I first met Riikka Jacobsen during the summer of 2004. Bill Jacobsen, Riikka’s husband, was Scotty’s Company Commander and they were headed to war together. I instantly connected with Riikka, she was sweet and warm with a charming Finish accent. I loved her immediately. All of us ladies knew we were about to embark on a long hard year with our husbands deploying to one of the most dangerous cities in Iraq.
We met up and hung out prior to deployment, then we were all there for each other during the deployment, Riikka always checked in on me. On December 21st we heard State side that a suicide bomber blew himself up during lunch time, she sent an email out letting us know she had not heard anything and to keep praying and stay strong. When events such as the mess hall bombing happen all forms of communication are shutdown until the families of the killed in action are notified, the next day after Riikka sent the email, she got the dreaded knock on her door. I remember feeling such relief that Scotty was ok, and at the same time feeling so much sadness for my sweet friend Riikka who was living her (and all of ours) worst nightmare.
Losing a husband and being left to raise four kids on her own would have given Riikka reason enough to become completely absorbed in her own circumstances, but that was is not who she is. Her love and support continued long after she lost Bill. After Scotty was injured she came to visit him at Walter Reed and it was the first time I saw him cry or show strong emotion since the injury. He was very close to Bill and remembers saluting him on his way to the Mess Hall that day , 15 minutes later he was dead. There was no time to grieve or mourn though, Scotty had to keep going to keep morale high. But when he saw and hugged Bill’s widow he wept in sorrow, all the pain and loss overwhelmed him. He told Riikka how sorry he was for her loss, but being the kind and selfless person she is, all she could say was how sorry she was for Scotty who’d lost his eyesight.
She is a woman who stands as a beacon of strength and should be an example to all of us of the sacrifice and honor that our military families display.
I sent her some questions so we can learn more about her journey.
Why did you and your husband decide to serve as a family in the military?
When I met Bill he had already decided that he was going to follow in his dad’s footsteps and join the Army, so I kind of married him knowing that. I was ok with it and never questioned it.
What was your favorite part of military service?
The Army life is rough on a family because the men are gone so much. Ever a regular work day is super long, but I loved the brotherhood and the family that we were always a part of. Even now that Bill is gone, we are still part of the Army family. The four-day weekends were awesome whenever there was a holiday. I also loved moving around often and I loved that my kids were around other kids that were just like them. They were never the “new kids” in school because everyone else was a new kid too! I love that I still have friends all over the world that we met while we were in the Army. I grew up in Finland, but have always been very patriotic towards my new homeland. I loved the majestic ceremonies, change of commands, the flags, the camaraderie and meeting truly some of the most amazing, salt of the earth people! Solid men that love this county and their families!
What was the hardest part?
I think the hardest part was the loneliness that I often felt when Bill was gone. We had lots of little kids and I was alone with them. Something always seemed to go wrong when Bill was gone, the car broke down or kids got sick, or the washer broke…
It was also hard to plan anything because things always changed and I often felt that I came second after the Army. After the unit deployed the hardest part was the constant fear and the unknown.
How did you find out that your husband was killed?
I found out that Bill had died when an officer and a chaplain knocked on my door. I knew instantly. Every military wife knows, I have no idea what they said to me but I knew what it meant. That is still the only moment that my mind won’t let me go back to. I can’t handle it.
What was the mourning process like?
The mourning process took years. There were times when I literally felt like I was going to stop breathing. I felt like I was suffocating. Then there were times of immense gratitude, that I had had this amazing man in my life as my husband. There was so much crying and praying. When we hit the five-year-mark it finally hit me that he was never coming back. It sounds weird, but I had almost expected him to walk in any day during those five years! I even had some of his clothes still hanging in the closet. Anger was the last thing that came out of me. It was mainly directed towards Bill for “leaving us”. I think he was just an easy target for me and I needed to get the anger out and once I did, I really felt ok.
The kids have all grieved in their own way. Crying, silence, acting out, anger.
How did you find strength again?
My strength really has come from my faith in God. I certainly haven’t felt very strong, but I have never stopped believing that God is aware of me and my children and that He is in charge and He has a plan. It is not the plan I wanted for my life or the plan Bill and I wanted for our family, but it is God’s plan and good things have and will come out of it.
I also have amazing parents that have been there always. They live far away, but only a phone call away and they do come and visit as often as they can, usually once a year. Bill’s parents have been there too. I turned to them more when Bill first died, but now I am a little more distant. I have some extraordinary friends too that are always there and have carried me many times when I have simply had no strength to take one more step.
I also went to therapy and counseling and learned a lot about what happens to someone when they lose a spouse or a parent and how that tragedy can change a person and how you can deal with it all.
But number one has always been God.
What do you think he would want people to know about military service?
Bill was very proud of his job and he loved it. He loved America, our freedom and the Constitution and he wanted to defend that. He also believed that we are all God’s children, just born in different places and we need to help those in need. Whether they live close to us or in another land, they are still our brothers and sisters. There is a lot of evil in the world and we need to stand for truth and the goodness and defend it.
How do you honor his memory in your everyday life?
We don’t really talk about Bill every day anymore but he is always present in our minds. I see him in my children and I love it! I love the facial expressions or the physical things that remind me of him. Each child has something of Bill in them. I try to tell them little stories of Bill whenever there is a good moment, his likes and dislikes and the things we did together. They remember some things, but very little. We have pictures of him around the house, but I think we honor Bill the most by living! He was denied a long life to grow old but we are still here and get to live and experience this beautiful world. He would want us to be happy and keep carrying on. So we try to do that the best we can!