Tyler and I got to know each other sitting in the stands at Navy boot camp in 2002, while the performers practiced. We were non-performers in a performing division. We were supposed to be studying for our classes but usually just ended up talking. He was the most accomplished and driven person I had ever met. I had just left my small town in Montana, and just doing that had seemed like a big deal at the time. He told me he was going to BUD/S to be a SEAL, after explaining how he came to be at Navy boot camp. I was enamored, although so was every other girl in our division. There were plenty of conversations discussing him in the female floor of the “ship”, which he was very pleased to hear later when we were dating, of course.
Tyler had gone to Marine Corps boot camp and was in the Marine Corps Reserves while attending college at the University of New Hampshire. He graduated college and completed Marine Corps Officer Candidate School. What changed his plan was meeting a guy training for BUD/S. After talking to him, Tyler tried to switch his commission to the Navy, but the Marine Corps said he had to serve at least four years as a an Infantry Officer first. He was so set on going to BUD/S that he deferred his commission. After talking with his new friend and the Navy recruiters he decided to go in enlisted to avoid the managerial and office duties that officers were said to have that were not part of the “operating” he wanted to do. Why a Veteran who had attending both Marine Corps boot camp and Officer Candidate School was required to attend Navy boot camp, I don’t know. I just thought it must have been so we could meet. Tyler graduated boot camp as the Honor Graduate easily. No surprised there.
It turned out that Tyler and I were both slotted to attend Parachute Rigger A school in Pensacola, Florida after boot camp. During our free weekend after graduation we spent some time together with our families and other friends from boot camp. When getting on the bus at the end of the weekend he said “you should let me take you out sometime when we get to Pensacola”. I was convinced he was a “player” and now with my newfound freedom was not looking to date anyone. I laughed and said, “We’ll see”. Little did I know, he was not a “player” or used to the amount of attention he received while at boot camp! Years later, we both laughed at our perceived ideas of each other. He had told his family in a letter that I was “hot, but kind of a hick” from Montana. On the bus on our way to NAS Pensacola from the airport we sat next to each other, as we were the only two people we knew, and something happened.
He touched my leg.
As he stood up he touched my leg. I almost had a heart attack from butterflies. Really after that moment, the rest is history. This was another moment we laughed about later. He said he didn’t remember it, but I am 100% sure it was a calculated move.
We ended up in the same class at A-school and basically spent just about every free moment with each other. We had great weekends out in town and just hanging out at the beach on base. That time is full of fond memories. He also graduated first in our class, which was no surprise. It seemed that everything he did he excelled at and that he could not fail. I had no doubt that he would complete BUD/S, even though the odds were tough, because of his drive and natural ability to be the best at whatever he did. To me, he was invincible. I never thought that he wouldn’t succeed or come home.
When we were given our duty stations, somehow I managed to squeak by and get NAS Coronado in San Diego. Tyler was not in the running for orders as he already had his to BUD/S, also in Coronado. We were both ecstatic about this. We didn’t know what would happen if I was sent somewhere like the East Coast. For the time being, we were once again going to be in the same place. We both felt like we were destined to be together. We both went home on leave following A-school, but he made a detour to meet me in Montana and then we flew to San Diego together to start our next adventure together.
Tyler made it through and graduated from all of his training. I was not surprised. I was glad to be there to support him through and very proud to see him achieve his dream of becoming a SEAL. He was then headed to the East Coast to his duty station. I was still in San Diego and would be headed to Washington next. Over the next few years we spent ridiculous amounts of money flying across the country to see each other, sometimes for only one or two full days. I went on deployment and so did he. Eventually my enlistment was up and five years after we met we were married. Of course, those five years were full of ups, downs, learning experiences and love. The next three years we had together were really wonderful as we settled into our life, finally together.
Tyler was died in an accident July 16, 2010. The next day was the hardest morning of my life to wake up. It was the first morning without him alive. It hit me before I was fully awake…he died yesterday. I remember that fact floated up through my consciousness and then all of a sudden crashed into me, forcing me awake. I started crying and then ran to the bathroom to throw up.
It has been a long, and yet short, three and a half years. The first year I would say was a huge challenge. I managed to go back to school, only at the prodding of friends and family, and the leverage that Tyler was always a big proponent of me earning my degree. I managed to do it and graduated in 2012 with a degree in Psychology from Regent University. I have to say, without the wonderful people I was surrounded with, I can’t imagine where I would be. I still think to this day, that one of the biggest assets I had in being able to survive losing Tyler, was having amazing people in my life that encouraged me.
I managed to stay somewhat positive; though there were plenty of bad days and nights I had to get through. There was plenty of crying while driving, while renting a movie when they said the account was under his name, and even having to leave class a few times.
I decided after a year that I was going to be open to change. Maybe move, maybe date, whatever came my way that I wanted to try. I was going to take risks even though I was afraid to be judged, afraid to make mistakes, and afraid to be hurt. After all, I was still alive. I looked at all Tyler accomplished in his 30 years, and I knew he would never be okay with me living a mediocre life. Well, I ended up doing both! Which led to other wonderful opportunities. I have moved, I have a wonderful boyfriend that is able to support and handle my “widow status” and I have been able to return to my love of riding horses because of where we live. Not only that, I have also been able to compete in barrel racing, another dream that I thought long ago I would never have the chance to realize. It has been a year and I just won my first buckle in barrel racing with my amazing horse, Gigi.
There is so much more to my story, but this is a good summary. Since Tyler passed away I have learned that fear does nothing for us but cause more pain. I have learned though my faith was greatly challenged and God seemed far away at times, I know looking back now that He has been with me the whole time. I have learned that those that should be in your life will be there no matter what and you don’t have to worry about their judgment. They want you to be happy and succeed. Lastly, I have learned that is OKAY, really GREAT, to be happy after losing a spouse. You are now living life for two, so be even more motivated to go out and experience all life has to offer. My motto today is NEVER GIVE UP. We can take our tragedies and turn them into victories to help others! Just as Taryn has with the AWP! I hope that my story helps someone out there and that I get to meet some of you one day. Blessings, Chelsey
In loving memory of SO1 (SEAL) Tyler Stimson