On Sunday, I had the opportunity to hear Taya Kyle, the widow of American Sniper Chris Kyle, speak at Beth El Synagogue. We all wept together as she told the story of her husband’s last day on earth. I share it here not to be morose, but to share Taya’s (and Chris’) life philosophy. Before she began, she explained Chris always “showed up’” He showed up in their marriage when they were struggling; he showed up as a father while battling PTSD; he showed up in the military when he felt our country needed him. He didn’t have to be perfect—he just had to show up.
It was a Saturday morning, Chris and Taya were on a sports field in Texas watching their kids play. After the game, their son had a playdate, Taya was taking their daughter and a friend to Build-A-Bear, and Chris was helping a young veteran who was suffering with PTSD.
As they got ready at home Taya asked where Chris was taking the troubled vet. Chris mentioned a beautiful spot near Dallas, about 90 minutes from their home. She asked why the two were going so far away, and Chris said he wanted to give the young vet a chance to talk in the car. Chris wasn’t a big talker, but she noted how he was stepping out of his comfort zone to help his mentee. She kissed him goodbye. That was the last time she saw him alive.
Hours later Taya’s phone was blowing up with friends calling, asking if Chris was hurt. Taya immediately went into “military wife mode.” Since she’d trained her mind to not jump to the worst-case scenario during Chris’ four tours in Iraq, Taya was good at keeping a cool head.
She called a police officer friend who confirmed Chris was hurt. The officer came to her house, and Taya launched into planning mode. Get the kids off to a sleepover, get ready to drive to the hospital, and call some close friends. Then the officer stopped her, and told her Chris was dead. She asked him, “Are you sure?” He replied, “Yes.” Once again she asked, “Are you sure?” Again, “Yes.”
The she said this: “I’m going to ask you one more time, and this time I’ll believe you. Are you absolutely sure my husband is dead?”
Taya Kyle called her mom, then demanded to see her husband. The next day she did. She refused to leave his side, kissing his face. Officers finally had to forcefully remove her and take her home.
At home, her friends were there. They showed up. She remembers sitting in her living room surrounded by them; they each had a hand on her body while she talked about Chris.
She specifically remembered one act of kindness: Her daughter needed a dress to wear, and in her grief, Taya could not remember if she’d done any laundry. Her mother told her that two of her friends had come over, taken all her laundry home, and brought it back folded. There was a clean dress for her little girl. Taya told us, “If someone asked me what I needed in that moment, I certainly wouldn’t have said that I needed my laundry done. But that’s what I needed.”
She recalled how her friends were living Chris’ legacy. They were showing up. No one can bring back a murdered husband, no one can take away pain in your darkest moments, but if friends and family show up, that can heal the soul.
Taya Kyle is doing well. She is healing, she is mothering, she is laughing. She tells her story to honor her husband, and even though she may not feel qualified to give advice on life, “show up” is a pretty good motto.