It's been 10 years, but Air Force wife Kristen Christy still remembers the way her friends wrapped themselves around her when a coroner came to her front door to talk to her about her husband's death.
Learning that her husband, Don Christy, committed suicide in a park was one of the most painful moments of her life, but Christy opened up about it as the keynote speaker during a presentation on military spouse and family life during the Air Force Association's Air, Space and Cyber Conference at National Harbor, Md. on Tuesday. She said she hopes her experiences can help military families that face unique challenges that civilian families can't relate to, such as deployments and frequent relocations.
“Can we as a military community come together and help each other out?” she said. “I tell my family story to bring hope.”
Christy, who is the daughter of an Air Force commander who served for 32 years, grew up knowing that Air Force families always looked out for each other. As an Air Force spouse she reached back to that attitude, and so grew her reputation as an enthusiastic, supporter of airmen.
In 2018, Christy was chosen as the Armed Forces Insurance Air Force Spouse of the Year, an award presented by Military Spouse magazine.
Ten years earlier, her husband had transitioned from active duty to the Air Force Reserve and completed a deployment. The change, combined with a move to a new duty station, had been difficult, Christy said.
At the time of his death, Don left behind Christy and his two sons, then ages 12 and 14. Christy said she remembers Air Force families popping in to check on her family. One family in particular asked to take the boys so they could shop for suits for their father's funeral.
“They showed up for us,” Christy said. “My community came around us and they wrapped us in so much love. And, life went on.”
She mourned, but knew she had to be strong and resilient for her family and friends.
Her positive attitude helped as she navigated life following her husband's death. She constantly engages with Air Force families, checking in on them and sharing smiles.
“As a military spouse, I have learned to get embedded in my community,” Christy said. “By being embedded in our communities and fostering relationships, we become better people and our communities become stronger.”
In the years after her first husband's death, Christy has remained connected to the Air Force community. She married Sean Lange, who serves in the Air Force Reserve, and now serves as Key Spouse for his unit at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. She's also president of a local chapter of the Air Force Association, vice chair of the Military Affairs Council in Colorado Springs, a military ambassador for her employer (Modern Technology Solutions), and advocate for suicide prevention.
In her latest effort, Christy is pushing Congress to pass a bill recognizing March 4 as Survivor Day. Even if it isn't approved, Christy wants people to take a day to pause and remember they have survived something.
Then, she wants people to help someone else survive their own challenge.
“No matter what the obstacle, we put one foot in front of the other,” Christy said. “You help someone else survive. That's what's wonderful about our Air Force family. We PCS together, we go through a lot of the same things together. Use your experiences to help others.”