Two hundred thirty-six. That’s how many years of freedom we’ve enjoyed since our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Shortly after adding his signature to the famous document, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail that the day, “ought to be [celebrated] with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”
Who knows if Adams would have approved of some of our truly American ways of celebrating the day (hotdog-eating contest, anyone?), but I know he’d want us to pause before breaking out the mustard to honor the men and women who’ve given their lives for the freedom we’re celebrating—and to the spouses and partners who’ve lost them.
The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) estimates that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have left more than 3,500 widows and widowers. One such widow, Elizabeth Berrien Woods, who lost her husband Brian, an Army Special Forces medic, in Afghanistan in 2009, channeled her grief by creating a support network for those coping with a spouse’s death on the front lines. Soul Widows, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, is an organization that publishes a website, plans retreats, and offers grief therapy for the loved ones left behind. “It gives me joy that I can use what I’ve gone through to positively help others,” Berrien says.