is so often said "Time Heals All Wounds", but the longer I go, the worse I feel lately.

I need to do something.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Is It Worth Knowing, or Is Knowing Worth It?

Is it better to live in innocent bliss or to know and try to control a situation?

I have thought about this a lot, and a lot more especially recently. Would it have been better if I would have known that this was going to happen? Would I have made our days more special? Or would I have sulked and tried to control it, keep it from happening?

Looking back, there were so many "signs" that this was going to happen. The fact that we had to come back to Campbell, and that he had to get back in to the Army. There were so many big "little" things that lead up to that. Ultimately, Matt and I talked about it, and we truly BOTH understood that something was pulling us back; that for some reason, we had to return and that we were not getting out of one more deployment, one more ADSO, one more round with the Army. We had to come back, we had no choice in the matter, ultimately. I have been looking for more signs of things to come lately. Up until the New Year, it was definitely to a fault. I found meaning in everything, to the point that it distracted me from life, I guess, and the first steps of moving forward.

Grief makes one (well, me, anyway) fear the loss or death of everyone else around me. I am looking for symptoms, for reasons that I can see, for "signs" like Matt and I had before this happened. How can I prevent this from happening again? How can I keep myself and others from enduring this pain again? I guess I liken it to a chronic illness.

I often wonder if it is better to know about a chronic illness, try to control it, and try to make it stop, or if it is better to not know, and to just live your days in ignorant bliss. dealing with symptoms as they come, and attributing them to other factors. When I think of cancer patients, for instance, do they regret learning their diagnosis, or are they happy that they know? Is it better to live with the knowledge of what will happen, or is it better to just not know? Obviously, in situations where it is preventable, curable, liveable....the choice is clear. But what about those where it is not?

Before Matt left for deployment, I did my best to make the best of our time before he left. I tried so hard not to cry, not to show him that I was sad, because that ultimately would spoil the time that we did have left together. Thank goodness he helped me through that, because the worst of it was when it really hit me that with the return to Campbell, it meant that he had to deploy. A year without him, the possibility of a lifetime without him. And that was about 6 months before he even left! He gave me the strength, after a few days of tears, to understand that if I kept crying, kept being sad, kept thinking about the inevitable, our good days, happy memories and bliss would have been lessened. It would have been "Shadowed" by sorrow. What if I had noticed the "signs" that we had leading up to this before he died? Would this have been easier or more difficult for me? What about for him? How would he have handled it? I think that he would have been brave. He would have been concerned, for me, for his family, and maybe a little for himself, but he would have been brave. I don't think I would have or could have stood the thought of losing him, and knowing that I was going to lose him like this, and thinking that somehow I could prevent it.

And what about now? Is it better to know what is coming for me or my loved ones? Is it better to know what the future holds so that I can be sure to take advantage of every opportunity that I have, or would it inflict pain, fear, and shadow every good moment with sorrow? Is it worth seeing the signs? Is it worth the fight? Is it worth knowing what lies ahead and maximizing every moment? Is it worth not ever taking a moment for granted, just so I never again have to look back and say "I wish we did this","I should have done that differently", "why didn't I make time for that"? Or would my fear overshadow these goodnesses, and not even allow them to happen?

I just think about these things a lot. Through his death, I have learned how much in life is completely out of my control. I wish he were here to help me understand.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Date Night!!!!

So, tonight, my hubby and I went to a movie on a date. I have decided that if he were home, we would go on dates and have our time together. So, I then decided, why not?

"We" went to see The King's Speech. It was a really good movie. And, in true Tiffany style, it wasn't too late, but late enough that Matt would have been happy. I save all the midnight showings for his movies- like Transformers 3 when it comes out.

I actually really enjoyed myself. When Matt and I went to movies before, I would always get cold. His mom bought me a Slanket, and Matt teased me and called it my woobie. I started bringing that with me to the freezing movie theater. He had his ear pieces to protect his ears and hearing- can't risk being grounded. That is my ever smart and cautious hubby.

Well, he would even remind me of my woobie before we left. "Honey, did you grab your woooooobie?" Sometimes he would even grab it for me if we were rushing out the door.

Tonight, I put on makeup, got dressed in date-worthy clothes (ie. not a t-shirt or sweatshirt), put on the perfume he gave me, and headed out in his truck. Normally, he would have turned on my seat warmer as I was rushing around finding the 90 things I forgot that I thought I would need before I got to the truck, held my hand and been the driver. Also, we would have gotten there about 15 minutes before the previews started, being so excited to sit through the 15 minutes of local commercials (and sometimes making fun of them). We would have shared the drink, 1/2 Cherry Coke and 1/2 Diet Coke. He would have gotten Junior Mints, but only because they don't have York Peppermint Patties, and he did ask every time. We would have gotten in to our seats, me covering up in my hot pink woobie, and him acting like he was embarrassed of me. We would have teased and joked, and then snuggled in together. Once the lights dimmed, I would wrap him up with me, and we would snuggle together throughout the movie, me squeezing his arm, or his arm wrapped around me. Gosh, I miss those movie dates.

Tonight, I grabbed my stuff, took only the bare necessities and headed out the door. I was there right in time to get my drink (all Cherry Coke) and for the previews to start. Of course, I wanted to see every movie that was in the previews. I could hear in the back of my head him saying "that looks retarded". And, I thought back, "eh, maybe, but I think it looks cute", "but honey, its a Loooove story" and "I love it when Matthew McConaughey plays a lawyer".

The movie was good. I sat, wrapped in my woobie all by myself, with one side a little thicker than the other. I used that as my cushion for my arm, and enjoyed the movie.

When I was finished though- uh oh! I drank that whole drink by MYSELF! Matt usually holds my hot pink woobie outside of the ladies' room after the movie. Darn it! What do I do now?!?

Luckily, I have had a year to practice this. Deployment has made me more independent, and less panicked when put in a situation like this. I took my woobie and slung it over the stall door. I wouldn't have put it on the hook- it is too long and uh, that floor is Gross!

I always enjoyed our movie dates together. Tonight, I really know that he was there, and he was enjoying it with me. I think that he even gave me a kudos for only taking the bare necessities with this time, remembering to shut off my phone before the movie started, and maybe he grumbled a bit because I didn't have ear protection.

I love you, sweetheart. Thank you for all of these memories.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Reintegration Mad-ness?

These last few weeks have been torture. There are SO many ups and downs. It has felt like a lifetime, and that I jumped on the one way train to Crazy Town.

I am so incredibly happy for my friends to be home, for my friends' spouses to be home, and for the remainder of my friends to have their spouses home soon. Thank goodness. I am so happy for them. I am so happy for me, too, because that is about 80 less people that I need to worry about their safety. You can at least triple that when you include their families that I also worried about. Thank God this deployment is OVER!!!! For them.

With the highs have come the lows. It is easy to see what others have when I do not, and so difficult to watch it sometimes. I feel like the kid who is watching all of her friends eat ice cream, but she only has 25 cents, so can't get any. And no one else has any more change to spare. I regress in to a little child- they all get theirs, but I don't get mine. That seems truly selfish. But, please know that this is not a feeling that I have outwardly or toward them. It is one that is internal, and one that is eating me inside.

I knew that this part was going to be hard. I knew that I wasn't going to fully understand that this really, truly happened until I got to this point. I knew it was going to be tough, and I knew that I wanted nothing more than for this part to come, for them to be home and safe. I have been counting down the days with every soldier, and every family, since Day 1. About the fifth week of deployment, I marked on my work calendar what "week" we were in. I have been counting down to the time of bliss, even, and maybe especially, after Matt died. Little did I know that the bliss was going to be for All of us, but some of us wouldn't get the full effect.

I have never had a welcome home, someone to come home to kiss me after a long time away. Maybe that means that I don't know what I am missing out on? I have never had him go away and then come back. Maybe that is why I have been able to go to the Welcome Homes and be so incredibly and sincerely happy for those coming home and those receiving their loved ones. I have always been an onlooker for this part. There was no R&R welcome home. The longest that Matt and I were ever apart was for training missions for the Army. After two weeks, his homecoming was plenty spectacular! I can't even imagine what it would have been like after 8 months, or after 1 year.

I really mean I can't imagine that. During deployment, I would have good days and bad days. I would have strong and weak days, as I now call them. One day in particular, I was driving to pay my water bill. It was only about two months before he came home for R&R, and we were anxiously counting down until we got to see each other. I remember thinking about what I was going to wear, how I would get through security to wait for him by the gate, and how he would smell, and how he would look. These all seem like happy thoughts, right? Well, I broke down bawling. I couldn't picture what he would look like. I was so utterly afraid that I would lose him, and that I would not get that very extra special moment. It is weird our little "feelings" that we have. Intuition. Maybe it was me (or God?) protecting myself? I tried to convince myself for several weeks after that that this actually would not happen, and we would have our moment. Intuition.

Now that the soldiers are coming home, everyone is starting to "family up". I love that. I love that they get to spend time together, after a long, hard year. I love that they get to become reacquainted. That they get to smell each other, look in to each other's eyes, hug their children, kiss their spouse, play with their dogs and cats. Hold hands, have dinner, read quietly near each other. I absolutely love that. I am so happy for that.

And then, the madness sets in. I don't get that. I am not by any means mad at the families. No WAY! They have earned their place. They have fought through what many, many people, including Matt, have termed "the worst deployment ever" and deserve every bit of happiness and excitement that is coming their way! I am, however, very upset and angry with God.

Why couldn't God give us our chance? Why didn't we get our chance to kiss at a welcome home, hold hands again, become reacquainted, play with the dog, settle back in?

A wonderful, flowery friend of mine has recently told me that we choose our path before we come to live this life of ours. We choose our own obstacles. We choose the life that we are going to live. We find a path, and, without knowing in earthly measures, we follow it. In life, we are given our strength paths, and our weakness paths. We, namely God, knows our path and that which we must take to accomplish our goals. I also keep hearing "It will all make sense when we get there".

I think that I have figured mine out. Of course, I haven't figured out my life, and I will never stop asking why, I don't think, however, I think I have my strength figured out. My strength is Love. I really, truly believe that. I have so much love to give, and I want to spread it as far as I can. I give it to my family, my friends, my dog, complete strangers even, and most importantly, my husband, here or there. It is always unconditional. And, it seems that I never run out. It is sometime countered by those who that is not their strength, or their path, but it is always there. Until lately. I do have love still, but it has, unfortunately, been vastly overpowered by my grief. I have been standoffish to people that I truly care about, but it is more because of utter exhaustion than a lack of love. And for that, I do apologize sincerely. I don't know right now, how to be "me", and I know, more than anything, that is what some of those closest to me want right now. Unfortunately, I can't offer that at this time. I do know, however, that of me, my Love will return every bit as much as I have had it before, and maybe some more, because I have learned not to take advantage of that very precious gift.

As far as my strongest weakness goes, this situation, my husband dying, has lead me to learn that one as well. This is a journey that is supposed to be very important, but one that we can never quite figure out, until the end of our journey. This, I believe, is my Faith. I have always had Faith that God existed. It would be silly that He didn't. However, I have been careless with my faith. I have questioned it, repeatedly, again and again. Never has it been more clear to me than after I talked with the Chaplain in Dover, the day after receiving Matt home to the States. That conversation, one-sided on my part, with the Chaplain calmly looking at me and raising his hands without a word, granted me the strength and clarity that I needed to get through that day, and many months after. However, I still question it. I still struggle with it. I now know what I believe, and I believe that Jesus has walked amongst us, and that He has died for our sins, but I still question. I question the meaning of Life. I question God's intentions. I question why I am here and Matt is gone. I question why we were brought together to be ripped apart so soon. I will, however, never again question God's wrath. And I have been fighting His wrath, with my angry words to Him. My anger at Him. I also know now, that He is a loving God. If He didn't love me, then I wouldn't have met Matt. I wouldn't have been blessed with my parents, siblings, friends and his family. Thus, my circle of Love is protecting me from my weakness of Faith. And, through Love, I will find Faith.

On a strong day, there is so much Faith that everything will work out according to God's plan, and that to reap the reward, I have to suffer. On a weak day, I think that God knows nothing of what I want or need, and I will fight until I get it. The fighting makes me tired, and angry and draws the circle of pain again.

I miss my husband. I miss our nonexistent welcome home, and our nonexistent reintegration, our nonexistent future. But, today, I have the strength to smile that other families do have their welcome home, their reintegration, and their future.

Thank you for letting me share in it, and Welcome Home.