Updated: Jul 1, 2019
New Orleans, LA
“I take thee to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.” That was the promise I made to my husband. Sometimes it was easy, almost effortless, but sometimes that promise was the most challenging commitment. I did not understand the weight of those words on our wedding day. I was blissfully unaware of how life would unfold for us. I was his wife and he was my husband. We planned to grow old together and for me that was enough.
Never would I have imagined going to bed after texting my husband and then waking up a few short hours later to the news that my husband is dead; shot and killed while investigating a suspicious person. Slain NOPD Officer Marcus McNeil, the captions read. He was the news — news I could not imagine, news I struggled to accept. “Till death do us part” — words I merely recited on my wedding day because that would never happen to us. Even if it did, I assumed we would be old and gray, and so filled with life and love, and stories to tell our children and grandchildren.
I had never felt sorrow and anger so intensely. I was convinced I had completely lost my grip on reality and welcomed the idea of drowning in my grief: the life we had, the plans we made, his death, the milestones my daughters would not be able to share with their dad, his wrinkles I would never see. I still wonder...wonder about the most challenging aspects of our relationship — the “for worse...for poorer...in sickness.” I wonder if silly arguments and major disagreements would be resolved, if plans to rebuild and strengthen our marriage would go as planned, if I would ever learn to cook, and if Marcus would ever learn to clean up after he cooked. There are days when the “what ifs” keep me up all night but strangely enough I find comfort in reflecting on the life we had regardless of the “what ifs.”
As I write, I wonder how I survived the first year. I am certain that my faith kept me grounded. I had a peace that could have only come from God. The kind of peace that kept my mind and my heart when I was only going through the motions. God grounded me and when I still felt like life was falling apart my family, friends, law enforcement family, community, coworkers, and complete strangers held me together. They were and are my angels. My angels supported me and my daughters when I was unaware of what we needed and stubbornly would not ask for help. I’m sure on many occasions I was not welcoming of their support but they provided love in their own ways.
I have learned to lean on my angels when needed and to hold strong to my faith. Although it seems like a monumental task, I hold my memories close to my heart reflecting often. I take pride in encouraging my daughters to do the same and in sharing our memories together. I carry my grief daily; sometimes like a small wallet tucked in my back pocket and other times like giant backpack filled with dumbbells. I am learning that there is strength in my grief. The strength to cherish the memories, strength to honor my husband’s life and service, and even strength in moments of sadness. Life did not go as planned but there is strength even in tragedy.
I am reminded of the many widows I have met on this journey, of various backgrounds and ages. Their stories are varied but the same; all echoing you are not alone and even in tragedy there is not only strength but life. Life did not go as planned but I feel inspired to share my tragedy and my life with others. For me that is writing my story, and this is just the beginning. Although uncomfortable, I feel compelled to do so. I also feel compelled to push other women who have been faced with tragedy to do the same. Use your tragedy as your driving force to tap into your strength and redefine your life.
Brittiny McNeil, mother of two and widow of Fallen NOPD Officer Marcus McNeil who was shot and killed in the line of duty in 2017.
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