Moving Past Guilt

Phil and I had a good marriage—more than good, but it was not perfect. As soon as Phil knew he was going to deploy and for the length of the deployment, he checked out.  He did the distracted sort of there, sort of not there communicating.  He would forget key days such as my birthday and even Christmas once.  It wounded my heart because I was the girl at home waiting and trying to be both mom and dad to our five children.  Because I hate conflict, I did what I always do; I shut down.  He withdrew because it was the only way he could get through the time away from the family.  In either case, those behaviors came back to crush my spirit when he was killed.


When Phil deployed for a year in 2011, I voiced my concern.  All of our children were out of the house and our dog had to be put down a few months before the day Phil left.  I was shy and unconnected to anyone outside of family.  Phil promised that this time would be different.  While he still refused to Skype, he did send me an e-mail every day and he called me three times a week.  It did feel like he was making an effort until Easter Sunday.


He called me on Easter Sunday and was surprised that I was at one of my student’s house.  He told me that he would call me on Monday or Tuesday.  Monday came and no call or e-mail.  Tuesday passed the same way.  Normally I would have reached out and tried to engage him, but this time, this ONE time, I decided to wait him out.  Yes, I was cranky and yes, I was playing a game.  Phil was killed 27 April 2011—Thursday in Afghanistan.  I was cranky and waiting for the white flag.  I chose to play a game and I lost.


When his planner came home in those black footlockers, it bore a testimony to what had happened.  Monday was meeting; Tuesday was convoy day.  Wednesday would have been meeting preparation for the big meeting—the meeting on Thursday.  Thursday’s planner had two things:  the meeting and call Linda.  The call Linda was circled over and over again.  In his planner were a bunch of unsent cards about missing his wife and a unmailed Mother’s Day card.  I CHOSE to play a game without knowing or realizing that there might be a cost.  Had Phil lived, we would have laughed about the days of quiet.  In death, there is no rectifying my feelings or behaviors.  I have written often about only wanting one minute to look at him eye to eye so he could see my heart, but in death there are no do-overs.  I simply cannot change that time and I know that had he lived, we would chuckle about this.


It is that simple.  Do I wish I had done things differently?  More than life itself, but I have learned.  I am no longer the girl I once was.  I wear my heart on my sleeve and I tell people what they mean to me.  I make time for those people who need me and who care about me.  Sometimes I am a little too transparent, but I have learned that I may never get the chance to tell another about their importance in my life.  Perhaps that is the key.  I let people in and I live my values.  I live the lessons I have learned through the shattering of my heart.  I have learned that there are no do-overs and that right or wrong, I write or speak my thoughts and feelings.  Never again (or as much as I am able to) am I going to play stupid games at the risk of standing at another grave wondering if the deceased loved one knew how sorry I was.  Never again.

Afraid Of Being Happy?

When Phil was killed, I cried a lot. I couldn’t keep it together. I hadn’t cried in 42 years, thus to be crying on airplanes, while running, and to wake up weeping was a discombobulating feeling. I had no control of my life and only by morphing into a numb waking state was I able to survive the implosion of my life. As time lapsed, I have found myself doing things I never thought I could do, but it wasn’t until recently that I recognized that while I was busy, crazy busy, I had lost the joy of day to day life. I no longer looked forward to anything and I approached life as a series of challenges to do or to overcome. I drew walls around my heart and figured that my days would be spent working, running, going to school, and, well…just surviving.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have friends; I did.  Many people supported me and still support me, but there was that layer that divided us.  I simply couldn’t allow myself to let loose, look ahead, and to be excited about life.  I felt like a spectator of my life at times because I simply couldn’t get off of the bench to join the game.  I wanted to jump in, but I was afraid at losing something–anything–more.

Somewhere this fall I realized that life was passing me by.  I don’t want to have eight degrees, hide in my house, or to live lonely.  I have avoided Christmas because Phil was due home on Christmas Eve, but by choosing to avoid the pain, I also avoided the new precious memories and fun my family might have.  I chose to celebrate Christmas this year.  My favorite memory was coming back into the house and hearing my children exchanging deployment stories, ribbing one another, and telling stories about their dad.  Nobody was feeling bad.  Nobody was making their dad a saint.  My children were just enjoying being a family again.  I nearly missed it because I was afraid to believe I could be happy and enjoy my life again.

With the steps forward have come some mighty big falls.  It was a terrible moment after Christmas.  I came home to a cold and empty house.  No laughter, no loud Jody’s being sung, no baby slobbers, and no hugs.  In that terrible moment, though, I realized exactly what my life would look like if I didn’t keep trying to take steps forward.  A step forward is still a step forward even if it is hard fought for.  Just as much as I love my job, travel, and running, I want a full life filled with laughter and love.  I may take some mighty hard falls, but I will get up and dust off my skinned knees and move forward one small step at a time into a life that is fully lived.


The Choice to Forgive the Unthinkable

The Choice to Forgive the Unthinkable.

Taking Back My Finish Line

Taking Back My Finish Line.



Happiness is a choice. It isn’t always easy to make that choice and certainly life is not always fair, but looking for the blessings and for the small things that spark contentment is easier that the energy it takes to endure a enduring pity party. The choice involves thought and intentionality because people innately fixate on what is going wrong, what is missing, or on what should or could be. When Phil was assassinated, early on I recognized how that if I didn’t have the energy to waste thinking about Phil’s assassin. I recognized that anger or wanting revenge would not bring Phil back, but it would in essence give Phil’s assassin my life, too. Perhaps it would have been different if I was sitting in a room with this man, but I made a choice to use my time, energy, and focus on honoring the man Phil was as a military officer, husband, and a father. He was about so much more than the way he was killed.


Like most people, I assumed a lot of things about my life. I thought I knew how my fifties were going to look, and this is not what I saw. The last of our five children had just left the house the year Phil deployed. Since he married me and became dad to Patrick, Josh, and Emily, we never had time without children. We were looking forward to traveling without children, building our dream house, and eventually retiring to WA state. I made assumptions about life in other ways, too. I assumed that if I prayed, and if everyone else prayed, that God would protect Phil from violence. I have had to come to grips with my assumptive world shattering. My thinking has shifted and I have come to recognize that bad things happen to really good people and that life isn’t always fair, thus I must not waste my life’s moments by living in the shadows, cowering, or wishing for what is not possible.


Shifting my paradigms to look at what I do have to be thankful for has been key. This gratitude starts with shifting my thinking from feeling cheated with Phil’s death to being thankful for the 23 years we did have together. On my dark days, I force myself to acknowledge three things that I am grateful for. This act is not easy and I have to really think about it on those days, but when I find those nuggets, it sparks something. Those sparks remind me of what I do have, what I have to get up for in the morning, and more than that, it gives me hope. 

The second act that I do on my dark days of my pity parties is that I consciously look for ways to do random acts of kindness or service to others. When my focus is off of me, I am able to act. In giving, my batteries are reset. My focus leaves me and becomes in a bigger world beyond me. I see pain in others and by reaching, we heal together. 

I also force myself to get outside. There is something in moving that brings me sparks of joy. I find myself centering and working through the tears. I run, listen to meaningful music, fall into my faith, and I come home and write those thoughts. Through those simple acts, I am able to purge the darkness most days. Make no mistake, it isn’t easy some days or even weeks, but in the conscious deciding that I cannot give up living because it would mean that the assassin got me too, I am able to act. Phil did not have a choice about his death, but I have a choice about how I want to live. I choose life always–that means I show up and live my life fighting for happiness and meaning.