February 4, 2017
At 43 years old, Murzyn wondered if she would be the oldest widow, and on the first day of the retreat she was nervous. "A lot of widows, military widows are young," Murzyn says. "[I thought] am I going to be the only suicide widow? Like, is everyone else going to be KIA?"
The American Widow Project provides retreats for groups of military widows. Gloria Hillard /Gloria Hillard for NPRIn the kitchen of a vacation rental in southern California, family pictures form a collage on the refrigerator.
On closer inspection the photos are of multiple families, and many of the women in the photos are sitting together around the kitchen table nearby. The photos are from their weddings or pictures of children. This is a typical, makeshift family scrapbook at an American Widow Project retreat.
During the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the women seeking help from the group were young, with husbands who had been killed in combat. Today the widows contacting the organization are older, and their husbands aren't dying abroad — they're dying on American soil.
"I have to say, I haven't genuinely laughed as much as I've laughed with these ladies, and shared things that ... that I know that they understand," says Erin Murzyn.
"He did leave a letter and he put in the letter that his head hurt so bad," Murzyn says. "And he didn't feel he could be fixed."
Russell had served two tours in Iraq and was being treated by the VA when he died. His widow says she didn't realized how bad things had become — that he was a wonderful new father and kept his feelings inside to protect those he loved.
"Russell was that Marine that other Marines looked up to," Murzyn says. "He was the guy that they went to with problems."
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"And he didn't feel he could be fixed" but that is the number one thing that does not get through to them. They do not know they are not stuck with the anguish and can change again. My friend, a Marine veteran, delivered a powerful message for New Year's Eve on how their lives can in fact change for the better.