Military Widow Reaches Out to Survivors
By Elaine Sanchez
WASHINGTON, 2011 – After her husband was killed in Iraq in May 2007, Taryn Davis didn’t know where to turn.
The 21-year-old didn’t live near a military installation, and while her family and friends were supportive, she yearned for the support of other military widows who could relate to her struggles.
Taryn Davis, founder and president of the American Widow Project, poses with her husband, Army Cpl. Michael Davis. She created the organization in the wake of her husband’s death to offer other military widows comfort and support. Courtesy photo
So one night on a whim, Davis turned to the Internet and “Googled” the word “widow.” The search engine suggested she try searching for “window” instead.
That moment sparked a desire in Davis to offer the type of support to other young military widows that she so desperately craved. “It was the catalyst that pushed me a little more into wanting to meet and reach out to other women like me,” she said.
Davis first filmed a documentary about military widows and, a year later, launched the American Widow Project. This nonprofit organization offers support and resources to women who have lost a husband or fiancé in service—whether to an accident or illness or in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I didn’t want it to be stuffy; I didn’t want it to be candy coated; I didn’t want it to be counselors telling us how to cry,” she said of the project. “I wanted it to be led by military widows. I wanted it to be honest, candid and fresh.”
Above all, she said, she wanted to let other military widows know they’re not alone.
Davis set out to make her documentary about four months after her husband’s death. She reached out to a woman she barely knew, but whose husband had died in the same roadside bomb explosion that took her husband’s life. She wanted to ask the widow the questions that people had stopped asking her: “Where did you meet your husband? How did you react when you found out he was getting deployed? How did you tell your child?” And most importantly, “What makes you get up every day and continue?”
As they talked, Davis said, she saw a twinkle in the widow’s eye when she spoke of her husband. “There had to be a way to make that twinkle and that ‘want to live’ come out more consistently,” she said.
Davis went on to interview five other widows, then officially launched the American Widow Project in July 2008 with a screening of her documentary in Austin, Texas, followed by a “zip-lining” and tubing expedition for the widows who attended.
“I knew what would help me was to find the ability and the want to live, and I knew the only way to do that was to turn myself straight out into it,” she said.
The organization offers military widows a 24-hour hotline at 1-877-AWP-WIDOW, a website packed with resources and widows’ stories, and a free care package with her documentary and brochure of resources. Davis also began hosting three types of year-round getaways for military widows to offer them support and camaraderie.
First, her “give back” getaways help widows find healing through helping others, she explained. For example, in April, a group of widows gathered in New Orleans to rebuild a home for someone who had lost everything.
The next type, the “life embracing” getaways, are for the adventurous, Davis said, with events such as skydiving and swimming with dolphins. “Inner peace” getaways offer a time of relaxation with activities such as yoga and meditation.
Her organization picks up the tab for everything but the airfare. “If you can give someone hope to live for another day, how can you put a price on that?” she said.
While the activities may vary, all include a ceremony in which widows honor their husbands, Davis said.
“That’s what means the most to these women,” she said. “Not only finding this camaraderie, … but also knowing these women are going to remember who their husband is because these women understand the sacrifice and the depth of that loss like no one else could.”
Davis recalled a widow who said she didn’t meet 12 friends at a getaway—she met 24. “I not only got to meet you,” the widow told the group, “but I feel like I know your husbands.”
Widows have told Davis that her organization saved their lives and gave them hope. But she’s quick to point out to them that they’ve helped her as well. “They saved my life too,” she said. “I always want to tell them, ‘Hey, you’ve done the same for me.’”
Davis said she hopes to train other widows to do what she does so she can quadruple the number of events offered throughout the year. She also has no intention of slowing down even as the wars wind down in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I’m still going to be a widow, and they’re still going to be widows,” she said. “That’s probably when they’ll need support more than ever, because it won’t be in the public eye.”
While Davis is quick to brush off praise, others are taking note of her accomplishments. She is one of the five finalists for VH1 and DoSomething.org’s “Do Something Award,” which honors the nation’s best 25 and under “world-changers,” according to a news release. After an online vote, the winner will be announced on VH1 on Aug. 18.
While she’s honored by the nomination, Davis said, the spotlight should be on the true heroes: military widows. “They’re the real stars,” she said.