A Year in the Life of a Pilot’s Widow

I want to start off by addressing that I don’t really know why I am writing this right now, other than the fact that I have something to say to anyone who has or will ever mourn a pilot. I’m going to keep this short, and I’m going to keep it concise…

Before I get into that, I want to talk about what it means to love a pilot. Not a person who flies. But a pilot. Someone who was born to take to the skies.

I have heard so many military spouses talk about how they simply pretend the jobs our husbands and boyfriends have are “normal.” They pretend that they are bankers or lawyers. I get that this is done to protect themselves, but ultimately, they aren’t bankers. They are pilots.

Their jobs are epic. They have legendary stories to tell.

If you love a pilot, you love someone who literally tames and rides dragons all day. And then comes home and does laundry. And eats dinner with you. And asks about your day.

If you love a pilot this means weekly if not daily conversations about the dangers of the job. The dangers of ejection. The possibility of severed limbs. Third degree burns. Broken backs. And death.

Not just one conversation, but many conversations.

If you love a pilot, you love someone who spends their whole life fighting gravity, and bending it. And to love a pilot means that one day, you very realistically may have to mourn that pilot, because even the greatest pilots can die doing what they love.

It’s the gig. To truly love a pilot is to be ready and willing and able to try your best to survive their death.

And when and if, one day, your pilot falls from the sky, we, their widows, are left to mourn heroes.

We are also left with a community who says they want to support your grief but also really hopes you stay quiet about it.

When you mourn a pilot, everyone mourns with you for a while. You get a lot of calls from people who didn’t know your pilot but want to express their condolences.

You also get messages from pilots you don’t know. Their wives in the next room. These pilots are panicked, they have so much fear of death, but their wife simply can’t understand and so they can’t talk to her. (Maybe because she is trying to convince herself that he has a normal job and he doesn’t want to upset her).

So these pilots talk to you. Because you’re already destroyed.

And though you are broken and grieving, these are your person’s brothers, so you stay up til all hours of the night trying to console broken men while you yourself are broken.

When you mourn a pilot, you know conversations are going on about you in the spouse groups. Are you still a spouse? Most think yes. But there’s always one or two who consider you less of a spouse, and after a few months of trying to figure out how to deal with their passive aggressive dismissals of your suggestions, you decide that maybe, ultimately, you may need to leave that group completely. And leave those friendships.

A lot of people tell you that they’re going to do really amazing things to honor your dead pilot. Getting necklaces made. Bracelets. They’re going to send them to you when the designs are finished…but the designs never get finished, and ultimately you just forget about it.

When you mourn a pilot, you listen to other spouses with living husbands complain about the amount of time their guy is flying. They don’t complain in group chats…they, for some reason, complain to you.

You get called by investigators over and over and over again. Every time, they need a little more information. A few more details for the report. And then the report of the accident comes out, and you read “pilot error,” listed across the top. And your soul screams. And you feel like your guy has died twice.

And on top of that, people keep saying over and over and over again, “I’m sure his last thoughts were of you,” and you want to scream at them, “do you even get it? Do you even understand what they do up there? He better not have been thinking of me, he better have been trying to get out of the god damn airplane so he could get back to me.”

When you mourn a pilot, you show up to their final funeral service, and you see people with their cell phones out.

You collapse by their coffin afterwards when everyone is trickling away and you sob. And you clutch the name tag hanging from the handle of the casket and you look at your dead pilot’s name. And you feel your heart shatter again.

And while that’s happening, someone walks up behind you and taps you on the shoulder and asks if you can move for a second…because they want a picture of the casket (it’s their first time at Arlington Cemetery after all, and they don’t know if they’ll ever be back).

So you move. And they get their picture.

And at the services, you run into one of the pilots who called you months earlier. And later on after the funeral, he calls you again when it is a little too late. He’s alone in his hotel room. He asks if you want to meet up. And you hang up the phone and delete his number. And you mourn your dead pilot even more because he was truly a good person. And you feel like you’ve been left to the wolves.

When you mourn a pilot you consider the idea that maybe you don’t want to live anymore. You make the mistake of telling one of the wives. And she takes the screenshots of those messages and shows them to other wives. And ultimately one of them finally calls you and goes, “I just think you should know she is saying these things about you,” and you stare blankly off into space and ask her, “did you stand up for me?” To which she responds, “well, it’s not really my place to do so, but I thought you should know.”

And so you think about it.

And you make a list of every single person from your pilot’s squadron, and you delete them from social media. And you write really angry posts about things they never let you say. And you’re talking for the first time, honestly, about how you feel. And you let it all out. You use your anger to scorch the Earth around you. And it feels good.

People start calling you and telling you you’re causing too much pain to others. And you laugh to yourself that anyone is trying to talk to you about what “too much pain,” is. And it feels good.

The fact that people can see, for the first time, how little they mean to you in the face of what you lost, feels good. It feels so good, because you finally, after almost a year, feel like people hear you.

And the first year ends. And you’re finally breathing again after spending so much time suffering a death by a thousand cuts.

And you take your first few steps into the second year of being a dead pilot’s widow.

And then another pilot dies. And you see his widow in the news articles and you hear the talks and lofty speeches about how the community is going to pull together to support her.

And you just hope it goes differently this time.

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There are truly so many great and supportive people within the military communities, please know I acknowledge that.

This post is a culmination of things that happened to me and other widows after their losses. So obviously…there is some room for improvement.