“They killed him on a ruck march?” I heard myself say, almost as if I weren’t the one speaking.
I began pacing the room and running my hands through my hair while trying to process what I had just heard. My husband had been killed on a ruck march—a hike!—by one of the Afghan soldiers he had been assigned to train on a base near Kabul. This was his fourth combat deployment during 15 years as a soldier—and now he was dead.
It was Saturday, November 3, and I had just spent a girls’ night away with my college roommates. I was caught off guard by an early-morning phone call from my mom, who was at my house with my kids. After all, she was the one who had really encouraged me to get away for the weekend.
She told me I might want to sit down; there were two military officers on my doorstep. My stomach hit the floor, and a hot wave of shock began to run through my body. I hoped I’d misheard her when she told me they were in full-dress uniform, because that can only mean one thing.
“Brent might be dead,” I said out loud to the only other roommate already awake.
In an instant I gathered my things, and we scrambled to her van, heading to meet the two military officers who were required to deliver their message to me face to face.
It was a long and frantic ride. I sat in the passenger seat and pulled out my journal and a pen. One thought hit me with full force, and I immediately wrote it down: “If Brent is dead, I cannot fall apart. The kids matter too much.”
We arrived at the Utah National Guard headquarters and were quickly greeted by the state chaplain, and then we were escorted into the building. The atmosphere was incredibly somber. The few other soldiers we saw were standing stiffly at attention—and no one was smiling or making eye contact with me. It was an agonizing wait for the designated officers to arrive, and at one point a young soldier joined the chaplain in giving me a priesthood blessing. The words were necessarily vague and brief, as the chaplain reminded the young soldier that I had not yet been given any official news.
After what felt like hours, two Army officers in full-dress uniform arrived. I don’t remember their exact words, but they told me that Brent had been killed that morning while on a ruck march with his Afghan troops and that the rogue soldier who fired the fatal shot had also been immediately killed.
Time stood still while simultaneously rushing all around me. Memories of our first date, our wedding day, family vacations, and Sunday dinners all came flooding into my mind. And just as quickly, my thoughts turned to every shared hope, dream, and goal that now seemed shattered.
A Life of Hard Work and Dreams
For 15 years Brent and I had worked together to accomplish our goals, and we saw many of our dreams realized. We were married in the Salt Lake Temple and welcomed seven precious children into our home. Brent was elected first to the city council and then to the office of mayor, and he voluntarily served four Army deployments to the Middle East.
The details we had envisioned for our lives had changed over the years, but the principles we committed to remain the same. There were many times that we lived physically separated by his military assignments, yet we always remained spiritually and emotionally united.
Now, again, I find myself physically separated from Brent, this time for much longer than before, but not forever. Our separation is still only temporary, and the family we have built together remains strong and intact, even as he and I now work together from different sides of the veil.
Turning to the Lord
The answers to countless soul-searching questions have been sent to my heart and mind “line upon line” in the weeks and months since Brent’s death. I have turned to the Lord in fervent prayer and to His teachings in the holy scriptures. I have received several priesthood blessings, and above all, I have made time to attend the temple as often as possible. I find great peace in knowing that the Lord truly does have a “great plan” and a purpose for each of us (see 2 Nephi 9:13) and that my purpose has not changed because of my present circumstances.
I have labored to turn my heartache and fears over to the Lord, and in return I have found Him turning to me with love and comfort, even the “peace of God, which passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
My tears flow frequently and freely, but I am not afraid of being sad or of letting my emotions show. My faith in the infinite grace, goodness, and love of God enables me to face my feelings without the fear of succumbing to them. Several times a day my mind wanders to the details of the good times Brent and I shared. The littlest things around the house remind me of him, and I find great joy in hearing others talk about him—especially our children. Almost daily I am caught off guard with an overwhelming wave of grief, and my heart swells in anguish as the reality of Brent’s death seems to hit me again for the first time. But every day I am also strengthened by my faith, and in my greatest moments of personal sorrow I call upon the Greatest Source of immeasurable strength.
My greatest anguish, of course, is for our children. I sat with them gathered around me while the officers told them that their father had been killed in action. I reached to embrace the two children closest to me—and my mind frantically cried, “What can I do? I don’t have seven arms!” My own father died when I was 10 years old; never in my wildest dreams did I envision raising my own children without their father by my side.
Though I do not know the details of how I will raise our children in the years to come, I am certain I will do so with the guidance of a perfect, loving Heavenly Father and with the influence and example of their earthly father.
Strength from the Savior
My faith is simple but strong. I know that my Savior is always there for me, and I can recognize a strength far greater than my own helping me to face the demands of each new day. Such strength sustained me on the flight line of Dover Air Base as I received Brent’s body back onto American soil and in the arena where his viewing and funeral services were held.
On more than one occasion I have spent emotional hours inside the holy temple, reflecting upon my faith in God, my love for Brent, and the covenants that tie us all together. On one particular visit I was clearly reminded that my purpose as a covenant daughter of God has not changed in the months since Brent was killed. Likewise, Brent’s eternal purpose as a son of God, and his divinely appointed role as my husband and as the father of our children, has not changed.
The overall purpose of our eternal family has not changed, and neither have the eternal principles upon which Brent and I originally built our lives together. Only the details have changed.
And since God is in the details, I choose to trust the changes.