‘Life does go on’: Columbia Gold Star Wife shares message of hope two decades after husband’s death

Published: Jun. 9, 2023 at 12:03 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Two decades after tragically losing her husband, one Columbia veteran is sharing her story of finding purpose through her pain in the hopes of helping other Gold Star families in their healing journey.

April and Jay Woolsey were dual military stationed in Vicenza, Italy with the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

Jay was killed in a motorcycle accident in Idaho just two weeks before he was set to join her in Iraq on a deployment.

“The hardest part about losing him was my best friend,” April said. “My best friend was gone. He was no longer there. I talked to him every day, we talked throughout the day.”

April said the last 20 years have been rough, and there were points where she wanted to give up hope.

She said she has discovered strength she never knew she had and a newfound purpose.

“These past 20 years have taught me that I have a purpose,” April said. “I have found it. And it’s just been to tell his story, tell our story, and to keep living life, making new memories, and trying my best to keep his legacy going and keep him proud of me. I think I’ve been doing that.”

April and Jay’s love story began when they met at Fort Bragg. They married in December 2001.

April made history as the first woman allowed in the 173rd combat support company and said she would not have been able to achieve this without her husband’s support.

They arrived together in Italy in April 2002.

Jay suffered a seizure and stayed back as April was deployed to Iraq. He was set to head to the Middle East when he was killed.

April still remembers the day, June 15, 2003, when her company commander let her know that Jay was in an accident, and did not make it.

“What do you mean he’s dead?” she recalled saying at the time. “That’s not making any sense because I tried to call him earlier that day to remind him to call his dad for Father’s Day and he missed my call, which was very rare because it was like he’d superglued the phone to his ear. He never wanted to miss my call just in case I could call.”

Initially thinking it was a hoax, April has learned as she has lived that life does not stop.

She was 24 at the time of her husband’s passing.

“I had to learn in life how to deal with tragedy that I didn’t ask for,” April said.

Jay was the epitome of a soldier, April said, loyal, dedicated, and an excellent motivator.

As a husband, he was loving, caring, and empathetic, she said.

“He was my soulmate,” April said, “He made sure I was taken care of, I never had to want for anything, I never had to ask for anything.”

By living for him and through him, April has found new ways to honor his legacy each year.

“There’s always something that you can learn from your loss,” she said. “There’s always something you gain from a loss, whether it be knowledge, strength, courage. You get something from a loss. And I’ve received a lot from this loss because like I said, he loved me unconditionally. Even after death, he loved me unconditionally, and the way that he loved me I feel I still have to show that type of love to the world.”

In 2021, she honored Jay by completing a cross-country road trip on her motorcycle that the couple never got the chance to do.

She is now showing up for other Gold Star wives, and shared this message: “You are stronger than what you feel you are.”

As a member of the Gold Star Wives of America Palmetto Chapter, she provides comfort and support to other military widows.

She wore the Gold Star Wives hat during Thursday’s interview.

“I had to learn in life that I earned this hat, the one hat that I didn’t ask for, the one hat that I did not say I wanted, which is why I have those as memories of what I’ve been through, where I’ve been and where I still get to go.”

April wants to use her voice and platform to give hope to others who are grieving the loss of a military spouse.

“It’s important for them to know that life does go on, and they’re not alone,” she said. “They’re not alone in their grief process, they’re not alone in their feelings, they’re not neglected or rejected.”

April also applied to become a military mentor through the Tragedy Assistance Program For Survivors (TAPS) organization.

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