Published December 18, 2011
But for more than 2,000 widows of military personnel killed in the fighting, the war in Iraq will never be truly over, the Los Angeles Times reports.
"Being a widow is a full-time job," said Karen Mendoza, whose husband, Marine Maj. Ray Mendoza, 37, was killed in November 2005 when he stepped on a land mine while leading Marines from Camp Pendleton into combat near the Syrian border.
The life that the couple had planned when they met as students at Ohio State University was instantly destroyed.
Gone were the dreams of staying in the Marine Corps near trusted friends and colleagues and maybe later, after retirement, owning a gym. Gone was the security of a structured life in a supportive and compatible community.
"Suddenly I had to have a plan A, plan B, and plan C for the next 20 years," Karen Mendoza told the paper. Among the most important of those plans was "providing an environment for my children to grow and grieve."
The loss of any parent at an early age can be traumatic to a son or daughter. But in the case of Ray Mendoza, that loss was magnified by who he was: a larger-than-life figure, an Olympic-caliber wrestler, a charismatic leader to his fellow Marines and a doting father of two children who believed in equal parts love and discipline.
In the six years since her husband's death, her goal has been to help their son and daughter continue to be inspired by their father, but not crushed by his absence or intimidated by comparisons.
Karen Mendoza, now 42 and working as a marketing and public relations consultant, agreed to discuss the family with journalists who knew her husband. But she preferred that their children, Kiana and Aleksandr, not be photographed or interviewed and that the location of their new home not be identified.
"For the first couple of years, I had to establish our 'new normal,'" Karen Mendoza said.
Unlike some widows, she has never doubted the necessity of the U.S. decision to invade Iraq, depose Saddam Hussein and then fight the Sunni insurgency. Nor is she torn by the fact that her husband chose a profession that routinely caused him to leave the family for months on end.
"Ray was married to the Marine Corps — he loved it," she said. "I had to let go of the idea of competing with the Marine Corps. My children and I know he was surrounded by people who loved him. Why would I want to compete with that?"