|Return to Smith's profile | Return to the list|
The World They Lost to War
She wants to move on.
To experience new adventures. To watch her children grow. And maybe, one day, to marry again.
"That's what Daren would want," says Meredith Smith. "I owe it to him to move on and be happy."
But the young mother of two girls is stuck between the world she believes her husband, John Daren Smith, would want for her and the world she lost on Feb. 25, 2003, when he became the first person from Utah killed in the nation's present military conflicts. Smith, who grew up in Taylorsville, was killed with three others when a sandstorm engulfed the U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter he was piloting.
In the past four years, Meredith Smith has moved into a new home with her daughters. She has traveled around the globe. She has begun to date. She even has taken up golf - a sport her husband despised - and plays often with her mother-in-law.
"I'm trying to find out who I am, figuring out what makes me happy," says Smith, who began dating her husband when the two were students at Taylorsville High School. "But there's still so much of him in my life."
Her daughters, Kiara and Madeline, face the past and the future with a different perspective. Both girls remember their father, but are approaching a time in their lives in which they have spent more time without him than with him.
The memories they have of their dad are less complex than their mom's - "He was funny and he loved my mom," 8-year-old Madeline says.
Perhaps as a result of that sort of simplicity, the girls seem to have moved past grief and into acceptance in a way their mother hasn't yet been able to match.
"It used to bother me to talk about my dad with my friends," says Kiara, 12. "But it doesn't matter to me now. We can talk about him and it doesn't bother me."
Their grandmother, Donna Smith, believes the girls are also stuck between two worlds. While both girls say they are OK with their mom dating - and even marrying - they haven't been particularly fond of any of the guys she has seen so far.
"They've made it tough," says Donna Smith. "I think they're starved for male companionship, but at the same time I don't think they can even imagine another man in their lives."
But Meredith Smith says she worries about what happens when her daughters move away.
"I know they're just little girls now, but they're growing up so fast," she says. "They're going to be all grown up eventually. And I'm going to be alone. I'm going to have to learn to love again or learn to really like cats."
Donna Smith said she also struggles to balance her future and her past, saying it was several years after the death of her son that she was able to laugh at anything.
Geri Stephenson, whose son, Dion, was killed more than 16 years ago in the first U.S. war in Iraq, said that for the families of fallen service members, the tug-of-war between past and future never really goes away.
"I still work, I have two other sons and I have grandkids," says Stephenson, who lives in Bountiful. "But his memory is here still, too."
Stephenson says her husband felt he was done grieving after five years. She is not certain she ever stopped. "I just don't think that pain ever really goes away," she says.
She said the recent wars - and their ever-mounting casualties - also have brought back the emotions she felt when she learned her son had been killed.
Although her son died in a so-called "friendly fire" incident, Stephenson doesn't believe he died in vain.
Meredith Smith hopes to find the same kind of resolve, but she is not certain she ever will.
"I know he died for all the right reasons," she said, noting that her husband was patriotic and accepted his orders to Iraq with pride. "But he's probably thinking now, 'Oh my God, what a mess.'
"I try my best not to think about it."
Smith acknowledges that might be keeping her from moving on, as she believes her husband would want, but she doesn't think it is the biggest issue at hand.
"The biggest thing," she says, "is that he was just so wonderful. And he has such big shoes to fill."