North Texan Helps Start Project To Help War Widows

North Texan Helps Start Project To Help War Widows
Reporting: Tracy Kornet

Imagine your plans, commitments — your entire life — changing with a phone call or knock on the door. For more than 2,200 men and women who’ve lost a spouse in the Iraq and Afghanistan war, it’s become reality.

On the eve of Independence Day, while we honor those who have given their lives for freedom, we’re also reminded of the husbands and wives left behind. Those forever changed by tragic loss.

Isolated, estranged, and forgotten – those are just a few of the feelings some widows say they experienced after their spouses were killed in war. But one local widow is making it her mission to ensure widows never feel alone.

Jocelyn Mintzlaff looks like a lot of other 27-year-old women. But what you don’t see is the tragedy she’s already had to endure.

Jocelyn became a widow almost two years ago, something she says she never expected to experience. “This was his 3rd tour in Iraq and he had come home safely the first two times and I never once considered it,” she explained. “We had talked about it for practical matters, but I never once considered that I would be a widow.”

Jocelyn married Army Staff Sgt. Brian Mintzlaff in early 2006. They were married only a few months before he was deployed. In that short time, though, Jocelyn says her husband became her world. “He was my best friend, and he was somebody that I could tell anything to.”

Two months after Brian left for Iraq, Jocelyn received a phone call from the Fort Hood Casualty Office informing her that he had died. “I knew then, but on one hand I didn’t believe it either,” she recalls.

Twelve days after that phone call Jocelyn laid her best friend, her husband, to rest. “Not only did his life end that day, but our entire future ended.”

Jocelyn remembers feeling lost, and was unsure of what to do. “No 20-year-old is going to know how to bury a husband, and no one around her is going to know how to help her,” she said.

According to the young widow nothing could ever prepare a person to deal with this type of loss. “I’m getting all of the stuff back, all of the letters that I wrote him that he did get to read,” Jocelyn says. “I’m getting ones sent back to me with a big casualty stamp on them… that he died before they got there.”

To symbolize her feelings Jocelyn had a poem tattooed on her arm. It’s a poem she sent to Brian while he was deployed. It reads: “Absence has gone through me like thread through a needle. Everything I do is stitched with its color.”

“It was true then, and it’ll be true for the rest of my life, no matter what direction I go,” she says.

In the weeks that followed, Jocelyn began seeking other widows to connect with, someone else who understood her pain. “You don’t feel you have a place. You feel estranged from everybody else.”

Jocelyn searched for groups to join, but never found what she was looking for until she met Taryn Davis, a recent war widow who founded a new organization called The American Widow Project.

“The American Widow Project is definitely military widow-to-military widow sharing stories about our husbands and trying to leave a legacy for them,” she says of the group. “They did everything to help their country to help another country, so what can we do but help the wives of the men they fought alongside.”

Since the project began, Jocelyn says the response has been overwhelming. “There seems to be such a thirst for this because you know, in just five months we have 120 widows who are a part of this project.”

The American Widow Project offers a 24-hour emotional support hotline that will always be answered by a fellow widow. “We actually had a widowed fiancée call us in April, and Taryn and I both spoke to her at different times,” Jocelyn explains. “We ended up flying out for her fiancé’s funeral to sit with her.”

On the group’s website, widows can share their stories in a special chat room. “I think it makes them feel better when they can read these stories from women who were four years out or women who are two months out and really feel like the widows are speaking to them.”

The group has also produced a documentary that will be used to reach out to other widows. The film will be distributed, free of charge, to all existing and future armed services widows and widowers.

The documentary will premiere in Austin later this month, and Jocelyn hopes it will show the husbands and wives of those lost – they are not alone. “Events that other organizations put on…they end, and then the widow is back alone and estranged,” Jocelyn explained. “But The American Widow Project is just there day-to-day, communicating with her.”

Jocelyn, who used to write a lot before her husband was killed, hasn’t been able to write since his death. However, since finding the AWP, she says she’s getting the itch to write again. “If I had had the American Widow Project in those first few weeks or months even, it would’ve made an extreme difference in my life. I’m so thankful to have it now.”

The American Widow Project is not just for the men and women widowed by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The group welcomes any widow or widower to check out the site and join.

Watch a video blog for more information on how you can get involved with the American Widow Project.

(© MMIX, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.)


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