We all know what a “just in case” letter is, the one meant for your family if something should happen to you. Last words of love or solace or wishes or strength. I wrote several before I left for Afghanistan, all sent to my mother in an envelope before I deployed along with my will and power of attorney. An envelope she refused to even look at while I was gone. I made it home so my mother never had to read that letter. The same can’t be said for Pat Tillman’s widow, Marie. Her “just in case” letter and its contents were the impetus for her book, released in 2012, entitled The Letter: My Journey Through Love, Loss, and Life.
It isn’t a story about the legend of Pat Tillman. It isn’t the story of a hero. It isn’t even the story of how badly the bureaucracy messed up. It is story of a woman and a man, who loved and whose love was cut short and that man’s final words to her, written in his “just in case” letter, which carried her through the grief of losing him.
“I ask that you live.”
That’s what he wrote to her. A simple sentence, the execution of which is in no way simple. How do you carry on when the person you took vows with is gone and all the dreams you shared and all the promise of the future gone with him? When the vibrancy and joy he brought to your days has been replaced by empty space? When all the secrets you shared are now yours alone to carry?
In The Letter, Marie shares how she carried on. How she struggled with continuing, with the public spotlight and the private memories, with the Congressional hearings. How questions such as “When should I remove my wedding ring?” cause internal turmoil, guilt, and sadness. In a real and touching way, she takes you through the struggles of her emotions, of handling other people’s emotions, of trying to build a life that balances keeping that loved one’s memory alive while not letting your life be anchored in the past.
She finishes with the telling of how she found her way back to the foundation she started in her husband’s name, how, despite her fury at the government, she recognizes the character and potential of the men and women who believe, as Pat did, in “duty, honor, country,” and how she is carrying on his legacy through the foundation and the Pat Tillman Scholarship program. And how, after so many years, she learned to love again. To live, as he asked her to.
Her story isn’t unusual. In fact, unfortunately, there are many women and men who have and are fighting the same battle, struggling to cope with the reality of “some gave all.” Her story just happens to come with a man whose name and face people know and recognize. And it’s a story worth reading.
You can find The Letter at any of your usual book outlets and you can learn more about The Pat Tillman Foundation at www.pattillmanfoundation.org
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