‘Our world came to a screeching halt. The love of my life was no longer with us.’ Fallen soldier’s pregnant wife recalls ‘nightmare’ of his sudden death, being ‘strong’ through birth without him

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“’Some people go a lifetime without meeting their soulmate, I met mine at 23,’ is how I started the Eulogy for my late husband, Stuart Jackson, this past December. At only 28 years old I was now a pregnant widow with an almost 2-year-old son, and an almost 6-year-old stepson I feared I might not get to see again. His family and I were now at odds which resulted in an even more emotional funeral because we were treated as outsiders. It was torture, but I was there to tell our story and ensure that he was honored for not only the Soldier he was, but the husband, father, and man he was. I couldn’t help but realize we all were grieving differently and hope that one day they would see that we all just loved him. I knew no matter what was said or done, I had to be the woman Stuart married. I held my head high and held my tears for private moments. Immediately after the viewing, but before his casket was closed, I walked up to him 20 weeks pregnant, carrying Dominic in my arms and Maliq by my side, to say one last goodbye to his physical form. I knew the entire church of 400+ attendees were watching us, I refused to look behind us, but in that moment Dominic waved at his father saying, ‘bye bye dada’ several times. My heart shattered as I heard Dominic saying his goodbyes. I gave Stuart one final kiss and as much as I wanted to pretend like this wasn’t happening, that this was just a nightmare, that I would wake up soon, I heard all of our family and friends begin to cry louder, sighing in disbelief which reminded me once again I truly was living this nightmare.

Stephanie Maynetto-Jackson

When Stuart and I first met we were immediately drawn to each other, but a bit old fashioned, I waited for him to make the first move. After a few months he finally did but when I say he made a move I mean he finally had a full conversation with me other than just a quick hello and goodbye. It was the sweetest love ever when I realized how shy he had originally been with me because he was not a shy person at all. We quickly developed a friendship in which we were basically inseparable. He always told me it was love at first sight for him because the moment he laid eyes on me he knew I was the one he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.

Stephanie Maynetto-Jackson

After a very brief courtship and approval from both of my parents – yes, he asked them for my hand in marriage — we were married on September 27, 2013. In that moment we were now one because as the bible says, ‘therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.’ Our families met each other that November traveling all the way to Arizona from both California and Virginia. Every year since our courthouse wedding, we have planned for future anniversaries. We spoke about our 50th anniversary and how we would celebrate because we just knew that life together is what we wanted. We knew from the moment we met, this was it for us, we were meant to be. We were going to build a home together, build a family together, and grow old together. We were supposed to watch sunsets and sunrises together as we traveled the world. A few months into our marriage we were deployed to Jordan and Iraq for 9 month rotations. Both active duty Soldiers in the US Army and deployed, we decided we were ready to embark on new adventures together rather than apart. We had planned to leave the Army after that deployment but instead ended up in what we thought would be one last duty station in Hawaii.

Natalie Tocco Photography

When I first met Stuart he gushed about his son Maliq and I quickly learned he was fighting to be in his son’s life. He always credited me with being the reason we were able to have him in our lives, but he never backed down when the fight started and it just became a battle we fought together. Maliq loved his daddy and we spent as much time as possible with him. Stuart played with him, mentored him, loved him, cherished him, and was so proud to be his father. When we first found out we were pregnant with Dominic, we were both filled with so much joy because this was something we had long talked about and planned. It didn’t take long but it finally happened, and it was something he could finally experience. He was at every single doctors visit and didn’t leave my side during his birth. That moment was one of the most difficult times for both of us. Dominic was admitted into the NICU and I was bleeding out, but luckily we all recovered.

Phoenix Sipin – KM Ivelisse Photography

From the moment Dominic was born, Stuart adored him. The first thing he told my parents who were in the waiting room was how excited he was that he had a dimple just like him. For the next two years we would enjoy life as new parents again. Dominic was not only a bright soul that made our lives complete, but he brought so much joy to the lives of all those around us. When we found out we were pregnant once again, we were just as excited since we were trying for months. He had just been accepted into the prestigious White House Communications Agency, we were looking for homes in the Northern Virginia area, we were finally going to live close to Maliq, and we were expecting. It was all coming together just as we had planned.

Then on December 14, 2017, our world came to a screeching halt. I received a phone call from one of the members of Stuart’s motorcycle club that he was involved in an accident and that I needed to get to the hospital immediately. This was not in our plans, this was supposed to be a normal Thursday just like every other Thursday night. So many thoughts ran through my mind in those moments and I was ready to get into the car and speed off. I grabbed Dominic and ran to my friend’s home next door asking them to take care of him while I went to the hospital. They must have seen the fear and pain in my eyes because as Elizabeth grabbed Dominic, their 3 kids stood there just as afraid. Eddie refused to let me go alone. As he drove, I started calling our families. We arrived to the hospital and before Eddie could park I jumped out of the car running past the motorcyclists and straight to the front desk. I was finally taken to the back room where the doctor walked in and told me the love of my life was no longer with us. I screamed, I yelled, I dropped down to the floor because I simply could not believe what this woman was telling me. She began to cry and had to be escorted out of the room. I gathered myself and made those dreadful phone calls to our family. As I told both of our mothers he had passed, both yelled so loudly. It was an unbelievable shriek I will never forget because it sounded just like mine. I knew at that moment if we let it, this pain would be too unbearable. I had to walk out and let everyone know the hospital had given up on him. When I made the announcement, I also blurted out I was pregnant — out of shock — and wondered how I would get through this without him. Pregnant and already a mother, I knew as much as I wanted to be with my best friend, I had to be strong for our children. The hospital’s large chapel was filled up with friends, motorcyclists from other clubs and our chain of command teams. Everyone there was in such disbelief, their eyes were filled with tears and bloodshot. I had yet to cry and instead I wanted everyone to share stories of his life. In those moments I needed more than ever to smile and remember I had to be strong, especially since we were only two weeks from announcing that we were expecting a second child. My parents flew in the very next day and would not leave my side. They were there to help me during the darkest of times.

Stephanie Maynetto-Jackson
Stephanie Maynetto-Jackson

Stuart’s Military memorial was held in January 2018 and if you have ever been to a Military memorial you know the hardest part to endure is roll call. They repeated his name three times: ‘SSG Jackson…SSG Stuart Jackson…SSG Stuart D. Jackson,’ and the room was eerily silent because he was not there to respond. It was one of the hardest truths to swallow. There was also a memorial ride put together by 2TL Hawaii Chapter which he was Vice President of. The memorial ride was held the same day Hawaii received an incoming missile alert and we thought the ride would have to be rescheduled until we started receiving calls that clubs were all waiting in Honolulu for us. Not even an incoming missile could prevent others from honoring and celebrating the man my husband was. We arrived and started the ride with 106 motorcyclists. As we traveled through the island other motorcyclists joined. By the end of the ride there were over 120 motorcycles all to ride one final time in honor of him. He was honored once more on his birthday of all days by Bob Bell and Tina Smith from INBF Polynesian Natural Muscle Mayhem. Once they learned of his passing they honored him with a huge banner at the competition he had won first place the previous year, promising to continue to use his banner every year. Stuart inspired so many because of his ability to remain humble even when he had so many reasons to be arrogant. He excelled in every single aspect of life, but he stayed true to who he was.

Stephanie Maynetto-Jackson

When Stuart II was born this past May, I went through every emotion possible. As much support as I had there with me, I felt alone. I was alone in this journey because the man I had committed to bringing another life into this world with was no longer by my side. He had been taken from me and the anger started to consume me. For months I focused on keeping my emotions controlled to prevent anything from happening to our blessing, but that day was the day I finally let it all out. As each contraction became stronger than the last, I closed my eyes to deal with the pain but all I saw was Stuart’s face. I wanted to cry, but I had to be strong.

Samantha Byrd Photography

In those moments I kept yelling at him, telling him how he was supposed to be there to hold my hand. He was supposed to be there! I didn’t want to welcome our son with such anger and at 8cm dilated I requested an epidural to deal with the emotional anguish I was feeling. Our son Dominic was in there in his scrubs ready to welcome ‘his baby’ SJ, my sister Gracie held my hand and massaged my back, my sister Gaby kept checking in with my parents, our great friends Eddie and Elizabeth were there, Stuart’s family checked in on the group chat, the doula Kristen kept asking what she could do to help, a friend Leti came to support, Samantha the birth photographer captured these moments, all the nurses on the floor came in for this moment, the doctor left a meeting early to deliver Stuart.

Samantha Byrd Photography

Even with all this support, all I wanted was Stuart. And as I pushed baby Stuart out I closed my eyes one more time, and there he was. At that moment I realized Stuart was with us all along. He may have not held my leg up this time, held my hand, or even kissed me, but he was there in my heart welcoming our son Stuart into this world.

Samantha Byrd Photography
Samantha Byrd Photography

Dominic stole the show that day — he refused to leave his baby brother’s side and even grabbed his medical bag taking out his stethoscope to check on his little brother. Stuart’s birth was the very first step in moving forward with our lives because it was a reminder we could all do this together.

Samantha Byrd Photography

Our family has forever changed but each day I remind our sons that their daddy loves them. There are nights that Dominic wakes up from nightmares asking for his dada, days when he is throwing a tantrum only to scream for his dada, or moments in which he stares off looking for him. This is something that we will always have to live with, but I reassure him that his daddy loves him, is always with him, and even though his daddy is in heaven, he carries him in his heart. He asks me if he can fly with daddy in the sky. I let him know that a very long, long, long time from now he will be able to fly with his daddy. It breaks my heart that SJ will not have the opportunity to meet his daddy in this lifetime, but that does not mean he will not know him. I know as they grow I will have to explain what has happened time and time again, but I also know they are strong. I will raise them as Stuart and I had planned to. I have promised Stuart that all three boys will know who their daddy was, how much he wanted them, how much he loves them, and how they are his legacy. Stuart will always be a huge part of our family because we will honor and celebrate him each and every day by talking about him, sharing photos and videos of him, holding onto memories of us.

Samantha Byrd Photography

Stuart made such a huge difference in life as well as after death. Because of him and how he lived, people have vowed to never accept the situation they are dealt with but to go beyond it. People wrote to me telling me our love inspired them to follow their dreams, to pursue a love interest, and to live each day to its fullest. We thought it was normal to kiss and give each other a warm embrace every time we were going to be apart. We challenged each other each every single day to be better than we were the day before. He inspired me to be a better person, a great mother, and an amazing wife. I am selfish because I need him, our children need him and nothing will ever make this seem fair, but we cannot dwell on that. We need to focus on celebrating his life because we know this will not get any easier. Each milestone will only continue to make this harder, but we are strong and together as a family we will get through each one.

Phoenix Sipin – KM Ivelisse Photography

We adored each other, and our longest running argument was about who said I love you first. We were inseparable, and we really became one. It wasn’t until his passing that I learned of the term twin flames. I truly believe he is my twin flame and we will meet again, but until then, he will continue to watch over us. ‘Death takes the body. God takes the soul. Our mind holds the memories. Our heart keeps the love. Our faith lets us know we will meet again.’ I loved him then, I love him now, and I will always love him.

I love you more Mi Amor.”

Phoenix Sipin – KM Ivelisse Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Stephanie Maynetto-Jackson, 28, of Oahu, Hawaii. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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