Finding Strength After My Green Beret Husband Was Killed In Action

by Alexandra McClintock
Originally Published: 
husband died
Alexandra McClintock

The shot heard around the world. It’s funny to think this was penned originally by Emerson referencing the Revolutionary War when it seems it could only possibly be used to describe what took place barely over one year ago today, January 5, 2016.

Two men walked in our white-picket-fence-lined yard and up onto our porch. This sent my dogs into a frenzy, so I came out of the kitchen to see two berets through the top window of my front door, one beret the deep red of an Airborne soldier with a cross indicating a chaplain and the other green like the one my husband Matt wore, like the one I have on the dashboard of our car, like the one my son wears around our house. They rang the doorbell, they knocked on the wide old door, and they knew I saw them but somehow I couldn’t move.

Beneath my feet, the 100-year-old hardwoods that had been refinished by hand in the dream house Matt and I had just bought to raise our son in. Our son who was sleeping peacefully in his car seat on the couch just feet from the front door after I had just brought him into the house. Our son who I would do anything to protect from the shot heard around our world. Those beautiful hardwood floors we had loved so much were no longer enough to hold me up while everything came crashing down around me, and they swallowed me whole.

I woke up on January 5 as though it was any other day in what I thought was an already difficult life. The wife of a Green Beret, the mother to a 2-month-old son, the woman diagnosed with severe postpartum depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. I wasn’t even aware those were real things until I sat across from a postpartum mental health expert with a tear-streaked face after not eating or sleeping for days for fear of doing something wrong, something that would damage my who was the most precious thing I’d ever seen, the son my husband had waited his whole life for, the little boy I never knew I wanted who would become my reason to stay alive.

There are days you think your life can’t possibly get worse, you’re at the bottom — and then? Then those floors fall out from underneath you. I started my day as normal. I’d recently been told I could start spending more time alone with our son, so I woke up in an empty house after more than a month of my father living with us, and I had my morning cup of coffee and got my son ready to go out because I had a therapy appointment.

We got in our bright-red car and drove through the usual misty Seattle weather to our appointment. On our way, we picked up my father and went to therapy to have what we had decided was my “mini-graduation.” It was a graduation because I planned to leave Seattle in two days. I would fly out and spend the last few weeks of my husband’s deployment with his family.

I left my appointment feeling like I’d accomplished so much. My therapist had described the amazing leaps she’d seen in my progress. That I was now able to leave the house was a huge victory. She told me she would see me when I got back, we made arrangements to have phone checkins, and then we parted ways.

On our way home, I dropped my father off, and with his parting, I felt the sinking in my stomach that indicated something was horribly wrong. I looked back to see my son contentedly watching himself in the mirror, but it was not enough reassurance. So I asked Siri to call various friends until one answered. I reached a friend who assured me everything was okay but offered to come over just so I wouldn’t have to be alone. I told her I was sure I was just being paranoid and that I would be fine — it turned out to be one of the biggest lies I’ve ever told.

I arrived home and found my son was now fast asleep in his car seat (of course, he’d wait until we were parked in the driveway to drift into blissful sleep). I gently carried him inside and set his carrier on the couch. I found an empty coffee cup there and carried it to the kitchen — and then the shot came.

Surrounded by love, like the warmest hug on the coldest day, we somehow made it through the last year with each steady dedicated step forward, sometimes crawling, sometimes carried by the love of our family and friends, sometimes dancing in memories. Somehow we made it this year, an entire year, without our sun and our stars. We survived a year without gravity, and we’ve done it by clawing our way through and knowing the love we’re enveloped in is never-ending.

I’ve spent so much time curled up on those same hardwood floors, sobbing, time cursing the sky, time chasing our son, time playing peek-a-boo, time lying on the floor while my son crawls over me. It was there I watched him crawl for the first time and eventually take his very first steps. We’ve hosted family, we’ve held parties, and we’ve had days where getting out of bed was our biggest accomplishment.

I feel like I’m supposed to say that the anniversary was harder than the other days, that it was the hardest day. The hardest day was just over a year ago today. The anniversary? The anniversary is a ricochet, a loud echo, a replay. We survived the shot. Today is just one more of many horrific days we have survived (and will continue to survive) with the strength of those around us to lean on.

I’ll tell you what the anniversary was. More importantly, it was a day every single person stopped, took a moment, and said Matthew’s name. They remembered him. They kept him alive. You die twice, the first time when your soul leaves this world, the second when your name is spoken for the last time. Matthew will never be fully gone.

On the anniversary, my son and I, along with some of our closest family and friends, spent the day with Matthew at his grave in section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery. As we pulled up, “Eye of the Tiger” came on the radio. I think Matt has so many ways of letting me know he’s still here with us. And all of you are here with us every day. That’s what makes the harder days survivable. To everyone around the world who heard the shot that shattered ours and rushed to help, thank you. Thank you so so deeply.

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