Starting Over: A New Bucket List for a New Day Dawning

Starting Over:  A New Bucket List for a New Day Dawning On 21 May 2016, I will be completing the last thing on my Bucket List by running the Great Wall of China Marathon.  Five years ago, my life l…

Source: Starting Over: A New Bucket List for a New Day Dawning

Starting Over: A New Bucket List for a New Day Dawning

Starting Over:  A New Bucket List for a New Day Dawning

On 21 May 2016, I will be completing the last thing on my Bucket List by running the Great Wall of China Marathon.  Five years ago, my life looked much different and many of my dreams were in progress or loomed large.  When Phil’s life ended and I could not find joy in anything and while the weekends and holidays caused only gut wrenching pain, I looked at the Bucket List I had created 9 years before.  That Bucket List became my way forward even when….even when there was no joy.  Even when looking ahead caused me enough pain to want to check out.  I simply could not give the assassin my hopes, dreams, or my life, too.  I chose to fight for life by pursuing every dream I had on that list, but five years later that list is one event from completion.  My life is not over and I am choosing to pursue thriving versus surviving.

To thrive, there has to be something to be excited about, look forward to, and something to pursue.  To thrive means looks ahead and dreaming beyond the life I had with Phil.  It is trusting myself that there is life left to live.  As I check off the last dream of my youth, I have spent time pondering and developing the plan—the second Bucket List.  My dreams are simpler for the most part, but no less of a dream.  While I may never complete this list, it isn’t about completion, but it is about pushing myself outside of my comfort zone to be happy, independent, and hopeful for every one of my days.

Starting Over:  A New Bucket List for a New Day Dawning


  1. The Festival of Lights/Lanterns in CO


  1. Take a weekend white water rafting trip



  1. Jump out of a plane and live to tell about it


  1. Find a chapter 2 –while I once got physically ill even considering this, I do recognize that I miss loving someone, being loved, and creating a life with someone. Where once it was impossible, I now recognize possibility.



  1. Write another book that tells more than my story. I want this book to tell our story and to weave in the research so that it can be used in a classroom.


  1. Run the Dublin Marathon and one in the Avignon region of France



  1. To sleep in one of those huts in Tahiti travel magazines


  1. Mediterranean  Cruise



  1.  See the Aurora Borealis—I want to see those Northern lights!
  2.  Have a house with a porch and a rocking chair


  1.  See Bruce Springsteen in concert


  1.  Run an ultra marathon


  1.  Have a tulip bed with blood red, white, and pink tulips only outside of my house


  1.  Take a horse drawn carriage ride


  1. Ride the Stratosville Rollercoaster in Las Vegas


  1. Share Venice and a gondola ride with someone I love. Yes, I know the water is really putrid and has sewage in it, but I want to go to Carnival and I want to wear the mask and take the gondola ride at night. I want to be serenaded under the stars.  Yeah, yeah, apparently I am turning into a romantic.


  1.  Get a dog again—a small dog named stinkerbelle would make my heart happy.


  1. Have all of my children married or happy with someone.


  1. Stay in a mountain cabin for a week with no electronics


  1. Snorkel/scuba dive the Great Coral Reef


  1.  Retire


  1.  See the warrior statues in China (and that isn’t happening in May)


  1.  Make a difference in someone’s life


  1.  Run the London Marathon with someone


  1. Learn to make a good key lime pie, Greek  food, risotto, polenta, and tamales.


  1.  Jet ski-I love water and I have never done jet skiing.


  1.  Learn to ball room dance and dance in the arms of someone I love


  1.  Complete another triathlon


  1.  Watch Boise State and USAFA play


  1.  Visit and explore Philadelphia, Chicago, Sante Fe, Montreal, Victoria, and Leavenworth  (WA)


  1. Fly fish once-I did this as a little girl with my dad. I wasn’t patient enough.  I would like to try it one more time.


  1. Go to a concert at Red Rocks in CO


  1. Make another house a home


  1. Be the reason someone is excited about the future


  1. Canoe trip complete with s’mores, cowboy/hobo dinner, and a cabin. I would say tent, but my body might not work afterwards.


These 35 things will take a long time to complete—if ever.  I can’t see how some of these things can happen, but it doesn’t matter.  It is another page in the way ahead.  I would like to think that I will live into my 90’s, but to do that, I need to really LIVE, thrive, and dream.  China is about finishing my hopes and dreams of the past and starting the hopes and dreams of what next– a full life lived with every ounce of my heart, soul, and body.

The One Year Memory of One of the Hardest Days and Part 2: Four Years Later and the Rest of the Story

One year. One year. It has been one year on the 27th since my life imploded. The trees were budding with promise, and the tulips, daffodils, and crocuses were popping up to usher in spring. …

Source: The One Year Memory of One of the Hardest Days and Part 2: Four Years Later and the Rest of the Story

The One Year Memory of One of the Hardest Days and Part 2: Four Years Later and the Rest of the Story



One year. One year. It has been one year on the 27th since my life imploded. The trees were budding with promise, and the tulips, daffodils, and crocuses were popping up to usher in spring. It is as if the world stood still as I stood in numb disbelief. It felt like my life had ended when I got the news of my husband’s assassination. The promise of spring was and is long gone. Miles and miles of frozen tundra stretch before me. I am rooted in inertia just below the surface as the rest of the world joyfully greets the dawning days of hope.

I was further along before April. I had begun to stretch through the frozen cracks in the soil and I had begun to feel the new life emerging from the frozen bulb hovering in darkness. As I sit on a plane flying towards my American soil, each time I close my eyes, all I see is the plane that landed in the dark of night at Dover AFB in Delaware. In the blackness of the ebony night, my heart and life ended as the flag covered box carrying my Phil was wheeled out and placed next to eight other flag covered boxes. In the darkness, Phil and eight others received a reunion nobody wanted. A reunion orchestrated in the dead of night. Happy reunions are public in nature and people want to see them. People, no body really, wants to see nine families bent, bowed, and broken. The anguished sobs that filled the lonely night could not have been tamed or fixed by the many important people who stood with us.

Where is the joy and laughter? Where is it now? I have become a true patriot who stands with her military family. My heart is awake and alive to the very life that I lived for 26 years as a military spouse and mother. In those 26 years, however, I just didn’t get it. I thought I did. Now, I feel it, I walk it, I live it. I recognize fear and a false sense of bravado. I see the pain in the rebellion and anger of my students. I finally understand the cost which is paid not only in death, but with the living who walk in fear, loss of brothers and sisters in the military family, and in the lengthy deployments. While I do not go about my life thinking that lightning is going to strike twice, I do know that it is possible. I will never be the same Pollyanna I once was. My tulip bulb has frozen and may be too damaged to blossom again.

I still feel like the broken girl who stood in numb disbelief as box seven was wheeled down the ramp. As the clacks and sounds filled the biting cold air, I heard only the broken sobs of one as her heart shattered into a million unfixable shards. One year has passed. Some say that I should move on and get over Phil. Others lament that I was lucky because few get what Phil and I had. It isn’t as if I haven’t had blessings this year. It isn’t as if I am unhappy where I am. I haven’t lost my faith, but this month, once my favorite, has reshattered the few shards of my heart that had come together.

Betrayal. That is a word I know too well. I am living in that hell of fire behind me, in front of me, and on either side of me. How does a person explain this to anyone? I live by the credo of the Air Force–Integrity first. I trusted Phil when he told me that he was going to be safe even as he prepared for the what ifs. I trusted Phil when he told me that he was practicing his language skills with a man that would one day look at the fear in my Phil’s eyes and shoot him time and time again. I trusted a man and had begun to take small steps forward. He blindsided me. I trusted a counselor who I thought was a friend. This counselor told all of my private secrets that I had shared verbally and she took my blogs and wrongly judged them to be an obsession with Phil.

How do I defend myself? I am broken this month, but I truly believe in a life beyond this life. I have been carried by so many. While initially I wore a mask, I began to feel some of those frequent smiles and I had begun to feel like I could find a measure of happiness in my life. Perhaps that was an illusion, but time will tell.

I miss Phil. I am lonelier than I ever thought possible. I miss the family we were. I miss the inside jokes, laughter, and the naivety that death like Phil’s could never happen to an Air Force language instructor. I miss living in Phil’s shadow and I miss falling into his arms when people were less than kind. I am alone and as the mean people seek to control me with words that do not help or with words that betray confidences, I feel just as broken as the broken body of my husband–or is it the heart that is broken and beyond repair?

Again, it will never be the same, but I had begun to believe and see some green shoots popping up. I had begun to feel hope, happiness, and a purpose in my breathing moments, but I do not understand the people who tell me that writing equals obsessing or that I should move on because it has been a year. I do not understand people who use me for their own agendas or as an option. Surely, I am worth more than the Linda who is now back on the frozen tundra. While I am no longer lying inert waiting for the icy tentacles to take my life, I am on my knees trying to stand. I ‘m trying to make sense of my life and I am trying to figure out who I can trust and believe in. I am trying, trying to find foothold and faith in myself and in my perceptions. I am so mired in the pain of betrayal that I do wish I could share it in the warmth of Phil’s arms, but I am falling to my faith. I write because all is well with my soul.

People have questioned why I chose to write about my journey. It has cost me for a brief time by distancing me from one of my children. Initially I wrote because I felt the nudgings of the Holy Spirit and I needed a way to express my pain. I have never been good at voicing my pain or need. By writing publicly, my life has been blessed by the many reaching hands of God. Friendships were moved beyond the realm of mask wearing into a genuine gift. I continued writing because hope and happiness sparked in the midst of my darkest hours.

I am a writer. While my public journey is over in large part, my writing is as important to me as my running. In both realms, I show my weakness, strength, and need. I let others in and I reach for others. I fall to my faith and I find hope floating like tiny rills of bubbles that burst through the most turbulent ocean waters. I am thankful that I did not fall to my normal mode of living–stoic silence. God answered my pleas with many reaching hands.

So, here I kneel. All I see is miles and miles of barren landscape. I am sucking in the frigid air that is searing my lungs. I can barely breathe. I miss Phil and I miss the life we shared. I would give anything to have that life back, but that is not going to happen. I was creating a life and moving on, but it is what has happened this month that totally broke me. I wonder if I will ever be normal or if people will ever see me as more than the sum of my loss–a loss hidden and shrouded in the deepest darkest hours of night. I wonder if I will ever be able to read people and trust completely again. I wonder if I will ever feel the green sprouts of hope again. I am on my knees hoping, ever hoping, for a world that sees my value and for a life that shines for Jesus even if I stand forever alone. I stand hopeful that I can learn to trust and believe in people again, but it is going to take me time and strength. I need more of that than I needed a week ago, but I do believe that the tulip will bloom blood red again and that my petals will wave with promise as the spring zephyrs compel me forward.


The Hardest Days


There are three dates that I will never forget because they are the darkest days I have ever breathed through.  The darkness pressed from within and from without.  I never saw those days coming. Those days were based on loss, betrayal, and nightmares.  I couldn’t see beyond that time and I never thought the day would come when even though these days hurt, I am also able to laugh at the memories and look forward to a life beyond today.  Seeing the memories of four years ago reminded me of how shattered I was; I hardly recognize that girl now. That first year was end and yet it was also the beginning of a girl I could never have seen.


April 27th, the day that Phil was killed, is one of those days.  People can immediately nod and understand how difficult that day was.  Phil’s death was unexpected, brutal, and very, very public.  It occurred far from home and changed every facet of my life.  In the military world, the widow or widower is given one year to figure out where they want to live.  While that is waiverable for up to three years, how would a non-military spouse know to ask for that?  The surviving spouse loses not only their spouse, but their community.  This community, a community they once fit into becomes a hostile foreign place at best.  People stop talking to the surviving spouse because they are the visible reminder as to what could happen to their spouses (one is unfriended on Facebook often), or the community doesn’t know what to say or they think that a surviving spouse’s moral compass has changed because s/he is suddenly single.  Gossip surrounds a surviving spouse at every turn.  People took bets on how long it would take me to date and remarry and they thought it was funny enough to tell me about it less than two weeks after my spouse was killed.  They all were wrong and they all thought it was a compliment to me to tell me that I was okay enough to have a life after Phil.


Imagine have spent one’s entire adult life as a spouse living in base housing, moving 13 times in 26 years, and having all of one’s children grown with most of them serving in the military.  I didn’t know where home was.  Home was a person and anywhere the military sent us.  I was too old to go live with my mama in Boise, ID—a place I hadn’t lived since 1979.  I was too young to go live with any of my children.  I certainly couldn’t go to WA state where we had planned to retire, so I ran….far, far away to Germany to teach.  In the process of running, I lost my support system and a job that I still miss.


The second unforgettable moment of total breaking was June 24th.  It was the day the autopsy pictures and photos came.  I am good in an emergency and injury and illness do not bother me except this one was my Phil and his body so broken.  I couldn’t comprehend the words, thus I looked at the photos.  Sometimes those images still creep into my nightmares.  I broke even more than I had on the 27th.  My heart hurt and I wept like I have never wept before or since then.  I couldn’t find a reason to live and I questioned why him and why not me.  He had so much to give and I was that quiet, shy girl in the shadows.  I have written about something amazing that happened that day—my modern day miracle that scared me enough to stop questioning God’s hand.


The last day of total brokenness came 25 April 2012, nearly one year after Phil’s death. I posted that memory earlier today.  I was tired, so very tired.  I felt betrayed by people I thought I could trust, the military, and even by Phil.  I felt far away from my children and I was constantly being put in a position with my school where I heard that I was just a teacher and that I was supposed to stop the generals and other visitors coming to out small base.  I couldn’t’ stop those visits and I needed those visits as I grappled with trusting the military, other people, myself, and I could go on.

On a day just before Phil left, I had heard a song, a very old song;  Billy, Don’t be a Hero.  I came home from my drive to run singing that song, “Philsie (Phils—now you all know that I am not adding an extra s sometimes), don’t be a hero.  Don’t be a fool with your life…”  Phil told me that I was being melodramatic because even the Air Force thought he was safe.  I wasn’t afforded the spouse’s deployed briefing and as a key spouse, surely I wouldn’t be the one needing that briefing.  Phil told me (as he laughed at me) that he would run and hide if an ugly situation ever came up.  He didn’t run and he didn’t hide and he paid very dearly.  People told me he was a hero, still tell me he was a hero, but I didn’t want or need a hero.  I just wanted him to make good on what he promised and what the Air Force all but guaranteed.  The Air Force was supposed to be safe because it is the country club branch after all. When AF deploys, it is for shorter times and to places that often include Holiday Inns.  As an officer who wore blues as an USAFA foreign language professor, he should have been safe.  It should have been okay to eat with a high ranking military officer from Afghanistan who had fought the Taliban for over 20 years..  Phil and this guy would practice their many languages—Phil spoke 10 languages, the assassin 9.  This vile monster knew all about his family and what killed me was that Phil had time to know his assassin and time to feel pain.  I felt so betrayed by our government, military, school, people who stopped being my friend because they didn’t know what to say, the Air Force Academy because we all struggled, and I felt betrayed by a man who insisted he had to go.  He didn’t; he volunteered.  Every letter and e-mail said the same thing, “Do what you have to do, but come home to me.”


As I grappled with my anger at the military, my school, Phil, I realized too that people saw me differently.  They didn’t see me as quiet and shy.  They saw me as broken.  On the 25th of April, someone who I had thought was a friend and who was a counselor betrayed my words both written and spoken in a very public forum.  Someone else who I had a strong connection to (we weren’t dating, but it was heading that way) betrayed me by telling me that I was not dateable because of how public my journey was.  I totally shut down.  That day led to 2.5 years of keeping people at bay.  Yes, I have friends, but the friends I have were not anybody that lived nearby.  I also stopped believing that I would ever be normal enough to be in a relationship.  I buried myself in school, volunteer work, and my job.  I was just too tired and unable to lose anymore.


At the five year mark, I can honestly say that I have let those walls down.  It took a lot of patience on the part of my friends and a certain male in my life.  I was too busy convincing myself that I was too broken, too unworthy, and too old to need anything but work, running, volunteer work.  The friends I have?  We all carry one another.  They simply see me as Linda.  Yes, I have a story, but so do I.  The man I am dating?  That one was harder.  I had shut my heart down because while I have been asked out often enough, nobody looked at me as just Linda.  They saw me as broken or a story.  Some saw me as a meal ticket or as someone attractive enough.  It took a friendship and a long dinner before I realized that this person was destined to be a great friend because he treated me normal.  He never walked around on egg shells—still doesn’t.  He doesn’t ask me to stop speaking or writing about my journey and we talk about it.  That is part of the conversation, but it isn’t something that comes up every time or for long amounts of time.  He simply lets me shine in this area and he isn’t intimidated by Phil’s story—my story.  He also gave me lots of time to let the walls down by offering the gift of friendship.  Through that gift, I have learned to trust not only him, but myself.  That trust has led to dreams that are not nightmares.


While those three days in 2011/2012 still linger, and while those days still knock me to my knees this week, they are only a part of the story.  I can see the way ahead.  I can see the girl I am becoming and I can see a life beyond my loss.  The very best gift I have been given are the people who have walked with me from the start loving me through the hardest moments and who rejoice with me now as the light pierced my darkness.  These friends never treated me differently, they just loved me and on those darkest days sent me sparkles, polka dots, cards, Kind Bars, socks, Starbucks, and more than that they offered a safe harbor from the crashing waves.  I love my tribe and I am so glad that you are my tribe.

Painful Markers

I am really hurting. Five years seems like such a long time and my life is nothing like I thought it would be.  This marker caused me to take pause because maybe it is a year thing and the five yea…

Source: Painful Markers

Painful Markers

I am really hurting. Five years seems like such a long time and my life is nothing like I thought it would be.  This marker caused me to take pause because maybe it is a year thing and the five year memorial ceremony on Wednesday or maybe it is because I finally allowed myself to feel something for someone else again.  Whatever the reason, I crashed this morning.  The simple fact is that I am not the girl I once was and I often wonder if Phil would even recognize or like me now.

Five years ago, I was just a quiet teacher content to live in her family’s shadow.  Each of my children and Phil had stars that shone so bright.  It was okay for me to be the quiet cheerleader and the girl so shy that she was not comfortable going into the teacher lounge.  Five years ago, I was a runner, but running was just running, not a place to meet someone I deeply care about or races I looked forward to.  I hid there, also.  I knew who I was as a wife, mother, teacher and I never questioned wanting more.  I looked forward to following…I did that well.  While I had feelings and while it wasn’t always easy to give up jobs I loved, cities I fit into, or a deal with a husband who had a calling to serve, to outwork everyone to prove his worth and to get promotions.  In fact, it was often lonely and difficult.  It feels disloyal even saying that which is part of the problem.

In the past five years, I have grown.  I know that Phil loved me well and that I loved him well until his very last breath.  That will never change.  Had he lived?  I would still be loving him well, but that is not an option.  Nothing is going to change the events of 27 April, but in the recognition of how much time has passed and the person I have changed into, I realize that Phil wouldn’t be comfortable with this Linda.  He was quiet, unassuming, and never liked attention.  He would have hated that I tell his story and that I share family secrets.  He liked that I never had meltdowns or that I wasn’t emotional.  I wear my feelings on my sleeve now and that isn’t always a good thing.

As a mother of five children and as a military spouse for 23 years, I was good at putting off what I wanted or even needed because I wanted to do it and I felt like I needed to do it.  Five years later, it is still strange to be able to spend money the way I want, eat and live the way I want, and to plan for a future that I still do not know what I want. I don’t even know what city any more.   All I know is that I liked knowing what the future held and now it most looms as nothing special.  It is strange knowing that with Phil’s death, I can take his social security at 60 or that I can retire at 62.  I never thought about it before, because the future was supposed to be when his military career ended in a house in Port Angeles, WA or Leavenworth, WA.  All of those plans with Phil seemed so far away, but they seemed attainable.  I don’t have plans anymore and that time seems so near.

Phil hated the thought of growing old.  He thought I was old when he was killed.  He never made that age.  Here I am—older still—and I find that there is still so much more that I want to do.  I am afraid—I have always been afraid, but five years later, I am tightly squeezing my eyes and leaping.  I am learning to trust myself and my heart.  I often used to talk myself out of anything I wanted or feelings that I felt. I run when I am scared.  I still want to run, but I have developed a strength that keeps me from it.

I hate markers because it makes me take a hard look at myself.  I can see that changes both in the lines that developed on my face and in the transparency of my heart.  I see the strength I never knew I had and I recognize that I no longer cower in fear. I recognize that I no longer wear masks very well and that I tell people and show people in my life that they matter.  I am not the quiet girl hiding in the corner any more.    I feel my heart growing in every area, but I wish I had a crystal ball.  I wish I knew where my life was going to take me.  I wish I knew if Phil would even like me if he knew me now.  I wish I had not been so stupid the last few days of his life.  I wish…I wish….that it had been me instead of him because he had so much more to give and he was the amazing one.


Challenging Myself to Live Beyond My Fears

Every year for April 27th, I issue a challenge to my friends to celebrate life.  This week will be the five year marker for the day that Phil’s life was taken from him in the most horrific manner p…

Source: Challenging Myself to Live Beyond My Fears

Challenging Myself to Live Beyond My Fears

Every year for April 27th, I issue a challenge to my friends to celebrate life.  This week will be the five year marker for the day that Phil’s life was taken from him in the most horrific manner possible.  The details are not important, but what is important is that I have learned just how short life can be and that waiting to live my life, live beyond my fears, and games with people are no longer gambles I take.  I live life even when I am terrified….even when I am broken…..even when I can’t see beyond the loss of every dream I had.  The hardest step is the first step, but I have taken a deep breath and confronted my fears.

Running the Boston Marathon as marathon 100 was me facing the demons of my nightmares.  I didn’t want to go back to that finish line and marathon 100 was never supposed to be that race anyway, but then we lost two airmen from our base and the chance to promote military loss awareness was given to me.  I took that leap of faith and I pushed past the physical pain and the soul searing agony of grief and fear to take back my finish line.  I didn’t feel very brave, but I was.  Courage doesn’t mean that the knees don’t shake, that the voice doesn’t quaver, and that I don’t want to hide deep in the safe harbor of the arms of the man I simply adore.  Yet, some battles are meant to be fought through alone.  The warrior’s sword can fall and the warrior can break, but staying down and retreating are an option that I refused to consider at any point in the past five years.  When I fall, I cry, but then I get back up with grimy tear streaked cheeks and skinned knees and I press on even though I cannot see the light.  I have found that it is okay to break and it is okay to be afraid because there are people that offer me a harbor, a hand, a hanky, and a friendly word and smile help me claw may way forward.

April will never be easy because there are so many markers and events that bring me to my knees, but this April something shifted.  It required me taking a leap of faith and trusting myself.  I haven’t done that in many, many years.  Instead of running away and hiding, I chose to toe the line and memories are being created that are starting to poke holes in the darkness.  With the leap of faith, I am making myself vulnerable in my dreams and hopes again, but that is the key.  For so long, I had no dreams and I had no hopes.  I just survived.  Perhaps the darkness can have some light and some good memories and some new dreams?  Perhaps it is okay to feel sorrow over what is gone and yet love what is starting to unfold?  Instead of running, I am standing on the line ready to start.

My challenge for the week of the worst day of my life is to find a word that describes personal growth, do something to celebrate life, and do something to live beyond your fears.  Please post a picture or tell me about what you have done.  I will be posting many memories this week—many of them are stark reminders of the cost of serving and the worst day of my life, but I can honestly say that from the ashes, a better Linda has emerged.  Phil is not forgotten, nor will he ever be, but I have a feeling that he would be darn proud of where I am right now and of what I opened my heart to.  The stark memories are there, but the choices I make to live life, confront my fears, and the choice to be vulnerable are the sparkles in the darkness—the promise of more to come.



Widow Lessons Learned

Widow Lessons Learned:  Nothing prepares a person for the loss of a spouse and time times not heal all wounds.  Granted, a person learns to live again, but like a scar, sometimes the wound aches. T…

Source: Widow Lessons Learned

Facing Heartbreak Hill

The Boston Marathon is going to be my 100th marathon on 18 April.  It was never supposed to be my 100th marathon because 100 marathons is usually a time where people come and celebrate the mileston…

Source: Facing Heartbreak Hill