Happy What Would Have Been Your 48th Birthday

I cannot believe I got Phil’s age wrong the first time or that it has been nearly four years.


April 4

Phils, today is your day. It will always be your day because it is the day I celebrate your life. You would have been 48 today–an age that would still be younger than the age I was when I had to learn to live without you. While I no longer live in that shattered broken state, make no mistake, when I see our children and now our grandchildren, I miss you. It is more than that, though.

When I met you, you were so young. I thought you were too young and that you were like every other 21 year old. I wasn’t looking for a good time or for someone to save me. I was simply trying to live my life and to get my feet on the ground. Kind of like now. I looked at your flirtatious ways and shrank away. I made you work for…

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Happy What Would Have Been Your 47th Birthday

Happy What Would Have Been Your 47th Birthday.

Happy What Would Have Been Your 48th Birthday

April 4

Phils, today is your day. It will always be your day because it is the day I celebrate your life. You would have been 48 today–an age that would still be younger than the age I was when I had to learn to live without you. While I no longer live in that shattered broken state, make no mistake, when I see our children and now our grandchildren, I miss you. It is more than that, though.

When I met you, you were so young. I thought you were too young and that you were like every other 21 year old. I wasn’t looking for a good time or for someone to save me. I was simply trying to live my life and to get my feet on the ground. Kind of like now. I looked at your flirtatious ways and shrank away. I made you work for it–really work for it.

I do not know what you saw in a girl almost six years older than you were. I do not know why you asked me out 19 times even when I was mean and abrupt in my refusals at times. I do not know why you saw something in my brokenness. I certainly didn’t feel very lovable. I had three young children and while I was educated, I was recently divorced with three young children. My family and church had turned on me and all I could think about was running away to be a doctor in the army.

When I finally did say yes to you, you waited a very long time to kiss me thinking that because I was older, I would surely make the first move. By the time you finally touched me, there was a raging bonfire blazing between us. From that kiss, it was as if we knew the clock was ticking. We rushed it all. I still can’t believe that two responsible adults ran off and eloped four months into dating. We had no other reason to get married except that we didn’t want to spend one more day apart. Our youngest son says that you were blessed because you found me so young. Well, sweetie, it was I that was blessed.

You taught me what it was to be loved and how to love completely. While our life wasn’t always easy because we had so many children, not enough money, tdys, medical scares, and family issues, we stood strong as one until your very last breath. This completeness included your last face to face conversation with me.

How could you have known, had that sense, that maybe this tdy was different? How could you have known to get your affairs in order and more than that, how could you have known to force the question about “what if”. Damn, Philsie, usually I could shut you down with jokes and other distractions, but in the last moment before you left (last ten minutes), you bulldozed me. I still catch my breath when I consider that question you asked: “If you die first, would you want me to be happy again?” Why, yes, yes I would.

Phils, I am stuck there. I know that I would be open to loving again. I have changed because I had no other choice. I am more independent and open than I have ever been, but you kind of ruined me. While I expect a chapter two to look different, I think back to a 21 year old who saw something long before I saw it. I think of a 44 year old man who loved me enough to put his affairs in order and to force that conversation. I think of a man who put my needs first for 23 years. While you often forgot my birthday and even once forgot Christmas, you got up each and every day before me to make me coffee and to bring me the paper in bed. It was your idea that I run a marathon in all 50 states. It was you that rushed home from work so that I could run out the door to get my running done. It was you that gladly chauffeured all of us.

I am sorry that I didn’t always appreciate you enough. I know that we all joked about you being a phony doctor (PhD), but I have always thought you were amazing. Considering that you couldn’t speak English when you came to the US at 12, and considering the only word that I could catch you on was Fritos, you were brilliant. You were also humble. I tell your story all of the time because the world needs to know who was lost that day. Your story, our story, has changed a few things in your beloved Air Force. Your story, our story, has resonated with others dealing with trauma and crisis. Listen, sweetie, I have no answers. I am just trying to muddle through and to make something positive come from the very worst day of my life.

I don’t know if I am strong enough or if it is even a possibility, but I am trying to honor my last conversation with you. Like you told me, I would eventually get really lonely and that I had so much love in my heart, I would want to give it away. I do want that. I do know that my chapter two will thrive because of the lessons I learned with you. I do know that my chapter two will look and feel different. I know that you got my youth and child rearing years. You got a face unlined with wrinkles and a body that was still whole. My chapter two will get a person that knows what it is like to love to the very end. They will get a more independent Linda–albeit older and more broken.

Philsie–you often talked about your “loser Dave” years. You were never a loser. You brought life to people. You saw people who were invisible and who struggled. You used your gift of languages to connect with people. Sometimes I would cringe because you mentored so many about the opportunities given by your American citizenship, your love for the Air Force, and how great our children all are.

You drove me absolutely crazy with the way you threw all of your clean laundry in the laundry basket. You were quite content to wear wrinkled clothes. Eye roll. Your beat up blue dirty mini van made us look like the Kentucky militia. You drove me nuts when you wanted to change all of the card game rules–who does that!?

On your birthday, I celebrate the love I learned and shared with you. I celebrate how much laughter and calm you brought into my life. I step forward one faltering step at a time knowing that this is what you would like . I am going to need a little convincing. Can angels help?

I loved you then, I love you now, I will love you forever. You are not forgotten. Happy 48th birthday.

Forgiving the Unforgivable

Forgiving the Unforgivable.

Forgiving the Unforgivable

How does a person forgive the unforgiveable? Almost four years ago, my Phil was assassinated in the very worst way possible by someone he liked and trusted. He did not die when the first shots hit and nobody knows just how long he lived before the more than 10 bullet wounds killed him. He had time to know fear and to stare down his executor. With the death of Phil, I lost everything I had built my life and future on. I had assumed that we would grow old together, welcome grandchildren together, and even bury parents together. I never thought that I would be a widow at 49. I never thought that I wouldn’t have time to say goodbye or that I wouldn’t see him again. Forgiveness of a crime so unfair and egregious that the mind cannot wrap itself around the true magnitude of the events or impact of those events seems far beyond the human capacity to render–far beyond my capabilities.

Forgiveness isn’t something I can see happening in one decision or that there is one thing I can do to fully forgive. It is simply a process. Some days I am further along the process than I was yesterday and sometimes it feels like I will never be able to say that I have the hang of forgiving. There are no magic wands, but I figured out early on that it was too easy to fall into anger and pity parties that didn’t give me back what I really wanted. The more I stood steeped in anger that was often misplaced, the longer I found hatred and bitterness creeping in a putrefying my heart robbing me of joy and of life. I want life. I don’t want the assassin to take my joy, my life, or my hope . If I relinquish my heart to anger, bitterness and living in the past, the assassin got my soul that day too.

There are days when it feels like the burden of the loss of Phil, the loss of my dreams of growing old with someone, the loss of my innocence and laughter is too much to bear. There are days when my heart is crushed with wanting and with missing the man that was once larger than life. Sometimes the feelings of what has been lost with the death of Phil–sometimes I feel that the best of me if forever missing. I do not laugh as often, nor do I have that sense of security, and my youth withered with his death because I was too young to have buried a husband and I was not prepared to be single before I was 50.

My faith has changed too. I prayed each and every day for Phil to come home safely. Many other people prayed with me. When Phil’s broken body came home, I had a choice. I could be angry with God, or I could shift my paradigms of faith understanding. Essentially, people have a choice. It is my belief that the assassin had a choice and he chose evil. I believe, and yes, I really believe that Phil was received into heaven on that horrible day. I hope that the angels were there in that room ministering to Phil and the other 8 as evil played out that day.

Archbishop Tutu once said that “Without forgiveness there is no hope. Forgiving is giving up that the past can be any different.” Powerful words. There is no amount of grieving or anger that will bring back my Phil. Many trauma survivors get stuck in the wanting of revenge and unforgiveness. The heart is consumed by a blackness and a cloud. A person is changed. Forgiveness is not about restoring trust or forgetting, it is about the decision to not live in the purgatory of doubt and anger over what cannot be fixed no matter how much I want it. I do not have the answers, but I do know that I want my life to stand for more than anger, bitterness, and darkness. I want my life to shine and matter for those whose lives ended that day—far too soon. Forgiveness is something that I cannot say that I am fully there with, some days I am further along than others, but it is something that I continue to work toward one small step at a time.

I Wish That I Could Have Amnesia

I Wish That I Could Have Amnesia.

I Wish That I Could Have Amnesia

“I wish I could wake up with amnesia.” A line from one of my favorite songs. It certainly would hurt less to forget, but I am confident that I would be the same girl hiding in the shadows afraid if not for Phil loving me well and me loving him well. While I thought I could never love again, and perhaps that is true, the loneliness is creeping in. In the memories, there is a yearning for new memories and a hope for the future. It helps to know that Phil loved me enough to have “that conversation” with me. In our last face to face conversation, he stubbornly navigated my jokes, changing of the subject, and belligerently refusing to discuss the what ifs to ask me if I would want him to be happy again if I died first. Of course the answer was yes, but it is easier said than done.

Another widow I know who is remarried told me that she woke up one day and realized how lonely she was. I have prayed every single day for a year that the loneliness would go away, but it isn’t. I want more, but I am afraid. One of the residual impacts of losing someone with whom every dream was built, is that I can see a problem with putting too much validity into a relationship too soon. I no longer have flirting skills, dating skills, or game playing skills. I am old enough that there aren’t any options that do not require me to give up my moral compass. It isn’t that I do not want to try, it is that to try means transparency, trust, and patience.

Part of the issue is that imprinted memory. I feel somehow broken because I am a widow. I have heard so many statements that send me fleeing at the speed of light. I have heard that I need to stop speaking and writing on military loss and that I need to get out of the news. Never mind my job or that by doing what I do I am healing and helping others coming after me. I have heard that I have needs, he has needs, so why not–I think I will pass. I have heard that I was loved after one date and that he thought he could be the one to make me forget Phil because he was so great. Really? Can’t my chapter two be different and equally great?

In situations of divorce, people often don’t live in the fray twilight of knowing what it is like to love someone until their dying breath. Someone is usually angry or heartbroken. Pictures come down and most cannot or will not remember the good days. What do I know about that? I was married before Phil. I was young and their was a catalyst that caused me to walk away without looking back. I don’t think about him. I am no longer angry. I just don’t think about him. It has been many, many years if one considers that Phil and I were married 23 years. When a divorced person comes thinking that they can make me forget or that I should remove every family picture (there are very few up), stop blogging, stop speaking, stop working, it won’t work because they do not get widowhood.

I am not threatened by knowing someone loved to a person’s final breath and that they will always love a person that is no longer here. My thought is that if a man had a story like mine, he would understand the windows, the dates that creep up on me, the pictures, and the fact that I am who I am because I was loved well.

I have also had men who have read my book or blogs and tried to check off boxes. I do not want another Phil. I changed. I am no longer the girl I once was because I had no choices other than to change. I just want someone whose eyes light up when I walk in the room, someone who can’t keep his hands off of me and who makes me laugh, and someone who makes me a better version of myself. I want to stand stronger with someone again, but I am not sure that it will ever happen or even if I should try. If I try, where? Online dating will not work for me due to how public I have become. I don’t drink and I work with people who are younger than I am or married.

When I write that I wish I had amnesia, I do. If I could forget, I would not be yearning for more in my life. Having had a marriage based on friendship and passion, I know what I want and I know what is missing from my life. I do not want to forget a man who gave up so much to be with me just after he had his 21st birthday. He knew what he wanted and he was persistent until he got it. He kept it for 23 years. My chapter two will have to understand that Chapter 1 is closed, but it was still written. I just need more than a photograph.

My Own Private Idaho

My Own Private Idaho.

My Own Private Idaho

My Own Private Idaho

My mother asked me yesterday if I ever get tired of telling my story or if it hurt to repeatedly tell the story of the worst days of my life. She and other people do not understand that I have gotten to the place where I can tell that story on my very worst days and it doesn’t hurt. I can tell that story because as I tell that story I not only know that I am touching other people, teaching them, and giving them permission to talk about their body slams, I am weaving in the coping skills to breathe through bone crushing pain. As I tell my story, it reinforces the skills I use and all that I stand for and believe in, but there is something magical about coming back to a place where I am simply Linda Leonard and the first question people ask me is, “Are you still running?”

I grew up in Oregon and Idaho and Idaho is where I went to school. My mom still lives on the same street I lived on all those years. There are still neighbors who remember a girl riding down the street standing on the purple banana seat of her bicycle. I have been in every house on this street selling something, babysitting, or visiting. The tree that was once much smaller than I was, towers into the clouds. When I run, I don’t have to think about it; my feet run steady and sure. I still know all of the short cuts to Bishop Kelly and I still could probably play the Notre Dame them song on a clarinet. The blue turf of Boise State, a school I once wanted to flee, makes me obnoxiously proud to be a part of. My loss doesn’t fit here.

While Phil and I met at the Mountain Home Air Force Base Swimming Pool and fell in love in ID, it is only a part of who I am. There is only one other place like that for me—Colorado. In those two places, people know my story, and if I wanted to talk about my journey, they would listen, but it is more than that. It is the stories about once putting real estate signs all over my high school property (I didn’t know it was illegal) and crashing the phone lines. It is about a swimming pool that I lived at every summer. It is about the jobs, the people, and the memories. When I go to CO or ID, it is about connecting over memories, over shared friends, and over a lifetime of connections—not just one moment in time.

Yes, my story and journey are mine. Yes, there are moments that hurt like crazy, but those moments are never in telling my story. Those moments come in my own private Idaho. Those are the moments that I hold close to my heart until I am ready to purge them through writing. For those that know me really well, they recognize that they should be asking about what I am not saying because they know that once I write about something, I am done with whatever it is that was on my heart. I can come back to ID, my place, and I can go for days, weeks, and months and not tell my story because I am just Linda, Linda the Runner Girl. I like it that way.

Wanting to Be Touched

Wanting to Be Touched.