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Iraq war widow tells powerful story of personal tragedy

| Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, 6:09 p.m.

There are stories of war we are used to seeing: the soldier as action hero or the wounded warrior returning home. Then, there are the war stories that are not so familiar, of the families left behind.

Artis Henderson's “Un-Remarried Widow” is one such story, an exquisitely sensitive portrait of a new bride whose marriage is cut short when her husband is killed in the Iraq War.

The book's title refers to the characteristically dry, bureaucratic language used by the military to describe a woman in Henderson's situation. As if writing in passionate defiance of such a barren label, Henderson tells the story of her relationship with Miles Henderson. They had different backgrounds. Artis grew up poor, the only child of a single mother, whose father died when she was young. Miles was a Texan and the son of an airline pilot.

Artis has recently graduated from an Ivy League university when she meets Miles, an Army pilot in helicopter training, at a nightclub. Almost immediately they come together, sharing a deep, passionate and breathtaking love for each other. It is that love that sustains Henderson when she moves with Miles to Fort Hood and then to Fort Bragg, N.C.

Artis describes herself as a fish out of water in the intensely insular life of a military community. Feeling isolated and lonely, she moves back home with her mother when Miles deploys with his unit to Iraq.

The relationship with her mother is key to her coming to some understanding of her past and the death of her father, and of how she grieves the death of her husband. She writes with unflinching honesty of her grief and in a way that puts herself, at times, in an unflattering light. But that's what makes this memoir so poignant and authentic. The writer hides nothing.

Love and loss in time of war is a story shared by thousands of wives and husbands, parents and children, brothers and sisters, who have lost a loved one in the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But those stories seldom get told beyond the immediate family and a few trusted friends.

In the hands of Henderson, her tragedy is redeemed by a beautifully written story that is deeply personal and powerfully universal.

David Tarrant is a staff writer for the Dallas Morning News.

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