top of page


5 minute read

military death.png

I've learned that we're not always honest about grief. We don't share our real stories and thoughts. I talked about managing expectations, but sometimes, we reverse-manage: we try to live as we think others expect us to, and we wrap ourselves up in a ball of judgment rather than live a life true to ourselves. We fear shame; we fear that someone will make us feel bad about our decisions.

But here's the thing: Someone will always judge you, while someone else applauds you. Make a different decision, and the first person will applaud you, while the second judges you.

Here's the other thing: It doesn't matter. People who love you will support you and help you through anything. People who love you want you to be healthy and happy, no matter what it takes to get you there.

I’ve gone through so many emotions–from hoping that I would die while not wanting to kill myself to believing that I went through my experience solely so that I could help others get through their own grief. I felt lonely as fellow widows avoided me because I didn't yet have children. Without children, the thinking went, it would be easier for me to move on. But I'm sure they felt my grief-stricken beliefs with wariness, too: I was so jealous of them because I did not have children. They would always have a piece of their husbands in their lives. I would not.

I felt judged on everything I did or didn't do, from moving after our house was sold, to staying in the house, to dating, to whether I needed to move on, to whether I was moving on too quickly, to getting married. People even judged our group's grief based on the amount of time we had been together–as if losing your husband after one year was somehow less painful than losing him after fifteen years. People judged us for our youth: we could easily find new love, so our grief was less. How could we explain the grief at the loss of our futures? If you haven't walked in my shoes–or in those of another widow–you can't know.

You can keep your opinions about dating and grief to yourself.

You can also listen and love and hold and care and forgive and pray and open yourself to possibilities you hadn't considered.

As young widows, we were all judged. We were all going to fall, to make mistakes, to make bad choices. We had been offered no guidebook, no training. Instead, we pushed on, trying to discover how to be whole again–how to feel like ourselves. We didn't yet understand that the void created by our losses would never be filled, and it should never be filled. We will never move on, only forward. We will never be the women who married our husbands, but we will be the women who are stronger and wiser and more capable. We pulled through.

I moved forward with the help of God and the help of a spouse (Drew), who is respectful of my past with Jacques. Drew is amazing, and I love that so many people see it. After all the judgment, there’s some irony that so many now look to him and to us as an example of hope, and despite the pain I endure, I’m thankful we can help others see possibilities. I’m so thankful Drew was put in my life. His love and support amaze me, and I love that God chose him for me.

But the act of juggling my emotions continues to this day, my life filled with amazingness and love and the blessings of marriage and family, but also with my memories of Jacques and the grief of losing him. I don't grieve daily, but grief lives in me, and I live with it daily. When you suffer such loss, you can choose to move forward and be healthy and find happiness, but you don't "get over it." Daily, I explain my past as it is so entwined with my present. I explain to my children who my first husband was and why they have three extended families.

Until you sit in that front row–and I pray daily that my friends and family do not find themselves there until they are old and very, very gray–you can't know how loss works or how it feels.

If you are a new widow, I have no words to express how my heart hurts for you. And I also have no words to help ease your pain–even fifteen years after the loss of my husband. Just know there are so many people who love you and who are praying for you through this experience. Lean on God every time you think you can't do it alone. He will help you through each day. Know that people are going to say some really stupid things, and none of them mean to be hurtful: they simply don't have the right words. And although "we" are jealous because they don't know this pain, we don't want it for them–not for our friends and families and acquaintances. This pain, this gut-wrenching pain, breaks our hearts.

Still, it's not your job to soothe others for your grief. It's not your job to make things less uncomfortable. If it feels awkward, that's okay. You'll hear "I'm sorry," or "How are you doing?" You’ll hear it again and again. You may want to yell, "Why are you sorry? You didn't do anything?" Or, "I’m a freaking mess, and this is horrible–that's how I feel!" It's okay to tell them you are hurting or feeling lost or in shock, and if that makes them feel awkward, so be it. You don't have to be okay, so everyone else can be. It's okay to be angry because you still had so much life to live with this man or woman you already shared so much with.

There is no right or wrong to how you handle any of it. It will be hard for a long time, but you will have God, family, and friends that will love you through it.

pp. 186-189. Excerpted from: "A Beautiful Tragedy: A Navy SEAL Widow's Permission to Grieve and a Prescription For Hope" by Char Fontan Westfall. Posted by permission from the publisher. Published by Ballast Books, copyright 2020.

bottom of page