War Widows

There is a name for widows like me—war widow.  Somehow that implies that we asked for this life and this choice by our marriage to our soldier.  There is a sense of pride at the honor shown in dying on foreign soil at the hands of someone that should have been a trusted ally while setting up the communications for a hospital, yet honor only goes so far.  War widows are young—I am old and was old at 49 when my Phil was assassinated. The issues that confront us at every juncture just show us how much we do not fit in  and leave us wondering if there will ever be life after loss.


For  my entire adult life, I moved every few years.  I never allowed myself to get too close to people, a job, a house, or even a place.  I lived far from all of my family members and while it was fun to visit, the town where I graduated from high school and college long ago became a foreign place to visit.  Home was a person and my life, my children’s life, and my dreams for my future revolved on my soldier (airman).  It didn’t matter where we went, my job was to be the positive spin master for the children, the stabilizer in the home while we moved and he deployed, and to set up a sense of home wherever we went.  We made this life so appealing that four out of five of our children joined the military.  The military and its frequent moves and shallow roots are normal. 


In military death, what is known and embraced is suddenly gone.  The war widow stands as the visible testimony as to what can happen to other military families.  Literally, ranks start closing and walls are erected in a self-preservation defense the minute those awful words are uttered.  Granted, the military comes together with pomp and circumstance to honor those who give all in service of their country, but when the last notes of Taps resonate, the doors start to close and the clock starts to tick. 


There are decisions to be made.  Where to live?  A military widow is given one year to decide where to move.  Staying on base is not an option.  While this can be wavered for a few years, ultimately a widow must decide where to make a home.  I hadn’t lived in Idaho since 1990.  How did I know where home was?  We lived in Germany longer than any where else and then Colorado.


Then, the war widow has to deal with gossip almost from the start.  If a person draws close to a comrade who is grieving and they begin to date, then surely there must have been something going on before death.  You think that I am joking?  I see it over and over again.  I have been on a few dates (can count them on three fingers) three years out, yet 5 weeks after Phil was killed, I was accused of throwing myself at someone because he had Phil’s autopsy report.  Bets were taken as to how long it would take me to date and remarry.  All of the people involved have lost—I am simply afraid of getting it wrong.


Then there are the people that look at war widows and think that we are sugar mammas based on death gratuities.  When did people start thinking war widows are getting a cash cow?  I assure you that if Phil had continued working for five years, he would have made the life insurance policy AND I would still have him and he would be making a larger salary based on rank and grade.  The average person has no inkling how much inner-family fighting happens over money, burial, and remains.  Military people often marry very young and leave very young widows after a very short amount of time. 


There are others who think that because of our age, we should relax our moral compasses because we surely have needs and what is the harm of having a little fun?  Well, I wasn’t a “fun” type of girl the last time I was single, I am not compromising that part of me because I am lonely or because I miss that aspect of my marriage.  For the record, I do, but part of being a widow is that I realize just how short life can be and I recognize the value of investing in people. I am not alone in this.  The problem is that while widows  invest their heart and loyalty into a person, the other person may not be doing the same.  I believe that we are vulnerable to giving relationship too much validity too soon.  Whereas when widows sleep with a person they are believing they are entering a chapter two, often the other person is viewing it like most other single people.  Fun versus a commitment—our fun meters are damaged.


There are others who think that we are hands off because of the military hero death.  Somehow we end up apologizing for the life we have or the media attention we receive or hiding the love we had/felt just because some divorced or single people cannot understand.  I am who I am because I was loved well for 25 years.  I know how to love well.  I am not looking for another Phil because I have changed and I recognize now that I had needs I never knew I had in my marriage.  There is room for someone, but it will never negate being loved well.  I would never expect family photos to be hidden (nor would I want them displayed all over) for even a divorced man, but somehow I feel like I am supposed to hide it all or denigrate what we had.


In the military world, we lose, also.  We have to explain our status over and over because people do not understand the classification on our ID cards.  We slip into no man’s land for medical appointments at the three year mark.  We have to start paying for insurance and we are then classified among the retirees (I know it is a problem for them, also).  We lose dental insurance.  We are the young and we are the invisible, but we are here and we are woven into the military culture tapestry.  Our stories are eerily similar, but our names are different.  We are the ones celebrating anniversaries, birthdays, raising children, and trying to find our way in a world that has changed so much.  The only difference is that we do not have a home or roots to ground us which is perhaps why our military brothers and sisters mean so much to us.  Perhaps this is why our online support is comprised of the unbreakable ties forged in fire and tears.  We have lost much more than our husbands.  We have lost ourselves and we have lost our mooring.  We have lost our home.


  1. You know, I am not broken–just bent. I am doing well and I can say that I really do believe that all things work together for good for those who love the Lord (Rms 8:28)–even this. I am a better version of myself and I am grateful for knowing what love looks like, feels like, and is. It is hard work at times. Honoring Phil in death is my one of my final love gifts for him–finding a chapter two will be harder, but I will step forward trusting that the woman I became by being loved well, and by loving well, is honoring the life I have been given.

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