None of that will alter the fact that today is my New Year’s. Or at least, that is how I have come to view it.
It took me a couple years just to determine which day- June 7th or 8th- I would even acknowledge as such. You see, in our time here, it was just a minute past 5:30p.m. when that unseen fist gut-punched me. I physically doubled over as I handed a steaming bowl of mac-n-cheese to my son. Ever observant, my 6 year-old asked me what was wrong. Gazing at the sweet faces of my four small children, I couldn’t let myself acknowledge what some level of my soul had been telling me all afternoon, and had just then confirmed; Lou was dead.
But it was after midnight in Iraq when my husband’s heart, held in the hands of the surgeon, beat for the last time. And it was 6 a.m. to the second that those men traipsed up my front steps to ram the news home. My last escape path from truth’s cruel hand slammed shut in that instant. Life as I had known it ceased to exist at 6:02 a.m June 8, 2005. So June 8th won the coin toss, and has now become my Widow’s New Year’s.
Ten years is a long time. In widow-years it’s like 100. Or so it seems at times. At least in the beginning. That first June 8th was like the finish line of the Marine Corp 10K the year I dragged my out-of-shape, hungover kiester across; not pretty but still an accomplishment. And a learning process, and a launching pad for my future. My running mate in that jaunt dropped out almost immediately. Seems she had a wee little heart condition she’d neglected to tell me about, and thus spent the duration of my 10K experience being tended to by the medics….hmph. But, as in life, when I found myself alone and my battle buddy fallen, others came forward. My husband’s picture was on my running shirt. His dog tags on my neck. One by one others – as they passed me by- tapped me on my shoulder and told me they were running for my husband, too. Occasionally a soul would slow their stride to run with me. And when I did cross that line, overcome with emotion and my face wet with tears, the crowd clapped and cried with me. I found my friend, crisis past and whooping it up in a golf cart with a new batch of medics. And I crossed that particular experience off my list.
Thus was June 8, 2006. The day itself was smaller than the buildup. Just another sun-soaked, gorgeous 12 hours. Just like the day my doorbell rang a year earlier. I don’t know what I’d expected, but no fresh doom arrived at my doorstep that morning. Just the same mantra of heartache that had been pounding in my heart for a full 365 days. And yet there was something new, too.
I’d made it. I was still here. My boys were still here. My list of mistakes and agony-laden events was enormous. My list of successes and joy- tiny. I’d been to Kuwait for a hearing, Fort Bragg for others. I’d moved- twice- been further traumatized by the facts of the case and an unscrupulous individual who’d harassed me into civil court. The constant succession of firsts: birthdays, wedding anniversary, Mothers Day, Fathers Day, etc. was brutal. I flat-out fled Thanksgiving, spending it on a mountain in Arizona with my sister and brother while the rest of my family in NY nurtured my boys through and decorated my first widow Christmas tree for me. Like I said- not pretty. But in the unsightliness of my life, there was beauty and hope to be beheld.
But knowledge was power, and partaking in the process equipped me with a sense of strength. I’d made new friends and allies in that process and was secure in their strength moving forward. Had I misplaced trust in the individual who’d taken me to court, costing me an enormous amount of money and further pain? Indeed. But with the help of close friends and family, that individual had been the one to flee that court in tears, with a judgement in my favor. We’d turned it around and made it a victory. Maybe I did tap out for Thanksgiving. But I’d found solace in Arizona and my kids had enjoyed the time with family. Skipping out had bought me the time to shore up for the rest of the holiday season and I’d replenished enough strength to make it through. New friends in the widow community had infused me with an outlet to turn our pain into camaraderie and laughter, and those friends remain so today, ten years later.
The pain and the heartache had stripped me raw, ravaging my soul like a fire to a forest. But as with that forest, new growth was sprouting through. That is what I reflected upon that first June 8th and every one after. Some years my triumphs outweigh my defeats. Some years… not so much. But the solid roots of friendship, faith, and hope refuse to be destroyed, instead taking firmer hold each time they are challenged. And that is my victory.
I rang in 11 “normal” New Years with Lou. This year will be my 10th without him.
The scales of time will soon tip, until my time with him is outweighed by my time without. Today’s Widow- New Year’s dawns with me finally hitting my stride. I took the day off from work to spend with friends and my kids – and the sweet, charismatic man who recently came into my life. My horses will arrive home from being cared for by friends during a tough year for me. We will relax, enjoy the day and each other’s company. And I will remember the last 10 June 8th’s with a sense of accomplishment and gratitude.
Thank you to everyone who has supported me and my family through all these years, and who inspire me every day. My hope is this year, I will succeed in getting that Purple Heart Lou earned. And maybe I’ll even sign up for another 10 K.
Every day is New Year’s for someone. If that someone is you today, know that you do not walk this path alone; Somewhere, someone else is ringing it in with you.
Barb Allen Is A Gold Star Wife, Author & National Speaker. She's a professional veterans advocate who understands the personal and factual struggles of turning adversity into advantage. But this lesson did not come easily and this upper hand must be diligently maintained. Now, Barbara brings her life lessons to her audiences in keynote speeches and custom programs. She relates to her audiences’ lives and challenges, and teaches them how to become gladiators in their own life’s arena.