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Young Woman Redefines Military Widow Young Woman Redefines Military Widow
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Young Woman Redefines Military Widow

Insights & Ideas Team •  September 11, 2015 | Focus on Women, Inspiring Stories

Taryn Davis will never forget the moment she learned she was a military widow: “I came home and found two men wearing the same military uniform that I married him in.” She was 21. Her high school sweetheart had been killed instantly in a bridge-side explosion in Baghdad, Iraq. Army Cpl. Michael Davis was only 22. “The biggest part of me wanted to believe I could die of a broken heart right there on my front lawn.”

She searched the term “widow” online but was given results for the word “window.” She tried again and found some resources but had a hard time relating to the pictures of women much older than her. The world was a lonely place for a widow whose adult life had only just begun.

“People would give me solutions to try to help me move on, and it just ostracized me more,” she said. Taryn felt an immense need to see the face of another young military widow. She found another young widow, Jessica Ardron, and flew to meet her.

Taryn sat down with Jessica and tape-recorded her story. She could see much of what she was going through in Jessica as she told the story. Taryn remembers, “There was a moment when Jessica was talking about her husband, and I saw this sparkle in her eyes come out.” Taryn knew the sparkle well—she, too, felt it and conveyed it when she would talk about her life with Michael.

The sparkle had meaning—it was joy brought back to the faces of two young widows who had gone through so much loss. Taryn knew there were more military widows out there who needed to get their sparkle back, and she set out to make that happen.

In 2008, she formed the American Widow Project. Its goal is to provide peer-to-peer support for military widows in ways that unify, educate and empower them to rebuild their lives. She wanted to bring out their sparkle.

Taryn interviewed more military widows as part of her initial project for the organization and combined their stories into a documentary. The project eventually expanded into gatherings for widows. Her first event was a screening of the documentary followed by a day of zip lining. It may sound like an odd combination, but the physical exertion helped break down emotional walls. The widows talked, formed emotional bonds and began a process of healing together. 

Taryn now organizes events each year for about 14 widows at a time in cities all over the country. Most events include some daring physical adventure and plenty of time to have heart-to-heart conversations. Today, the American Widow Project has held more than 70 events and served more than 1,700 widows as well as a few widowers.

“More than anything, it not only made me realize I could live again, it actually made me understand Michael better.” Taryn says it was tough to comprehend her husband going off on a mission and giving his life for another service member. But over time, she’s come to see the beauty in the term “military widow.” Now she helps the other women find honor in it, too.

“The title of a military widow … represents his sacrifice, it represents our family’s sacrifice. It represents my survival to be able to stand here today and say I am a military widow—which I think is an example of strength and resilience and perseverance,” Taryn says.

Taryn’s vision for the American Widow Project is to create an environment in which other spouses come to that same realization. “I would give my life for these women, because I’m alive now. I’m living with no regret.”

With combat missions in the Middle East no longer at the top of the headlines, Taryn worries that will mean dwindling support for these widows. “These women aren’t missing a limb, but they are missing a part of their heart. You can’t see that, but that doesn’t mean it’s not as hard of a struggle.” She encourages military widows to turn to someone who has lived the same sacrifice to find that sense of understanding. 

As for Taryn’s own legacy, she continues to strive to find meaning in her loss and to honor Michael’s memory. His service medals hang in her office. “I was afraid of forgetting him,” she says. “But his smile is now more vivid to me than ever.” 

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