Katie Simpson Garling and I have been friends for years, I've watched her life unfold through social media. I've been inspired by her courage in the face of unspeakable tragedy. I know that you'll be as inspired as I am, by this woman, and by the man that is in her heart, pushing her to greatness.
Mike and Katie met through a mutual friend, who had introduced them over dinner. He was one of Mike's best friends and also served in the military with him. They felt an immediate connection and Katie said "immediately when I met him, I fell for him. Weeks later, I found him on Facebook and messaged him asking if he remembered meeting me. His response was, 'of course... I'd never forget a red head.' "
They dated through his deployment to Afghanistan and eventually they moved in together in Washington DC together a few months after he transferred there. She said, "He was charming, exciting, had a great smile, and he won me over."
Before long, and after moving to a few various cities due to his position within the army, Mike proposed to Katie on the eve of New Year's 2014. They set a date to be married later that same year in Colorado.
They had adopted a little beagle which they named Stevie. She was much like a child to them and they both loved her dearly. As the wedding approached, Stevie began having trouble walking. The vet assessed that she would need surgery, and her chances of walking again were slim.
They made the decision to forgo their honeymoon, instead electing to have a costly surgery for Stevie. They wanted to heal her at any cost. Before the wedding, the surgery was performed, and things turned around for a while for their sweet girl.
On June 14, 2014 Katie and Mike were married in a rustic wedding at a ranch in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Katie said "It was amazing and it was one of the best days of my life." She didn't know then that things would change in a drastic way.
On July 7, they found out that Stevie's prognosis was bleak. She had cancer and they'd have to put her to rest. Katie said,
It was what I thought, at least at the time, was the worst day of my life. Mike and I spent some time with her before she fell asleep in our arms. I remember thinking after that, I had never felt closer to him. It was a really big moment for us as a couple, during a terrible circumstance.
Just two days after they said goodbye to their precious Stevie, life took an unexpected turn. Mike had decided to go for a motorcycle ride to clear his head on the morning of July 11, 2014. They were set to go away for the weekend together, and although Katie thought about joining him on the bike, she decided to stay behind to finish up some work projects.
When hours had passed, and he had not returned, Katie knew instinctively that something was wrong. She paced the house, tearful and eventually had to bring herself to file a police report. When two officers knocked on the door shortly after, she thought they were just following up. Instead, they asked if they could come inside, and if asked her to sit down.
Katie shook her head in disbelief as they told her that her husband had been killed in an accident. A young girl had tried to pass a semi truck near a bridge, and Michael was left with nowhere to go.
When recounting the story to me she said, "I was in complete disbelief. My husband, my Mike, the most invincible person I knew, the man who had been on duty tours in Iraq three times, and Afghanistan once... was gone."
Her pain in the days that followed seemed never-ending. She said,
After losing Mike, I was in a really dark place. On the outside, it looked like I was holding it together, on the inside I was screaming. I wished my life would just end, in some accidental way, so it wouldn't be suicide. At times, I just didn't want to go on living without him.
When a friend suggested she consider moving to Hawaii, to start a new chapter, she knew she had to give it a chance. It was there, in moments of peace, sitting beside the ocean, that Katie began to heal and push herself to live a life of courage to honor the man she loved.
Although she had always been scared of open water, Katie knew she had to push herself to live her life and conquer those fears. She began to paddleboard and kayak, challenging herself to learn new things and step outside her comfort zone. She said, "Unlike me, Mike was always very adventurous. The best way I could honor his memory is to get out of my comfort zone and live life to it's fullest, the way he did."
Living each day is what she did. Last year on Mike's birthday, Katie went cage diving with sharks off the coast of Hawaii. She began to travel the world, to see as much of it as she could. She had the courage to leap from a plane and skydive for her very first time.
Katie has decided to make a life for herself in Hawaii permanently, and ultimately hopes that she can help people with spirituality and balance, through becoming a Yoga instructor. It is something that she credits for helping her through her healing.
When asked what she wants the world to know about her husband, Katie said "My biggest lesson from Mike was to live each day as if it was your last. He did that, every day. Tomorrow is not guaranteed, I've learned that first hand."
To read Katie's full story click here.