April 23rd marked the first anniversary of the death of Iowa National Guard Staff Sergeant James Justice. He was killed by insurgents during a rescue mission in Afghanistan. For Justice's family, though, it was just another day remembering what they've lost.
“Eventually you do start to move on, and you wake up in the morning and you put one foot in front of the other,” said Amanda Justice, Staff Sgt. James Justice’s wife.
Some days are harder than others, but most days Amanda Justice finds the strength. It’s especially important for her 4 year old daughter, Caydence.
“She kind of lives through my memories,” Amanda said of Caydence, “She remembers what I tell her, so I have to make sure I am talking about him consistently enough that she keeps those memories.”
4 year old Caydence can tell you why her dad doesn't come home. Caydence says that her dad was “killed by bad guys,” and that he is never coming back. But, her mother said, Caydence’s story changes from time to time.
“The story gets more elaborate, like she adds things to it herself like she told me one day that the bad guys were on time out forever and I was like I don`t even know what that means but I guess in her head that`s the worst place a person can be is on time out so that`s where they are,” said Amanda.
It's a lot for a four year old to handle. “You feel so guilty that at such a young age they have to talk about something that serious,” said Amanda, things a four year old should never have to talk about.”
Amanda said who she is has changed over this past year.
“I think I realized a lot more how strong I am. And just how much a person can actually handle. He was the big soldier man and I`m going to do everything, and I`ve learned I can use a Phillips screw driver, most of the things I call my dad for but I can do little things around the house, I can take care of her by myself,” said Amanda.
Amanda decided early on she was going to be open and honest about her feelings since losing James, not just to her daughter, but to anyone who will listen. She particularly does this on Facebook, and said “I put it all out there. If I am upset about something I am not afraid to say it and I think for a lot of people that its helped them to see its ok to feel that way,”
Amanda has met dozens of military wives and widows this past year. She has heard their stories, and reached out to them.
“I guess the best advice is things do come back and you do get your life back but it is never the same as it once was. Your normal changes. The things that used to happen every day those don`t happen anymore, but there are new things that happen every day,” said Amanda.
Amanda Justice spent the one year anniversary of her husband's death visiting his grave at Arlington National Cemetery. Next month Amanda will return to Arlington, and bring Caydence for the first time to see her dad's gravesite.