'I'll Be Home Soon. Just Stay Strong.'
January 14, 2011
- Spc. Kyle Little's dreams for a family came to an end on May 8, 2007, in Salman Pak, Iraq, just north of Baghdad.
- "I had mailed a care package that included a videotape of the baby's sonogram where you can hear the heartbeat, and he didn't get it."
- "The grief didn't really hit me until Kylee was about 3 months old. I was really struggling. I was trying to keep it in, keep it private."
- "You don't necessarily want to wear the widow badge. You are proud of your husband, proud to stand in his place."
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Nearly four years ago, Tiffany Little lost her Soldier husband.
A lot has happened since then - she's given birth to their daughter Kylee, moved to Alabama to be close to her dad and other family members, learned how to live as a single mom and joined a support group known as My Soldier, My Fallen Hero, first located at Bicentennial Chapel and now a part of the Survivor Outreach Services program. Along the way, she has found ways to manage the emotions that come with the sudden loss of a beloved husband.
During those tumultuous years, Little put her own personal desires on hold.
Now, those desires - many which center around having a whole family - have resurfaced. She has begun dating again, and has found someone special who may be part of her future.
But, it hasn't been easy.
"Dating is kind of awful. A lot of guys can't handle the widow part. They guilt you about it. They think they have to compete instead of helping you honor (your Soldier)," Little said.
"You are trying to invest time in relationships and continue your life. But that can kind of destroy you all over again. When you are a widow who has lost your husband in such a brutal way, it's like going through it all over again when things fall apart. Guys can't handle this hero that was in your life. They don't understand that they can be a hero, too, by wanting to be a part of our lives and going through this with us."
These days, Little is dating a good friend who actually introduced her to her husband back in 2006 when they all lived in Columbus, Ga. Though from Massachusetts, Spc. Kyle Little was serving at Fort Benning at the time. He had already deployed once to Iraq and was preparing for a second deployment within the year.
"We all went bowling together," Little recalled. "We had a friendship over six or seven months that developed into more. We became the very best of friends very quickly. He had his drama, I had my own and we would share a lot together. While all our friends were partying, we would share and talk."
An argument that threatened their friendship led the couple to realize their relationship was going to a deeper level.
"He told me 'I don't want to lose you.' I was floored. I didn't think he thought of me that way," Little said.
During the 2006 holidays, Little went with her future husband to visit his family. When they returned, Kyle Little shipped to the National Training Center in California for training in preparation for deployment. While he was gone, the couple frequently talked and texted by phone.
"I was at the laundromat when he texted me and said 'When I get back, I'm going to marry you and we are going to have a family,'" Little recalled.
They married on Feb. 5, 2007. Kyle Little was supposed to deploy to Iraq in May. But deployment came much sooner in early March with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division. So, too, did the Little family. Before he deployed, Kyle Little found out he was going to be a daddy.
His dreams of a family came to an end on May 8, 2007, in Salman Pak, Iraq, just north of Baghdad, when he died of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle.
"He was killed three months and three days exactly after we married," Little said. "I had mailed a care package to him that included a videotape of the baby's sonogram where you can hear the heartbeat, and he didn't get it. It came back a couple weeks later."
Little was taking a nap the morning of May 8 when she was startled awake, and remembered wondering if she should name the baby after Kyle. Later, at work, she got a call from the Army, asking for her address. She thought nothing of it. When she got home, Little checked her Facebook and saw that one of her husband's fellow Soldiers had lost both his legs in an IED explosion in Iraq.
"At 3:15 (p.m.) I saw them walking up to my door. Even though I had grown up a military brat, I thought they were coming to tell me Kyle was hurt. I should have known better," she said. "When they told me, I just couldn't believe it. I said 'We're happy. We're married. We're having a baby. We've both been through so much. This can't be happening.'"
But it had. Soon, the news spread and family began making plans to travel to Fort Benning to be with Little. She kept herself busy with preparations.
"The house was a wreck. I had to get some food. I had to get some Diet Coke," she recalled. "I remember I was at the store with my friend Shaina (Bramlett) getting Diet Coke and our song came on the PA system. I just sat down on the floor and started crying. And Shaina sat down on the floor and cried with me."
Little got through the funeral and those initial dark days surrounding her husband's death. Eventually, her life resurfaced, and she began getting ready for her new baby. She moved to Hartselle, where her dad, a retired Marine, and his family lived. She started working through the feelings she had about her husband's death, including anger at his leaving her alone. And she started learning how to live as a widow.
"The grief didn't really hit me until Kylee was about 3 months old. I was really struggling. I was trying to keep it in, to keep it private," Little said. "I was able to use the pregnancy to distract me. Even when she was born, I told Kylee 'You are so beautiful. Your daddy and I love you so much.'"
As Kylee grows up, Little sees her husband in her daughter's face and personality. She is reminded of her husband in some of the things their little girl says and does.
"She just turned 3. Before her birthday, Kylee said 'Daddy needs to come home from heaven to be at my birthday.' Sometimes she pretends to talk to him on the phone. She says her daddy is in her heart," Little said.
"We talk about him nearly every day. I let her take the lead on it. She brings him up. Sometimes she will do things just like he did. She is like him in a lot of ways ... I want her to know how her father really was. He was definitely a hero and he was a hero before he died."
Little and her daughter are close with Kyle Little's family and friends, visiting his home in Massachusetts twice a year.
"I want her to know her daddy. Because our romance was so short, there's a lot of stuff I don't know," Little said. "She can learn that from his family and his friends and even his old girlfriends. He was a real person with real feelings and with these amazing qualities. I know that the Army and people want to put him up on a pedestal, but he was just a regular person who was doing his job. He volunteered to serve his country. I want Kylee to know all that."
Visiting Survivor Outreach Services and attending the meetings of My Soldier, My Fallen Hero have helped Little deal with her loss, and particularly with negative feelings associated with being alone.
"Sometimes I am angry at him for leaving this way," she said. "I didn't want to be a single parent, not ever. I wanted to do it the right way. I wanted to have a family the right way.
"You don't necessarily want to wear the widow badge. You are proud of your husband, proud to stand in his place. But it's hard being a widow."
She is thankful for the SOS facility and for its coordinator, Emily McFall.
"Emily is an amazing woman," Little said. "To be prior Army, to be a Soldier's wife, and to go through her own struggles and ordeals and then to want to help others ... I'm amazed by her strength and the strength I see in other widows.
"I think it's amazing that the Army is doing this. Bad things happen when things get ignored. It's really awesome that the Army is standing up to the plate and knowing they need to do more."
Even though Little had the support of her entire family, SOS has provided her with a place where she can share her darkest feelings and thoughts without the worry of offending someone else or hurting someone's feelings, or of being judged.
"It's hard for your family to adjust to the new you. You don't want them to see the pain. But you do become a different person," Little said.
As Little goes on with her life, she remembers the love and hope she shared with her husband.
"He was full of strength. He was definitely my backbone and my strength in so many ways. He was an amazing man," she said. "I still have the last e-mail he sent me. It says 'I'll be home soon. Just stay strong.' I still read it sometimes."