On Aug. 25, 2009 I was getting a root canal. It was already not the best day of my life.
Because we were in the middle of a deployment, my Blackberry was glued to my lap as I reclined in that dental chair, set to buzz only for the inbox through which I received unit emails.
I had quickly learned that most emails sent from the Family Readiness Group (FRG) system, the battalion's chosen official communication method, almost always carried bad news. That day was no different.
The wives knew that if you got the email before you got a knock or a phone call, the email wasn't about you. You weren't the one, at least this time.
The dentist walked away for a few moments and my phone buzzed. I lifted it up and read the message.
"On 25 August 2009, 1-17 IN was involved in an incident that resulted in 5 combat related casualties. Four of these Soldiers were Killed in Action ..."
Capt. John Hallett; Capt. Cory Jenkins; Sgt. First Class Ronald W. Sawyer; and Spc. Dennis M. Williams.
By the end of the deployment the total count of killed in action soldiers in the brigade would be over 50, with over 20 of those just in our battalion.
For many years when we spoke of their deaths, we spoke almost exclusively of the gift of freedom, of their willingness to die for their country, of their sacrifice and patriotism. We thanked them for it. We thanked their widows and children for it.
Those things still are true. We still feel the loss. We still are grateful.
But in the last two years I've started to feel something new, too.
After years of struggling to reconcile why I have my spouse - injured or not - and my friends don't, years of watching him battle so many demons and the still many unknowable facets of his own war wounds, I am now grateful to the fallen and their families for the gift an overwhelming, undeniable feeling: life.
Psychologists call this feeling Post-Traumatic Growth (PSG), "a positive change experienced as a result of the struggle with a major life crisis or a traumatic event."
To me it's simply living.
And not just living, but living loudly, and boldly, and with conviction and purpose. It's living that is undeniable and uncontainable. It's more than just seizing the day -- it's striving towards a life of positivity and purpose.
It's knowing the value of community. It's the power and conviction to make bold, life-fueled decisions because I can, because I get to.
It's finding the courage to know what I want and then doing it, even though it's hard and even though some people think I'm crazy.
It's knowing I can never do any of that alone. It's locking arms with others in the midst of their own growth and carrying each other. It's finding those people at just the right time. It's the ability to know that I've found them.
In the ashes of loss, it is the gift of moving forward -- often literally.
Because of those year and that loss I am a runner, a hiker, a CrossFitter and an Alaskan. I am still a wife. I am an author. I am a leader for my Team Red, White & Blue Chapter. I am an editor here.
The battle to get here was long, hard and messier than you can possibly know. And all is still not always roses. There are still tears, still fights, still pain, still a daily decision to choose life over darkness.
But unlike years past, I know that it can be done. I know what the pain and loss looks like here, on the other side.
I know that to be grateful for the loss and sacrifice of our fallen can look like more than just being sad. It can also look like joy.
This is post-traumatic growth. And it is beautiful.
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