by Lt. Col. Luke Lokowich
5th Reconnaissance Squadron
3/18/2015 - OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- She
wasn't supposed to die. It was the duty of the military member to face
danger and possibly water the tree of freedom, right? It was supposed to
be child birth, complete with laughter, joy and celebration at
welcoming a new family member. What it became was a nightmare education
that began by absorbing a flood of unfamiliar terms such as aneurism,
eclampsia and HELLP syndrome.
I had to verbally consent to a laundry list of organs I would allow for
donation. My needs and wants used to center around the cleanliness of my
truck and when happy hour ended. Suddenly and without warning, it
became the fine art of a diaper change, techniques for preparing an army
of bottles every day and installation of a car seat. My life became
instantly, completely, and regardless of the tragedy, centered on the
care and feeding that was required of a newborn baby girl, because the
miracle of life for me that day was a trade and not an addition.
Avery really didn't care what my problems were, what she needed was a
Daddy with his head screwed on straight. I'll admit that Avery was as
easy of a baby anyone could ask for; God knew I needed it. God knew I
needed time to grieve and learn how to move forward after losing my
wife. I tried all the coping mechanisms: denial, blame, work, exercise,
religion, support groups, relationships, alcohol, you name it.
I blamed myself for not seeing the telltale signs of a body poisoning
itself; I spent my days wondering if it was a dream, putting on an "I
got this" face around my friends. Inside I was crushed. My Juliet had
just died, and I didn't even get a chance to say goodbye. On weekends
the spouses in my squadron would watch Avery overnight, so I could feign
happiness while drinking with my friends. I took a week-long singles
cruise to tactically insert myself back into my new demographic. I
became as fast a 5K runner as I've ever been, and I reached out to
support groups both on and off base, inside and out of my faith. None of
it was me, and none of it was working.
Flying had always been my release, my disconnect from the hysteria of an
imperfect world. My squadron left me off of the flying schedule to deal
with the flood of change and paperwork involved with the new path my
life was taking. Unbeknownst to them, it was taking away the only
happiness I knew, so returning to the air following my hiatus was a
freedom that words cannot explain.
Pilots have always compartmentalized tasks, and I was no different. My
daily preflight routine simply had a new checklist item, and that was
"drop Avery off at daycare." I will be forever grateful to the B-52
community for giving me aviation and fellowship in one old, ugly,
smelly, eight-engine warfighter. It was on my first flight following
JoAnne's death that I received a real, alcohol-free reprieve from
parenting and began to heal.
I chose to celebrate. JoAnne was a wonderful woman, full of life and
laughter. How fortunate I was to have been a part of her journey, albeit
for a very short slice of time. I choose to celebrate her life for the
time it was, and not grieve for the time it will never be. Make no
mistake; I shed many tears while poring over photographs of the woman I
knew, reliving memories of a friend I'd never see again. I let go of my
anger, I stopped blaming myself, and I accepted my life was not a
nightmare, but instead a process of transformation brought about as a
result of a tragic experience.
Normal doesn't exist for any of us who have lost someone close. We
establish a new normal that has ups and downs just like the old normal
did. Moving forward is a choice I've made, and it's been the best thing
I've ever done. It allowed me to fall in love again, it allowed me to
continue to grow my family, it allowed me to succeed professionally, and
it allowed me to be happy again. Have I "gotten over it?" No. Nor do I
ever expect to.
Getting over loss is like getting over losing your right arm. While
happiness will fill your days again, you'll still never be the same.
Find a healthy activity that fills your need to get away for a little
while, and accept the fact that when "it" hits the fan it's never evenly
distributed. You can almost guarantee that tomorrow will be better. At
the end of the day, it's a pretty good ride, and worth sticking around