Three years ago I was a corporate business woman until I received the phone call on April 10 and told my husband was wounded on foreign soil..
Saturday January 25, 2014 I was asked to be guest speaker at the Kansas Days celebration in Lawrence, KS. Please feel free to read the words I shared with complete strangers that evening.
"Thank you for allowing me to join you this evening and share part of my life.
Three years ago, if someone told me I would be standing in front of you today, I would not have believed them. Three years ago, I was a corporate business woman going over profit & loss statements, gross & net margins, working 60-70 hours per week. Three years ago, I was a mother to two daughters going to gymnastics and coping with the fact my oldest daughter was a teenager. Three years ago, I was living the America Dream with my loving family.
Life can change in a moment’s notice; and so I found out as a military spouse turned wounded warrior spouse on "On April 10, 2011 as I was driving to my office, my phone rang with an unfamiliar number. Thinking it was my husband Jamie who had deployed to Afghanistan two months prior, I answered the phone quickly, but the voice on the other end didn’t sound anything like my husband. The voice was cold and direct as he asked to speak with Melissa Jarboe. My body grew weak as the voice introduced himself as a soldier from 1st Infantry division, Fort Riley, KS.
“Ma’am, I’m going to read this script verbatim. I do not have any answers to your questions. On the 10th day of April 2011 4th cavalry/ 4th regiment Able troop was on patrol in the Zhari District of Afghanistan when Able troop took enemy fire. SGT Jamie Darrell Jarboe was wounded by enemy fire as a casualty. My name is John Doe (name changed for privacy). Please write down this number for further information.”
Days later I would be told my husband was shot by a snipers bullet in the Zhari District of Afghanistan. The 7.62 bullet from an AK-47 rifle penetrated my husband's spine, leaving him a quadriplegic and paralyzed from the chest down, he never gave up the fight on the battlefield nor did I as his wife, once he returned to American soil. Jamie & I spent the next 11 months inside 7 different hospitals, Jamie not being able to walk, talk, breathe or eat and enduring over 100 surgeries and surgical procedures trying to heal what the sniper so viscously tore apart physically to my husband and emotionally to our family. Our family spend the entire summer inside an ICU room that was 8 foot by 10 foot. For Halloween, my girls went trick or treating at the Nurses stations, for Thanksgiving we ate leftovers from another family and on Christmas eve, we slept on the floor next to my husbands hospital bed so we could wake up together on Christmas.
Each day we would wake up praying that we were one day closer to going home and living the life we took for granted for so many years. What we wouldn't give to go out to dinner at our favorite local restaurant and get the wrong meal. We missed being cut off in traffic, we missed walking to our mail box and getting junk mail, we missed chasing out Pomeranian puppies after they saw a cat. All the simplicities in life, we missed. We created new daily habits like as a family we would move my husband's legs so he wouldnt get blood clots, my daughters would help me rotate Jamie from side to side so he wouldnt get bed sores, we would gather around his hospital bed in our cold metal chairs just to see him open his eyes. Knowing that when he did, he would see his devoted family beside him loving and missing him.
It was the fight inside of us, the love for our country and fellow service members that kept our dream of one day going home to Kansas and living happily ever after alive. However, that dream was shattered on March 10, 2012 when doctors relayed the information that my husband SSG Jamie Jarboe was terminal and needed to be placed in Hospice care for the remainder of his life -I I remember the last few days of Jamie's life, the nurses asked him if he regretted his service. If he had to do it all over again, would he join the military?
With out hesitation my husband said: "I have no regrets. I love the military. I love my country. I'd take that bullet again."
As Jamie and I held one another, we not only embraced the hardships we had endured for the last 11 months of fighting for life, we embraced the reality of the end of a soldier’s life. Jamie asked Me to get a pen and paper to write down what he was about to tell me. He said “We might as well use the rest of my life to help plan the rest of yours.”
“The first thing he told me to write was, I love you and don’t you ever forget that, second, keep helping my soldiers and their families, take care of my soldiers and don’t ever let them forget they have our support. As for his last wish, I will keep that personal between Jamie & I for now.
As I lay next to him once again on his hospital bed, I asked him if he wants to let me go. He shook his head yes. I started to cry once more at the thought of losing my Jamie, and he shook his head no, I told him, I love him so much and he shook his head yes, I asked him if he knows how much everyone is going to miss him and he shook his head yes, I told him I remembered everything he told me to do and I will promise to do it, he shook his head yes, then after I kissed his lips I told him I know he has struggled more than humanly possible and I’m sorry for being so greedy and keeping you here because I didn’t want to let you go . He shook his head no and I gave him one last kiss. The private care nurse said she already made the call to the doctor and at 9:25am March 21, 2012 my husband took his last and final breath.
"I put all the love and admiration I have for him into everyone around me," it helps me heal and helps me become a better person." Each day I strive to create change in the world, just as my husband created change in me, I learned that I was not doing enough each day I went to my office, each day I lived out the American Dream, not realizing that in a moments notice, I would be taught a valuable lesson. Selfless service to others,
“If my husband can give his life for our country, then I can live each day for him, carrying on his dying wish to care for his fellow service members.”
Months after Jamie’s death, I took time to reflect on our life and after trying to understand how I was going to carry out Jamie's wish I chose to launch the Jamie Jarboe Foundation now named the Military Veteran Project a 501c3 Nonprofit which advovcates, educates & honors Military Veterans and their families.
The mission statement of the foundation is:
“To honor and Empower our Military Veterans"
To raise awareness and enlist the community's support.
Reintegration for service members with peer to peer support
To provide services, programs and grant the empowerment to Military Veterans.
Lead the nation by example through our patriotic leader outreach program.
Tonight I thank you for allowing me share my life with and help carrying on not only husband's wish and his memory.
A few weeks ago, I received an email that I was nominated as Military Spouse of the year... immediately, I disqualified myself thinking a widow isn't a spouse... Then I reached out to someone on the MSOY committee to find out widows are able to be nominated because we are still considered spouses. That was news to my ears!!
Click this link to read about Military Spouse of the Year
I'm no longer a spouse, I am a widow. My husband doesn't come home anymore after a long days work, he doesn't leave his muddy boots at my front door, he doesn't hold me at night when I have a hard day and he just doesn't since the day he took his last breath on March 21, 2012.
Much to people's amazement, my husband is still able to move mountains, not physically but emotionally and spiritually.. He is able to do that through me as I carry on his wish & legacy. Each day he encourages me to open my eyes, look out the window to the sky and give thanks for the ability to live another day.. Another day I can make a difference and do something he is not able to do and that is live each day to its fullest. The classification of my ID card has changed from Spouse to Widow, but one thing remains the same, I represent my husband, honor his sacrifice and care for my military family as if he was right beside me each day.
Its been nearly two years since I last held Jamie's hand, looked into his eyes and kissed his lips, but yet it feels like it was just yesterday.. he taught me so much since we first met in 2008, he taught me about who I was meant to be and he did that by loving me unconditionally and never giving up on me. How many men do you know would wait for nearly six months for a first date? Well, I knew of one and I married him!
Not only did Jamie teach me about love for myself, but the greatest of love for our country. His dedication and loyalty to selflessly serving our nation and protecting the American soil in which I was able to walk freely on each day showed me what the true meaning of hero was.
Like so many thousands & millions of veterans around the world today who served, Jamie had no regrets. None what so ever. Even in the last few days of his life as he was asked if he regretted joining the Military, he had no hesitation when he answered "No, I do not have any regrets, given the choice to do it alll over again, I wouldn't change a thing, Ill take that bullet." Now as a military spouse watching your husband deploy is hard, having him miss dinners and school activities is hard.. but watching your husband die has to be one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. To know that as a Military Spouse, I have to put my selfish needs aside, yes, I said it, PUT MY SELFISH NEEDS ASIDE. This means when we first got the news of Jamie being terminal and I started to cry because I was scared to be alone, or afraid of not having him there each day, that was selfish and my husband never hesitated to tell me so. I remember it so clearly as I put my head on his bedside and cried uncontrollably, Jamie comforting me the best he could.. hearing his voice say "Let me know when you are done crying, we have work to do.." I looked up at him thinking what could we possibly do?
As I looked up at him with tears in my eyes, he asked me if I was dying? I took a moment to think about his question and I answered "No, Im not.. but you are!" Jamie did his crooked smile and he said " Just as I signed up to join the Military, you signed up to be my wife, I have no regrets about joining the Military, do you have any regrets about being my wife?" I told him "No, I have no regrets, I accept our path & Im sorry for being so selfish, I feel so guilty for putting "us" off for so many years to build my career and now our time is being shortened, we had so many plans Jame.. all I want is you!"
Looking into my eyes Jamie spoke the sweetest of words "You may not be able to see me all the time, but I promise you I will always be with you... no one cared about me when I deployed the first two deployments, when I came home you know how it was. Now this third deployment to Afghanistan, I take a bullet, our family copes and thousands of people know my name, know my family and honor my service. When I die, everyone will care, I know they will care because I know you, Melissa and you will care."
... And Jamie was right <3
Packing up this morning once again to get a plane to travel to a fellow military family member in need, well not just one this time, there are four families. They all have different needs, have a range of concerns and all of them have been waiting for my team and I to assemble to assist. We are all now together and will be going to visit to help advocate, educate and honor fellow military families members and the service member in need.
I have been told by people that my life is "So cool" and seems "So glamorous" I can tell you there is nothing cool or glamorous about walking into a hospital knowing that you are about to meet a terminal service member or veteran and his family to help them cope and deal with the unknown. Usually the wives or mothers make the first initial contact with us as the Military Veteran Project because of attachment with the life Jamie and I had dealt with, the life triumphed in, never losing our faith or love for one another nor our country. Once the service member or veteran read or watch our videos, they have questions, they want to educate themselves on the world of the living for their family after their gone and they want to know about the world of dying. Each time I enter the hospital room, feelings of unity over whelm me, instantly we are family. I bring packets of information from the VA, DOD & MVP- We give the family an outreach coordinator from the Military Veteran Project and then we listen to their concerns, their worries and everything on their mind.
Each story is different and this weekend I will be visiting my 113th family in the last nearly two years since Jamie passed. Never does it get easier to walk in or try to calm a sobbing mother who is kissing her son goodbye a hundred times a day because she doesn't want to miss a moment that may be her last. Or to watch a father try to carry his child with the one arm he has left from an RPG that took his three other limbs.
As harsh as this all may sound, I know that each day I make the effort to assist Active duty, retired, wounded and military families, I am doing something that others may not have time for nor have the resources to be able to do. How can I sit at home in my pretty glass house as I get emails from people across the nation asking for assistance and just shun them and tell them sorry I can not help you. When I know exactly how it feels to be in that position and ask everyone for help and to hear that they are too busy, unable to travel due to money or that they do not have the answers.. I remember each day I sat next to Jamie's bed as a he laid on life support, searching the internet and calling hundreds of people and asking for direction or assistance only to hear "Im sorry.." All I wanted was for someone to help me advocate, educate and honor my husband... and today that is what I do along with hundreds of volunteers nationwide, we stop our lives to assist our Military veterans and families.
My name is Melissa Jarboe, military spouse, wounded warrior wife and war widow. Today and everyday moving forward, I will honor the sacrifice of our men and women who selflessly serve our nation.