Do you know what my greatest fear is? Losing my service member.
There, I said it. Nine years into this conflict, I have finally admitted my greatest fear: that my husband would be killed in action. In the many years of authoring this column and hosting my show this is the one topic I just could not cover — till today. I spent 90 minutes with two amazing women: Army widows.
Deb Petty and LaNita Herlm opened their lives to me the week before Valentine’s Day to talk about their experience as the proud widows of two American Soldiers.
Deb is the proud widow of Capt. Christopher Petty, Army KIA (Killed in Action) Jan. 5, 2006, in Najaf, Iraq, by an IED. She is the mom to two boys, Oliver, now 7, and Owen, who was 10 weeks old when his father died.
LaNita is former active duty Army and the proud widow of SFC Bryant Herlm, Army KIA April 28, 2006, in Baghdad. LaNita and Herlm were in the midst of fertility treatment to start their family. They had no children at the time of his death.
These women gave the account of the day two uniformed officers knocked on their door and changed their lives forever. “We regret to inform you” How do I tell my children? How do I go on? The flurry of activity, the surreal emotions, the questions, the emotions.
These two “widsters,” as they call themselves, are very different. One has two children, the other none. One is an officer’s wife, the other enlisted. One chose to stay near their base, the other chose to move far away. They are connected by a shared tragedy, a shared journey. They shared the hard parts, and their transition to their “new life.”
The first year was a fog. The second year the fog begins to lift, and you start to look to building your “new life.” They talked about resources — CAO/CACO, Army TAPS, American Widow Project, Gold Star Wives and more — experiences, transition and support.
Deb attributes her two “angels” with giving her a reason for getting out of bed through that first year. Since then, she has written one children’s book, “A Soldier’s Star,” and two more are in the works.
LaNita turned her sights to a goal both she and Bryant had for her: to finish her degree. She completed not only a bachelor’s but a master’s in history.
Both found meaning and connection when they discovered the American Widow Project (www.americanwidowproject.org). This organization helped them connect with others experiencing the same loss. They found what they call “wise owls,” those widows a step ahead in facing their loss, in building their new life.
Both Deb and LaNita say you never “move on,” as moving on somehow infers “forgetting.” They say they “move forward.” They remember and honor their soldier, keeping him alive in their hearts as they build new lives without them.
My co-host Sara said, “I don’t want to think about losing my husband, but now I know if I do I will not be alone and I have others to look up to.”
Deb captured it all: “I am a military spouse, and as such, much is asked of us. It makes us strong — strong enough to face our fear and our loss.”