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A Widow of Eight Months

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Three days after her Navy husband and Dustin's former squadron mate, Landon, was killed overseas, Theresa co-wrote a column with me about her experience. It was a fresh, raw glimpse at what being a new military widow really looks like.

Landon is now buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The funeral flowers are gone, and the rest of the world has seemingly "moved on."

That's why, on this Memorial Day, it's important to remember that Theresa is still here, still grieving. I asked Theresa to write again with updates about these first months without Landon.

What follows are her words:

Eight months have passed since my husband was killed in the Red Sea. Landon was not killed by enemy fire, nor as a result of a mechanical failure.

He was killed as he sat in his helicopter, rotors spinning, chained to the deck of a ship that was going too fast in high seas.

A large wall of water hit the side of ship, shot up, and crashed onto the helicopter, causing it to break apart and eventually go over the side with both pilots still strapped in their seats.

As I sat at my kitchen table and read the military's investigation report, I felt like I was reading a book -- fiction. The helicopter's door came loose ... that means the pilots could escape! I was waiting for a different ending. But it never came.

My children played in the next room as I read that the pilots were most likely "incapacitated" before they hit the water. 

The accident happened five days before our 10th wedding anniversary and shortly before Landon was supposed to come home.

I remember filling out paperwork instead of celebrating with Landon. Rather than shopping for a dress for his homecoming, I spent hours in the mall looking for an outfit I could wear (and still easily nurse our son, Hunter) to the funeral.  

In November, Anthony, then 6 years old, bravely walked into his school, which was a sea of dads in military uniforms for the school's Veteran's Day celebration.

I cried the whole walk home, pushing Hunter in a stroller. Born while Landon was on that final deployment, Hunter will never feel his father's arms.   

In December, I watched, alone, as my boys opened gifts on Christmas. I tried to hide my tears when Anthony looked at all the toys and said, "This is the best Christmas ever!"

Another time, when I had the flu, I wept in a rocker with Hunter in the middle of the night because my husband wasn't there to help me.

On the day I finally went to the Navy Exchange to buy large containers to pack away my husband's things, I wanted to scream. People watched me teeter the large bins on top of the stroller.

 "Do you know what I have to buy these for?" I wanted to say. "Please help me!"

Today, Anthony asks me, "What if something happens to you?"

I hate that I cannot honestly say, "Nothing ever will."  All I can tell him is "You'll be taken care of."

On the morning of September 22, 2013, I had no idea my life would be like this today.

Before that day, however, when I dared to think about the "what ifs" -- because every military spouse does -- I didn't picture it like this.

I never realized how quickly I'd lose my identity as a military wife or that the organization my husband vowed to serve and die for would ever fail me. I am no longer a Navy wife. I'm the VA's problem now.

Landon would be so disappointed.

Yet, despite all this, Anthony, Hunter and I still manage to smile and laugh every day. We continue to live, and we try our best to move forward. We have come miles from those first few weeks in September, and I am optimistic that although we will have bumps in the road, we will be OK.

At the funeral, the military gave the boys and me three perfectly folded American flags. Three flags to remind us of Landon's sacrifice. It's such a small thing. But for two little boys, one of whom will never know his father, someday, it will mean everything.

-- If you'd like to help the Jones family, contributions can be made in person at any Navy Federal Branch, through Paypal, or by mailing a check directly to Navy Federal. The address is 555 Saturn Blvd., Suite C, San Diego, CA 92154. Make checks payable to "Landon Jones Memorial Fund." The Paypal account is landonjonesmemorialfund@gmail.com, and the access code is 7406575. You can find more information, including ways to help the other family who lost a loved one, at www.Facebook.com/Sarah.is.Smiley.

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Contributor

Navy wife Sarah Smiley is a syndicated newspaper columnist and the author of Going Overboard: The Misadventures of a Military Wife (2005) and I'm Just Saying (2008). She has been featured in the New York Times and Newsweek, and on Nightline, The Early Show, CNN, Fox News and other local and national news outlets. Her liferights were optioned by Kelsey Grammer's company, Grammnet, and Paramount Television to be made into a half-hour sitcom. Visit www.SarahSmiley.com for more details. To contact Sarah, you can also visit her Facebook page.

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