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Bonnie Bartel Latino

Wife of Air Force retiree

Nov. 6, 2012 - 06:28PM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 6, 2012 - 06:28PM  |  
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A doorbell rings. Hearts, minds, families shatter.

No matter how gently delivered, the words notifying of a fallen warrior's death equal a verbal IED.

Reading or hearing about an active-duty member's death, I say silent prayers for family members who have unexpectedly lost a spouse, child, mother or father. When I learn of multiple deaths in a single military unit, my prayers also take flight for those left behind at the fallen warriors' unit and base, for they will likely encounter the compounding effects of grief. Combat survivors will have to postpone grief, never an ideal situation.

I'm no psychologist, but my intimate experiences with loss taught me multiple deaths magnify and complicate grief.

"Thy will be done," I repetitively prayed while baking Christmas cookies in my German kitchen. Cinnamon scents mingled with the sound of bells ringing in our village church as my husband arrived home from Sembach Air Base. His eyes revealed my prayers had been answered.

Daddy was pain-free, but I had lost the first man who made me feel smart, unique, unconditionally loved.

Thirty hours later, I answered the phone in my childhood Alabama home. A friend confided that a reckless driver had taken the lives of Olive, Daddy's special lady in recent years, and Linda, another family friend. Twenty years younger than Daddy, the women had been darling, mischievous and always grasped life with both hands! Convincing myself that Daddy was elderly and had cancer, I grieved for Olive and Linda. It took me years to discover that it is impossible to bury one's sorrow beneath grief for another. Each soul must be individually celebrated — and mourned.

I no longer believe in "closure," but to survive death's dark sting, I had to get to a place where grief no longer paralyzed me. That didn't happen until I felt compelled to share insights, which grief had given me, in a military-themed novel that might comfort those who mourn.

Numerous reader comments on Amazon.com indicate the book has become a source of healing. One widow wrote, "I haven't opened my heart to anyone else, but feel that might be possible after reading your book." An Episcopal priest called it "a red-blooded, heart-warming tribute to the United States Air Force. It is an exceptionally believable story of human grief lived honestly and redeemed realistically by love."

Another reader called the novel "an affirmation that joy can come after deep mourning."

A four-star general's five-star review concluded, "While painted as fiction, the personal life events are real today amongst America's Warriors ... life ... death ... and rebirth."

Without my military background, I could never have co-authored a patriotic novel that many say has given them hope.

Writing the book also made me recognize how privileged I was to have lived the Air Force way of life for 30 years.

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