October 8 marked the one-year anniversary of that horrible day when Keith got shot in Afghanistan. One year since we lost two great Americans, U.S. Army captains Josh Lawrence and Drew Russell. One year since our lives changed profoundly.
We didn’t do anything special on Monday. The twins, who were only 3 ½ months old when it happened and are now rambunctious nearly-16-month-olds, were getting over a stomach bug, which Keith had caught from them. So, we just hung out at home together. We spoke to Josh’s wife and Drew’s parents, who have now become like family to us, on the phone. We talked a lot about Drew and Josh, trying for the millionth time not to ask, “Why?” And we took a moment to thank God for letting us have this otherwise ordinary day together.
On July 4, 2011, Keith held each of our sleeping two-week-old boys for what we thought would be the last time for seven months, when he could get home for R&R. Neither of us voiced our underlying fears. It was such a bittersweet time: the overwhelming love and joy that came with being new parents, coupled with the deep sadness and anxiety about having to be separated. I have no idea how Keith held it together when he got on that plane. I have no idea how any service member holds it together when they leave their families. Their strength astounds me.
The next three months were a blur for both of us. We were both sleep-deprived; he from the rigors of deployment and me from taking care of two newborns. It sucked, and it was hard, but it seemed to be going by fairly quickly.
And then October 8 happened, and everything changed. On this very day last year, Keith was lying in a hospital bed in Landstuhl, Germany. I was at my parents’ house in New York with the babies, wanting desperately to see my husband. Then Keith was transferred to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
On October 15, the babies and I traveled to Walter Reed and saw Keith for the first time in over three months. The tiny newborns Keith had left were now smiling, bouncing infants with unique personalities. It was an overwhelming moment: We were full of relief and happiness, but also sadness and anger at what had brought us back together so soon.
Keith spent the next three weeks at Walter Reed. It was a humbling experience for both of us. Keith’s injuries were in no way minor: he’d had several surgeries, was in a great deal of pain, and had a long recovery ahead of him. But he was by far one of the healthiest patients in the hospital. His neighbors were double and triple amputees. I’d help Keith slowly hobble down the hallway with his walker, and they’d zoom by us on their prosthetic limbs, strong and smiling and determined. I met some of their wives, whose incredible optimism and sunny dispositions inspired me. I still feel amazed at having been in the presence of such heroes. They are some of America’s greatest.
We headed back home to Colorado on November 9. We spent the next several months bonding as a family; Keith getting to know his boys again. He had endless doctor appointments and physical therapy sessions. Sometimes he’d talk about what happened, and sometimes he didn’t want to. I’d listen and try to help him work through his feelings. Sometimes he’d do the same for me. When he showed me his blood-spattered wallet, and the sandwich bag containing the babies’ little socks and bib that he was carrying in his left pocket for good luck when the bullet tore through his leg, it really hit me how close we’d come to losing him.
One year later, Keith has come a long way in his healing and acceptance of what happened. Physically, he still does not have all of the nerve function back in his leg, and we don’t yet know if he ever will. It frustrates him that he can’t run as fast as he used to, and that he still can’t do certain exercises. But I think the fact that he holds himself to the same standards of physical fitness as his peers is commendable.
His emotional healing has been a lot harder. He misses Drew and Josh. He still wonders why they were lost and he was not. He still sometimes struggles with survivor’s guilt. But as the saying goes, “Don’t put a question mark where God has put a period.” That’s easier said than done.
What Keith doesn’t realize, but I can say for sure, is this: Every day, Keith honors Drew and Josh’s sacrifice by being the best father, husband, and soldier I know. We’ll never know for sure why he’s been given more time on this Earth, but we sure are not going to waste a single moment of it. We will dedicate ourselves to helping others, and to helping make this world a better place. It is amazing how tragedies like these can give you a much-needed dose of perspective, and a much deeper appreciation for your friends and loved ones.
Help us honor Captain Josh Lawrence and Captain Drew Russell, who made the ultimate sacrifice to help protect us and our great nation, by being the best person you can be.