An Intimate Chat With Marie Tillman
In her moving memoir, The Letter, Marie Tillman shares her journey through loss over the past eight years since her husband Pat was killed in Afghanistan.
Marie wears many hats — president and co-founder of the Pat Tillman Foundation, author, freelance writer, traveler and new mother. She took time out of a very busy schedule to relax and have a chat with SheKnows about her new memoir, The Letter, out now.
SheKnows: Your book is based on a “just-in-case” letter your husband Pat left for you before he was deployed overseas. Was there ever a time when you wished he hadn’t left it, or was it a comfort to you?
Marie Tillman: Well, the letter was always comforting, it really was. It was something that I was grateful to have.
SheKnows: You and Pat always have been very private people who were thrust into the public eye — first because of Pat’s athletic pursuits on the Arizona Cardinals and later by his untimely death. Was it hard for you to finally share and write about some of your more private feelings in your book?
Marie Tillman: It was difficult to write, but I went into it thinking that I was going to be very honest with what I was writing, and in the end I would censor things if it seemed too revealing. But I knew that in order to really tell my story and have it be one that people would be able to connect with, I'd have to be honest. I think you can feel sometimes when somebody is holding back or guarded. The reason I wrote the book was so that other people going through something difficult could read it and connect to it and hopefully find some sort of comfort. I had waited so long to tell my story, and I'm in such a different place than I was when it all happened, and that made it a little easier.
SheKnows: You say in your book that “grief is messy; grief is complicated; grief is in many ways unending.” What advice would you give to someone who has recently lost a loved one and is starting down that path?
Marie Tillman: I think the hardest thing is that there really isn’t a right answer of how to deal with things. What I found is that it's a process that you have to move through. You can't go around it, you can't go over it, you have to put one foot in front of the other and make your way through it. Eventually, in time things get easier — which is so cliche and I hated hearing it right after Pat died. Time helps, it really does. I think that you just have to try every day to sort of do the best that you can. Eventually you don't have to try as much as you did the day before, and it does get better.
SheKnows: What was the worst piece of advice someone offered after Pat was killed?
Marie Tillman: It wasn't necessarily advice but one of the hardest things for me, because I was young, was that a lot of people would say, “Oh, you're young — you’ll find someone else and you'll be fine,” which just was so not what I was feeling at that point in time. And I get it — to a certain extent — but it still felt a little bit insensitive, you know?
SheKnows: Your work with the Pat Tillman Foundation has kept Pat’s legacy in the spotlight by providing education and other assistance to military families. Do you feel a special kinship with these families because of Pat’s service?
Marie Tillman: I do, definitely. I think that the experience that service members go through and military families go through is very different than a lot of the experiences of the majority of the population. It was something that I can look back to now and appreciate. It was a good time in our lives, obviously up until the point when Pat was killed. Being part of the military community was really a positive thing. So many service members are removed from their own family and friends, and there's a great support network there, and a real sense of community that I think you don't get everywhere.
SheKnows: You have found love again, married to an incredible man who brought his three young sons into your life. On top of that, you both welcomed your first son together recently! How has motherhood played a role in your journey?
Marie Tillman: Having a child now, I feel like all moms feel — like you can't imagine that this person would not be in your life. You have this baby, and it's like an extension of you. I think that in some ways it's symbolic of how far I've come. I think with kids in general you kind of want to slow things down and appreciate all the tiny little things that happen in a day. Every first thing they do is the most amazing thing ever.
SheKnows: You share your love of travel in your book, and traveling seemed to play a major role in your journey. What interesting places are on your list to visit in the next five years?
Marie Tillman: Oh, I have so many! But my next big trip, which I hope is soon — but with all the kids and the little one, it's a little trickier — I'd like to do Machu Picchu. That's the one that's been on my list for a while. It takes some training, because we want to do the full hike and we need to have the time to prepare and go.
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