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?