There was a time that I could not imagine being a widow. There was a time when I didn't know that widowed people come in all shapes and sizes. There was a time that I knew the dictionary definition of the word sacrifice, but I had no idea how that word fit into the widowhood experience.
Since I began leading an organization that creates a network of support for widowed people around the world I have learned a lot about things I didn't know. My own widowhood experience has opened my eyes to the searing pain that accompanies loss. Meeting other people who mourn the death of a spouse has taught me that grief does not discriminate, we all feel like our hearts have been torn out of our chest when we wake up in the morning to an empty spot where our spouse should be sleeping. Discussing the differences in the way other cultures grieve has highlighted the lack of rituals we have here in the US around death and dying. And hearing the stories of women and men who answered the door to two soldiers saying the words...we regret to inform you...has taught me the true meaning of the word sacrifice.
Anyone married to a soldier lives with the underlying fear that their spouse won't come home. Widowed military spouses live with the reality that their loved one isn't coming home for the rest of their lives. They stand up proudly when their hero is honored. They mount the flags that covered the casket of the person they love. These widowed people stand at the head of long lines of mourners accepting condolences from the United States government, and its many agents. Military families may never know exactly how their soldier died. Once a part of the military family, many find themselves a float since they are no longer allowed to live on base after their spouses die. Many are never able to see their loved ones body. Some are haunted by the stories they have heard, others by the ones they will never hear.
Every military widow I have met is a warrior themselves. They carry on the legacy of their husband or wife by marching forward into a life without them. Not only are our soldiers guaranteeing our freedom with courage and conviction, but so are the families who wait for them at home praying that there is no knock at their door.
So on this Memorial Day I bow my head in memory of the courageous souls who have been lost ensuring my freedom, and to the widowed military people I know who have taught me the meaning of the word sacrifice.