About The Book…

As many of you may already know, a book has been written from my blogs. To be honest, I’m not really sure how to feel about it. It makes me nervous and somewhat scared, but I am also filled with hope, hope that it will help someone who needs it. The only thing I know for sure is that I’ve put it God’s hands and He is control.

I have a few things I’d like to address because inquiring minds will want to know. As I’ve said from the very beginning, I never started this writing journey for financial profit or personal gain. Well, I guess I should rephrase that. The only personal gain I’ve ever hoped for through writing is healing. When I first began writing, my days were ok, my nights were dark, lonely, sleepless, and the memories would haunt me. I needed to release them. I didn’t know how. So, I began writing them in a journal, but it was so much that my hand would get tired. So, I began typing it all. One day, I felt God moving me to create a blog. I didn’t understand why and I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to do so, but I did. It was very healing to me. I never expected that others would find healing in it as well. Many people suggested that I write a book. I was flattered that they believed I could be an author, but laughed at the idea and thought it was silly.

I was approached by Jared Laskey, the co-author of the book. We attended the same church and he and his wife are close friends of mine. He said Javi’s sacrifice and my journey of healing was something that meant a lot to him. He told me that he was proud of me and he felt that the entire story is a testimony of God’s power and goodness. He asked if I would be ok with him helping me turn all of the blogs and the story into a book. I wasn’t sure at first, but I agreed.

Jared was the perfect person to have helped me with this. He is a Marine combat veteran who has struggled with the injuries and memories of war. He has also experienced personal loss and grief. His experience and understanding in these areas gave him the compassion and respect that was needed to put it all together. While Jared did not serve with Javier in the same unit, they served in the same Marine Corps and fought the same war. This gave him a deep sense of honor for Javier’s ultimate sacrifice. Many times throughout this journey, he’s said to me, “I want you to know that this is sacred for me.” I believe him. Most importantly, Jared is a man of God. A non-believer could not ever help me tell my story because my faith and someone’s lack of faith would have been like oil and water on a project which is intended to honor Javier and show the world how real and good God is. Jared is also patient and understanding. Both of those qualities are necessary when working with a strong willed person like myself. I can not thank him enough for his help and dedication to this project.

Many of you may wonder what will be done with the proceeds of this book. I’ve thought a lot about this and prayed about it as well. I never began this journey for money. I’ve always wanted it to be a blessing in all aspects. Over the past five years my children have been blessed by many people, but two organizations have made the most impact on my kids, Snowball Express and A Soldier’s Child. I would like to donate the proceeds to these two organizations.

Snowball Express is the organization that gives the children of the fallen an all expenses paid trip to Texas. Flights, hotel accommodations, food, activities, EVERYTHING is paid for. And as if that wasn’t enough, they send them home with countless gifts. The volunteers love on my kids and their love is the most genuine love we’ve ever received from strangers. They leave me in awe, every year, and my kids leave filled with hope and encouragement.

A Soldier’s Child is an organization that sends birthday presents to the children of the fallen, every year, until they turn eighteen. My kids have been blessed every year by the birthday gifts that are sent to them. Every year, the gifts are wrapped in purple and gold which always reminds them of their papi’s Purple Heart. While the kids miss their dad every day, on their birthday they always miss him a little more because Javier always made a big deal out of their birthdays. Receiving birthday presents from a Soldier’s Child comforts the unspoken ache in their hearts. Those gifts remind them that their father made the ultimate sacrifice and while they are paying the ultimate price, they nor Javier are forgotten by a grateful nation.  The care that is taken into the packaging, wrapping, and the gifts themselves is amazing. My kids love opening the box. While the birthday gifts come from A Soldier’s Child, my kids believe they also sent from heaven because these gifts are the ones that their papi gives them.

It is only right that I pay it forward and donate the proceeds to these two organizations who have done and continue to do so much for my kids and thousands of children around the country who have also had to pay the ultimate price for freedom.

I truly hope that you will consider purchasing the book because I believe, with all of my heart, that it will be a blessing not only to you, but in the process, you will be a blessing to the children of America’s fallen heroes.

Thank you, ALL, so very much for your prayers and support. Without your support and prayers I wouldn’t be where I am today. Please remember that the end of the book is not the end of my story. God is not finished with me yet.


If you are interested, here is the book where the book can be purchased….


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2nd Platoon

It has been quite some time since I’ve written. There are times when I tell myself that I am done writing, that I’ve done and said enough. And then, something happens and my heart becomes overwhelmed with emotions and I don’t know how to make sense of any of it. Recently, a Marine that served in the same battalion as Javier took the time to write about him. He interviewed me. He interviewed my kids. He interviewed the Marines that were present on November 16, 2010. I knew that reading what he wrote would be extremely painful, but I had no idea that I would feel so broken and depressed afterward. I thought I would be able to read it, cry about it, and carry on. I was very wrong. I read it, cried my eyes out, and then gave up on life for about a week straight. I still can’t get some of it out of my head. The detail in which he described Javier’s death was extremely painful to read. A part of me feels mad that he wrote the story because it hurt me to the very core of my soul and then there is a bigger part that feels grateful that it was written because maybe through this story, Americans can get a sense of the price of freedom.

It shed a new light on the other side of Javi’s death. The side that nobody ever talks about. What his Marines experienced. And, now that I know, I have so much I want to say to every Marine that was there that day, but I am not strong enough to say it to them directly or individually. So, I will write about it, in hopes that whoever was there that day, whoever was affected by Javi’s death, will read this and know how grateful I am.

How do I begin? How do I find the words to thank the Marines who served with Javier? There are truly not enough words, in any language, to express my gratitude. How do I find the words to tell you how brave you are? What words could I ever say to you to express how sorry I am for everything you saw, experienced, but most of all for the pain it has caused you?

I knew that the day must have been really hard for all of you, but I guess somewhere in my mind I figured you either shut it out or maybe it didn’t affect you that much because he wasn’t a part of your immediate family. I saw each of you come back from that deployment and continue with your lives. You were reunited with wives, children, family members and friends. Some of you got married. Some of you had more children. Some of you got divorced and then got married again. Life seemed to go on, as usual. If I’m being really honest, when several members of the platoon gave me the pictures on your memory cards so that I could go through them and make sure that I have every picture of Javier that was taken while on deployment, I remember looking at the dates. I looked at the pictures you took from the November 15th. I looked at the pictures taken on November 16th. I looked at the pictures from November 17th.

I saw that on November 17th the platoon was gathered around with the locals. Some Marines were participating in a dance with them. It seemed as though it was business, as usual. I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t bitter. I wasn’t bothered by this. I knew you had no choice but to carry on. I knew you couldn’t and wouldn’t be given an opportunity to grieve or mourn, because there was a mission to accomplish. I was relieved that it appeared as though you weren’t affected too much by his death, because the pain that I felt was unbearable and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, much less any of you.

From November 16th until the day you returned, I wondered about you. I prayed that God would keep you safe. I prayed that you would come home safe and sound to your families. I prayed that you would speak to me and answer the questions that kept me up at nigh about that awful day.

As the days and months passed and your return got closer, I was torn. I was torn between being happy for you and your families and being completely heartbroken and jealous that Javier, our kids, and I were not getting the same homecoming. I wanted each of you to know how proud he was of you. I wanted each of you to know how much I appreciate you, but I didn’t want to taint your homecoming with sadness. I wanted you all to come off that bus and be happy and excited to be reunited with your loved ones without feeling the pain or guilt of seeing me and my kids.

When you returned, some of you helped me finalize the celebration of life for Javier. Some of you helped me move. Some of you helped me paint. Some of you baby sat the kids for me. Some of you would drop by our house to check in on me and the kids from time to time. Some of you were ready at a moment’s notice to help me and the kids, no questions asked. One of the most meaningful moments of my life was the evening when a group of you surrounded my kitchen island and we talked about that deployment. You told me stories I had never heard. You even briefly discussed that awful day that Javier died. I didn’t cry. I found comfort in your presence. I found relief in the fact that you had opened up. I admired every one of you for your strength, bravery, and heroism.

Thank you for honoring Javier’s ultimate sacrifice by choosing life. Thank you for the strength that you’ve shown, even in your struggles. While I can’t possibly begin to imagine what it must be like to live with the memories of that day, I am extremely proud of the way that you’ve all found a way to cope. You are all still here, and every one of your lives matters to me.

I’m so grateful for everything that you’ve done for me and for the support that you’ve been to me and my children. I also appreciate that you’ve found a way to accept my new relationship and be happy for me. However, none of that compares to the undying gratitude that I will always have for the way in which you honored Javier.

It was truly a display of complete excellence that in the midst of chaos, tragedy, and eminent danger, you all still chose to honor your platoon sergeant until the last possible second. While it may not register to everyone, I recognize that you didn’t throw his body over your shoulders. You didn’t leave his body exposed. You didn’t leave his body behind. You could have easily run back to the patrol base and come back with reinforcements, but you didn’t. You pulled out a stretcher. You covered his body to protect and preserve his dignity. You carried him for almost a mile. For those that were not on the patrol, I appreciate that you didn’t hesitate or worry about your safety. You put yourself aside and ran to meet your fellow Marines. You relieved them and finished carrying him into the patrol base. You took turns carrying the stretcher that his body was laid on while you waited for the helicopter to arrive. You never left his side. I appreciate that the sheet was raised. I appreciate that one of you gave him one final kiss. I appreciate that one final prayer was said over his body. Words fail me. I don’t even know how to express my gratitude.

While I appreciate every single one of you, equally, I must address one of you directly. Zack, if you ever read this, I want you to know that I’ve never wished to have been a part of that day, until I read what you went through on that helicopter ride. I wish, with all of my heart that I could take some or all of the pain and the weight of that day from you. You were the last to be alone with Javier. Thank you for the honor that you showed him by not taking your eyes off of him. Thank you for every second of that helicopter ride. Before you shared your experience, I would wonder. I wondered if he was alone, and the thought of him being alone on that helicopter broke my heart and hurt my soul. While I hate that you were injured, I am grateful that you were with him. And, I’m even more grateful that despite your injury, despite such a traumatic experience, your focus and concentration was completely dedicated to Javier. Lastly, I want you to know that while reading the accounts of that day broke my entire heart, and maybe even worse than receiving the news, the folded flag, and the 21 gun salute, one very important thing you did on that awful day, reminded me to get it together and not let my emotions defeat me. You refused a wheelchair. You got out of that helicopter and despite your injury, you WALKED alongside Javier until the very end. In the worst thirty minutes of your life, you embodied the Marine Corps core values…honor, courage, and commitment. You honored Javier by not leaving his side. It took courage to not close your eyes and keep them on him, and it took commitment to refuse the wheelchair and walk next to him until he was taken away. Thank you seems so inappropriate and insufficient to express the gratitude and appreciation that I feel in my heart for you.

Last, I would like to apologize to all of you for ever being naive enough to think that Javier’s death was something that you could stop thinking about, with time. Truth of the matter is, he was and is your family. He is your brother and I am so very sorry if I ever diminished your loss, pain, or struggles. I never meant to do so. I simply did not understand the magnitude and the affect that it had on you because you all have shown so much courage and strength. We both suffered a great loss, and while some may think that my loss was greater because he was my husband, I have come to understand that while my memories of that day are tragic, they will never compare to yours. I remember Javier’s smile. I remember every detail of his face. However, I am now painfully aware that when you think of him, your memory brings you back to tragedy and it is not easy to picture him as he once was. People tell me I’m strong, but the truth is that I am weak and you all are the only ones who have shown true strength in all of this. I can’t thank you enough for continuing to honor SSgt. Ortiz by choosing life, every day since November 16, 2010.

Your platoon sergeant said it best…

“I could not ask for a better group of guys. I am so proud of them.” SSgt. Ortiz, USMC



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A lot has happened since the last time I wrote. When I sit back and think about it all, I can’t help but be amazed by all that God has done in my life. As of today, it has been three years, eight months, and nine days since my husband, SSgt. Javier Ortiz Rivera, was killed in action, in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan.

“How am I really doing?” That’s a question I get asked a lot. I don’t think people mean anything bad by it. I choose to believe that people ask me how I’m “really” doing because they care. Over the course of almost four years, I’ve shared certain aspects of my life with people on Facebook and Instagram. I’ve been completely open about the events surrounding my husband’s death, and I’ve put all my feelings and emotions out there for the world to read about. So, I think it’s natural that those who have come to know of me and my story, have also come to care about me and my well being. So, I’d like to answer this question, in detail, not just to satisfy curiosity, but also because it is a testimony of the healing power of God.

As I sit here typing, thinking about how to answer this question, I can feel my baby moving inside of me. Yes! I am having a baby! Three years, eight months, and nine days ago, had someone told me that I would be having another baby, I would have been insulted. If I’m being completely honest, if someone had told me on November 16, 2010 that not only would I be having another baby, but I would be in love again, I would be insulted and enraged to the point of tears. My response probably would have been something like, “How dare you say that to me?! How could you ever even insinuate that my heart could love another man, much less have his child?! How disrespectful can you be?! Don’t ever speak to me again!” And it probably would have been followed by a push or a slap to the face of whoever said it. Its crazy how life turns out.

So, how am I “really” doing? Well, I am doing good. I am happy. There is joy in my heart. And, I can finally say all of that without an ounce of guilt. And being able to say I’m doing good without guilt is an absolute triumph for me. Yes, I have fallen in love again! Because this blog is public to anyone around the world, I will keep the details about him to a minimum, in order to respect his privacy. If you know him, you know that he’s caring, helpful, compassionate, patient, and extremely understanding. To be honest, I’ve asked myself a time or two how he puts up with me.  I can be difficult, set in my ways, strong willed and entirely too independent. All that, and then you add the fact that my heart will never let go of Javier, and it would make anyone wonder how or why he chooses to stick around. He has shown nothing but honor and respect for Javier, and he helps me keep Javier’s memory alive, everyday for the kids. He’s not perfect, but he is exactly what the kids and I need. I love him. My kids love him. I know that he loves us.

Having said all that, I’m sure more questions are brought to a lot of people’s minds. “Do you still love Javier?” “Do you ever feel torn between Javier and the new guy?” “Do you feel guilty for moving on?” “How do you think Javier would feel about it?” “Do you still miss Javi?” “Do you still cry over Javi’s death?” These are all very valid questions, and quite honestly I used to ask myself these same questions before my heart was ready to love again. While I know that I don’t owe anyone any explanations, I would like to answer these questions because someone, somewhere along the way, opened their heart and answered these same questions for me. It helped me. I’d like to do the same for someone else.

Yes, I still love Javier, and yes, I still miss him. I will always love him and miss him. How is it possible to love two men? Well, the best way I can explain it is like this: when you have your first child, you are completely in love with that child. You can’t possibly imagine loving another child as much as this one. Then, when your second child is born, you are completely in love with that child too. You don’t love the first child any less, but you love the second one equally. Your heart expands to hold more love. And, over the course of time, you realize that each child is different. So, you love them equally, but differently.  I know that a mother’s love can’t be compared to any other type of love, but that is the best way I could explain it. My heart expanded to hold more love.

Do I ever feel torn between Javi and the new guy? No, I do not. There’s a few reasons why I don’t feel torn. Some of those reasons are because I feel I allowed myself time to grieve. I let myself feel the sorrow and despair. I gave myself time to be angry and heart broken. In the depths of my brokeness, I did make mistakes, but I did not give pieces of my heart away to this guy and the next in hopes of filling the void. I always remembered what my pastor says, “Two broken people do not make a whole. Two broken people only make a pile of brokeness.” That piece of advice pushed me to make sure that I was whole again before attempting to be with anyone else. I knew that part of being whole again would be finding peace with Javi’s death. I had to accept it and every unfair circumstance that comes along with Javi’s death. The biggest reason why I don’t feel torn between Javi and the new guy is because, the new guy doesn’t make me feel like I have to choose. He doesn’t compete with Javi. He doesn’t try to be like Javi. He doesn’t try to replace Javi. He accepts that Javi will always hold a place in my heart and in our lives and he respects that.

No, I do not feel guilty for moving on. Although, I would like to point out that I don’t like the term moving on. I prefer to call it moving forward. I don’t feel guilty for a lot of the same reasons that I’ve already mentioned, but also because Javi’s death was tragic, heart breaking, and life shattering, but it was not a death sentence. As awful as this will sound, I don’t know how else to say it, other than to just say it…Javi died, not me. And even then, he didn’t truly die. His physical body died, but his spirit lives on in heaven, and he is rejoicing and happier than ever. So, just like Javi’s spirit has the right to live on happily in heaven, I have the right to pursue happiness for the remainder of my life on earth. I do not feel guilty. For two years after Javi’s death I watched everyone around me continue on with life. I watched people who knew and loved Javi get married, have children, move away, get new jobs, graduate, buy new houses, some even got divorced, but all continued with life. I’m not saying it was easy or that they didn’t think about Javi and miss him all along the way, and I’m definitely not saying that they stopped loving him or will ever stop loving him, but they did continue with life. I had to do the same. The biggest reason why I don’t feel guilty is because I know Javi would want me to be happy again. Which pretty much answers the question of how I think Javi would feel about me moving forward. Javier loved me. He wanted the best for me and his kids. He wanted me to be happy. That love that he had for me and the kids was so big that there is not a doubt in my mind that he  looks down from heaven smiling at the fact that we are happy. Not only is he happy, Javi had a grateful heart. So, I know that he is grateful to the man who has accepted his wife and kids and all the baggage that comes with us. He is grateful for this man’s patience, because only Javi knew how difficult I can truly be. He’s grateful that this man has taught his son how to ride a bike, and that he’s taught his daughter that a man should open doors for her, and that he listens as his older son pours his heart about how much he misses his Papi. He’s grateful that this man has opened up his heart not only to me, his kids, but also to him. The new man in my life has opened his heart to let Javi in. He honors and remembers with us. He keeps Javi’s memory alive with us. If you knew Javi at all, you know that Javi is happy for us. More than anything, he is grateful.

Last but not least, yes, I still cry for Javi. Yes, I still have moments when my heart asks my mind if it all really happened. Yes, birthdays, holidays, and every day in between, my heart still feels a void and an ache for Javi, an ache that will probably never go away. And, that’s ok. I would rather live with an ache in my heart, for the rest of my life, than to forget Javi or his sacrifice. Javier Orlando Ortiz Rivera is forever a part of my heart and mind. I will always love him. Pain is the price I pay for love. I’m ok with that.

Three years, eight months, and nine days, ago I wasn’t sure what was going to happen to me or how I was going to survive without Javier. I was completely lost and broken on the inside. God is the only answer I can give those who wonder how I’ve made it this far. God’s grace was sufficient to cover every mistake. When my strength ran out, God’s strength carried me. God’s love filled the gaping hole and void that was left in my heart, and God has given me peace, a peace that surpasses all understanding.

There’s so much of my story still left to tell, but for now, I’ll leave you with this: I am doing really good…really!

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The Anger Sets In

My name is Veronica Ortiz Rivera, and with my last name of Ortiz Rivera, comes a lot of love and pride, but also a never ending heartache. I am the widow of Marine SSgt. Javier Ortiz Rivera. He was killed in Afghanistan on November 16, 2010. As I sit here and type, I think about my life and everything that’s happened since his death. A part of me feels it was easier to tell you about the events surrounding his death, because I could describe to you the facts and share the details of my emotions. I’ve written about the knock on the door, receiving his body, his funeral, and his burial, and now it’s time to let you see how much my husband’s death truly broke me. I won’t lie, there’s a part of me that doesn’t want anyone to know because, well, that’s private information. It’s not easy to admit how low of a low I really reached, but I can’t just share the parts of the story that make me sound strong and dignified, that would be selling God short. So, I will do my best to share with you exactly how it is that I’ve been able pick up the pieces of my broken self, my broken heart, and my shattered life, and get to where I am today. Please bear with me, it’s not easy describing so much heartache and brokeness in one blog entry. It will take several entries to describe the depth of my sadness, anger, and pain.

As I said before, I returned to Camp Lejeune on December 3, 2010 from Javier’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery. I was a mixture of emotions and returning to Camp Lejeune was extremely difficult. We lived on base housing. I was surrounded by Marine families, all of whom were still complete. I was living on base, but my Marine was gone, forever. I felt out of place, but at the same time, I felt comfort in being on base. I felt envious of every wife that still had her husband, but at the same time, I didn’t want to be around wives that were not married to a Marine. I felt out of place, but I also felt at home. I was confused. I didn’t know where I belonged anymore. I didn’t feel I belonged in the civilian world, but I wasn’t sure that I belonged in the Marine Corps world anymore, either. I lost my husband and my life style in the blink of an eye.

I am blessed to say that I did not return home alone. Javier’s cousin, Lourdes, came back with me. Having her with me was a huge help. She’s funny, sarcastic, and a lot of fun to be around. In those first few days back, she kept me busy. She did all she could to make me laugh, to occupy my time, and to keep me distracted. My best friend Eta, was also a huge help. Looking back, I can honestly say that the first few days I chose to live in denial. Yes, my mind knew what my new reality was, but my heart refused to accept it. In the moments when my heart would have a momentary reality check and the pain felt unbearable, I began to sleep the pain away. If the heartache became to much, I would tell myself to take a nap so that I didn’t have to feel anything. When I woke up, I would feel better. Sleep became an escape for me, but it was also a double edged sword.

Sleeping my days away, meant that I had a hard time sleeping at night. When night time came I would lay in bed and think about everything. I would also lay in the dark looking through Facebook on my phone. I read everyone’s statuses and looking at everyone’s pictures, and quite honestly, my heart would fill with anger. Life just went on for everyone else, while mine seemed to have come to a standstill. Although I did my absolute best to put on a strong front and not show the world my anger, it did make me mad to see these statuses, especially from the wives of the Marines from Javier’s platoon. I was jealous and envious of them. I had never experienced or felt a jealousy quite like the one I felt every time I saw them post about their husbands. I can honestly say that not one time did I ever wish that it had been one of their husbands and not mine, but I did wish my husband hadn’t died and that I could still live each day with the hope of being reunited with mine. Every night, as I laid in bed, I felt hopeless, defeated, and lost. The glass always seemed to be half empty at night. Instead of being thankful that I was able to make it through another day, I went to bed drained, exhausted, and dreading the light of the next day. I was tired of the heartache. Three weeks had now gone by since I’d heard my husband’s voice, and I felt like I was going through Javier withdrawals. I would play the voice mail message he left me over and over again, just to hear him call me baby and say he loves me. I would watch videos of him over and over just to hear his voice and see him moving and alive. I became desperate for any and all pictures of him. I became desperate for any stories about him. I would ask people to send me any pictures they had of him and when they didn’t send them to me fast enough, I would become annoyed and frustrated. I would hold onto every piece of Javi for dear life.

I did a pretty good job of keeping my anger private, but I was angry for more than one reason. I was angry because Javi was killed. I was angry because I hated my life without him. I was angry because the way he died left me no choice but to take the military’s word for it that he had really died. I was angry because I did not open the casket and make sure for myself. I regretted not doing so with every ounce of my heart and soul. I would tell myself that because I never saw it for myself, it couldn’t be. It had to be an awful mistake. And then my mind would tell my heart that it was true and I became angry for listening to my brother in law and Javi’s Marine friends who told me that I shouldn’t open the casket, that I should remember Javi alive, not dead. Who the hell were they? They didn’t know what was best for me. I am his wife, I could have opened it. I had every right. I could have given him one last kiss. I could have, but I didn’t. I became angry with myself for being such a coward and not fighting the decision that was made for me. I was angry with myself for being too cowardly and weak to put my big girl panties on and just open the casket and look inside. I became angry with the Taliban for killing him. My heart would fill with anger and disappointment and heartache. I would cry silent tears. Tears of anger, pain, and sadness would fall from my eyes every night until I fell asleep. And every night, I would fall asleep hating the Taliban, hating Afghanistan, hating Javi’s death, and hating my life.

While I’m admitting what made me so angry about Javi’s death, I’ll go ahead and admit that it made me extremely angry that all of a sudden everyone seemed to know and love Javi. Everyone wanted a piece of him. Everyone wanted to be my friend on Facebook. All of a sudden everyone knew us. All of a sudden everyone cared. Why did my husband have to die in order for people to recognize the hero that he was? Death didn’t make him a hero. He was a hero long before. He was a hero for every deployment he endured prior to his death and for every single second he served our country. He was a hero for the amazing husband and father that he was. He was a hero the minute he decided to lead me and the kids on a Godly path. He was a hero for every smile and laughter he brought to my life. He was a hero! Why had it taken so long for the world to recognize him as such?! Where were all these people that claimed to care when he was deployed?! A lot of them knew he was deployed and never reached out to ask how he was doing or offer to send him a care package. NO! I was the one who stood by his side. I was the one who endured the long work hours, the field, training ops, and deployments. I was the one taking care of his kids by myself, sending care packages, holding down the fort while he was gone. I was the one who put my feelings aside and no matter what, swallowed my fears and my tears, and never let him sense weakness. When he called, everything was fine. I reassured him and gave him peace that the kids were ok, and so was I. If I was tired from the day to day struggles of being alone and hating the deployment, I sucked it up and made sure that he never got off the phone feeling like I couldn’t handle it. I was the one who stood by his side through good and bad, and now, I had to share him with the world? Now he was everybody’s hero?! I desperately wanted to tell a lot of people to “kick rocks”. I wanted to scream and yell and tell a person or two to never speak his name again, because if they couldn’t respect him in life, it was too late to start now. I wanted to punch every person in the face that pretended as though they were great friends with him, when in reality they barely knew him. While I appreciated the well wishes, condolences, and prayers, it made me angry to have to share my husband with the world. He was my hero, had been MY hero for years. More than anything or anyone, he was my kid’s hero, had been their hero all of their lives. He was the only hero they knew. I wanted our life to go back to it being just him, me, and the kids. I had a hard time adjusting to the idea that Javier was now an American hero and with that status came the obligation of sharing him with the world and appreciating the recognition he was given. It also meant, learning how to accept and receive all of the support I was being offered. That was hard for me. For so many years, it had just been me and Javi depending on each other, with no help from anyone else. It made me angry to have to ask other people for help. I didn’t want their help. I wanted my husband’s help! I wanted my husband back. I didn’t want him to be an American hero because I didn’t want to be a widow.

An equal amount of anger and sadness was consuming me in those first few days. I didn’t know what to do with so much anger and heartache. I didn’t want anyone to visit me because I wasn’t sure if I would break down crying or cursing. I didn’t want to talk to anyone who I felt would make it ok for me to be weak. I didn’t want to speak to anyone who I felt didn’t understand. So, only a few select people were allowed to come visit me. I only had phone conversations with a select few. I ignored phone calls, text messages, and Facebook messages. I only allowed Eta and Joann to come check on us. I only answered phone calls from my sister and Javi’s brother and sister. I put on a strong front for everyone else on Facebook.Facebook became my window to the outside world and everyone’s window into mine.I would post a status here and there to reassure everyone that I was ok, but even that made me mad. While I can honestly say that I was sincere with what I posted, it did make me angry to feel like I had to reassure and make everyone else comfortable.

Anger is an ugly, ugly thing. When you allow yourself to be mad about one thing, you find a million other reasons to be mad. I’ll never forget when one of the wives from Javi’s unit called me. She wanted to know how I was doing and if there was anything she could do for me. She meant well, I know she did, but I was angry. So, when she asked me how I was doing, I said “My husband just died, how the hell do you think I’m doing?” When she said she was very sorry for my loss, I replied with, “Right.” And when she asked me if there was anything they could do for me, I said, “No. I don’t want your help. Oh wait, there is one thing you can do for me, tell the Family Readiness Officer he sucks!” I hung up the phone and didn’t even feel bad about being so rude. That’s when I realized that I was starting to feel entitled to live in anger. I didn’t want to be angry. I didn’t want to be rude. I didn’t want to live like this.

I was trying my absolute best to stay strong, smile when needed, reassure everyone, not give anyone reason to worry, continue with life for the sake of the kids, and hide my anger. I didn’t know how to do it all. How would I get past the anger, how would I continue living, not even a week had gone by since returning from Arlington and already I felt too overwhelmed to deal with anyone or anything. I wanted to give up on life, but Lourdes, Eta, and Joann did not let me. They stood by my side and listened to my fits of anger, my inappropriate comments, and helped me with my kids while I slept my pain away.

Yes, it is safe to conclude that in those first few days of living and facing a new reality, I was bitter, I was angry, and I was completely useless to myself and my children. I hated life. I didn’t think I could possibly hold more anger or more heartache, but I was wrong. The Casualty Assistance Officer called me to tell me he had some stuff that was recovered from Javier’s body, and he would be bringing them to me. That was when I was reminded, yet again, that just because Javier had been buried, that didn’t mean that the process was over. There was still a lot to face, and that made me angry all over again, especially with God…

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The First Day Of The Rest Of My Life

My husband was killed in Afghanistan, on November 16, 2010. Within hours of his death my doorbell rang and three men in uniform were at my doorstep to give me the tragic news. For the next seventeen days, my life became a whirlwind of events. In seventeen days, I traveled to four states, attended a dignified transfer, a memorial service, a funeral, and a burial. These were all public events, but it was now December 3, 2010 and the day after Javier’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery. The public events were over now and the real struggle was about to begin. To be honest, I didn’t want these events to end because I didn’t want to have to return home and face the reality of my new life. However, I had no choice. I had to go back home to Camp Lejeune and start picking up the pieces of my shattered life and broken heart. I had no idea how to do that or where to even begin. I felt angry. I was very scared. I hated my life.

Although I had been through seventeen days of pure hell and reality had slapped me in the face at every turn, it still seemed too hard to believe that Javi was dead. It seemed surreal. On the drive back home, I kept thinking about everything and I couldn’t believe that it had all really happened. It’s very hard to explain. I knew Javi had died, but the thought of it did not fit inside my heart or mind. Yet at the same time, the reality was all too real in my heart and mind and the heartache was overwhelming. It makes no sense, but i was equally in shock and disbelief as I was in heartache. A paralyzing fear would take over me when I thought about it all.

I was scared. How would I face the rest of my life? What would become of me and the kids? How would we ever be able to live life without Javi? Would I be able to gather the strength, the wisdom, and the courage to raise my kids as a single parent? My heart was beginning to feel the giant hole that Javi’s death had left in our lives. No matter how scared of reality I was, it was time to go home. I felt like going home from Arlington would be the first day of the rest of my life. I had no choice but to face it.

We lived on base housing, so when we arrived at Camp Lejeune, the very first thing I saw as we entered the base were welcome home signs, and those welcome home signs were not put up for me and the kids. Those signs were put up for Marines returning from Afghanistan. The wives paint welcome home signs for their Marines upon their return from deployment and hang them all along the gate leading to the entrance of Camp Lejeune. Looking at those signs made me angry. It felt like those wives were rubbing it in my face. I wanted to get out of the car and rip them all down. Every welcome home sign that I saw felt like a bullet to the heart. I didn’t want to be jealous, but I couldn’t help it. I was very envious of every wife that would run into her husbands arms as he got off of the bus. I couldn’t help but compare that to the homecoming I had been forced to endure when my husband’s body was returned to me in a flag draped box. My heart filled with anger at the comparison. I wanted to scream. I wanted to rip every one of those welcome home signs down and go knock on the door of every wife who had had the privilege of hanging one and say to her, “You heartless bitch! They don’t all come home alive! My husband didn’t! Is it necessary to rub it in my face that you will run into your husbands arms, while I will never even hug my husband again?!” But instead, I sat silently and swallowed my anger, my disappointment, and my pain.

As we drove into the base, I saw Marines standing guard at the gate. I saw Marines driving. I saw Marines walking into buildings. I saw Marines carrying on with everyday life. I thought to myself, “Wow, the Marine Corps keeps on going. Javi’s death did not affect the Marine Corps at all. Do they not care that Javi died? Do they even know that he died? I thought this was supposed to be a brotherhood? How can they all just keep on going when one of their own is gone forever?” I felt angry to think that life just kept on going for everyone else. Truth be told, I was jealous that all these Marines and their families were living their lives and carrying on with business as usual while my family had been destroyed by war. We drove a little bit further and we entered the housing area. I saw kids playing outside. I saw wives outside of their houses and fathers in their uniform coming home from work. Life seemed idyllic for all of them. I felt an awful pain in my heart. Why had mine and my children’s life been shattered? Why us? I just didn’t understand why life had been so unfair to us. Again, I sat silently as we drove and I swallowed my anger, my disappointment, and my pain.

We pulled into my drive way, and to my surprise, there was balloons and a welcome home sign hanging on my porch, just for us. I instantly felt incredibly guilty for thinking such hateful thoughts about the welcome home signs on the gate. When I walked into my house, my friends were waiting for me. Joann greeted me with a smile. I couldn’t help but smile back. And to my complete surprise my house had been cleaned by some of the ladies from the church. It was spotless! The kids each had a gift basket waiting for them on their beds, also from the church. My friend, Eta arrived with dinner for us. I was happy to see her. We all talked for a long while about everything that had happened. I told them about my trip to New York. I retold the facts, but I didn’t talk about my feelings. I didn’t even know how to put my feelings into words. Eta and Joann listened and although they didn’t know what to say, they did their best to be supportive. I felt extremely blessed to have their support and their friendship.

That night, was the first night that I had been home since everything had happened. I remember looking around my house and it looked just as it did before Javi died. I remember looking at my dining room and picturing the men in uniform telling me that Javi was dead. I looked at my stairs and tried to picture myself distraught and crying. I couldn’t believe that this house, the house that Javier, the kids, and I had made a home, the place that once held so much love and laughter, was now the place where I received the worst news of my life. I looked around at all the walls and thought to myself, “If walls could talk…” and in that moment it hit me. I realized that we lived on base housing, therefore, I would have to move soon and leave this house that Javi and I made a home. This home was the last home Javi lived in. Every room held memories of him. How would I find the strength to leave this home and our last memories of Javi behind. It was too painful to even think about. It made me sad and mad to think about it. In that moment, I realized something else, just because Javi had been laid to rest, it did not mean that the process was over for me and the kids. We still had a lot to face, a lot to overcome. The thought of it made me feel hopeless and defeated. I asked myself how much more heartache I could endure. I wondered how much heartache a human being could endure before it killed them and they died of a broken heart. I was sure that this would be my fate.

When I went to bed, I looked at my cell phone on my night stand. It would never ring with a call from Javi ever again. It would never receive a text message from Javi either. I looked over to Javi’s side of the bed and I thought about the fact that he would never sleep there again. He would never hog up the blanket again. I would never tell him to scoot over again. I would never again hear him talk in his sleep or feel him twitch as he drifted off into deep sleep. I would never fall asleep to the sound of his heart beat…Javi had no heart beat anymore. I would never again tell him to quit breathing on me…Javi had already taken his last breath. I would never again say good night or good morning to him. Tears began to roll down my face. Why had I taken all of those things for granted? I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs and let the world know just how much my heart hurt, how much I hated my circumstances, and how much I wanted to give up. I wanted to die with him. Death truly seemed like a better option. For a split second, I began to contemplate suicide. I told myself that if I just took a bunch of sleeping pills and never woke up, it wouldn’t be so bad. I forced myself to push those thoughts out of my mind. As I laid there crying and hating life, I began to pray. I asked God to give me a reason to want to live. Before I could even finish my prayer, my baby, Anthony, walked into my room and said, “I sleep with you, Mommy?” God heard my cries. It didn’t matter how much I hated life or how much my heart hurt, God reminded me that I had three reasons to keep living. One of them was standing in front of me asking to sleep with me. I picked Anthony up and laid him in the bed with me. I hugged him really tight and choked back tears. Although he was only three at the time, Anthony could sense my sadness and my tears. He wiped my tears with his little hand just like his daddy used to do and said, “Don’t cwy, Mommy. It’s gonna be ok.” How could it be that Anthony did and said exactly what Javi used to say and do when he saw me crying?! It was then that I realized that Javi left me pieces of himself in our children. The kids not only gave me a reason to live, they would also keep Javi’s memory alive for me.

That night was the first time since becoming a mother that I felt like I was beginning to understand why God had blessed me with three kids. God knew my future. He knew that I would need a reason to keep going. He knew I would need a reason to stay strong and a reason to keep loving and living. God knew that Alyssa, Andrew and Anthony would be the only three people on the face of the earth that could convince me not to give up on life. Alyssa, Andrew, and Anthony were the only reason I chose not to give up and take my own life. They needed me. I was the only parent they had left. To leave them would be extremely selfish and inconsiderate of me. I had no choice but to keep on going, for their sake. I made a decision that night. I chose life. I chose not to lay down and die with Javi, emotionally or mentally. I had no clue how to carry out or live out that choice in actions, but I was willing to try and figure it out.

December 3, 2010 was the first day of the rest of my life and it was far from easy. I was slapped with more doses of reality and with every dose my heart felt more and more broken, but I survived it. God heard my cries and reminded me of what I had left to live for. I had survived the previous seventeen days, and the first day of the rest of my life, but how would I survive every day after this when there was still so much to face and so much to overcome?

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Two Years Later

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a new blog. I will be honest, it’s been hard to write about the weeks and months after my husband’s death. I just don’t know how to put into words or how to describe how broken I truly was. If I’m being completely honest, I’m a little embarrassed at some of it. I mean, do I really want to be honest with the world and let everyone know that I am not as strong as everyone thinks? There’s this part of me that just wants to let everyone keep believing that I’m “strong, amazing…an inspiration”. I’ve told myself over and over that I’ve given God all the credit for any amount of strength and grace I showed during those awful, tragic, and very public events. I’ve done what He asked of me. I’m finished. However, there was this voice telling me, “No Veronica, you’re not finished. Not yet.” I tried to ignore it. Just today, as I was in the shower, thinking about life (I do all of my thinking in the shower) I made a decision that I wasn’t going to write anymore, but tonight, an eighth grade girl had the faith and the courage to remind me that God is not finished with me, and it is His will for me to continue to share my journey of healing. I will not sell God short. Obedience brings forth blessings. So, here I go….

In order for everyone to grasp how broken Javier’s death left me, and in order for everyone to truly grasp how far God has carried me, I am not going to pick up where I last wrote. Instead, we’re going to fast forward two years and two months, to today. I’m going to tell you how I’m doing now.

Two years later, I still cry. My heart still has moments when I can’t believe it. I still think about him every single day, countless times a day. I still miss him. I still long for a miracle, a miracle that tells me this was all a mistake. I still want him back. Two years later, milestones, accomplishments, holidays, and birthdays are no longer pure happiness or joy because they have now become bittersweet. Two years later, his absence is still felt, and my heart has a hole in it that nobody but Javi could ever fill. However, two years later, I can finally say that despite all of that, I’m doing good, and mean it. I can say that I’m doing good without feeling guilty. I can say that I’m doing good without fear of being judged.

They say that time heals all wounds. Well, I’m here to tell you that I hate that quote, and it is the biggest lie I’ve ever been told. Time does not heal all wounds. However, I will say that time is a gift, and it is not time that heals your wounds, it is what you do with time that helps you heal. I will also say that over the past two years I’ve come to learn (and accept) that there are certain heartaches that will never fully go away. This is one of them. So, let me say this about what time has done for me. Time, is a gift that I am so very grateful for. Time has taught me how to live with the pain. Time has taught me how to cope. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about Javi or miss him. That will never change. What has changed is that I don’t dwell in the sadness anymore. I allow myself the moment, but I have learned and trained myself to keep going with my day. I don’t get comfortable and make myself a home in sorrow anymore. A painful memory, the emptiness I feel in my heart, and missing Javi don’t keep me in bed anymore. I carry the heartache with me, everyday, but it doesn’t control me anymore, I control it. Time has taught me how to live with the pain and the hole in my heart.

Two years later, I have found a certain degree of acceptance with this. While I will never understand the why, I’ve come to accept that some things are not meant to be understood, and it is not my place to question God. I’ve come to fully accept that God did not take Javi from us, but he certainly received him into heaven with open arms. The devil did this, and for whatever reason God allowed it to happen, I accept that it is not my place to try and figure out why.

Two years later, I am content with my life. That’s not to say that I like the idea of being a widow or a single mother. I get very lonely sometimes, and it is very hard and extremely overwhelming to raise three kids by myself, but I have found a way to make the best of it. The kids and I travel quite often. We are spontaneous. We eat cereal for dinner sometimes, and we like it. I have even come to enjoy my freedom and independence. I hang out with my girlfriends and laugh until my side hurts. Life is not perfect, and the hurt still runs very deep, but we are coping.

Two years later, I still sleep on my side of the bed. His side of the bed is untouched and empty, but emptiness doesn’t consume my heart every night anymore. Two years later, his tooth brush is still in the cup on my bathroom sink. His bath sponge is still hanging in my shower. His clothes is still hanging in my closet. While that may sound crazy to some, it’s become completely normal for me. Before, all these things were kept there because I couldn’t bear or accept the thought of him not coming home. Now, they serve a different purpose. They are gentle reminders of the life we had together, the life I loved, and the kind of life I want, should I ever allow another man into my heart.

Two years later, I am no longer closed off to the idea of dating. I even went on a date. YES! You read that correctly. I did go on a date, and I even gave the guy a chance. While he was not right for me, I can say that I learned a lot from the experience. I learned that Javier was one of a kind! I learned that I can’t expect to find Javi in any other man, because Javi can’t be duplicated. I learned that not every man will understand or accept the idea of living with Javi’s memory, and that taught me that Javi’s memory is something I will never give up, and it is non-negotiable. I believe that a man who truly loves me will accept me just as I am and will respect Javi’s memory. He will not try to replace Javier, compete with his memory, or feel threatened by it. More than anything, I have learned to accept that Javi would not want me to be alone forever. He would want me to be happy. He would want the kids to be happy. He wanted his kids to be loved. While he never wanted to be replaced, he did want his kids to have a father figure. Two years later, I’ve also realized that a new man will not complete me, fix me, or make me ok. A new man could never erase the pain I feel or the love I have for Javi. A new relationship is not and will never be a measure of my progress in healing. I will love when I’m ready not because I’m lonely.

Two years later, I miss my life as a Marine wife. I miss the Marine Corps. I miss my Marine! I don’t dwell on what I don’t have, anymore. I accept that I am the widow of a Marine…an American hero. I have realized that I don’t have to fight for or defend my title as a Marine wife, because no matter what happens, nothing or no one could ever strip me of that title and I will never give it up. I earned that title. I am a Marine wife forever. Part of my inheritance has been Javi’s pride in the Marine Corps. I am beyond proud and honored to say that I am the wife of SSgt. Javier Ortiz Rivera, United States Marine. Two years later, I am prouder than ever to be an American. I live in the land of the the free, because of the brave. Two years later, I still can’t look at the American flag without thinking about my husband’s flag draped casket, but the pride that I feel for my husband and his heroism comforts me and reminds me that the the American flag waves and stands firm because of the heroism of heroes like Javi. Two years later, I am more patriotic than ever. Two years later, I live every day in gratitude for my freedom because now I understand and I know exactly how much it cost. I do my best to honor the sacrifice and not let it go in vain.

Two years later, I’ve accepted that honoring Javi doesn’t mean living a life of grief and sorrow. I have learned to honor Javi by doing the things that he liked, running the Marine Corps Marathon, and helping wounded warriors and families of fallen heroes. The best way to honor Javi is to make a difference in this world and make every effort to enjoy every minute that I have left on earth.

Two years later, I have realized that while Javi’s death has changed me, it does not define me. I am Veronica. And ironically enough, my name means, “she who brings victory”. Two years later, I am ready to share my victory, the victory which I was only able to obtain because I have a heavenly father who hears my prayers, provides for my every need, and who loves me regardless of how low of a low I reach. And now, I have my husband in heaven, who looks down on me. He smiles at me from heaven. He loves me all the way from heaven. My husband gives me a reason to work toward a life in heaven. Two years later, I focus more on my blessings than my heartaches. I have sad and painful moments, not days. I have happy days, not just happy moments.

God may have allowed this to happen, but He has strengthened, comforted me, extended grace and mercy to me in moments when I didn’t deserve it. He has blessed me and poured his love down on me. I lost the love of my life, but I gained an abudance of love from family, friends, and perfect strangers. God has blessed me in every area of my life. He has shown himself so big in my life that it can’t be denied or explained as anything other than God’s presence, favor, and blessings.

Two years later, I am blessed with the friendship of some amazing people, the love of my amazing kids, and the support of my amazing church family. Two years later, I am at peace with the fact that I have done everything in my power to keep Javier’s memory alive and honor his wishes. Two years later, I am far from perfect. I still cry. It still hurts. I still have my moments, but I am doing good. I accept that this is my life. I accept that I have no choice but to move forward. I accept that he is not gone completely. Two years later, I believe, with my whole heart, that true love never dies and that true love stories never end. I accept that I am blessed with a love that gives me a piece of heaven, everyday.

Two years later, I continue to be blessed and highly favored. I have learned to lean on God and let Him be my strength. I have learned to trust God and his timing. Two years later, I know the true meaning of faith, and I know how much God truly loves me. When Javi died, I was walking in a literal hell on earth, but I’ve chosen heaven, and I manage that decision everyday.

Soon, I’ll do my best to describe my brokeness. Soon, you’ll read about the days when I was not doing even remotely good, and you’ll read about how God took all the broken pieces of my heart and my life and put me back together. Soon, you’ll understand just how far I’ve truly come.


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Dear JOOR (again)


Almost two years have passed since I’ve talked to you, since I’ve heard you laugh, since I’ve heard you tell me you love me. It’s been over two years since I’ve hugged you or kissed you. It’s been over two years since you’ve tucked my hair behind my ear, taken my glasses off, and wiped my tears. It’s been over two years since you’ve stood in front of me, and very gently said, “Can I talk now? Can you please listen to me? Trust me, Baby. It will be ok.” I used to always ask you angrily, “How do you know it’s gonna be ok?! You don’t know that!” And you would always reply with the same answer, “Yes I do know, because I have faith. God will see us through.” To say I miss you would be the understatement of my lifetime. I could try to put into words how much I miss you, but there are no words to express how much my heart aches for you sometimes.

I think about our life together. It makes me smile. Even thinking about some of the arguments we had makes me laugh. On the days when I feel lonely and want to feel loved, I think about you and I am reminded of how blessed I am to have experienced a love like ours. I think about you a million times a day. Sometimes, I look at your picture and still can’t believe you’re gone. I still find it hard to believe that you’re never gonna walk through the front door and squeeze me so tight it hurts. And in these moments, I ask myself, “Why, after all this time, is it so hard to believe he’s dead?” I can only come up with one answer, and that is, that you didn’t die. Your physical body is gone, but you are very much alive in my heart, in my mind, and in my memories. You are a part of me. I take you with me everywhere I go. Thinking about it makes me realize that you are probably more alive now than you were when you lived here on earth. Do you know how many people carry you with them in their hearts every day? Do you know how many people remember you? Do you know how many people do small things everyday to honor you? In a sense, you have multiplied and live stronger than ever. That also makes me smile.

You left me so much to smile about and be proud of. That is also a blessing. Even in my moments of weakness and tears you can still make me smile, sometimes, I even laugh out  loud. And in these moments, I wonder if I give you reason to smile. I wonder if you laugh out loud at some of the things I do or say. I wonder if I’ve done enough to make you proud.

As you know, I’ve written about your death. I wrote the heart wrenching details. Although words could never fully explain how painful it’s been, I’ve attempted to describe the pain as best as I can. I’ve relived the moment the doorbell rang, your arrival on American soil, your memorial, your funeral, and recently, I built up the courage to bury you again. Obviously, the story doesn’t end there. Now it’s time to talk about the days and months after. Truth be told, that’s scary to me. A part of me wants to stop writing. I don’t really want to tell everyone how much your death truly broke me. A part of me doesn’t want to put my pride aside and tell everyone how lost and broken I really was, but I can’t sell God short. What God has done in me and through me is nothing short of amazing. He has taken every broken piece of me, my heart, and my life and slowly put me back together again. I have to say, it’s not at all easy to think about these things, but in the moments when I sit back and think about it all, I find that my heart gets filled with gratitude. I call you my angel, many people call you their angel. I however, am blessed to say that you were an angel to me here on earth, before you ever entered heaven. Javier you led me to start going to church. You never once gave up on the idea of church, even when I cursed you out and told you I wasn’t going. You planted a seed in me, and that seed has grown and carried me through the past two years. That seed you planted in me in March of 2009 has grown, multiplied, and will continue to grow and multiply for the rest of my life. I don’t know that I ever would have found my way to a Godly path without you. A big part of me feels that I would have continued to live life believing in God, but not having any real faith. Thank you, my love, my angel, for planting a seed of faith in me! That seed of faith is the best gift anyone has ever given me.

So, as I begin to write the next few chapters of our story, I can’t help but remember you’re words, “Yes, I do know, because I have faith. God will see us through.” When you first started saying that to me, I rolled my eyes at you. I didn’t understand it. Now, I get it, and you were right. Thank you, Javier. I don’t know what God has in store for my future, but I do know that whatever it is, I will be ok, because I have faith, and God will see me through.

I miss you, Babe. I love you beyond the depths of the deepest ocean, more than all the stars in the sky, beyond the heavens, I love you to infinity and beyond. You live in my heart forever!

With All My Love,


P.S. I win!!!

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