An Army Suicide’s Widow, and Mom, Ponders Newtown

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A New England Patriots fan shows support for Newtown and its murdered children and educators Sunday in Foxboro, Mass.

On Friday I think I was in denial.

Like a beating drum, I kept hearing Mike’s words tap away in my mind. “What the heck are any of us fighting for if you won’t live like you are free?”

My soldier-husband, then on a break while pursuing his education at Arizona State University, was at the end of his patience with me.

It was about a month after September 11th. I was five months pregnant with our first child.

The world seemed like a scary place to me. And, though I didn’t want to admit it to anyone other than my husband, I was beginning to perceive a threat.


Like a wounded warrior returned from war, backpacks and trashcans were no longer innocuous daily accessories to me. They held potential disaster and devastation.

There were fearful parts of me that chewed on ideas like moving to Canada. Or Antarctica.

All I could think about was raising my child in a world where evil and pain and loss would never find him.

Isn’t that what we all want for our children? Isn’t that the maternal refrain that we connect with in photos in war-torn countries?

No matter what culture or religion we all recognize and connect with the simultaneous depth of love and sorrow in a mother’s face.

On Friday, I read the frantically updating news reports of the horror unfolding in Newtown, Conn. But I was able to continue through my day doing some fairly normal activities.

It wasn’t until a heartbreaking text from a friend separated by over a thousand miles from his child, that the reality sunk in. The familiar fear of post-9/11 crept and ripped and dug its way back inside my fragile heart. I wanted my babies home. All of them. Right. Now.

In March, my husband died.

He wasn’t shot by a gunman in a school or mall. He didn’t die at war. He was ripped from this world in a violent act by his own hand.

His mental illness had become severe —exacerbated by years of stress and lack of treatment. Seven years before he died, we had both already felt the feelings of defeat as we failed at shielding our first child from pain and suffering as he endured two years of chemotherapy for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Now, all three of my children are well aware that one day you can wake up and in a single moment the world will never be the same again.

This weekend I battled an internal struggle that now couldn’t even think of a country to move to where I felt I could shield my children from loss. But, another battle was being waged in my heart.

And it was with Mike’s admonition.

Anyone who knows me knows that the fastest way to tenderize my heart is through the lives and stories of men and women in uniform, and their families.

I believe in them. I believe in their courage and willingness to do whatever we, the American people, ask them to do.

If I hide myself and my children from the world, what the heck are the men and women fighting, sacrificing and dying for?

Complicating matters, is we are facing enemies so insidious we can’t contain them in a country far, far away, or a prison out in the boonies, or in a hospital armed with guards.

It sounds trite, but I mean it when I say: we have become our own worst enemies.

We are so busy scuttling our children from activity to activity I’m not sure we’re taking much time to pay attention to our families, let alone our communities. We are so busy, we don’t find much time to notice. Or help. Or love.

We discuss the changes that are needed in mental health care or to the fiscal cliff, but how many of us really invest the energy to understand the problems and do our part to fix them? I know I’m guilty of flipping on a comedy rather than taking a moment to sign a petition or write a member of Congress.

I don’t pretend to have the answers. I won’t tell you which petition to sign.

When my husband pulled me up off the couch and dragged me out to a movie theater a few weeks after the towers fell, he was demanding that I live as if I were free.

He’d had enough of living in fear. He believed we had to take a stand by showing that the terrorist could not control our lives through fear.

This morning, as I dropped my 10-year old off at cello practice, the flags were flying at half mast. I gripped the steering wheel a little tighter as I pulled up to park. And I made sure I made eye-contact with him when I said “I love you. Have a good day!”

But, I made the decision not just to live as if we are free in the moment as I sent each of my children off into the classroom today.

To live as if we are free, means that we lift our voices high enough to be heard. We come together, free, as a community to find solutions — not just to immediate problems but to underlying problems in our homes, community and world.

Yes we drive to practice, yes we watch TV. But, not before we take a moment to exercise our precious freedoms of speech and organization.

If we don’t take the opportunity to make meaningful change and affect real healing after what a small town in Connecticut faced last week—then what the heck are any of us fighting for?

Leslie McCaddon of Massachusetts was one of two widows Time featured in its July cover story on the surge in Army suicides. Her husband, Dr. Michael McCaddon, an Army captain, died in March.