seek strength amid loss
By RYAN LENZ, Associated Press Writer
Sun May 28, 1:26 PM ET
War lives on long after the last clods of dirt turn over a soldier's grave. It hangs from the faces of husbands and wives — mostly wives — whose lives crumble after foreign horrors take their spouses.
Those who lost husbands early have been living their grief, raising children without fathers and building futures with memories of hard men who turned soft with children.
For those recently widowed, grief chokes out the hope.
Here are sketches of some of the wives whose soldier husbands were killed in Iraq, and the complex changes they felt after hearing simple words — "Ma'am, we regret to inform you ..."
Kathy Kennedy stopped crying for her husband on the anniversary of his death.
Surrounded by friends at a backyard campfire she held one year after his helicopter was shot down near Tikrit, they exchanged stories, told jokes and laughed.
At that moment, things felt different for the first time since his death.
"I felt, 'we made it through a year, we're going to make it again,'" she says now, two and a half years after the death of her husband, Chief Warrant Officer Kyran E. Kennedy, 43, of Boston.
Kennedy, a pilot in the 101st Airborne Division's aviation brigade, was flying a Black Hawk over Tikrit in November 2003 when he was shot down. Three others died in the crash.
The years since have brought a purpose to life with her two children, she said, even if it's only to remember the man she married and loved and pass on those memories to his children who barely knew him.
Her oldest son, Christopher, then 11, told her quietly in the moments after they learned the news that they would have to remember his father for the youngest boy in the family, who was too young to remember anything.
Even with pictures and stories, there are challenges.
When Kevin, now 6, reminisces with the family, he contributes memories of hunting outings with his father that never happened. He recalls with vivid clarity scuba diving with his dad at a time when he could barely swim.
These are memories he would have had, and they will pass — just like her tears have dried up in exchange for smiles through the years, Kennedy said.
Her family will find normalcy in unordinary circumstances. It will just take time.
"We're not forever going to be that family whose husband was killed in Iraq," she said.
Sgt. 1st Class Shawn Christopher Dostie died as 2005 came to a close. An improvised explosive device, like those that have killed many soldiers in Iraq, detonated near his Humvee in Baghdad while on patrol.
His wife, Stephanie, was home with her two children, savoring the changes the coming of a new year brings. Then she heard the news.
"We had all these plans together, and now none of that is going to happen," she says, her voice still raw with emotion a few months after her husband, a soldier in the 101st Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade, was killed during an insurgent attack in Baghdad on Dec. 30.
For Dostie, the aftermath of losing a husband to war is still unfolding. She has seen women who have survived, watched as other families recovered and moved on. She sees them at grief support groups she has begun attending.
But to her and her children, there are too many questions yet unanswered to move on.
Her oldest son, Cameron, 8, peppers teachers with questions. Why did his dad have to die? Why did God let it happen? He pleads with them to know what it was like that day, what his father was feeling. "Was daddy happy or sad?" he asks.
His mother has heard the questions countless times.
"I've run out of answers," she said, the exhaustion clear in her voice.
Maybe they need a change, she thinks. Dostie has debated returning to the woods of Lewiston, Maine, where her husband's family lives.
It's just so hard to live around soldiers.
She said she feels like an impostor on streets where wives see their husbands come home at night. It's painful to see families reunited every afternoon when hers will never be.
"This was the life we had together," she said. "I don't belong here anymore."
Kimberly Hazelgrove believes in military protocol.
She was a military intelligence officer when her husband, a native of Edinburgh, Ind., was killed in a 2004 helicopter crash over Mosul. She knew what to expect — knew the possibilities.
She also knew exactly why officers in dress uniforms came to her door. It was a reality of a soldier's life at war, one she and her husband both recognized before he deployed to Iraq with the Army's 10th Mountain Division.
Instead of focusing on the loss, though, Hazelgrove considers what fortune she can in the circumstances around his death — she was home sick the week before her husband was killed and was able to speak to him daily on the telephone.
"I generally didn't get to do that," she said.
Hazelgrove has since left the military, and moved from Fort Drum, N.Y., to Lorton, Va., to work and raise her family.
"I don't survive. I live," Hazelgrove, 32, said. "I live every day for me and my children."
With the sternness of a military mom, she has kept their lives stable, remaining in the military for a year after her husband was killed. She surrounded the family with supportive friends to keep life from unraveling uncontrollably.
Even now, she is stern with her children, now 2 and 5.
"I teach them life is not fair, and sometimes you have to make it through the really bad times, but it only makes us stronger," Hazelgrove said.
Her 5-year-old son Brandon answers his mother quickly when she asks where is daddy is.
"My daddy is heaven with Jesus," the boy says loudly. "He died in a helicopter."
Terri Seifert knew her husband could die in Iraq. She didn't expect it to come as it did.
Capt. Christopher Scott Seifert, 27, of Easton, Pa., assigned to the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, died when another soldier threw a grenade into a tent during an attack at Camp Pennsylvania in the dawning days of the 2003 invasion.
Terri has carried the sadness of her husband's death like a proud keepsake since.
"I have survived something that I would have thought to be unsurvivable," she said.
Ironically, she said, there is victory in that sense of achievement as she looks back on the years when all seemed lost. Somehow a new life emerged from the painful void.
Along with other wives at Fort Campbell who lost soldiers in Iraq, she has made herself available to the war's newest widows.
She has walked and stumbled down the paths they are now struggling to travel.
Seifert said early widows in the war had no peers. It was a time when each death was unexpected, government death notifications were uncommon and war widows on post were rare.
"It's an isolating experience," she said. But there is comfort for new widows in people like her, widows who have survived and moved on to build new lives.
She still misses her husband and wishes he were "somewhere out there." She wishes she could have someone to touch.
But there is promise even in tragic death, she said.
"There was much more to Chris' life than his death," she said. "Chris died a hero, but more importantly, he lived as a hero."
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