A Military Wife Can Survive: The Inspiring Story Of One Fallen Veteran’s Wife and Her Family
There are few things in this world as resilient and resourceful as a military wife – in fact, there might not be anything tougher out there. That said, what is perhaps more impressive than the hardiness of the military wife’s strength is the depth of her ability to love.
We discovered all this and more during our conversation with Tessa Marrow, a remarkable young woman who has endured so much in her time as a military wife, yet still so clearly loves with all her heart her husband, the late Cpl. Kristopher Marrow.
She offered to tell us her story in hopes that sharing what happened to Kris might prevent the same thing from happening to somebody else.
Born in August 1991, Kristopher was the epitome of a true southern gentleman and was a country boy through and through. He knew the answer to any question about farming, taking care of animals (any animals), soil, feed, planting and gardening. He knew how to both shoe and tame a horse, and could work on a farm, on houses, on barns, cars, bikes and more.
“Anything in the world, you name it and he could do it,” Tessa told us. “Kris was a diehard man. Whatever he chose to do, he did it with all of him.”
This ambition led the jack of all trades country boy to graduate high school early at 17-years-old and shortly after join the Marines.
“Excuse my language, but Kris was a certified badass, always looking for the next badass thing he could do. He was a gun-slinging, beer-drinking American patriot and thought it’d be so cool to be a marine. He thrived on the idea of having a family, and he thought the Marines would provide him a real brotherhood like he hadn’t yet known.”
Just as he excelled in everything else in life – “he could sell air conditioning to an Eskimo or tell a joke that could get the devil roll over laughing” – Kris was a born Marine. He aspired to be great at whatever he chose, and he always succeeded. Shortly after graduating from the Marine Corps recruit depot at Parris Island, Kris was deployed to Africa and his life as a Marine officially began.
Eventually, love would also find its way into the Marine’s life, and an 18-year-old Tessa would fall for that tall, dark and handsome southern gentleman with the green eyes that could stop the world.
“I fell in love with him the first time I saw him, sitting on a kitchen island at a friend’s Halloween party. The first time he made eye contact with me, I knew it was right then. That’s where our love story began.”
Kris called Tessa the next day. Though they were each at the party with different dates, their connection was immediate, the kind of love that movies are made of, and he drove through the pouring rain to pick her up at her friend’s house after they got off the phone. Soaking wet, they talked and talked long into the night until he brought her back to her friends’.
“We married in 2011 and had our daughter in 2012. Kris had already had a son, and the two became best of friends. Kris was a remarkable husband who showed me love every opportunity he got. He would surprise me with random hugs, kisses when he knew I was feeling down, flowers and candy when he felt like I needed it.”
As he did for his country, Kristopher did for his family, and worked his fingers to the bone to provide for them by all means. He was a devoted father who loved his children more than anything in the world, and coached them t-ball and wrestled them in the yard every chance he got.
“He was the best dad you could possibly imagine. He was a very hands-on daddy and taught the kids something every opportunity he had. He was a big kid himself. Every child in the world loved Kris, he was goofy. He’s the man in the yard rolling around in the mud with the kids or tossing them across the pool. He melted for our daughter though and would take her on dates. He was tough until he would see her cry.”
As a true southern gentleman, Kris was also a God-fearing man and taught Tessa and the kids everything they knew about God, she says. He’d pray with them every day, said blessings before every meal, and even prayed and thanked God when he killed an animal while hunting.
“He was truly and impeccable man, who left a hole in this world greater than anything I’ve ever known. He will be missed every second of every day for the rest of my life.”
He was home and no longer active-duty for about two years before his death. On December 24, 2015, Cpl. Kristopher Leon Marrow passed a way, a victim of the immeasurably difficult conditions that drive too many brave veterans to take their own lives.
“The day Kris died, he set me up on the kitchen counter and told me how proud he was to be married to me. He said, ‘You’re a tougher man than I am.’ He said that no matter the hard times we went through, ‘Even the times I gave up, you stepped up and pulled my slack.’”
After his passing, Tessa’s family understandably was in shock. They didn’t know what to do, where to turn, and the world around them continued to spin even if theirs had been turned upside down forever, until a wealth of warmth was extended to Tessa from her military family.
“Marine wives I’ve never heard of called me, asked me how my daughter was doing, asked me if I was sleeping, if I had food, and told me where to go from there. They told me to strap my boots on, put my feet on the ground, and let’s go.”
Though Kristopher was the marine, Tessa still had a family through his service.
“Seven days after his death, a military wife called me and said I had to go to the social security office to get the benefits in order. She told me, ‘Kris’s life ended and yours did not. You have to make sure you’re taken care of now.’ I started crying and she told me, ‘Wipe your face, you can cry later.’”
Tessa told me that Kris’s favorite song was “A Country Boy Can Survive” by Hank Williams Jr. As we share her story, I find myself once again amazed by the resilience of Tessa and her family of military wives, so much so that I think a version called “A Military Wife Can Survive” is long overdue.
“Three months later, I took my daughter to school and came home. I sat down and realized it was the first time I had been alone since he died. I cried for a minute, and then I was done. I had done everything I had to do, and I had pulled through.”
According to Task and Purpose, a military news outlet, veterans have a suicide rate 50% higher than those who did not serve in the military. Pair that with the terrifying fact that over 20 veterans take their own lives each day, per a July 2016 Veterans Affairs study, and you have a deplorable situation that requires immediate remedy.
“No suicide is more important than the other, but when 22 veterans are taking their own lives every day, that’s a real situation, a real trend, that demands attention. Marines live their life on the line constantly. It’s never a thought for them to say ‘I don’t want to go’ when they get the call for a new mission. They have their bag packed every day are prepared every day to serve.”
“When civilians see homeless vets, they think, ‘Oh, just get a job and everything will be fine.’ We don’t understand the stress they experience every day as a soldier and every day when they come home. We don’t know what they’ve seen, what they’ve done, so we don’t know what is going to trigger them: a loud noise on the street, a baby crying at the home, someone yelling at them at work. We can’t know so we can’t judge.”
Like many young men and women who serve, transitioning to civilian life is difficult to say the least, if not impossible. As Kris told Tessa shortly after his final return home, “What am I if I’m not a soldier? I don’t know how to be a civilian.”
That is a question that these brave soldiers should not have to answer alone, Tessa says.
“These veterans have nowhere to go when they’re done serving. They give everything for us. The least we can do is take care of them.”
As humans, we all mourn the passing of a loved one differently. Personally, I don’t think there are any right or wrong ways – each unique relationship requires its unique process. Nonetheless, I’ve yet to encounter any individual maintain their strength like Tessa and her daughter, just based from her demeanor during our conversations.
“My daughter is her father all over again. She is the most adaptive and resilient person I’ve ever met,” Tessa says. She continues the precedent that Kris had set before and takes their daughter out on dates frequently, a special note that she picked up on in the song lyrics to the song, “CPL. Kristopher Marrow.”
“As soon as she heard her daddy’s name, her eyes lit up, and she said, ‘That’s daddy’s name!” When the part about her daddy taking her on dates came on, she said, ‘MY daddy used to take me on dates.’ After awhile she finally pieced it all together and said, ‘This song is about my daddy!’ We listened to the song about 10 more times in a row after that!”
“We talk about daddy every day. I still take her on dates, just like her daddy did. And when something nice happens, she says, ‘I wish my daddy was here, but I know that he’s in my heart.’ And I remind her, ‘Yes, he’s always in your heart, and he’s always watching you from there.’”
Learn more about our “Songs For Our Soldiers” project at Songfinch.com and see how you can get involved.