Emma Weaver had already gone through the unthinkable: her husband, U.S. Army 1st Lieutenant Todd Weaver, would never be coming home again. Two days later, though, she began sifting through his effects that had been sent to her from his base in Afghanistan.
One of the items there was Todd’s laptop, which the grieving widow opened and booted up. She couldn’t have expected to find much, as her husband used the computer to communicate with his family from overseas. But as she looked at the device’s desktop, she noticed something that made her heart drop – and yet, she had to click on it…
Todd’s father had worked for the Foreign Service, but his son didn’t dedicate his life to serving his country until after the attacks on September 11, 2001. “It changed him,” read an obituary published on Facebook. “He told his parents that day that as soon as he could serve his country, he would do it.”
So on graduating from high school in 2002, Todd enlisted in the National Guard. At the same time, he started college at James Madison University. But deployments quickly postponed his education: the Guard sent him to help with the rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Isabel in 2003, and in 2004 he headed to Iraq.
Todd’s family first feared their son had been killed in Iraq when they heard news that a bomb had exploded in a mess tent where they knew their son dined. But on that occasion, Todd called home to assure them that he was okay. However, that was a phone call they would wait for in vain after an explosion in Afghanistan in September 2010.
Before his final deployment, though, Todd did quite a bit of living back home. He returned to Virginia and transferred from the National Guard to the ROTC, which allowed him to finish his education. He began his studies at the College of William and Mary, where he also reconnected with an old classmate, Emma Louise Elizabeth.
The two had actually met at a party in 2004. In fact, Emma went to leave the party, but a smitten Todd wouldn’t let her leave without a kiss. So they reconnected and strengthened their bond when Todd came home on furlough and when he returned from deployment, too. “Wherever Todd was, Emma was with him,” according to his Facebook obituary.
In the same week that he graduated from college and from the ROTC in 2008, Todd officially became a member of the U.S. Army. He also took another vow and married Emma. The two then started their life together, undeterred by how fragmented it could become by base transfers and deployments.
And despite their military lifestyle, they were able to start a family. Yes, the pair welcomed a daughter, Kiley, of whom Todd was extraordinarily proud. “Todd was good at everything,” Emma told The Washington Post. “He was never boastful, never proud.”
And Todd still felt the same wonderment when Emma sent videos chronicling everything from the baby’s first steps to her growing teeth. “That was the last video he got to see,” Emma said. “I was telling him about how she had gotten her third tooth. He said, ‘Wow. What a big girl.’”
Of course, Emma had no idea that her husband would never get to watch his daughter reach another milestone after that. Because on the other side of the world, he was leading a unit through its patrol duties on September 9, 2010. And that’s when an improvised explosive device went off.
His troops did all they could to save him, according to his father, Don Weaver. “That patrol that night had 17 Americans and 13 Afghan National troops,” he said. “They ran with his body to somehow save him. Over 500 yards they ran. They tried helicopters, but couldn’t do it, so they ran.”
But their efforts wouldn’t be enough. News quickly spread that Todd had passed away, devastating his young wife and daughter, both of whom never got to say goodbye. Within days, though, they had his personal effects, and Emma quickly began to go through them. However, she never could have guessed what she’d find.
Then again, it was normal for Todd to think of others before himself. He was the one putting his life on the line for the sake of his country, after all. So as Emma fired up his laptop, she noticed two files on the desktop: one labeled “Dear Emma,” the other “Dear Kiley.” It turned out that her husband left both Emma and her daughter letters that he penned just in case the worst happened.
“I couldn’t imagine being at war and seeing what he did everyday and then having the courage to write goodbye letters to the ones you love. He was so strong,” Emma wrote on her blog, A Day in the Life, which she started before her husband’s death.
Todd wrote in his letter to Emma, “Well if you are reading this, I guess I did not make it home and therefore, I was not able to remind you again of how much I love you… I am not gone and I will always be with you in spirit… I lived a life that most can only dream of. I married the perfect woman. I have a beautiful daughter that amazed me every day.”
He went on to give his wife advice on life as a single mother. He wrote, “Tell [Kiley] that Daddy is in heaven now and will watch over her and protect her every minute of every day.” He then looked forward to Emma’s future. “Much better times are coming,” he wrote. “You and Kiley have a wonderful life ahead of you and I am so happy to have shared some of it with you.”
His words for his daughter were just as honest, heartfelt and heartbreaking. “Although you may not remember me, I want you to know how very much your daddy loves you,” he wrote. “Do your best and try to learn as much as you can about the world you live in… Have fun. Enjoy it. And remember, your Daddy will always be proud of you.”
Emma knew she had to share her husband’s words. She even transformed them into art, superimposing her letter over a wedding photo and her daughter’s over an image of her husband holding a newborn Kiley. After hanging the images in her home, she decided to share his messages with the world at large, too. She explained why on her blog. “Although they are private letters, I have thought long and hard about how significant they are and the importance of sharing the depth of wisdom Todd had for being 26 years old at the time of his death,” she wrote.
The family laid Todd to rest in Arlington National Cemetery in October 2010. At the time of his death, he was the 168th service member killed in Afghanistan – but to his family and those who read his letters, Todd was something special. “It is not the length of life, but the depth of life,” his father read on the day of his burial.
And even after he passed, Todd’s words continued to show just how much depth the young father and husband had. His final letter also gave his wife his blessing to move on and find happiness again, which she did. In 2013 she wrote a blog post about life after Todd’s death, recalling all she’d done since. “I’ve celebrated three of Kiley’s and my birthdays, found love again, married a wonderful man, moved across the world and am welcoming a son early next year,” she wrote. And although life has gone on for her, she still has a lingering thought about how it could have been so different. “Sometimes I wonder where my old life would have taken me,” she wrote. “There are so many questions… none of which I will ever have answers for.”