A Leap of Faith

April 6, 2020
A Leap of Faith

I’ll never forget the day my world turned upside down. At precisely 5:05 a.m. on February 3, 2012, the dreaded knock came to my door. Two uniformed men were standing there; but my heart already knew. My love, soulmate, husband, soldier, was gone. He died far away, in Afghanistan. The news shattered me; and I worried about how to tell the children and his parents. Those were the most difficult conversations I ever had. Living became a daily ordeal.

Months later I was introduced to an organization called TAPS (as in the military bugle call). They sent me a package. Inside I found a letter of condolence and a magazine. The magazine provided articles on handling grief written by military survivors; and described programs TAPS organized, such as seminars and retreats.

A Leap of Faith

The article that stood out to me was about a group of widows who tandem jumped with the Golden Knights, the Army’s elite parachute team. As I read it, I felt this rush of excitement course through my veins. For weeks afterwards, the article replayed in my mind. I thought perhaps my husband’s spirit was telling me something.

My husband, an Army officer, was airborne qualified and during one of his assignments he commanded a rigger school, where soldiers learn the skills of parachuting. This inspired him to jump again and he often asked me if I would consider a tandem jump with him. At the time I thought he’d lost his mind! Why would I want to jump out of a perfectly good plane?

Why would I want to jump out of a perfectly good plane?

As I kept thinking about it, I called TAPS to see if they would repeat the event, but they did not have it on their schedule. I talked about it often, and soon I met two widows who voiced interest in trying it; one having jumped before. I then took to the web and contacted the Knights directly. They told me about their program called “Leap of Faith,” a means for Gold Star families to honor a fallen loved one.

I was overjoyed. We applied and were accepted. Although our first attempt got cancelled due to weather, we were invited to join them at their winter training site in Homestead, Florida.

As the day to fly approached, I couldn’t believe I was doing this. However, I wasn’t afraid. What was the worst thing that could happen? I’d be joining my husband!

After a good night’s sleep at a hotel, my friends and I drove to Homestead Air Force Base. There we met the Knights team and other families. We were to fly in groups of three, but my friends and I split up as a precaution. After a briefing, we were fitted in what I call our bumble bee suits – bright yellow with black stripes – Amelia Earhart, watch out! Our instructor outfitted us with harnesses, and we watched wide-eyed as a young lady packed the parachutes we were to use. Amazing to watch; she was a machine!

Once suited up, we were escorted by bus to the plane where we met our videographer. I was first in line to jump. As the videographer interviewed me, my instructor attached my harness to his own. Flying higher and higher, through the window I watched the earth practically disappear. At 13,000 feet, the voice behind me said, “Are you ready?” I don’t know where the courage came from, but I immediately said “yes.”

I don’t know where the courage came from, but I immediately said “yes.”

My adrenaline was pumping wildly as we poised by the airplane’s open door. The videographer jumped out backwards, facing us (now that is brave)! My instructor edged us to the door frame and tapped my hip, which told me to pull my knees up. One-Two-Three and we were airborne!

I was flying and I couldn’t stop smiling! The videographer in front of me signaled and I responded with the hand signals we had practiced. On the palms of both hands there was a message to my husband. Then he waved, turning away to open his parachute, followed by my instructor engaging ours.

A Leap of Faith

We slowed down immediately with a sharp tug at the arm pits as the parachute opened completely. We seemed to be gliding ever so slowly, Southern Florida sprawled beneath me.

I could see towns, trees, and buildings, but I was spellbound by the Atlantic Ocean. The water sparkled like white crystals in the warm sunshine. I felt so happy for the first time in a long time. I felt waves of gratefulness for my life, the life I’d shared with my husband, my children, family and friends. I also considered the life I still had before me.

Although my faith was shattered at my husband’s sudden death, I apparently had some left.

I felt pride for taking this literal leap of faith, and I knew my soldier did too. The world below seemed so small, and yet, I thought of the people down there rooting for me.

This was an experience of a lifetime. Although my faith was shattered at my husband’s sudden death, I apparently had some left. Then and there I knew life could be an adventure once again.

A Leap of Faith

About Cindy Hildner

Cindy is a passionate traveler, thanks to her parents who met in Italy where her father served in the U.S. Army. She thought she would live in Europe all her life; but things changed in 2001, bringing her to the U.S.A. where she met her husband, an Army soldier. The war on terrorism ended his life in Afghanistan in 2012, a tragedy for the family. She is slowly rebuilding her life and reviving her old passions: traveling and writing being two. She is also creating a blog to encourage widows (and women unsure of solo travel) to venture out into the world by sharing her travel adventures on www.widowadventures.com.

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