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War widow blogs the next chapter of her life

Katie Wade with her husband, Marine Cpl. Chad Wade, who was killed in Afghanistan on Dec. 1, when he stepped on a roadside bomb during a foot patrol. Katie blogs about coping with his loss.

COURTESY OF KATIE WADE

By MEGAN MCCLOSKEY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 28, 2011

Late that night, after the notification officer had picked her up from her knees and carried her into the house, the young newlywed wrote on her blog what she couldn’t yet convince herself was true.

RIP My Sweet Husband
I never thought this would happen to me.
I lost my husband, but Heaven gained a damn good Marine.
I am so proud of you Chad. I am truly at a loss for words.

Katie Wade was married at 18 and a war widow at 20.

Her blog, "Starting our New Lives Together: The Wades," created so she and her husband, Cpl. Chad Wade, could one day look back on their early years of marriage, turned into an outlet for her grief.

Since a roadside bomb in Afghanistan killed Chad on Dec. 1, Katie has shared with the world her trials of widowhood in a raw, confessional diary. She is one of many in this generation of war widows who have carved a slice of the Internet to vent as they cope with the loss of their husbands.

Word of mouth has brought hundreds to Katie’s blog.

“The blog helps me deal with everything,” Katie said in an interview. “When I write about how I’m feeling that day I don’t hold back.”

I want to stop everything and not care about any of it anymore. I feel like there’s no point. All I have ever wanted in my life has been taken away. I just want you back ... I don’t need anything else. I would live in a box with no money, food, nothing ... just as long as I could have you. Why couldn’t you have stayed? Why?

Newlyweds

Katie launched the blog in January 2010, eager to chronicle her new world as a wife.

She had recently graduated high school, married Chad two weeks after he got home from Iraq, and moved from their small hometown in Arkansas to Camp Pendleton, Calif.

The two met on MySpace. They attended the same high school, but Chad was three years older and they never crossed paths.

In her senior year when she saw his picture online, she thought: “That’s the kind of guy I need in my life.”

The pair talked long distance on the phone for months before meeting in Arkansas when he was home from Pendleton for pre-deployment leave. They spent two weeks together, and then they got engaged while he was in Iraq.

Once together out West, Katie blogged about their lives together: how much fun they had over the weekend, swooning declarations of love, her pride in learning to cook.

Chad will take his first bite and say, “Good dinner baby, thank you,” and then gives me a kiss. :) He does this every night.

She was giddy on their one-year anniversary in September, and she shared their yearning to start a family, right down to her trips to the Dollar Store for pregnancy tests.

Whatever comes at us, I can’t wait and look forward to spending the rest of our lives together.

She wrote of the anxious anticipation of Chad’s deployment to Afghanistan in October, and then the loneliness of his absence.

Watching Chad get on that bus and leave literally felt like getting my heart ripped out of my chest.

Six weeks later, when she wrote her rest-in-peace message for Chad, she didn’t know whether that would be her last post.

“I’ve gotten a lot of flack for blogging the day I found out,” Katie said. “I was still in shock. I had to keep saying it and saying it.”

Friends encouraged her to keep blogging.

Her posts in the first weeks after his death are naked emotion.

 Please please please...wake me up from this terrible dream. I’m begging you...baby please...call me and tell me this is a huge mistake. Make this unbearable pain go away. Make these tears stop...please. I’d do anything...

Her blog puts on full display the whiplash between anguish and the first twinges of strength.

I never thought I’d get past the knock on my door...but here I am, 10 days later. I’m just taking it one day at a time.

Grief on display

For Katie Wade’s generation, accustomed to featuring their lives online, it’s natural to let the world in on their pain.

Facebook, email and instant message are often how military wives communicate most with deployed husbands, so blogging their grief is “an easy transition,” according to Taryn Davis, a 25-year-old military widow and founder of the American Widow Project, which has a website where military widows share their stories.

“They don’t have to immediately face people,” she said. “They can share in this world they’re already acclimated to.”

Ami Neiberger-Miller, spokeswoman for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS, whose brother was killed in Iraq, said survivors feel compelled to share their stories.

“There’s an isolation among military families,” she said. “We want people to know our stories, that there are people dying in these wars and there are families left behind.”

Katie said she wants her blog out there “to keep up the memory of Chad and what he sacrificed. And to remind people what he did and what we had.”

She admits that she feels vulnerable sometimes having her emotions laid bare for all to see.

“I don’t like people seeing me weak,” she said. “When I’m writing my sad ones, I’m in a really low place. I write those because I have to do it. It’s my last resort.”

Davis said that widows can feel more comfortable expressing themselves with a little distance.

“You can be more candid and honest than you can when standing face to face and sharing the most traumatic thing that happened to you,” she said.

Family and friends, although they mean well, often judge the survivor for how they’re grieving, Neiberger-Miller said.

Blogging is a mostly one-way communication that lets the widow say her piece.

“People do start sharing in that environment because they don’t feel heard anywhere else,” she said.

THIS is who I am. I might change tomorrow....hell, I wont be the same person in a year. But this is me and this is now. I’m sarcastic, goofy, big hearted, loving, and sometimes outspoken. I’m not trying to be anyone but myself...Who gets to decided how I live my life? I’M the one that has to live with myself everyday. Live with MY decisions.

A life to live

Approaching four months since Chad’s death, Katie is writing about her struggle to find herself again. She’s learning to wear the label of “war widow” and searching for her new normal.

I’m literally starting from scratch again. Its not like Chad and I were married for 20 years and had 3 kids and a life we lived together. We didn’t have enough time to start much of anything. I hate that I have to live my life without him.

“I’m trying to find myself not as Chad’s wife anymore,” Katie said. “That’s all I’ve been for the past 1½ years we were married. Everything was being his wife. Waiting for him. Being a part of the Marine Corps. I have to figure out how to be on my own.”

The sense of loss is particularly acute for military widows, according to Joanne Steen, author of “Military Widow: A Survivor’s Guide” and grief consultant for the military.

“When you lose a loved one in the line of duty, you lose your spouse, you lose an identity, a set of friends, a way of life, connection to a unit,” said Steen, a military widow herself. “You’re not part of the military anymore. Not in the same way.”

In her latest blog post from March 23, Katie wrote about how her was sorrow enveloping her lately and her anticipation of how those feelings of being alone will be amplified when Chad’s unit returns home in May.

 I know that there will be a lot more nights of crying alone, when husbands start coming home and people start going back to their lives. I am not mad that they will move on and go back to living their lives. I’m just mad I am no longer apart of that category.

Katie sometimes wonders how long she will keep blogging, but through the ups and the downs it gives her a sense of purpose, even as she struggles to map out her new life.

“It really helps me knowing I can make people appreciate their husbands, appreciate everything they’re surrounded by every day,” she said. “Nothing in life is promised.”

My husband might have passed away, but I plan on having a very full filling life ahead of me. Will I ever be completely content? No of course not. My best friend and soul mate slipped right out of my hands. I can promise you one thing though. I will live my life.

mccloskeym@stripes.osd.mil

Katie Wade with her husband, Marine Cpl. Chad Wade, who was killed in Afghanistan on Dec. 1, when he stepped on a roadside bomb during a foot patrol. Katie blogs about coping with his loss.
COURTESY OF KATIE WADE

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