Marie Tillman, widow, author, and President of the Pat Tillman Foundation, says grief is personal. "You can't go around it," she explains. "You can't sort of skip to the next stage."
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Marie grew up with Pat and says she was attracted to his energy and passion. "As long as I knew him, he played football," she says. Pat signed with the Arizona Cardinals. After the 9/11 attacks, he turned down a multi-million dollar NFL contract to enlist in the Army Rangers. While the decision was shocking to some, Marie says the people who knew Pat were less surprised. Pat was someone who stood up for what he believed in and didn't think of himself as just a football player, she says.
In 2004, Pat was killed while serving in Afghanistan. Originally, Marie was told that Pat was killed in an ambush, but a month later, the military said they suspected it was friendly fire. "That sort of started years of trying to figure out, well, what really did happen?" she says.
During this time, Marie found consolation in a "just in case" letter that Pat had left behind for her. In "his last gift," he told Marie he wanted her to live. Marie says, "How do you do that after you've sort of dealt with this major loss?" She explains she wanted to take the experience, move forward, and turn it into something positive.
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Marie co-founded the Pat Tillman Foundation, which provides scholarships to veterans and their spouses. She wanted the foundation to reflect Pat and his life, focusing on leadership service and education. Since it's a large part of her job, public speaking is something Marie still works on by over-preparing to conquer her public-speaking fears. Her favorite part about her work is interacting with the people the foundation helps, connecting the work and the lives they impact.
Marie recently wrote a book, "The Letter," about her process of moving on after Pat's death. Today, in addition to being a new author, Marie is remarried and is a new mom. "Life today is crazy," she says, "but in all the wonderful ways that I actually never thought were possible."
"I hope that Pat would be proud that I've been able to take his advice and really honor all that we had together," she explains. For Marie, living means honoring and celebrating her full life every single day.