In another life, we would have been planning for this sort of thing as our special night out. My husband would fret over his uniform, making sure each medal was placed correctly and every inch was perfectly pressed. I would spend hours shopping for the “perfect dress.” We’d meet up with some of our friends beforehand, admiring one another’s dresses and laughing about our night to come.

I loved admiring my handsome husband in his uniform. I enjoyed the tradition and the camaraderie among soldiers. Little did I know there would be no more military balls for the two of us.

My husband, Army Capt. Brian “Bubba” Bunting, was killed in Afghanistan on Feb. 24, 2009. Just before, Bubba had been home on leave, and just days after Bubba was taken from us, I found out I was expecting our second child.

Not only did I lose my husband, I lost my family: the military community. Like many military spouses, I had come to define many parts of myself through the lens of that community. With my husband gone, the things and people I had come to identify with and lean on were no more. I lost my husband and I lost a sense of myself.

We, what remained of my family, were still part of the military community, but at the same time, we weren’t. We were every other spouse’s worst nightmare. It wasn’t until I met other widows going through the same struggle to regain hope that I started to heal. Through the nonprofit organization,Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS, I met other widows who shared my lost sense of self. Quickly, I made friends and we bonded. Now we share that same sense of community and they are my new military family. Through seminars, retreats, and beautiful events like the TAPS gala, we have learned to laugh again. We’ve learned to smile again. Most of all, though, we’ve learned that we can live a wonderful life again, and we’ll do so by each other’s side.

I’m sure there are fancy parties and galas every night in D.C. Some people probably take going to those for granted. Tonight, I’m going to the TAPS gala and I could not be more excited. It’s a chance for me to connect with other widows and survivors, to share my story. More importantly, tonight’s gala is a chance for me to be among my military family again.

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