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As I write this, it’s been nearly four years. Isaac is thirteen and Ezekiel is soon to be fifteen. The last time they saw their dad they were nine and eleven. They deserve better and so did he, but I am grateful for the time we were given. My children got to know their father before he was gone.

For me, there will always be the pain of losing Bryan way too soon. People always expect you to recover quickly from losing someone you love, but grief is complex and multifaceted. It is not just missing Bryan that is terrible, it is the isolation, the anger, the fear, and for me it is the lack of feeling safe after many years of having a protector. People pass judgements on widows. By the standards of our society, I am expected to be an old maid now, to wear black every day and live my next sixty years shriveled up in mourning. There is no longer someone who fights for me, and I have to do all the fighting for myself. And oftentimes I’m seen as an easy target by predators. When I fall apart, I do it in private when no one is watching, and my kids don’t see or hear me. There are places a widow knows are safe: the shower, the car, walking the dog late at night. Those haunted hours are when I can let the painful cries I can no longer contain escape while the rest of the world sleeps.

When we use the word sacrifice, we often imagine one act. Really, sacrifice is a way of life. Sacrifice goes on and on once you’ve committed to it. We began sacrificing the day Bryan signed on to the Army and left me alone with two babies while he went to boot camp. That is when sacrifice begins for all military families. That first year, Bryan missed my birthday as well as Isaac’s second, and he was given three days’ leave to fly from Texas to California and back for my dad’s funeral. Each year, there were sacrifices made with the understanding that one day our family might have to make the ultimate sacrifice.

We give up so much when we commit to a life in the service to our country. We give up our home and our friends as we move multiple times, wherever the Army tells us to go. We give up attending family members’ weddings, funerals, and births because it does not fit into the deployment schedule.

Sacrifice does not even end when your husband’s life does. For my sons, they have lost the father who would teach them how to throw and catch a ball, tie a tie, be a good sport, time a good joke, catch a fish, talk to a girl they like. The sacrifice of the fallen is a long and painful list. Do not be fooled into thinking the sacrifice of the fallen ends once the final shot is volleyed.

The sacrifice made by the men and women protecting our freedom plays out over generations. Their husbands, their wives, their children, their grandchildren. Their mothers, their fathers, their brothers, their sisters. It also plays out in the lives of those who stood beside them in battle and had to carry the news and the scars back home with them. But more precious than the lives lost is the freedom that sacrifice afforded, and no one understands that more than those who have worked to free those who live under tyranny.

De Oppresso Liber.

pp. 338-339. Excerpted from: "Sacrifice: A Gold Star Widow's Fight for the Truth" by Michelle Black. Posted by permission from the publisher. Copyright © by Michelle Black. First published by G. P. Putnam's Sons, May 2021.

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