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My Faith: The uncertainty of a Navy SEAL wife
A recent military funeral at Arlington National Cemetery.
August 10th, 2011
04:21 PM ET

My Faith: The uncertainty of a Navy SEAL wife

Editor's Note: Leeana Tankersley is the author of Found Art: Discovering Beauty in Foreign Places (Zondervan 2009), a spiritual memoir of the year she lived in the Middle East with her Navy SEAL husband.

By Leeana Tankersley, Special to CNN

On Saturday, my husband and I received news of a downed helicopter in Afghanistan with 22 SEALs aboard. I have been a SEAL wife for eight years—our entire relationship taking place during wartime—but we have never experienced this magnitude of loss.

We have been living in the Middle East for three weeks now, recently relocated for our next tour. Here, the fight feels so much closer, the losses more tangible.

I immediately thought of those wives and mothers—a wife and a mother myself—who would be waking up to the tragic news that their loved one was gone. I thought of how many times my husband has stepped onto a helicopter.

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And I thought back to another tragedy in the SEAL community, the death of Marc Lee in 2006, the first SEAL killed in the Iraq war.

When the news of Marc’s death arrived, my husband—not home two weeks from deployment himself—got on a plane and headed to New York to go meet Marc’s widow, Maya.

The Navy assigned Steve to be her liaison, helping her from the hours after she learned of her husband’s death through the first few weeks of grief, as she navigated innumerable decisions and logistics.

Steve called me a couple times while he was in New York to say things like, “You know I love you, right? You know I really love you.”

And I would say, “I know, honey. I know you do.”

After his trip to New York, he escorted Maya and her mother back to San Diego, where Marc was buried.

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He sat beside Maya as her official escort on the day she laid her husband to rest. It was the saddest day I can remember.

Hot sun burned my chest red as we sat in the August heat perched atop Point Loma, high above the San Diego harbor, looking out onto the ocean. We sat in rows of wooden folding chairs set up between the graves.

The sight of it all is suffocating, every headstone a father, son, or brother, a mother, sister, or daughter. Each with his or her own story of life and death.

Seated in front of a large picture of Marc and huge sprays of flowers, we waited for the black Suburban to arrive. Fellow SEALs, with quivering chins, brought the casket to the front as bagpipers breathed “Amazing Grace.”

The Suburban arrived, and my handsome husband in his Service Dress Blues emerged, extending his hand for Maya, who stepped out in a black halter dress with a flowing skirt. Dark red rigatoni ringlets framed her large sunglasses.

A widow at 25.

Maya grasped my husband’s arm as they made their way to the front row. An officer knelt down in front of Maya and presented her with the flag from Marc’s casket. “On behalf of a grateful nation,” he began, reciting the words no woman would ever want to hear.

Later, he told me that the SEALs present at the grave took turns pushing a Trident (the SEAL insignia) pin into the side of Marc’s casket. Before it was lowered into the ground, my husband knelt down next to Maya as she said her final words to Marc.

Marc’s death and the death of the 22 SEALs in Saturday’s tragedy speak to the utter lack of assurances life offers us.

No matter how much I believe in and trust God, no matter how spiritual I am, no matter how much I pray on my husband’s behalf, I have no guarantees that God will spare him.

Does my believing make his job any less dangerous? Does it bring back those we’ve lost? Or prevent another devastating loss like Saturday’s from happening?

No. I have to make peace with the fact that even my most fervent prayers may not spare a soul.

So does my believing change anything?

Yes, though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, he is with us. This is the truth I hold on to, the bit of faith I can cling to. In our greatest pain, he sees us. May that sliver of hope somehow matter to all those who grieving today.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Leeana Tankersley.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Death • God

soundoff (189 Responses)
  1. myklds

    God forever lives.

    August 14, 2011 at 6:51 am |
  2. David Fitzgerald

    May God bless our troops.

    August 14, 2011 at 6:32 am |
  3. Jay

    Once you realize there is no reason to doubt that death is the end of one's existence it gives you a much different perspective on war and those in it.

    August 14, 2011 at 3:46 am |
    • Walking

      Was that reason why there's not a single atheist in the foxholes?

      August 14, 2011 at 6:54 am |
  4. Mac

    Wendy it’s ok to have faith in what you believe, but when you use that faith to kill in the name of your God, that’s where I have the problem. Do not belittle another faith, because you think yours is better. See and treat people as humans first. Maybe because I seen the damages of war is the reason, I (as you stated) am cold hearted.

    And thank you for your service, in enjoying what some have sacrificed their life for.

    August 12, 2011 at 7:24 am |
  5. chana

    dan you need to burn in hell for real how effin ignorant are you dude... but anyways on a much lighter note i say we end this and bring troops home, its been too long. my heart goes out to all the families that lost thier loved ones to war.

    August 12, 2011 at 4:11 am |
  6. Dan

    Allahh is Great.

    August 11, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
  7. Dan

    Bring the troops home.

    August 11, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
  8. Dan

    Too bad, war sucks

    August 11, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
  9. Marilyn

    @Reality ~ You forgot to add how Constintinople (sp) changed the Christian Sabbath to merge the Christians & Pagans. As far as My posts, I ONLY use My Given Name. Since you're smart enough to research, copy & paste info, One would think you might be able to distinguish writing styles. O'well .... God Bless & have Mercy on Everyone!

    August 11, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
  10. Marilyn

    @Reality ~ Please quit repeating yourself. Also, I pity your soul. AND, lol, sweetheart, if you were referring to ME as "red-neck lady", you couldn't be further from the truth. I've sat in on Fortune 500 Board Meetings. Have you ever done such?

    August 11, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • Reality

      Marilyn, Marilyn, Marilyn,

      I don't remember labeling you a "red neck". Might want to re check the comments.

      What I did note:

      "Humans, on the whole, are very hateful, self-centered, non-moral, ugly creatures" as noted by Marilyn.

      "One assumes that Marilyn is human and therefore fits the characterization
      ------------------------------------------------

      August 14, 2011 at 12:51 am |
  11. Marilyn

    @Wendy ~ You sound like a cold hearted person with your 'imagine all those grieving widows.... by the men you want us to grieve for" WHERE is Your Humanity???? HUMAN LIVES have been Lost! It doesnt matter what color, race, religion or non, human life is Precious! It is a sad time when any life goes. Yes, sometimes Faith is ALL some of us have. Well, faith & all the angels which watch over some of us. As for the "faithless", all we can do is Love them & Teach By Example! God Bless & Have Mercy upon this world & human condition. Until folks are able to surpass "Religion" & get Spiritual, there is no freedom. Unfortunately, very few are ever lucky enough to reach that point.
    Love you All ~ M.

    August 11, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  12. Marilyn

    @William Demuth
    Not only are Christians Commanded not to kill, but Muslims are forbidden to kill other Muslims according to the Quran...BUT they do not stick to the Quran ALONE! Very true what you stated earlier about 'religions' are going to kill us all. Well, that is if we're not wiped out by natural disasters & everything else first. I must add, though, that America is Shamefully NOT "ONE NATION UNDER GOD" anymore, thus the reason for our current downfall which is affecting the entire world. GOD BLESS THE WORLD, NOT just the USA!!!

    August 11, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  13. Marilyn

    @Wendy ~ Yes, MOST All politicians, blue bloods, & big corporations are corrupt. I have no blinders on, but the GreedyOldPigs are the worst. Though I despise killing with a passion and disagree with it, on some levels I can understand it. The Majority of our forces want to help the underdogs. Some fight with guns, others of us fight with Love. One of my personal mottos that I Live By is: "KILL 'EM WITH KINDNESS". I agree with you 100% that we need tolerance amongst religions and peoples. Unfortunately, I doubt we'll see that in our lifetimes.
    @REALITY ~ While you're spouting off all your numbers, why don't you include the millions of slaves which were abducted, abused & died. Get Real if you want to play mr/ms "Reality".

    August 11, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  14. Marilyn

    L Deli & Daniel ~ My heart goes out to you and all of your fellow service members. Once you signed the dotted line, you became the property of the US Gov't. I wish All of our members a safe and speedy return home. FYI, though, the Quran doesn't teach to hate & kill "Americans"... it is their imams & various other teachers & 'scholars'. Infact, it makes it ok for their men to marry 'People of the Book' (Christians) & Jews. HAD Muslims stuck to strictly the Quran, I don't think the world wld be as it is today. Granted, like evangelicals, the Muslims want to get across there is ONE God. "Religious Crusades" have been going on for thousands of years, unfortunately. That said, we've been bombing the h ell out of them for years & they Us. The ones fighting who hate & want to kill all americans are mostly completely uneducated & their whole lives have been spent in wars. We're on the verge of bankruptcy trying to 'give them freedom', all the while many, many secret cells are hidden and growing back home. It's ALL a political & economic game that is sickening as the 'Big Guys' running the show don't care about 'minor' casualties & the life-long trauma & hardships of so many vets. Now, unfortunately, we have the TP's wth Greedy Old Republicans who are trying their darnedest to take away benefits & pay, along with discharging thousands next year. You're going to be coming home to civil wars & terrorist wars on our own soil. I Love You Guys & May Peace Be With You. Stay safe. You won't (hopefully!) be getting the disrespectful welcome home & trearment out Vietnam vets got. Godspeed & safe journies.

    August 11, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • Wendy

      You meant greedy politicians right....not repubilicans....remove your blinders, they are ALL corrupt.

      August 11, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  15. Lt Comander Jefferey Johnson US ARMY DELTA

    Our stock market is crashing..High unemployment rates....Politician are corrupted and incompetents..
    What more else do you wants for this country?
    You elected Obama... Turn out he is just as good as a used car sale man..
    Good luck people and God bless the USA

    August 11, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • L Deli

      Its hard for a president to clean up another idots mess. Obama is trying to do what he can while the senate and congres keep having the rich get richer and the poor still chasing scraps. Semper Fi to my bothers who have passed in battle.

      August 11, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • Wendy

      LDeli, you can only let that excuse carry you so far....Maybe everyone just needs to "be a man/woman" and stand up and take responsibility....if the most powerful man in the world cannot effect change, then maybe it is not the office's fault or the man before him, maybe it is the man himself.

      August 11, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  16. Thankful

    We need more writers like this. Thank you.

    August 11, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
  17. JT

    I just want to thank all of the Military for fighting for our county and I do mean all of them.

    August 11, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
  18. saif

    Imagine how the widows of iraq and Afghanistan feel when their husbands are un -awfully killed by un manned planes and trigger happy US soldiers.

    August 11, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • jim

      Oh shut up.

      August 11, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • JT

      How about thinking of our Country men being shot down.

      August 11, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • L Deli

      Not all americans are trigger happy most of them are just firing to defend them selves, I know because I have seen war for my own eyes. I show no sympothy for the people who think that Alah and the book of Karahn teaches their children to hate and kill anyone who is American.

      August 11, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • Wendy

      Imagine all the widows from countless tragedies carried out by the men you want us to greive for....

      August 11, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • Rico

      Imagine how the Kurd widows felt all those years while the sons of Iraq killed their sons and husbands and the world stood by and did nothing...

      August 14, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  19. Marilyn

    @Frogist ~ I don't see where I attacked catholics nor called them blasphemers. Only thing I see is prophecy of "Mother" being made of stone. Fact, both in Bible & Catholicism. Where's the hypocricy? No offense meant to anyone.
    ~ Peace Out.

    August 11, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  20. Mac

    It's surprising how everyone believes that their God is better than the other and that the world was made in 7 days and so on. Today books are written by men, printed by men. Let me tell you a secret it was also done when men found out that they can read and write. They wrote to control the people and all in the name of a GOD. Every country uses the same argument to justify their point of view to kill in the name of their GOD. Our Gods gave us the ability to think and care, something he did not give to animals, and what do we do with it, we try to control, we try demand, and when all fails, we kill in the name of a God. The day we separate religion from humanity, we may start treating each other with respect.
    As a retired member of the military, we all know the sacrifices we endure, but what we fail to see is the pain that we leave behind to our spouse, kids and family. We all know the sacrifice, BUT IT STILL HURTS.

    My they all rest in peace.

    August 11, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • L Deli

      Amen Brother

      August 11, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • Wendy

      No matter how you just ried to word your lack of faith in God, your words are just as cold as the heart you used to write them. Sometimes faith is all we have to see us through the darkest of days, sometimes faith carries us through. Maybe your humanity needs to be put into check. Just as you do not want someones faith shoved down your throat, your lack of faith shouldnt be shoved as well. Maybe a common mutual respect between the faith and the faithless is needed as well?

      August 11, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • Mac

      Wendy it’s ok to have faith in what you believe, but when you use that faith to kill in the name of your God, that’s where I have the problem. Do not belittle another faith, because you think yours is better. See and treat people as humans first. Maybe because I seen the damages of war is the reason, I (as you stated) am cold hearted.
      And thank you for your service, in enjoying what some have sacrificed their life

      August 12, 2011 at 7:27 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.