Memorial Day for a Gold Star Family

Memorial Day exists to honor and remember the men and women who have died in military service. “Every day is Memorial Day to us but it’s still such a hard holiday. It hits me really hard, to be honest; it’s not a long weekend of picnics and barbeque,” said Gold Star Spouse Erica Brophy. MilSpouseFest spoke with Brophy about the loss of the love of her life and the grieving process that turned into a project to help fellow Gold Star Families—those whose loved ones died serving their country.

Love & Orders

“I knew nothing about military life,” Brophy said. Now 39, She met her Marine husband back when he was in basic school in 2006. They were both visiting Boston, and coincidentally had mutual friends, and a long-distance relationship ensued. Love and marriage brought them to New Bern, North Carolina, where they lived together for seven years. The couple had two children and enjoyed a short time in Quantico as a family for command and staff school. “And then he dropped the news that we were moving to Japan,” Brophy said. 

She did what so many spouses do: put her career to the side to focus on his service. Then, Brophy said, “four months later, a tragedy happened.”

Heartbreak  

On December 6, 2018, in Iwakuni, Japan, USMC Major James Michael Brophy was killed with five other Marines when an F-18 collided with a C-130 during a pre-dawn training mission off the coast of Japan

Brophy reflected upon that time and described it as a “fog” and a “nightmare.” Grief took over her life. She said, “it feels like you are sick all the time. Like when you have a headache and don’t want to do anything. But it’s all the time.”

Brophy said shortly after her husband died, she was given a binder called The Days Ahead (essential paperwork for Families of Fallen Service Members). She was overwhelmed with paperwork, getting the family belongings from Japan back to the states, and finding a car. All of this, while she “had no drive for life,” she said. 

She moved with her two children back to her parents’ house in New Hampshire. She remembers thinking, “What was happening? You have a plan, and then it’s getting shattered, and you have to figure out plan B.”

A Plan to Find Purpose 

With that binder in hand, she started to research what other resources were available to her family after the loss of her husband. “I started to compile a list in Excel. It was a huge list,” Brophy said. 

She was researching as the world was shutting down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She remembers thinking, “maybe I can create a website.” And so, she taught herself to do so. “I wanted purpose in life, but not a job because of the kids,” said Brophy. As a result, Gold Star Family Resources was launched in January 2021. Since then, she’s received countless questions from spouses and agencies alike. 

Brophy wants to clarify that her site is not a non-profit but a hub of resources. She said, “I was trying to think of things that are useful. I felt like I couldn’t figure this out with a degree and professional background. How would younger surviving spouses figure this all out? So, here’s a checklist.” 

The website’s features include a list of action items that families should undertake when facing such a tragedy, personal stories, financial counseling resources, and more.

“There are so many organizations out there, but they define Gold Star differently,” Brophy said. “The criteria to apply for some of the stuff can be different. For instance, an active duty service member that died by suicide might not qualify for some services. And I didn’t realize that until I got into this.” 

These discoveries and her dedication to helping other families brought her out of her fog. “Everyone experiences tragedy differently, and this is what I needed to do to move forward and not be stuck in grief,” she said. 

Planning for the Future 

Brophy has big plans for what’s next. She has extensive professional experience in defense contracting with a background in accounting, and is set on becoming a certified personal financial counselor to help military families with basic budgeting. She always sets intentions with her late husband in mind. “I think of him all the time. I feel that he is with me. And that I have one life to live and need to make the best of it,” Brophy said. 

As for this Memorial Day weekend, it will be a quiet one of reflection for the Brophy family. 

“I miss my husband and do everything to give the kids memories and the best life I can,” said Brophy.

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