TEAM WIFE 3: Shattered

We had a Vegas wedding—complete with Elvis and me in a little black dress.

I flew out to meet Mike in California when he was still in BUD/S, and he suggested a weekend in Vegas. When I called my father to tell him where we were headed, he joked and said, “Don’t go and get married or anything.” Since I still didn’t know anything about Mike’s plans, I assured him it was just a fun trip to Vegas to blow off some steam.

Halfway to Vegas, Mike looked at me and said, “You know we’re going to Vegas to get married, right?”

We never really talked about getting married, but it was sort of an unspoken understanding. I did tease him later that he got out of actually popping the question. But that’s the way things were with us—easy. About a year later, before Mike headed out for ranger school, he did propose, with a ring, and we had a church wedding with friends and family. We had been married five years when he died in 2005.

Nothing after that was easy.

I was feeding Molly, our 14-month-old, in her high chair, distracted because earlier I had heard news of a SEAL helicopter crash in Afghanistan. I’d spent the day convincing myself that it couldn’t have been Mike so I looked at Molly with her pigtails and smile and reminded myself to pay attention to the moment. That’s when I heard the car doors slam. I knew who it was before they reached the door.

I picked up Molly and walked to the front door, my heart pounding and my whole body shaking. When I opened the door, a group of grave-faced men in uniform, none of whom I recognized, stood before me. My good friend stood with them, the saddest, most apologetic look on her face. I don’t remember what they told me. I guess it was something about the helicopter crash and Mike missing and being presumed dead. I just remember holding Molly and all of the strength in my body leaving me. My friend took Molly from me—thank goodness she was there.

I remember nodding at the men who were talking. I do not remember the words they were saying. I remember wondering why I wasn’t crying—the love of my life was gone.

Molly was taking her first steps right before Mike died. He never got to see her walk. Molly and I were going to meet him in Germany that August, and I had this big plan to put her down in the airport and let her walk to him. Recognizing that Molly would never know her father was one of the first, most painful things that hit me about his death. I thought, “She’s so young, she’ll never know how amazing he was—how totally enthralled and in love with her he was.” When I thought about all that she was going to miss, I was shattered.

Molly is now nine years old, and I try to let her know who her dad was in everyday ways. When I see something that reminds me of Mike, I tell her. When I was watching My Dog Skip with her, it hit me—that was the only movie I ever saw him cry in. These are the little details that make him human and real.

Mike lives on in Molly every single day. He was such a fun person, and I see his same love of laughter in her.

At first, after I found out about Mike, I tried to remember his voice, telling me not to worry, that he’s got this. That’s what got me through it—his strength and his good heart. And that’s what gets me through it still.

- Recorded and edited by Ryan Waterfield