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Words from a grieving widow

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I regretted last week’s column as soon as it was published. In particular, I regretted that I wrote this: “(O)ur spouse’s jobs don’t become significantly more dangerous just because the U.S. is taking action (in a conflict).”

I regretted it because Monday morning, my Navy-wife friend, Theresa, lost her husband, Landon, in a helicopter crash in the Red Sea.

Theresa has a new baby boy, Hunter, born in July, as well as a 6-year-old son, Anthony. Landon was supposed to be home one month ago, but his deployment was extended due to the situation in Syria.

In other words, Theresa’s husband should have been home on Monday with his new son. Instead, he was dead.

I’ve changed my mind about how these conflicts affect military families, and I set out to share that with you today. Then I realized it’s not my story to tell. So I offered Theresa the opportunity to share her thoughts with you.

What follows are her words, written three days after her husband’s death:

My sweet boys, Anthony and Hunter. I hope you didn’t feel my worry as I walked aimlessly around the house after being notified last Sunday morning that there had been a “mishap” in your dad’s squadron. I hope you didn’t hear my whispers to your visiting grandparents as I told them there had been a crash in their son’s squadron, but I did not yet know who was involved.

Anthony, I am glad you were off with a friend as I sat at the kitchen counter and checked the time stamp on your father’s last email to me. Over and over again I checked, trying to figure out what time it was on that side of the world and how that related to the time of the “incident.”

Hunter, I am relieved you were napping when the doorbell rang. You didn’t hear my shriek. “Why is my doorbell ringing?”

Neither of you saw me look out the peephole at the three men standing there in their Navy Service Dress Blues. You didn’t hear me wailing “No! No! No!” while my body gave way and crumpled to the floor. Only your grandparents witnessed my guttural screams and sobs as these men told me that your father and his aircraft were missing.

Anthony, you slept at your friend’s house while a group of adults sat for hours and stared at each other in silence. Hunter, you were comforted by people wanting to hold you when you were fussy — because I just couldn’t do it. Neither of you saw me stare at the ceiling for hours as the dark night turned into morning and I held hope that your father would be found. Hunter, you were nursing when those three men came back into our house and I told them they would have to wait until I was done.

Neither of you heard one of these men say “The Navy regrets to inform you ...” I barely heard them either.

Anthony, I’m sorry you were confused about being picked up early from school. You wondered aloud why there were so many flowers and people at home. I want you to know how awful it was to say “yes” when you asked, “Dad is dead, isn’t he?” To hear your screams of “I want him alive! I want him alive!” was almost more than I could bear.

However, I do hope that out of all of this sadness, you got to witness true friendship and love. I hope you saw the strain our friends were under as they did everything in their power to bear our burdens for us. I hope you saw them on the phone, creating lists and organizing the logistical nightmare that ensued, just so I could sit with you and comfort you. I hope you saw the relief on my face when military friends took our car to get new brakes because your dad had asked me to do that in one of his last emails. I hope you saw my gratitude when I learned those friends had also put on four new tires for us.

My boys, one of you lost your best friend, and one of you never even had the chance to meet him. But please know that your father loves you. His love is coming through all these people who have helped us. No, we will never hear his voice again, but his loving words are coming from those who have called and written. And when all of the help and calls and emails go away (because life goes on), you will start to feel his love from me.

Because I have enough for all four of us.

Sarah Smiley is a columnist and author of “Dinner With the Smileys,” a memoir of a year of dinners and motherhood.

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