Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Feeling of Feeling

It feels like one of those days where I want to empty out the disorganized mess in my brain, kind of like when you look around your house and see the clutter but you just don't know where to start.  Maybe that analogy came to me now that I just watched Kiley dump her peas onto the green shag area rug....that'll be fun to tackle later....

Now where was I?  

It's Christmas again.  The first one where Kiley recognizes who Santa is, getting presents, advent calendars, pretty dresses, decorating the tree, and making gingerbread houses.  Not surprisingly though she still doesn't understand the significance of why Dada isn't here this year.  I wish I had better resources than just trying to navigate this process with my best motherly intentions.  But when a child loses a parent before they are old enough to even understand what a parent is, it challenges what we hoped our children would have grown up learning about families.  Kiley's concept of a mommy and a daddy confuses me just as much as it must confuse her.  Why is this little two year old calling me Daddy when she isn't getting her way?  Why does she call for Daddy when she's scared?  Why does she look at me with that "Todd face" and say "Daddy go home".  I'm learning with her.

And in that learning I have also accepted that I don't fit in a box.  You can't tie it up with a pretty bow and slap a tag on it.  I'm going to be sad....but more importantly I'm going to be happy.  And I am.  I'm happy that after all that we've been through that God brought to us a man who has the strength to walk beside us on this journey, accepting this life we live and sharing in it with us.  Life could have been so much simpler for him that's for sure!  

The idea of a traditional relationship is what we all want for ourselves- I would think that a man would hope for the same.  Meet a girl, fall in love, get engaged, married, kids in a few years, etc.  Well that's all kinds of backwards in our case....he found a widow with a toddler and a lot of baggage.  It will always amaze me that God brought him into our lives, when the harsh reality of dating and disappointment could so easily have been the case.  Thank you Lord for blessing us with Alex, for reassuring me that you have great plans for all our lives, and that I get to experience love in so many ways.  From the love of my family and friends, the strangers who reach out from all over the world, my beautiful daughter, and my own ability to say this: 

I love a man in Heaven- I always will.  Todd Weaver gave me more in 6 years than I could have ever imagined for myself, our daughter being the best part.  But I also love a man on Earth, his name is Alex.  I used to question those couples that "just knew" know the ones I mean.  I couldn't imagine how they were so confident in their relationships so quickly, I thought they were wreck-less and unrealistic.  It was something I didn't understand.  I get it now.  

This love doesn't replace what I had with Todd- I don't want it to.  Todd and all that we had- and some of what we didn't have- was a part of my life so that I could cherish those memories, learn from them, and grow.  One of the beautiful things about Alex is that he gets that.  His being in our lives is a gift- he is his own man different in so many ways from what we had, never replacing, but broadening and building on where we've been. 

When I saw Alex after his fourth eye surgery this past fall my heart could not ignore how much this man meant to me.  He had been forced to come home early from deployment because of the serious likelihood of blindness in that eye had immediate action not been taken.  The nature of his job carries very specific vision requirements. His own life plan had been turned upside down.  Something in me knew I was going to be there from that day forward.  For as devastating as this experience has been, both my own and now his, we lean on God and each other knowing that our plans don't have much to do with God's plans.  And it is His plan to put these challenges in our lives, building our character, creating the experiences that give our lives meaning and value.  What kind of a life are we living if we can't come out of it saying we learned a thing or two.     

Christmas is just a few short days away.  Holidays aren't ever going to be "easy" but this year I'm thankful that through it all I have been blessed with hope rather than despair.  The stockings are hung, the tree is decorated, the magic of Christmas is not lost in this house.  Alex, Kiley, and I are on our own journey and Todd's spirit will always be with us, experiencing the milestones to come right along with us.  Ups and downs, days of doubt, right beside me through the storms, divine conspiracy.  We've got this Alex...GGMY.  


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Relinquishing Control

During the dark times in our lives; be they tragedy, loss of a loved one, illness, or abuse...our hearts build up walls as a way to protect itself from further pain.   How much can one heart take after all?  I know that in my own journey of losing my husband, 1LT Todd Weaver, that while simultaneously feeling comforted by knowing he is in Heaven watching over our daughter and I, that I built up my own walls so I might never have to experience this again.  My mindset was one of independence and resilience.  Kiley and I were going to be just fine!  I wanted nothing except to take care of her and raise her in a way Todd would be proud.  I thought I was strong.  I thought I had my head on straight.  I was learning that God's plan was above my own plan for our lives.  I had to be open to listening for what it was He was teaching us now.  I thought I could help other's gain a new perspective on death.  But I wasn't helping myself.

Something clicked about a month ago.  My "resilience and strength" was a wall- a wall to keep away anything or anybody that could hurt my heart ever again.  The way I feel about losing Todd has always been that I would have NEVER chosen this for us-but that God knew Todd's life was full and amazingly well lived- and that his sacrifice would save lives, touch lives, and always be remembered.  This was His plan.  And while I've thought this for so long now I have been cheating myself by trying to manipulate my heart in order to protect myself.  I purposefully avoided any thought about "moving forward"- hated words to Gold Star Families by the way- and that Kiley and I could handle being on our own.  I locked the door in my mind.  But recently the key has been turned and the door was cracked open.  I had been punishing myself by avoiding any idea of happiness of heart- as I felt it would be dishonoring Todd - that it was my way of matching his sacrifice.  I shouldn't feel that way.  And I know that now.  

September 11th, 2010, two days after Todd was killed, our family and friends gathered in the Sunken Gardens at the College of William & Mary.  The ceremony remembered those lost on 9/11 and an added wreath was laid for Todd, as he was a  graduate of the College.  There was a man who had come to pay his respects that was a student with Todd.  He was a familiar face.  He expressed his condolences and  tried to brighten the mood by talking about some of the good times with Todd.  

 A few months passed with a few "hello's" and "how are you doing's".  He began to make himself available to listen to our story; a place where I could share what I was feeling and everything we've been going through since the beginning of this journey.  He had become a very good friend.  I enjoyed talking to him and laughing with him- but I couldn't read him.  I wanted to make sure he didn't misinterpret the friendship because that door was locked.  And then he deployed.

A few more months passed and the door was still locked.  I was just fine with having a friend to talk things out with.  And then he got injured.  During a training exercise he sustained an injury to his eye that has required four surgeries.  He had to be sent back to the states for treatment and that is when I decided I needed to go see him.  Because of the number of soldiers being seen at the medical center he was cleared to stay at a nearby hotel.  When he opened his door....I unlocked my mind's door. 

 It has become clear to me that our hearts and our minds will not let us do things that they know we are not ready for.  And my heart decided it was ready to take risks again.  Because that's who I am.  I was built to support the people I care about.  To stand beside them in times of trouble.  I wish I could have learned this lesson in a book rather than having to live it out- but losing Todd has taught me so much about what I value now, what isn't worth holding onto, and what is.  I feel like I've gained an entire life's worth of lessons since Todd's death- and in that I have been able to walk with this man as he navigates the uncertainties of his healing and the future of his career.  He had been so helpful to me from early on and I am blessed to be able to give that back.  

Todd's fingerprint is permanently pressed into my heart.  He will never leave.  It is not possible.  Our daughter will know him to the best of my ability!  My family tree does not change because Todd is gone.  He didn't walk out the door....I didn't divorce him....he was sent home to Heaven.  I have been so blessed to be continually supported by family and friends when the opposite is all too often the case for widows.  They get pushed away.  Erased.  Knowing how lucky I am to have such a great relationship with my in-laws I am scared of the thought of any of that changing based on "moving forward".  Of course this is all in my head and totally irrational.  I know they want only for Kiley and I to be happy, but I'm scared.  Scared that a new relationship could be interpreted as a replacement for Todd.  And now I can't stop crying.  I care a lot about what other's may think.  And maybe that's something I have to work out on my own.  

I don't know what the future holds.  I'm not supposed to.  What I do know is that I'm happy, hopeful, and as we navigate this relationship and the initial inquisitive looks start to fade- that there will be more to share.  


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

And Then Some

There are very few quiet moments in my life.  From the minute I wake up my battle begins:  How fast can I get Kiley into a new diaper before Gin, our dog, goes into a whining fit while waiting to go out.  And from there we tackle the day. The house is tidy and everything is in order- except wait- didn't I just put that placemat back on the table?  Why is the cereal bowl on the floor?  And where did the cereal go?  Gin!  Wherever we go the diaper bag must be fully stocked with things to entertain Kiley...and candy dots (the old fashioned kind on paper) when the entertainment fails.  "Ma'am would you like me to help you with these bags to your car?" My answer is always "No, I've managed so far".  When I'm at the gym I find myself imaging Todd in his last moments- fighting for Kiley, fighting for me, fighting because it's right- to the end.  It's what motivates me to continue on and make him proud.  If I'm ready to quit running, put down the trash because it's too heavy, scream because my patience has worn thin with Kiley's shenanigans, or whatever the case may be....I don't.  I push myself through the task because I've justified that Todd could have done it and so can I.  I owe it to him.  
Todd's smile all the way from Afghanistan August 2010

Cpt Jacob Ivey, Todd's best friend at Ft. Campbell, embraces Kiley during the Ceremony for the Fallen
 It's a very confusing place, my mind.  I do understand that although I can do this on my own it's hard to convince my heart that I don't need to.  I guess that's my way of not quitting on Todd.  And during my last visit to Ft. Campbell I was talking this all out with my friend Amy.  I can't remember her exact words but as I was telling her that Kiley and I could "rough it together" she responded with something to the effect of " Emma I know you can, but do you want to be like your grandmother?"  That was a huge statement that put a dent in my whole line of thinking.  Most people don't really know much about my grandmother except that she was pretty unpleasant.  She was a single mom who raised my mother the only way she knew how.  Alone.  Way too much backstory there- the main point is that my mom's childhood was affected by the decisions her mother made.  So knowing this, and having Amy bring it to my attention has changed some of my thinking.  Yes I can do this- but I don't have to.  I can take that offer to walk my groceries out to the car.  I can take that friend up on the babysitting offer.  I can walk if I'm getting winded.  I don't have to push myself...not only too far...but too far away.  

The part of my whole line of thinking that's the hardest to talk about is....this is hard for me to even write down right now... what if what I think is honoring Todd's sabotaging our future.  Todd wrote to Kiley "God has a plan for you", which I know is true, and all I want is to protect her and take care of her to the best of my ability.  I love Todd and I always will.  My right here and my right now still feels like "we can rough it"...the emotional grip will not let go.  These are the times where my mind is so tangled with thoughts and scenarios that I have to be proactive.  I have to listen for God's plan.  Where are we going God?  Please give me the courage to let You lead us.  
Visiting Todd on Father's Day 2011
September 9th will mark the 1 year anniversary since we lost Todd, my husband, my best friend, my hero.  Even in those early weeks though I was somehow calm and peaceful.  Not only with every prayer said for us, but with the letters from Todd.  Not a moment goes by where I don't think of him.  And on that day there will be sadness but I will also be smiling.  For Todd continues to bring good things to our lives.  Yes it has been the first year without him; but in that year we have gained so much.  We have met the amazing soldiers who fought alongside him, helped other's in their own struggles with loss, started scholarships in his memory, created new friendships, spent more meaningful time with family, and embraced life.  And every step of the way we have been supported by our community, family, friends and strangers alike to which we are so very thankful.  My promise for this next year is to continue to keep listening and learning, and hopefully be as helpful as I can to others.
The Patriot Guard Riders

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Snowball Effect

This blog is supposed to be my outlet, my safe place.  I don't blog often but when I do it's because my mind is full and I need to release the pressure.  And when I'm not here I'm in the kitchen for some baking therapy.  Something about the precise and methodical measuring of various ingredients- it's quiet, calm, and the outcome never changes.  And like my mind, my freezer is full of frozen cookie dough balls and I can't keep pawning off my baked goods on friends.  So I'm here again ready to face the blog full force and see if I can get through it without it making international news.  I'll explain.

It was May 31st and I was at the gym checking my emails on my phone.  I was on the spin bike when I opened the email from Chuck Norris's Chaplain.  I couldn't believe what I was reading, that Chuck Norris had heard about my husband 1LT Todd Weaver and had written about his sacrifice in his weekly syndicated column in connection with Memorial Day. The Norris's are very active in supporting the military, his brother was killed in Vietnam.

After communicating some more with the Chaplain he told me that the Norris's chose Todd out of the thousands of stories of men and women that they are presented with.  And I never requested any recognition for Todd- the Chaplain explained that they felt called to Todd through all the proactive efforts that we have made in keeping his memory alive. How amazing.  And all the while I'm at the gym with nobody to share this great news with.  Two things came to mind as well.  First being that it was pretty ironic that I was at the gym (now if I was on a total gym that would be crazy!) and second- "How did Chuck Norris know about Todd?" But then it is Chuck Norris.  Duh.

The article grabbed the attention of The Daily Mail UK.  I stumbled upon their article that was written shortly after Mr. Norris's by accident. written by Amy Oliver.  Again I was astonished.  It was pretty much copy and pasting of my blog along with some photos from the Associated Press.  Which is fine by me because I wrote this blog and therefore I like whatever I write.  The title of course was chosen for shock value and I would have appreciated some sensitivity.  But all in all the article was nice and I wasn't upset by it.  What I didn't know was that The Daily Mail is what you could call a tabloid-like website for celebrity stalkers and gossipers.  So it got a lot of attention from these kinds of audiences that feed on controversy.  This is where the problem begins.

If you read the article you'll see that it focuses on the letters that Todd left Kiley and I in case he would not be coming home.  They used the image of the canvas wall hangings that I had made of each letter superimposed over photographs that worked well with each letter.  The image of Todd reading to Kiley was much clearer and easier to read while the one of Todd and I at our wedding was slightly blurry.  Well after the article was written the image of Todd reading Goodnight Moon to Kiley went viral.  I didn't even know it.   As in Australia, Scotland, The Philippians, Indonesia, Korea, etc.

To the best of my knowledge this is what happened:  Somebody saved the image of Todd reading to Kiley and posted it on a forum.  I had never heard of such a thing- there are forums where people can post an image or story and the members of the website vote on whether they like it or not.  I think the person that posted it had good intentions but in doing so they created a lot of stress for me.  I found out about this when I got a facebook message from a friend that they had seen it on **** ( I don't want to name them).  I began getting comments on my blog from strangers that had been referred to it through these forums.  So I spent some time checking out these various forums to see what was going on.  There was my picture -posted for the world to see- and beneath it are thousands of comments from website members.

My little blog had been exposed.  My blog address was out there and people from all over the world were reaching out.  And while most were supportive- I had to start deleting their comments in hopes that it would halt my other friends and family from going to these sites.  But I can't be a mother to the internet

 I think what hurt the most about the amount of negativity that was clouded around these posts was that it was only reaffirming my original fears of sharing what I consider one of the greatest gifts Todd has ever given us.  I felt guilt now.  Judgement.  I began to second guess myself that I shared too much.  All I had ever hoped for was that my close friends and family, those who knew Todd and what an amazing man he was, would know that I'm okay because he had given me peace by writing those letters.  But the world didn't know Todd.  They didn't know how incredible he was.  And while so many people have reached out with thanks to me for sharing such private thoughts, putting their own issues into perspective, the uninformed and negative comments out there have stung me.  Their voices are many and for that I am sad. I wanted to make it go away.   But as all things do they run their course.

My hopes are that those who have been kind to us continue to find happiness in their own lives, knowing that we all have issues and if you're in a tough spot- you'll figure it out.  Life is a challenge.  And it's not my place to try and convince those out there that don't agree with my husband's choice of career or his beliefs.  He isn't here to do so himself but he wouldn't even if he was.  I will always stand firm beside him and know in my heart that what he did was right.  The army was his destiny- his only goal from the time he was 9 years old.   Dr. Suess's "A Book About Me" lets the reader fill in the blanks on several questions about that person.  And it ends with "When I grow up I want to be_____" ; to which Todd filled in "A Ranger and an Army Man".  I had an amazing husband.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Happy Anniversary

Let me go ahead and preface this by saying "I'm okay :)". Yes today is hard, so was yesterday and tomorrow will be too. But overall I make it through each day with my head up and my heart open.
As most of you know May 17th 2008 was the day I said "I do" to 1LT Todd Weaver. Life was just getting started and I was ready to be a proud Army wife. As we exchanged vows I couldn't hear the pastor (sorry Jon). I was so lost in bliss in those moments leading up to our first kiss as man and wife. I was excited for the new path set in front of me, the opportunities to meet new people, see new places, start the family I'd been dying for.
Was it always easy? NO. Was it always worth it? YES. July 5th, 2008 we made the move to Ft. Benning Georgia---a place that I still can't appreciate. We lived in a dungeon of an apartment where the paint was chipping off the walls and the appliances where older than I was. It was dark and muggy and the cockroaches were the size of small birds. It was a shock to say the least. There was some sulking and hoping that this new lifestyle wasn't always going to mean spending time alone in the apartment just waiting for him to get off work. Luckily I began to get involved with the Family Readiness Group and eventually met some other wives. And this is where some of the most important women in my life began to come into my life.
And life only got better from there. That fall I was beginning to needle Todd about trying for a baby- although he was determined to wait until he was finished with Ranger School. Well I poked and prodded and made some pretty convincing arguments and he eventually caved :). So December 5th, 2008 I found out I was pregnant and all hopes of a surprise announcement were shot the minute he walked through the door! It was written all over my face. Todd's reaction: shock and disbelief. Am I grateful that I nagged him to try early? Absolutely! For if I had let Todd have his way Kiley would have been 6 months old instead of 9 months when he left for Afghanistan. She was saying Dada before she ever said Mama and he always let me know that meant she liked him better! Did she understand who he was in her life? I don't really know. She was so young. But I can tell you this. She will know her Dada is always here, always protecting her, and is always in her heart.
May 17th - today- would be our 3rd anniversary. It's a day that reminds me of my commitment and the reasons I said "I do". The supporting role of any military spouse is one that should not be taken lightly. I can't say I always considered the possibility of losing Todd. I was still so new to the Army life that I worried about the little on which side I was suppose to stand, how I was to address his superior officers, and whether or not I would ever have to be an FRG leader. So silly compared to what I know now. While the traditions and the polite observances are important- the most important aspect of being a military wife is treasuring every moment with your husband. Create memories. Take the time to know your husband's heart, his hopes, his fears, his ambitions for your family. Always be prepared to stand by him in hard times. It saddens me to no end when I hear about injured soldiers whose wives cannot handle taking care of them. The selfishness sickens me. I would gladly -with honor- care for Todd had he come home injured. There are some amazingly strong women that I've been blessed to know who have had to take on this role. I may be ranting some but knowing that my husband was taken home to Heaven makes it difficult for me to see these kinds of things happen to our brave soldiers.
I can't be bitter for the way Kiley and I's lives have changed, it's not my call in the end. It is a hard life now. Can I handle it? I certainly can. Would I have chose it? No. Philippians 4:11 teaches us to be content in all circumstances. That's heavy and I'm struggling, but I'm open to learning how Todd's ultimate sacrifice will shape my future as a mother, and a Christian. And on this day I am reflecting on how much I have changed with Todd's guidance and love. His gift to me for our 3rd anniversary is courage. Courage to tackle each day with the same spirit he would have.
And on May 21st you can find me at Arlington National Cemetery. This was the last day that Todd walked on American soil. He held Kiley and stepped away to spend some quiet moments with her. What he whispered to her I may never know. And as we left that day I thought to myself "it's only a year".
There will be many days with special significance that come up throughout the year. I wish Todd were here to celebrate this anniversary. I wish he was here for our birthdays and holidays. But we cannot pity ourselves for the hand we were dealt. We can only hope to live life fully and hope that we remain in good standing with the Lord so that when the time comes Todd will greet us all in Heaven. Thank you Baby for being such a motivator of men, family man, and good Christian!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Struggle and Peace

As we approach the 6 month anniversary of Todd's passing I have reflected daily on how Todd lived in this world and how I will continue to honor that life. There are always thoughts of Todd swirling around in my mind, hourly making themselves known. Any situation can trigger a memory; doing the taxes this year only reminds me that it will be the first time tackling it on my own. Passing over FOX through the TV guide and knowing that Todd will never be here to quote Bill O'Reilly "the factor is on---TONIGHT". Is it normal to incorporate memories of Todd into otherwise mundane daily tasks? I'm sure that it is, but even so it drains you a little of the energy you have left. When I seem overwhelmed at any point I feel thankful for my faith in Jesus Christ, for which I may never have had without Todd.

Its times like this, sitting in front of the computer, that I question how much I really want to share. But through it all I have learned that if I don't talk about the hard things they certainly won't get easier by not doing so. Todd was a reserved man in many ways and he was always cautious about what he shared with others. And as I try to live by his example I question myself to a certain degree. But for the last several months I have felt pulled in different directions about something that has been on my mind. And because I know that I am ready, PROUD of my husband, and open about some of the more intimate details- I think it is time to really tell you why I'm in such a peaceful place.

Before Todd was killed I would be comfortable saying that my faith in Jesus was lukewarm at best. I tried but nothing was fitting for me. I knew how much it meant to Todd to raise Kiley as a Christian and I was doing what I could to be a supportive wife. My understanding of Christianity was certainly lacking that is for sure. But the moment, the absolute moment that I was told that Todd had been killed there was an unquestionable knowledge that Todd was in Heaven. Little things kept happening for the next week or so, Todd letting me know that I was on the right path and that he was okay.

Most noticeably for me was the experience I had before the memorial service. I had gone out shopping for a dress for the service and picked up a few accessories at a popular store at the mall. When I got back to Todd's parents house I joined the rest of the family for a meeting regarding some details of the upcoming service. My shopping bags were piled on the coffee table and as I was listening to something Donn was saying I happened to look down and see the underside of one of the bags. On it was printed a bible verse. I thought it was strange that it would be printed on the underside of the bag and noted that I should look it up when I had a moment. Later the next day I was on the phone with Kirby and I told her about some of the things that had happened that made me think Todd was trying to tell me he was alright. Which reminded me about the bible verse and we looked it up together. John 3:16 says "For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life". A gentle guidance in the direction I so badly needed to go.

I've said before that I have a lot of peace, which is probably hard to understand. My sadness is for myself and Kiley and how we won't get to see Todd again, but my joy is that Todd is in his eternal resting place in Heaven. Todd also gave me an amazing gift, he left Kiley and I each a letter that he wrote on his computer shortly after arriving at FOB Howz E Madad in early June. Deciding to share them is where I have felt pulled in different directions. I have wanted to shout them from the rooftops because of how proud I am of having such a wise and comforting husband. My struggle has been with whether they would be received by others with the same kind of gladness I have felt knowing that I have this wonderful gift. They are difficult to read. But hearing his voice again, even if its only in my head, means I can be strengthened with these words. That being said read on to understand.

Dear Emma:

Well if you are reading this, I guess I did not make it home and therefore, I was not able to remind you again of how much I love you. I love you so much baby and I will always love you. Although I may not be here right now, take comfort in the fact that I am watching over you right now. I am not gone and I will always be with you in spirit. I know this time must be hard for you but I also know how strong you are. Never forget that God knew what was best for us before we were even born. Take comfort in that. This happened for a reason. Although you may not believe it now, you will one day.

I want you to know just how important you are to me. I could not ask for a more caring, beautiful and loving wife. The memories that we have shared over the last few years have been the best of my life. Although it may seem like my life was cut short, I lived a life that most can only dream of. I married the perfect woman. I have a beautiful daughter that amazed me every day. I even had two great dogs - at least most of the time. I couldn't ask for anything more.

If you feel sad, just think back to the memories that we shared. Look at our daughter and how beautiful she is. Be strong for her. Remind her about her Daddy and tell her that I loved her more than anything else in the world. Her birth was the best day of my life and she was the best thing that ever happened to me. Her smile and laughter represent all that is good and beautiful in this world. Tell her that Daddy is in heaven now and will watch over her and protect her every minute of every day.

I love you Emma. But never be afraid to do what you need to do to be happy. It is so important that you continue to find happiness in your life. Although you may think this is impossible right now, have faith. Much better times are coming. You and Kiley have a wonderful life ahead of you and I am so happy to have shared some of it with you. I love you.

Your loving Husband,


Dear Kiley, My Sweetie:

Although you may not remember me, I want you to know how very much your Daddy loves you. I left for Afghanistan when you were 9 months old. Leaving you was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. You are so very special to me sweetie - you are truly a gift from God. The best day of my life was the day you were born. Every time I saw you smile my heart would just melt. You were my sweetie - my life was not complete until you were born.

I am so sorry I will not be able to see you grow up. But remember, your Daddy is not gone. I am in heaven now smiling down on you every day. You are so very lucky to have such a wonderful Mom to take care of you. Make sure you are good for her and help her out whenever you can. Always remember to say your prayers at night and be thankful for all your many blessings. Never forget how important and special you are to so many people. We love you so very much. When you get older and start school, do your best and try to learn as much as you can about the world you live in. Always be nice and caring to others and you will discover that the world will be nice to you. But when things aren't going your way, never forget that God knows what is best for you and everything will work out in the end.

You have such a bright and beautiful future ahead of you. Have fun. Enjoy it. And remember, your Daddy will always be proud of you and will always love you. You are and will always be my sweetie.

With very much love,

Your Daddy

My mom said a long time ago something that really stuck with me. That is that a person doesn't get to leave this world until they have completed everything they had to do on Earth. Todd lived that full life. Even though he was a young man he was cultured, an academic, a happily married man and father, and even though he wasn't here to raise Kiley he left me the tools to do so with our combined values. Like my mom said "When the job is done sometimes you get to go home early".

I found a great website where I uploaded a photo of Todd reading to Kiley when she was about a week old and I had the letter to her superimposed on it and framed. I did the same to a wedding photo for the letter sent to me. They are both hanging prominently in my house so I can see them everyday. Although they are private letters I have thought long and hard about how significant they are and the importance of sharing the depth of wisdom Todd had for being 26 years old at the time of his death.

Thank you Todd for having the courage to write the hardest thing you've ever had to write, knowing full well that the fact that I would even have to read it is the reality of being a soldier. You were the strongest man I ever knew. Your strength will always give me strength.