Sunday, September 8, 2013

With Every Breath

What trips us up the most in navigating grief is the "Why?"  That one question burrows itself into your mind and can multiply the pain your heart is already experiencing.  I've asked myself that same question more times than I can count.  The difference for me is that I don't find myself questioning why did Todd have to die.....but more so what his purpose in death means to myself and others.  What am I supposed to be learning, listening for, and taking away from the greatest tragedy I've faced in my life.  

1LT Todd Weaver lived his life with purpose- he was a natural leader, dependable, and courageous.  He completed life on this Earth on September 9th, 2010 with the same amount of purpose that he carried those twenty six years.  In his own words Todd says "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".  And he was right for I do believe it now.  While it is not a destiny that I would have wished for him I understand that great sacrifices like his are strong enough to forever change those who hear his story.

Maybe it's not 100% accurate, maybe it is.....but this is the story that I know.  The one that gives me the peace in my heart that lets me sleep again.  It was the early dawn hours of Sept 9th in Kandahar, Afghanistan.  Todd's field artillery unit was targeting a small building that was suspected of terrorist activity.  The platoon was positioning themselves for the ready when Todd triggered a buried IED by a low mud wall.  He watched what followed from above after that moment.  Mission abort, an ambush, a battle ensues.  Todd's fellow soldiers never leave his side and bravely bring him back to the combat outpost while risking their lives and sustaining injuries along the way.  An investigation is standard procedure after a combat death and that is when it was discovered that the building they were targeting that morning was packed with enough explosives to kill half the platoon had they hit it.  

Hearing that story I no longer questioned "Why Todd?"  I accepted that God knew what he was doing in choosing him to make that sacrifice.  I think more than anything else my hopes are that the men with Todd that morning see how God was implementing his plan for their lives as well.  For whatever reason He needed Todd to put it all in motion.  I've been confronted more than once by some of Todd's battle buddies from his time in Iraq and Afghanistan where they say "I wish it could have been me, Emma" or "I'd switch places with him if I could".  I try to understand survivor guilt as best I can but I find it difficult to put myself in their shoes.  I want to embrace them, look straight into their eyes and have them feel the electric jolt of understanding that I've felt.  I wish I could say "You didn't die that day for a reason.  You haven't lived the life the Lord has planned for you.  You haven't earned the right to go home yet.  He still needs you."  I can only hope each life not lost that day is lived with that same Todd Weaver drive.  

Three years have gone by.  It's kind of like living in two different worlds though.  I've celebrated three of Kiley and I's birthdays, found love again, married a wonderful man, moved across the world, and am welcoming a son early next year.  But I can close my eyes and see the shadows at the door.  I can hear my mom screaming in the background of my phone call home that terrible morning.  I can smell the moon dust from his belongings sent home from Afghanistan.  I can feel the pain as freshly as if it were yesterday.  And I can do this every single day.  But instead I look at how much God has given us since then and try to be that much more thankful for my own life and what He has done with it so far. 

It is in these moments that I hope I can continue to actively honor and remember the hero that I love.  Until we meet again in Heaven I hope we all stop asking "Why?"....and start asking "How am I going to make the most of the gift of life I have so graciously been given?"  


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Hafa Adai!

     It still boggles my mind that we call Guam home now.  That tiny dot in the Pacific Ocean between Japan and Australia....that's our home for as long as the Navy lets us stay here!  Alex, Kiley, and I's world adventure started two days after Christmas at The Williamsburg Inn where we quietly got married in front of our families.  Alex returned to training and I began to slowly pack up our house, anxiously awaiting the duty station orders to follow.  Guam. 

     A U.S. territory 14 hours ahead of Eastern Standard time.  A land of mountains, caves, waterfalls, jungles, and beaches.  Beaches of coral sands that are gently washed by clear, turquoise waters.  Sunny and hot, sunny and wet.  Coconuts, plumeria, mangoes, and bananas.  A place where the people are relaxed and laid back and always celebrating their culture.  Stepping off that plane with my family and taking my first few steps in this paradise renewed my soul.  

     Guam's most attractive feature has not have been any of the physical beauties I've described.  The opportunity for our family was what was most appealing.  The chance to walk through a store and not be stopped by a stranger asking me, "How are you?" in that sad tone they save just for me.  I know that coming back to Williamsburg was what I needed after losing Todd- but in doing so I was thrown back into the environment I grew up in- where everybody knew me- knew what had happened- and made it difficult to grow through my loss.  

     Guam has provided us the gift of a new chapter in our crazy lives.  I needed to be bold enough to not just say I'm going to live my life like Todd- but to actually do it!  But strings are attached....I refuse to live without him....and I don't.  Todd's urn, flag, recognitions, and awards were the first things to be unpacked and settled in the new house.  Our Gold Star hangs in the window.  We even got the Gold Star vehicle license plates for Guam.  Now it feels like home!
     To our delight Kiley has adapted well to island life.  Her little feet never have shoes on....we're lucky if she's wearing clothes to be honest.  She loves to shout "Hafa Adai", a local greeting, whenever possible.  She doesn't let the rain stop her from playing...she just gets wet.  She likes to go out and collect the local fruits that are so abundant.  She turned four years old on August 17th and started the big day off by asking me if she looked any taller.  It is such a blessing to be able to provide her this unique childhood.  And an even bigger blessing to share it with her baby brother or sister.

     Alex and I found out we were expecting this past May, with the baby to be due at the end of January.  The excitement of our new world and new path is only intensified as we think about what life will be like as a family of four.  I'm 17 weeks pregnant and feeling those first, soft baby kicks in my growing belly as I type this.  I'm sometimes overwhelmed by the many blessings we have been given through having to experience the tragedy of loss.  I know we are in good hands and I trust our future will be proof of that.


Friday, March 8, 2013

How Much I Keep Learning...

Two and a half years ago today marks the darkest day I've ever known.  The day where I was awoken by two dark silhouettes  that I could see through the decorative glass panel of my front door in Clarksville, Tennessee. I could have been dreaming....given the fact that the sun had not risen that was my immediate assumption.  But the silhouettes became much more real as I opened the door, confused and very much afraid for them to speak.  Trembling, I had to get Kiley.  She was crying from her crib.  

Every single day since September 9th, 2010 has been a battle.  A battle against grief, a battle against coping, a battle against fear, a battle against trust, a battle against rejection, a battle against me keeping my shit together quite frankly!  Sorry.  Sometimes the soundtrack in my mind of "I think I can I think I can I think I can" quiets down just enough to remind me that my shield of "strength" isn't always as it appears.  

Quite often I'll hear people compliment me on this so called strength, my ability to inspire others, or my outlook on life after losing Todd.  And immediately following such a compliment or kind word the reaction in my head is always "WHY?"  I'm not doing anything.  I'm not trying to be anybody special.  I'm not trying to change the world or prove anything to anybody.  I'm just sitting here going "I think I can I think I can I think I can".  I'll tell you the mantra doesn't always work.  I was reminded of that today.

I had looked forward to visiting Todd at Arlington National Cemetery more than usual this morning.  I needed to see talk to be with him before we move away from the area.

I  hadn't gotten to visit since before Christmas, a time in which I took to talk about my upcoming wedding.  Kiley and I had set up his Christmas tree and I tried a little more to teach her about this sacred place.  Finding what I hoped were the right words and examples for a three year old to understand.  Teaching her about how to walk between the aisles and never across the headstones.  Praying she doesn't pick Todd's neighbors flowers or move their mementos.  Today would be harder....but I shocked myself once I got there and realized how much harder it really was.

We arrived during a sailor's service.  It was being held within close proximity to Todd's headstone so we decided to keep our distance until after the family had laid their loved one to rest.  Watching from afar was almost an out of body was overwhelming to say the least.  I knew that the woman clutching the folding flag couldn't feel the stinging cold wind that everybody else was feeling.  She couldn't see past the casket, she didn't even realize how many people were there to support her and to pay their respects to the young sailor.  I knew her numbness all too well.  This is when I couldn't keep it together anymore.  

The fact that I could collapse into the arms of the man who never lets me fall...being held up by his love and unwavering support solidified a belief in my heart.  That is my strength!  The embrace of my husband and daughter as I stand sobbing over the grave of the man I thought I'd grow old with renews me.  Teaches me what's important.  Value this life, acknowledge the path that has brought you this far- it may not have been how you wanted to get there but trust me - the route isn't really your call.