One month. A lot can happen in a month right? But in “deployment time” a month is nothing. Ofren was on his fourth deployment, our second together. My first one was 15 months long, making this 12 month one look like cake. That’s what I thought when it started but I was quickly proven wrong. Five weeks into the deployment, Ofren’s company experienced a devastating blow when five men were killed in an IED explosion. It didn’t get any better after that and within the first 11 weeks of deployment 11 men’s lives were cut short. That was June of 2010.
In November Ofren came home on R&R. When I saw him all I could do was cry. I was so thankful that I could finally hold him in my arms. I cherished every second he was home but it was obvious his head was still in Afghanistan. He told me it just didn’t feel right being home when everyone else was still there. I tried to understand but I was hurt that he wasn’t enjoying his time at home like I’d expected him to. On December 1st we had to say goodbye again. He was ready to be back with his guys and I was just ready for the next 5 months to be over so I could have my husband back both physically and mentally.
Our son’s third birthday was March 28th. We had a party in my hometown and Ofren was on Skype for the entire party. He sang “Happy Birthday” with us and watched Alston open his presents. Everyone got to spend time talking to Ofren and even though he wasn’t physically with us for the occasion we got the next best thing.
The last thing Ofren ever said to our son was “Happy Birthday Buddy, I love you.”
Alston and I got home around 9pm on March 29th. I was excited to see Ofren’s last tough box on the front porch. To me it meant that this deployment was truly almost over and our family would be whole again in no time.
Ten minutes later I was in the middle of unloading my truck when the car pulled up. I think in my head it clicked but I refused to believe it. Surely this car was lost and just stopping to ask for directions or something. When the two soldiers in dress uniform stepped out my entire world stopped turning. I immediately told them that they had the wrong house. One of them asked me if I was “Serena” and I told them “no!” (My name is pronounced Shawna). Then he asked if my husband was SSG Ofren Arrechaga and all I could say was “no, no, no!” When he asked if we could go inside I already knew what he was going to say. I’m not sure how I managed to walk inside but I do remember sitting on the couch and yelling at him to just say it. “Ma’am the Secretary of the Army regrets to inform you that your husband, Ofren Arrechaga….” I don’t remember much of the rest except for “died from his wounds”. Everything after that is a blur.
Ofren was killed in action 11 months to the day from when he left, and one month to the day before the flight he was manifested on landed at Fort Campbell. One freaking month. I went from picking out a homecoming outfit to deciding what to wear to his funeral.
In the 11 months Ofren was deployed I never saw him truly happy until the last few days before he was killed. He had just made the E-7 list and he had orders to Fort Benning meaning we were finally going to have a few deployment free years. The pieces of the puzzle were finally coming together and we were both ecstatic.
Now here I am, a 23 year old war widow with a three year old whose memories of his Daddy will fade over time. My promise to Ofren is that I will do everything I can to keep his memory alive. I will never let Alston forget the amazing man he got that huge cheesy smile from. He will always know how much his Daddy loved and cherished him.
Every time someone asks me what my husband was like I struggle to find the words to describe him. How can you sum up the most wonderful man you’ve ever known? More importantly, why should you have to? I do my best but I know I will never do him justice. He was by no means a perfect man but he was perfect for me.
In the 1305 days I had Ofren he showed me how to live with no regrets and how to love with no limits. He taught me that you have to fight for what’s right when no one else will, especially when it comes to your family. He taught me how to live life instead of watching it pass you by. These are things I will do my best to teach our son.
No matter what Ofren was doing, he dedicated 100% to getting it done, even in the last few hours of his life. He was too stubborn to let go because he had too much to live for. He had promised me time and time again he was going to come home from this deployment alive and well and I now know he honestly tried to keep that promise.
When a piece of paper comes in the mail that reads “the marriage ended in death on March 29, 2011” all I can do is shake my head. My marriage didn’t end, it lives strong in my heart. Ofren will forever be my husband and not even death can change that. Love truly is stronger than death. I have loved and lost but I know that I am blessed to have married the most amazing man I’ve ever known, even if it was only for a few short years.
When Ofren died all of our plans for the future died with him. Eventually I’ll figure out what will come next for us next but for now I choose to live in the past, a past full of happiness with the love of my life.