On April 20, 2010, my husband died in Houston of an accidental overdose at an inpatient facility, Project Victory, where he was receiving treatment for PTSD. (Project Victory has since closed its doors.)
I know the impact of war firsthand. War left me a widow. Just as the pain had become a part of my husband, grief has become a part of me. In this, I am not alone. Since we first went to war in Afghanistan in 2001, 7,013 service members have been killed and 53,088 have been wounded in conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
The cost of war is every citizen’s burden to carry, not just the burden of those willing to fight. If you choose to support a war, be prepared to support those who are most affected by it. War has effects that extend beyond the casualties.
Widows will be left to take care of their children alone. Children will be left without parents. Caregivers will be forced to put their lives on hold, as I did, to tend to the wounds of their spouses. Parents will bury their children. Veterans will be left with brain injuries, trauma and amputations — or, like my husband, with an opioid addiction.
My husband was more than just a Marine. He was a big brother, a son and a loyal friend. In high school, just before he joined the Marines, he was a football player. His favorite subject was history and he wanted more than anything to be a crop duster pilot — to swoop and dive through the Alabama skies he grew up under.
In Alabama, he grew up poor and with very few options available. The Marine Corps offered him free health care, decent pay, housing and a free education. Serving during wartime was worth it to him if it meant a chance to make something of himself.
At 19 years old, Cleve signed his life away, even if he didn’t know it at the time.
The morning after the funeral, I cried alone in my bed wearing one of my husband’s favorite shirts, a green one that said “Jesus Loves This Guy” and had two thumbs pointing up at my face. My whole life was ahead of me but I wasn’t sure how I could bear living it after losing the man I loved.