Navy SEAL’s Household Copes with Loss and Life a Yr After His Demise

Megan Ernst and her two younger youngsters have been consuming dinner on Feb. 19, 2023, when 4 uniformed sailors and two Navy SEALs knocked on the entrance door of their Virginia Seashore residence.

“If they’re at your door, there is no such thing as a hope,” Ernst stated, shaking her head as tears trailed down her cheeks.

Michael Ernst, chief particular warfare operator, died in a coaching accident whereas performing a high-altitude, low-opening bounce in Arizona. He was 36 and had been assigned to Naval Particular Warfare Growth Group, often known as SEAL Workforce 6, based mostly at Virginia Seashore’s Dam Neck Annex to Naval Air Station Oceana.

Greater than a 12 months since her husband’s loss of life, Megan Ernst stated her focus is on therapeutic her household and remembering her husband for greater than the uniform he wore.

“At the start, he was a dad. He was my husband,” she stated. “And he was an excellent, type particular person.”

The couple met whereas attending faculty from 2004-08 in Ohio. They reconnected years later at a pal’s marriage ceremony, and in February 2013, Megan Ernst discovered herself visiting Hampton Roads. On the time, Michael Ernst was assigned to Virginia Seashore-based SEAL Workforce 10.

The pair married in December 2014 on the chapel at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek. They welcomed a daughter, now 6, in 2017, and a son, now 4, in 2020. For the majority of his Navy profession, the household has lived in Virginia Seashore close to his East Coast-based assignments.

“It’s humorous to consider the notion of what being married to a SEAL is like versus the fact,” Megan Ernst stated with fun. “It isn’t romantic in any manner, form or kind. They’re gone on a regular basis. They’re stressed so much.”

All through their relationship, Michael Ernst deployed for greater than six months on three events. There have been instances they went weeks with out speaking and, because of the nature of his job, she usually was left at midnight about the place he was and when he would return. When he was not deployed, Megan Ernst estimated coaching pulled him away for a cumulative six months per 12 months.

He kissed his household goodbye on Feb. 17, 2023, with the expectation that he can be residence every week later to rejoice his birthday and settle right into a slower-paced work schedule that revolved round his household. With 13 years of naval service, Michael Ernst was working towards turning into an teacher, she stated.

Then … the worst.

“I used to be blindsided,” Megan Ernst stated. “By no means in one million years would I’ve thought that they might present up at my door on that coaching journey. By no means.”

She stated life was a blur within the weeks after his loss of life.

“The machine that’s the army begins,” Ernst stated. “It’s so unhappy however they know what to do and the way to do it when this occurs.”

Michael Ernst’s unit, the Navy SEAL Basis and the bigger Hampton Roads army group swooped in to are inclined to the household’s each want. A dignified switch occurred at sundown the day after his loss of life. One week later, a memorial service was held on the Little Creek amphitheater, simply down the highway from the chapel the place the couple had married.

In late March, the household buried him at Arlington Nationwide Cemetery.

“That was my worst day,” Ernst stated by tears. “It was so last. The picture is burned into my head of them giving my son the flag — his little child arms reaching out for that flag.”

She stated she hopes her husband might be remembered as a household man — who prioritized his family members above all else — and as a devoted Navy SEAL who excelled in his skilled endeavors. His accolades included three Fight Motion Ribbons, the Protection Meritorious Service Medal and a Silver Star, which was awarded in 2021 following a profitable hostage rescue.

However greater than something, she hopes he’s remembered for his kindness.

“That’s what I hold telling my children. You recognize why 1,700 individuals confirmed up at his memorial? It’s as a result of he was type — not as a result of he was a Navy SEAL,” she stated. “It’s as a result of he was type and he was an excellent particular person.”

Ernst defined to her youngsters, who have been 5 and a pair of on the time, that “Daddy went to the celebrities. Daddy went to heaven.

“However my son didn’t perceive that that wasn’t a location. It wasn’t like Florida or Arizona or wherever,” Ernst stated. “He didn’t perceive that Daddy was not coming again.”

The household started remedy to assist deal with their loss, however serving to her youngsters perceive their father’s loss of life, Megan Ernst stated, might be a lifelong course of.

“It is going to be lifelong for me, too,” she stated.

‘Grief is enduring’

For army households, the lack of a liked one due to service-related incident is like residing their worst nightmare, stated Andy McNiel, senior adviser for Tragedy Help Applications for Survivors. The nationwide nonprofit, often known as TAPS, has offered sources for 30 years to households grieving the loss of life of a army member or veteran.

The lack of a liked one, McNiel stated, is a serious disruption that shakes the bedrock of households — together with their routines, rituals, obligations, values and religion. Distinctive to army households is that the loss of life of service member usually means the household loses connection to the army group, McNiel stated.

The idea that grief is a set of levels which might be a minor disruption for a brief time frame earlier than somebody finds their footing and strikes on isn’t actuality, he stated.

“Grief is enduring and simply turns into part of their life,” McNiel stated. “We proceed to like these individuals who died, so it’s actually like a transition to that relationship. It doesn’t finish, it simply shifts to one thing completely different — one among remembrance.”

Her grief, Megan Ernst stated, has been intense and fixed.

“You’re within the best ache of your life and making an attempt to operate, but care for these two little individuals and make them really feel comfy and protected if you don’t even really feel protected,” Ernst stated.

However her obligations as a mom to 2 younger youngsters has taken priority.

“I’d give myself a sure period of time to only be on the bottom,” she stated. “However after that point, you’ve got to stand up and you have to do laundry and go get groceries.”

Cheyenne Malmstrom, a fellow Navy SEAL partner, stood by her pal by the previous 12 months’s darkness. They’ve grown shut since 2018 — experiencing being pregnant, deployments and life milestones collectively.

“Part of her died together with him that day,” Malmstrom stated. “She hides it properly, however she misplaced her individual that day and irrespective of how a lot time goes on, that gap is all the time going to be there.”

Malmstrom stated it was a fragile steadiness to provide Ernst the area to grieve and in addition be there to elevate her up when she wanted it most. At instances, that meant silently being there. And different instances, it meant serving to with duties resembling exterminating spiders or planting bushes.

The Ernst household suffered one other loss final June when their 9-year-old canine, Gus, died from bone most cancers. Gus was Ernst’s companion whereas her husband was away.

“Dropping him felt like shedding a final connection to the life she knew earlier than Mike died,” Malmstrom stated.

‘Ten years is what I acquired’

The Ernsts cling tightly to their reminiscence of their husband and father. They watch residence movies of pillow fights, household outings on the park and the kids taking part in in leaves stirred up by their dad.

Every evening, the youngsters collect on the kitchen island to play “Excessive, low, what the heck, and what would Daddy love,” the place they share particulars of their day. On a close-by counter, a digital photograph body flashes photos of the life they shared with him. Throughout the kitchen, his espresso machine sits on the counter of his beloved “espresso nook.”

Espresso, Megan Ernst stated, was by no means her factor. However now she drinks one cup a day.

She feels closest to her husband when she cuts the grass as a result of he was meticulous in caring for the yard. She stated she is going to in all probability by no means wash his garments saved in a laundry basket within the bed room — though his scent will fade in time.

“Ten years is what I acquired with him,” Ernst stated, her voice cracking. “However that has to final me a lifetime.”

In honor of her husband’s thirty eighth birthday, Ernst organized a 3.6-mile group run with espresso and doughnuts in February at an area park. It coincided with the one-year anniversary of the final weekend she noticed him. She invited members of their army household to take part —and share reminiscences of him.

When she hears tales from individuals reevaluating their life due to her husband’s influence, the loss hurts much less.

“I feel my worst concern is that he’s going to be forgotten,” she stated. “However I’ll always remember him.”

‘She loves them for me’

A few week after his loss of life, Ernst stated she watched a video of her husband giving a speech in April 2022 at MIT as a part of the Sloan Fellows grasp’s diploma program.

“SEAL is what I do. It isn’t who I’m,” he stated within the video.

The 30-minute speak, which was shared with The Virginian-Pilot, summarized his life, together with why he joined the Navy, his dedication to service and the sort of chief he strived to be. However by all of it, he referenced his love for his household and the resilience of his spouse.

“I’m gone for about 150 days a 12 months. That’s 150 days that Meg is a single working mother, basically. These children love her, and she or he loves them,” he stated. “And he or she loves them for me when I’m not there.”

Megan Ernst has watched the video numerous instances, a lot in order that she has memorized her husband’s closing remarks. The purpose that has caught together with her is when he spoke about what to do when confronted with insurmountable odds.

“You are able to do nothing and let it devour you, or you can begin to do one thing, even when you don’t know what that one thing is,” Michael Ernst stated.

It’s a mantra, Megan Ernst stated, that she makes use of to get by every day.

The mom tells her youngsters “Daddy loves you” each day as they be taught to navigate life with out him. Ice cream isn’t eaten, foolish jokes usually are not made and laser tag isn’t performed with out somebody saying, “Daddy would love this. Do you suppose he’s jealous?”

“Most likely, as a result of he liked ice cream,” Megan Ernst stated with fun, recalling the earlier dialog with the kids.

As she laughed, she subconsciously twirled her husband’s gold marriage ceremony band dangling from a fragile chain round her neck. A framed show of his stars and achievements held on a wall close by whereas the trifold flag handed to their son rested on a mantle within the kitchen.

“I do know there are extra unhealthy days to return,” Ernst stated. “However the time in between once I’m simply on the ground crying is getting longer and longer.”

The place to search out assist

Tragedy Help Applications for Survivors

TAPS chapters throughout the nation supply grief assist, which nonprofit senior adviser Andy McNiel stated focuses not on therapeutic, however on adapting to the fact {that a} liked one has died and the grief that loss brings. The Virginia Seashore chapter meets on the second Wednesday of every month. For emotional assist or to attach with sources and packages, army or veteran survivors can name a 24/7 helpline at 800-959-TAPS (8277).

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