Beyond the Sea

Author: Cindy Hooks Morrison

Scaling Grief Mountain

I have filled the ocean deep with tears and scaled a rugged mountain of grief, yelling and wrestling with my faith the whole way. With an aching heart and a broken soul, I climbed and I cried. I crawled and I yelled. I fell. Armed only with the strength of love left behind, I stood up, dusted off, and climbed again. When I got to the top, I saw that the world was waiting for me to emerge on the other side. I let a silent prayer slip off my lips to Heaven, held my breath, and stepped back into life. And to my surprise, love and laughter found my heart again.  

newborn and parents

On June 27th of 2004, the earth both shattered and stood still all at once. Two Marines in dress uniforms knocked on my door in the middle of the night with news that turned me into the military urban legend that I had only heard about in hushed whispers in the background of my life as an officer’s spouse. I opened the door to hear a reluctant Marine say, “Mrs. Hooks, I am so sorry to report that your husband has been in an accident and his jet is missing. Search and rescue efforts are in effect.”

I don’t remember very much of the hours or days that followed. I do remember that at that moment, I fell straight to my knees, hitting a cold hard floor where I remained in constant prayer—begging, bargaining, and pleading with God to bring my husband home to me.

I held on as tightly as I could to the smallest glimmer of hope in my heart; they had said he was missing and not that he was dead. But hours later, that hope was extinguished as they declared my husband—my college sweetheart, my sunshine-filled days, and my giggles at night—lost at sea.

Captain Franklin Hooks never came home to me. He never came home at all. At the funeral, I stood beside an empty coffin, and I felt just as hollow and empty inside. I know the feeling of being empty and I know what it feels like when you can literally feel pain roll over your body and penetrate each and every single cell.

Losing a husband was unimaginable until I was standing within it. And while my new world changed fast and furious, it was hard to fathom why that was happening. Without my loving husband’s presence in the world, I felt like the whole world should just stop. Nothing seemed as important as it was before. Not one material possession was wanted. Every relationship around me was changed. Instantaneously.

Weeks later, Frank’s belongings arrived at my front door along with a government death certificate. The state, however, would not issue a death certificate without proof of death. Pieces of a shattered F-18 do not count. Without a body, there was no proof in the eyes of the state. Still, the federal death certification trumped all; and I carried on without choice and without proof.

In the beginning I did not want to hear from TAPS widows. I felt it made my loss more real. But I was comforted that they were there at a distance and grateful for their around-the-clock availability on a few particularly hard nights. 

I allowed myself to grieve full time for a long time. I was in no rush to move forward. Many people, including both of our families, gave me lots of unwanted advice like “take anti-depressants” or “move on.” But I felt that it was okay for the world to see me cry over the death of my husband. He was worth missing. I did not want to simply mask or hide my pain. I wanted to actually heal my heart. If I didn’t, how could I ever consider giving it away again?

There is no blue print for grieving. It is as different for each person as the snowflakes that fall from the sky. It isn’t easy right away. It’s work. In the beginning, I prayed very hard for God to just take me so that we could be together again. And after a while, I realized that it didn't matter how much I begged or pleaded, He wasn't going to let me die.

And so I had to start living a new life.

To force myself to take breaks from my grief, I trained to run the Marine Corps Marathon and went back to graduate school to become a pediatric feeding specialist. Before long my clinical internships began, and that was a huge turning point for me. I was surrounded by tiny patients clinging to their lives. God taught me that if I focused more on helping to ease the pain of others, He would ease mine. And that is exactly what He did. He slowly healed my broken heart. I started making plans again, laughing again, smiling, giggling, and dreaming of a future, of a family. I came back to life.  

In time, when the running shoes were wrapped in a few medals and the degree was conferred, I found that memories of love and photos of the past were no longer enough to fill my world. I missed sharing my days with a best friend here on earth. (Insert lots of guilt and lots of prayer here.) Feeling this way was new and frightening, for I wanted to move forward without leaving Frank behind. I prayed for the right person to come my way.

familiy portrait

And then one day it happened. The second that I laid eyes on Andrew, the most amazing feeling of peace swept over me. I knew within seconds that he was my answered prayer. He was patient, kind, and had a solid, unwavering foundation that was strong enough to build new love upon. He made me smile, he made me laugh, he gave me butterflies, and I fell completely in love with him.

I am thankful that I took my time to heal, because Andrew is absolutely worth giving a whole heart to. I have found a man with a heart big enough to embrace my past and my present…and to make all of my dreams come true in the future.

Moving forward takes strength in new ways and has some challenges. For me, one challenge was that I had to lose more of the past to gain a future. Some friends thought that I should spend the rest of my lifetime being a living monument for Frank, but others cheered me on and gave me support and encouragement. I can tell you that I have gained far more than the friends that I lost in moving forward.  

Another challenge was making sure that my new husband did not feel that he had shoes to fill. I made it clear to our families and friends that he did not and could not possibly fill anyone’s shoes, because he has his own big shoes, incredible heart, and beautiful soul to be loved and cherished.

newborn and mom

For me, moving forward was not about replacing love. It was about starting a new life. A completely different one. The gift in this new love is that there is not one single moment taken for granted. I feel that I honor Frank best by continuing to live my life in the way that he most inspired—a life of working hard, loving hard, helping others— and (most importantly) living a life filled with smiles and laughter every single day.

For those who are walking a lonely path right now, I want to encourage you…your heart will feel lighter in time. Take your time; hold on to your faith. The love that finds you will stretch your heart and make it even bigger than you imagined possible. Joy can fill your home again, and all the sunshine and giggles will follow, too.  

By Cindy Hooks Morrison, Wife of LCDR Andrew Morrison, USN; Surviving Spouse of Captain Franklin R. Hooks II, USMC

Photos Courtesy of the Morrison family