On Sept. 9, 2011, my husband, Spc. Christopher Horton, was killed in action in Paktia, Afghanistan.

My world shattered. As I struggled to look through the kaleidoscope lens that made up my life, I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t eat, and I could barely breathe. I didn’t understand why God would take away my husband so soon, or why he chose me to live on alone and carry this great burden. I was drowning in grief, heartbroken and almost hopeless.

Throughout my long four and half years of being a war widow, nothing has been harder for me than to learn to live — when all I wanted to do was die. There have been many sleepless nights where I have laid on my face praying and crying my eyes out, and many mornings where I rolled up into a ball, asking for God to take me, or somehow spare me from this pain. I didn’t want to be here anymore, I didn’t want to face the day.

Christopher and Jane Horton Wedding Lawn

To live means so much more than just struggling to function. I may have still been breathing, but I wasn’t alive. After all, life is so much more than just breath.

There was no life left within me — only a broken, devastated heart that struggled to carry on and somehow project a kind of artificial life. I was going through the motions, painting lipstick on and plastering on a fake smile every morning just to get through the day. I was only a fraction of the person I had been before, and fought hard to make it through each day.

As much as I didn’t want to do anything, I knew that if somehow I didn’t give up — if I could produce an ounce of courage, it could only get better. If I could find the strength to carry on, in some way I would make my husband proud. I could not let myself give up.

Christopher and Jane Horton Airport cropped

Even in my darkest hours and loneliest nights, there was always a tiny ounce of hope. That morsel of hope that sometimes took me days of searching to find was rooted deep within my heart because of the awareness that my life and freedom was bought with a price. A price so high — I would never be able to repay it, I could search my whole life for something valuable enough to pay off the debt, but I would never be able to find it, because the only way to I could ever repay such a gift- was to live.

This life of freedom was bought for me with my husband’s life.

With such a gift so great, and that I am so unworthy of, how could I not live? It has taken me days upon days, weeks upon weeks, and years upon years to slowly build life within my being back again. But I have chosen to live, to give it all I have, and with all that said — to enjoy life.

To do things I never had the chance to do with my husband, to push myself to my very limits, to challenge myself to my core, to accomplish every dream I’ve ever had, and to live the fullest life possible.

I urge America’s veterans, as you honor the fallen this Memorial Day, to live.

I will never know what it is like to lose a battle buddy, or to almost die in battle. I will never pretend to understand survivor’s guilt — or what veterans go through on a daily basis, but I do know one thing. It is not what my husband would want for you.

Christopher Horton Afghanistan w Rifle

Far too many of you will attempt to spend the rest of your lives toiling your way through a normalcy that will always be anything but normal to a soldier who has experienced war. For too many of you, this world will never be normal, but rather a maze of doubt, guilt, regret, fear, and pain. My heart goes out to you.

I’m sorry you have been chosen to carry the burden of war, and I want you to know I pray for you, I cry for you, and I care for you. The fallen are in a better place. You are the one that is left to wade through the mess, to try and process the images, the death and the guilt. But you cannot carry that burden forever, so please don’t let it destroy you.

My husband did not come home — many did not come home — but you did. Many of you have left the battlefield, but not the war within your own soul, or you struggle to remove yourself from that day or that time. You can’t carry the weight of the world; you only have two hands. A human being was only meant to carry so much, and I hope that one day you can be at peace with yourself. Always remembering, always honoring the dead, and choosing to truly live.

Those who have given their lives — like my husband — are in a better place, and we will see them again. Maybe one day we will find out that they were the lucky ones, and we are the ones that had to grieve, mourn, and carry the pain through this world.

There’s a reason why you live on the earth, and your time is not yet finished. My husband, like many fallen service members, would want to see you live. Live the fullest lives possible, and enjoy every minute of it. As brothers and sisters in arms, each and every one of you would’ve given your lives for the other. You just weren’t chosen to make that sacrifice, it wasn’t your time to go, but you were chosen for life.

This Memorial Day, I urge all veterans who carry the weight of the world and the weight of war on your shoulders to push with all that is within you to live. The greatest tragedy of all is for the fallen to have given their lives on this earth for those they care about the most, and then they spend the rest of their days with no life.

After all, if we don’t live, what did they give their lives for?

Christopher Horton Afghanistan w Boy

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WAJ note: This post originally ran at Task and Purpose. Please also read Jane’s related post, I Made The Journey Home From Afghanistan My Fallen Husband Never Could:

(video also here)