Karie with her late husband, U.S. Marine Jimmy Cleveland "Cleve" Kinsey.
WarRetreat is proud to share the words of a Marine Widow, Karie Fugett. After two tours in Iraq, Jimmy “Cleve” Kinsey came home with serious physical wounds, PTSD and TBI. A young bride, Karie spent “the next four years in hospitals and hotel rooms,” as she accompanied her husband from treatment to treatment. He died while at a private non-profit treatment facility for veterans with TBI of an accidental overdose. Her journey since the tragedy has been a slow, gradual one, which she has documented on her insightful blog. WarRetreat is grateful to share Karie’s reflections on thankfulness.
On Thanksgiving: What I’m Thankful For
By Karie Fugett
When I was a child my family’s tradition for Thanksgiving was to go to my Grandmother’s house and have a massive dinner complete with turkey and all the trimmings with our entire extended family – pretty typical, I think. And like many families while sitting around the dinner table, before we ate we would each take turns saying something we were thankful for. I’ve always been a shy person, even around people I know, so I always dreaded the moment all eyes would be on me and I would be expected to say something meaningful. The thing that kills me though, is the fact that as my turn became nearer, I wasn’t only freaking because I was shy, but because I couldn’t think of anything to say. I couldn’t think of one thing. In fact, I remember being sixteen or so and thinking, “I can tell you something I’m not thankful for, if ya want…”
I spent most of my childhood thinking that way. I regret it because I wasted all that time. These days, instead of seeing the negative things, I choose to see the positive, and to me that’s what being thankful is all about – focusing on the good in your life and appreciating it. Realizing that things could always be worse (because they can), and holding on to the beauty you’ve been given.
Before you write me off as a freak of nature –whose life is obviously perfect, let me tell you it is most definitely not perfect. But my changed point of view when I reached my depths. Sadly, I found that sometimes we only realize what we have in life after we’ve lost everything.
For me, it took losing my beautiful husband. After going through a stage of general hate for everything in existence, I started to come around. My thought process began to change. Instead of focusing on what had been taken away from me, I focused on what I had been given. I realized how lucky we all to even be here, and through that everything just seemed more beautiful and significant to me.
I realize now that life is a cycle of ups and downs, beginnings and endings, and I needed to quit picking it apart. Everyone goes through tough times, but it’s all about how we react to them. In life, we create our own happiness – it is not something that is handed to us. It is not up to the Universe to deal us the right cards. We have to set out to find them ourselves despite our circumstances. And even when things aren’t ideal, it is still up to us to find the good and hold onto it for dear life. Life isn’t always fair, but that doesn’t mean we have to be miserable. And believe me, this isn’t always easy.
One of the things I recommend if you’re struggling with this is to volunteer. Volunteering can really help put things into perspective. And sometimes, something as simple as a walk down a nature trail can help. Seeing nature, the purest form of beauty, is a great reminder of how lucky we all are to be here.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe I could have ever been so blind. It’s embarrassing to say it took such a traumatic event to open my eyes.
This Thanksgiving I will be with my new boyfriend, his family, and two other military widows who have become great friends of mine. As we sit around the table, whether we discuss what we are thankful for aloud or not, I will take a minute to look around and remind myself of how blessed I truly am. This year I’m thankful (and forever indebted) to my husband for giving me the ability to be truly thankful for every little tiny thing in my life -what an amazing gift.
I’m thankful for the time I had with him, even if it was cut short. I am thankful for the ability to live to tell his story so that he will not have died in vain. I am thankful for the experiences we had that have given me the ability to promote change for other families – maybe that was the purpose of all of this.
I am thankful for my friends for pulling me through everything. I’m thankful for my dog – my first Christmas gift from my husband and best friend in the whole world. I am thankful I will not be alone on Thanksgiving. And more than anything, I’m just thankful to be alive.
I challenge you, no matter where you are in your life, to put your worries aside this Thanksgiving, and every day, and find beauty in the things around you. Allow yourself the gift of seeing the many things you have been blessed in. There are many, I promise.
Karie (third from left) with friends she met through wounded warrior and war widow social networks. They are a regular source for online, and in-person support.