June 23rd, 2012 - What started off as a great day, quickly turned into the worst day of my life.
I woke up that morning so excited. My husband, Hunter, had been deployed for a little over six months, which meant we were one more month away from him coming home. Around this time, my days were filled with 'coming home' preparations for our home and our life. I had all of his favorite beer stalked in the mini fridge in his new man cave, and a stack of weekend newspapers from the time he left to now. I figured he would come home and sit in his man cave with a cigarette, beer and read up on everything he missed while he was in Afghanistan.
That morning I went straight to a meeting with a client. Hunter had only been gone 6 months, and I booked my fifth wedding that morning. I couldn't wait to tell him. I knew he would be so proud of me. However, the news would have to wait because he was on one last mission, which meant no contact with the outside world for 2-3 days. I was scared for him, but I was hopeful. I knew he would be okay. I mean he made it this far, right? He just had one more mission and then he was on his way home.
My sister lived with us in North Carolina. Actually, when we got the orders to the east coast, my whole family came with us. Thank goodness, because it kept me sane and busy while he was away. After booking the wedding and getting a check for the deposit, my sister and I decided to drive to Raleigh to celebrate. We usually listened to music while we drove far distances, but instead we talked the whole car ride (2.5 hours). We pretty much spent the whole time planning for when Hunter would get home. We talked about us finally having a wedding, and trying again for a baby. In the midst of dreaming and planning, I checked my phone (every two seconds just to make sure i didn't miss his call) and i saw on Facebook that his platoon was in River City. "River City" is a term the military uses when there has been a casualty, and all communication has been cut off. It is mainly so a wife/husband or parent doesn't hear about the casualty from social media or a friend before hearing it from the Military.
We finally got to Raleigh and decided to treat ourselves to lunch at the Cheesecake Factory. We ordered our favorite - Chicken and Biscuits. I took a couple bites of my food and my cell phone rang. The number was one that I didn't recognize. I thought for a split second that it might be Hunter, but the number for the satellite phone always had a Hawaii area code. This one did not. Right at that moment, I had so many thoughts racing through my head. Maybe it's Hunter, and the area code is just different. No, he's on a mission and said he wouldn't be in contact for two or three days. Maybe he got done early. Then it hit me. I remembered something that a fellow military wife told me a few months before. She said that when your loved one is killed in battle, marines go to your house to inform you. If you're not home, or at the address listed on your paperwork, they call you. From that moment, before I even answered the phone, I knew.
I looked at my sister with a concerned look as I answered the phone. "Hello, is Mrs. Hogan there?" It was a man who was not Hunter. He said his name, but I couldn't hear it. All I heard was "Lieutenant", and that's all it took. I leaped out of the booth and ran outside. The man on the phone asked me where I was. I couldn't even talk at this point. I didn't even know where I was. I fell down on the ground outside and was crying hysterically. He kept asking me where I was, and I kept yelling at him "Tell me what happened!" He wouldn't tell me. He just kept asking me where I was because he was coming to me. He told me to stay where I was and that he would be there. I don't even remember hanging up on him. My sister finally ran outside to find me, and there were several strangers around me trying to figure out why I was screaming, but no words would come out.
You always hear about people having strange feelings or premonitory dreams when someone close to them passes away. I hadn't heard the words come out of anyone's mouth yet, but I knew that my husband had been killed. My sister was helping me off the ground and I was trying to explain what the man on the phone was saying to me. A very nice man at the mall came to us and tried to calm me down. He said not to worry, and that it could be that he was injured, but no matter what happened, they can't tell you over the phone. They have to tell you in person. Next, Hunter's father called me and he was crying. I screamed at him to tell me what happened, and he said "They didn't tell you?" "Baby, he's dead." Those words will echo in my mind until the day I die. I fell to the ground. All of the life sucked out of me. My poor sister was crying, but trying to lift me up off the ground. Everyone was staring at us. She was so strong. Somehow she managed to get us both to the car and drive us to my mother's house an hour and a half away. That was the longest car ride of our lives.
The marines were waiting for us at my mother's house when we arrived. I don't know how they even got her address. Almost everything about that day is a blur now.
The next few hours, days, and weeks are just as hard to write about. My husband of two years, Hunter Hogan, was killed in combat June 23rd, 2012. In the blink of an eye, my whole life changed. All of our lives changed. We lost an amazing man. 21 years old, but the oldest soul you'd ever met. Hunter was everyone's best friend. He was the toughest, meanest cowboy you'd ever meet, but those of us who knew him really well knew a different side to him. He was the most loving, caring, honest man there was. He touched so many people in only 21 years. He lived a life fuller than most fifty year olds have. It didn't make sense...
Marines die. Soldiers die. Seamen die. But not mine. I never in a million years considered that he wouldn't come back. Of course, you try not to think about it. It's always in the back of your mind, but the more you think about it, the more you think it might happen, and the harder it is to get through deployments. So you just don't think about it. You are never prepared for something like this to happen to you. Especially at the age of 21.
Three years ago today, Hunter was taken from us. It is so strange looking back from the day that we met, and thinking about everything that happened and lead up to June 23rd. So many questions go through your mind on a daily basis. Why did we even meet? What if I didn't go to that wedding on October 16th? How different would my life be? Would it be better? Would it be worse? The answer is, who cares. We did meet. We did get married and I wouldn't change any of it. Even though losing him was the hardest thing I've ever had to go through and will continue to go through for the rest of my life, I wouldn't trade any of the happy moments and happy memories I have just to not feel this pain. That's how life is though, right? You can't look into a crystal ball and see each possible path laid out in front of you and decide from there which way you want to go. Of course not. It's a gamble.
Life is hard. We all go through pain and suffering. The pain isn't what defines us. It's how we deal with it that defines us and builds our character. After Hunter died, I woke up every morning next to a bottle of Jack Daniels. Can you blame me? It has taken me a long time to get to where I am today. It's taken me a long time to see what Hunter did for me and our family and our country and consider it an honor, or an act of valor. It's hard not to be selfish about something like this. All Hunter wanted to do was join the Marine Corps and fight for his country. And that's what he did. He's a hero. It's because of people like him who are willing to lay down their life for our country, that we are able to live free and safe. I see that now. I never truly knew what it meant to be patriotic until I met him.
The hardest part of losing someone is realizing that they're not coming back. Realizing that you have a long life ahead of you without them is a harsh reality. However, it's true. I am lucky enough to have found love again. It's very interesting to reflect on how I interacted with Hunter and compare it to how I interact with my Fiance, Graham. I'm still the same person inside, but losing your husband makes you a completely different person in your relationships. I find myself letting a lot of things slide that I typically wouldn't have with Hunter. It's little things that I've come to realize don't matter in the huge scheme of things. I always find myself thinking 'what if I lost Graham tomorrow, would I even remember this little thing that bothered me?' It's a really good way to be in a relationship, but sad that it takes losing someone to be like this. It made me realize that this is how most of us are, and it shouldn't take you losing someone to remember daily that we are not guaranteed tomorrow.
I wish I could thank him for what he did for us. For being so brave and putting everything he had on the line for his country. I wish I would have known the last time I saw him was going to be the last. I wouldn't have let him go.
Life is so short, and everyday could be your last. Do amazing things. Live fearlessly. Love fearlessly. Fight for what you believe in. Make each day count.