“When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” Franklin D. Roosevelt
I still remember the night in exact detail. I was visiting my parents for Christmas in Indiana, Steven was on his 2nd deployment within our short 17 month marriage at that time. He had been gone only 4 weeks. I was 17 weeks pregnant with Madelynn (our first) and headed back to San Diego the next day.
My mom and I had gone to have our haircut, but before we left my dad called. He had been traveling which is not unusual. After the call my mom was much quieter. When we got home my mom snatched their laptop and went to her room. I thought nothing of it and I sat down to watch tv before bed. My dad came home about half hour later and both of them came to the living room and turned off the tv and sat in front of me. That’s when I knew something bad had happened.
My brother-in-law Geoff had been killed in action in Afghanistan on January 13, 2010. My heart broke. Geoff was 21. Just 21. It was too soon. He was going to be an uncle. He wanted to be an Army Ranger. He was smart, funny, entertaining and always reminded me he had my back. I wanted it to be an awful joke. But it wasn’t. What it was, was the beginning of an awful week.
Just an hour after finding out myself, I had to tell Steven his brother has been killed. How do you tell a deployed sailor that? How do you tell your spouse the worst news you know they have ever heard? I could hear his break down through the phone and there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t hold him. I couldn’t be there. It was horrible. I had to trust his guys to take of him. I had to trust his command to do what they could to get him home. Thankfully they did. He was surrounded by men who could hold him up when he needed. For that I am eternally grateful.
The next couple days were a flurry of getting things in order to pick up Steven when he arrived in the states. Make arrangements to fly to South Carolina, find a place to stay, get Steven’s uniform from San Diego to Indiana, get him clothes for while he was here, and try to take care of myself and the baby…exhausting. We were blessed to have family, friends and strangers there to support us the whole time. People dropped what they were doing and went out of their way to help Geoff’s parents and Steven and I. The Greenville, SC community showed up in numbers we could not have fathomed to grieve and support us. From the arrival of Geoff’s body to the funeral there was always someone to help with what we needed.
It was an awful week. In the time it felt never-ending. We had to do things we never imagined doing. Our still new marriage found us both in a time of incredible grief. It felt like we were at the end of our rope and had no idea how to get back up. But we did. We tied our knot using family and friends. We tied our knot with our love. We tied our knot with the promise of a future with our growing family. We tied our knot with God who has a bigger plan than we know. 5 years later this week is still awful, but we can smile. We look at our kids and understand that moving forward doesn’t mean forgetting. We talk about Uncle Geoff and how he is in Heaven with God. We take pictures of them with his picture and dog tags each year.
Life is going to throw everyone hard times. Even the people who seem to have it all together have seen or will see a circumstance that seems impossible to get through. But you can. You are strong. Never forget that.
In loving memory of SPC Geoffrey A. Whitsitt (118th MP 503BN).
For family members suffering over the loss of a loved one, Anchor Drop would recommend contacting the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors where they have many resources available to help you cope.