September 2nd is my 19th wedding anniversary, and no one will wish me “Happy Anniversary. “ My husband died 16 years and 4 months ago, when we were both 29 years old. He was a Marine Corps helicopter pilot and he was killed 15 days after the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Following his death, friends, family and strangers reached out to me. The support I felt, as well as the desire to live my life in a way that would make my husband proud, got me through each day.
I joined different organizations so I could speak about my husband’s death and meet others who had a family member killed while serving in the military.
Sometimes when I met new people at these gatherings and they found out my husband and I didn’t have children, my grief seemed to be “less” to these strangers. At times it seemed the conversation came to an abrupt end when I answered, “No we didn’t have children.” Other times I heard something like, “you are young, you will find love again” or “don’t worry you will be able to start a family one day.”
Now, I cannot imagine how difficult, heart breaking, and at times completely overwhelming it must be to raise a child after the death of their parent. I am in no way trying to downplay the challenges those surviving spouses face. However, as a surviving spouse whose marriage didn’t last long enough for us to fulfill our dream of having children together, there are other difficulties I have faced and the biggest is how to remember him.
If a child loses a parent, often the focus is on helping them remember or learn about their mother or father. And part of that may be pictures around the home or sharing stories about that parent. For me, I have no one to tell those stories to. Sure, friends will listen to stories but you realize at some point that life is moving forward but the stories are still the same. Soon I started feeling like “who wants to hear these old stories?”
And in time, I did remarry and have children. They know who my first husband was but there are no shadow boxes on the wall or framed photos on the shelf. He lives in my heart and in my memories.
When I develop new friendships, they are sure to learn about my first husband.
Having lost the love of my life as I did at 29 years old has definitely changed the person I have grown to be. Friends are willing to learn about my first husband and often say, “I wish I had the opportunity to meet him, he sounds like a good man.” But the stories are 16+ years old, life is different now.
It seems to me that if I had had children with my first husband, my grief could be worn on my sleeve rather than only on my heart. Sixteen plus years later I still grieve and still love him.
So, happy anniversary to me.
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