May 18, 2015 12:00 PM

Rarely are the biggest names in country music starstruck. But at the Academy of Country Music Awards on April 19, Nashville’s A-listers clamored for the chance to meet Taya Kyle. “Blake Shelton said he really appreciated me coming,” says the mom of two, who attended the show with her kids as part of a salute to the military. “Luke Bryan told me to call him anytime I needed anything. Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood sent me a huge bouquet of flowers.” While Clint Black took pictures with Taya’s children, “his wife, Lisa, told me, ‘Your family is very special to our family, and we pray for you,’ ” recalls Taya. “That meant so much to me. What made it such a special night were the people there. It didn’t matter if they were famous or not. They showed me real kindness.”

For that she is grateful. But it wasn’t an easy night for Taya, who again found herself attending a glittery event without the love of her life. In the months after American Sniper—the film based on her late husband Chris Kyle’s 2012 bestselling memoir—earned a Best Picture Oscar nomination and some $350 million at the box office, Taya continues to work through her grief. Now she has written her own book, American Wife: A Memoir of Love, War, Faith, and Renewal, in which she offers an intimate account of loving and losing the legendary Navy SEAL. “I’m still figuring this out,” says Taya, 40. “I still have a lot of pain. But I also realize that I can still have Chris with me without me being sad every moment. I do have hope and I do see moments of light.”

It has been a hard road. Plagued by sleepless, often nightmare-filled nights and tears that flow at unexpected moments, Taya recently endured the February trial of Eddie Ray Routh, the former Marine who was found guilty of murdering Chris and his friend Chad Littlefield on a Texas gun range in 2013. (Chris, who was 38 at the time of his death, had been approached by Routh’s mother to help her son cope with his alleged PTSD.) “It was really stressful and difficult,” she says of the high-profile trial, during which police video showed Routh confessing to the killings. One of her “most powerful moments,” she says, came while sitting in the courtroom “looking at the back of the murderer’s head with such hate in my heart. But then I realized that hating him caused me more pain than not hating him.” She says she felt “tremendous relief” at the guilty verdict, which the jury reached after just two hours of deliberation: “It was justice.”

Finding her own personal peace is an ongoing challenge. “I still have the horror of what’s happened to my husband,” she says. “I have these flashback moments where I see Chris lying in the coffin. I could just be putting something away, and it flashes in. One of the kids will say, ‘Are you okay, Mama?’ It’s so complicated.”

Right now the most painful part of her grief is a “small window of regret” over things she wishes she had done in the tough time once Chris returned to civilian life after serving four tours in Iraq. “I just wish I would have been able to hold his face in my hands and look at him in the eye and tell him, ‘I know you’re in pain,’ ” she says. “I wish I had that connection to be like, ‘I get this.’ It’s beyond missing him. It’s wanting to do better for someone you love.” But then, she says, “sometimes a friend will pull me out of that and say, ‘At what point did you think you were supposed to be perfect?’ “

There has been other upheaval as well: She and her son and daughter had to move from the home they shared with Chris “for legal reasons,” she says. While she remains in Texas, the move “was devastating to me emotionally,” she says. “But I feel Chris is here in the new house with us in spirit.”

These days her life is a whirlwind of everyday chaos—packing school lunches and running to games and playdates—as well as headlining charity functions and working to promote the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation, which aims to strengthen the families of service members and first responders. “It’s busy all the time,” she says. “I’m being pulled in many different directions. My life is on high volume right now.” Still, “I have this intense desire to help as many people as I can,” she says. “I am also proud to be carrying on Chris’s legacy. He worked so tirelessly to help fellow veterans.”

One thing she hasn’t yet tackled: dating. And that suits her fine. “I don’t have a strong desire for it,” she says. “At first I viewed it as a betrayal. But if it’s supposed to happen, it will happen. If not, I’m good with that too.” Looking back on their marriage, she says, “I’m a different and better person because of my life with him. Even knowing that he would be killed and knowing that I would be a widow, I would still do it all over again.”

As for her kids, whom she calls Bubba and Angel in the book, “the beautiful thing is that Chris is still in the mix. Every time I used to think, ‘Your dad would be so proud of you,’ it would make me cry. Now I just feel happy knowing he’s proud of them. I try to do anything I can to bring them joy.”

It’s something she has recently begun to experience again as well. “Last week I was watching the kids in the pool, and it just made me feel so good,” says Taya, who has leaned on therapy and her Christian faith to help her heal. “One of the kids said, ‘This is the happiest I have seen you in a long time.’ To them, it was something novel. Usually when I experience joy, it has a 1,000-lb. weight on it. But I’m not as scared of it as I used to be.”

You May Like