Choosing God’s joy

Krista Simpson Anderson with her sons Gabriel, left, and Michael. She holds medals and the flag that accompanied the body of her late husband, Mike Simpson, home from Aghanistan. Photo: Stephen Brashear Krista Simpson Anderson with her sons Gabriel, left, and Michael. She holds medals and the flag that accompanied the body of her late husband, Mike Simpson, home from Aghanistan. Photo: Stephen Brashear

Military spouse Krista Simpson Anderson’s faith gave her the strength to endure her husband’s death

There have been two times in Krista Simpson Anderson’s life when she felt powerless. The first was the death of her godfather from pancreatic cancer. The second was the death of her husband, Mike, from injuries sustained from a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.

Both times, Krista found herself turning to her Catholic faith for strength.

“If you have faith, your life is not over when tragedy strikes,” she said. “The story doesn’t have to end.”

A foundation

Krista said she’s thankful she had a strong Catholic foundation to turn to at those times.

She remembers her old-school Italian grandmother, “Nonna” Mary, picking her up from the bus stop after school each day and taking her to Mass. She and her family were weekly churchgoers, and she was baptized and received first Communion (confirmation came later as an adult). However, when Krista went off to college, she stopped going to Mass as often.

Mike Simpson with son
Krista Simpson Anderson’s late husband, Mike Simpson, and their son. Courtesy photo

What brought her back to the church at age 25 was the terminal cancer diagnosis of her godfather, Daniel Hobart, with whom she was close. A few months before he died, Krista found herself driving past a church at Mass time and feeling compelled to go in and pray for him.

“There’s probably a handful of Sundays I’ve missed since that day,” she said.

A few years later, she met her future husband, Mike Simpson, a member of the Army’s “Old Guard” in Washington, D.C. They dated long distance after he was stationed in Germany. He proposed while home on leave during a deployment to Iraq, and the two were married on December 20, 2008. Their first son, Michael, was born within the year, and the family moved to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, as Mike went through Special Forces training to be a Green Beret.

The Simpsons were stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma in 2011; their second son, Gabriel, was born that year.

Mike was proud to be a Green Beret like his father and older brother. While most Green Berets don’t talk much about their work, Krista said, Mike earned the joking nickname “The Unquiet Professional” from fellow Green Berets because he was so vocal about being one.

Mike was also Presbyterian, and his father is a church elder. But Mike was never judgmental about the Catholic faith, Krista said — he loved to learn about other religions and was well-versed in the basics of other faiths. The couple married in the Catholic Church, baptized their kids Catholic and went to weekly Mass together.

As Mike geared up for a deployment to Afghanistan in 2013, he started coaching Krista on two things: her new hobby of running, and a cover-to-cover study of the Bible.

Losing Mike

A short time into Mike’s deployment in Afghanistan, the vehicle he was in rolled over an improvised explosive device. He was critically injured but managed to say, “Wife, kids, I love,” before going into cardiac arrest. He was revived, flown to an Army hospital in Germany and kept on life support until Krista could see him.

When she received the news of Mike’s injuries, Krista immediately headed to Sacred Heart Church in Lacey, where she was a parishioner. Sitting on the floor of the church, she cried and prayed.

“The one thing I could turn to was God, the one thing that I could turn to was my faith, and that would bring me peace,”
she said.

Before flying to Germany, Krista asked that a Bible be put by Mike’s bedside. She was able to lie beside him one last time, receive Communion at his bedside and say her goodbyes.

“There is a reason for everything, and we may not understand [God’s] plan but we have to trust it,” she said. “That’s what I dove into. There was no other way. My boys were 1 and 3. There was no way that I could be angry because they would be angry.”

Krista Simpson AndersonKrista Simpson Anderson. Photo: Stephen Brashear

From the time of Mike’s injury, through his death and its aftermath, Krista kept seeing hidden connections. The chaplain who flew with her to Germany had lost his wife and daughter in a car accident, and so knew tragedy himself. The medic who traveled from Afghanistan to Germany with the injured Mike was training to be a chaplain and prayed over him throughout the journey. The casualty affairs officer, the nurses, the doctors, the many helpers she encountered, all touched her in different ways.

“You start to recognize the people God is putting in your life,” Krista said.

When Mike’s body was brought back to Gray Army Airfield at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Krista turned to her family and friends gathered and read a prayer:

May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly
where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite
possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received,
and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be confident knowing you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of us.

“I needed them to know that it was going to be OK, that we were here for a reason, that this wasn’t going to be the end,” she said. “That this was going to be really hard but we would get through it.”

Choosing joy

Not long after Mike was buried, Krista commented to her friend Andrea Rinaldi that she wished she could do something for all the people who supported her through that difficult time. Together they founded The Unquiet Professional, after Mike’s nickname. The organization serves veterans and Gold Star families (survivors of those killed in the line of duty) with enrichment and support activities, “to try and find some light in the darkness,” Krista said.

Her service work and leadership have been noticed. Krista was named 2018 Army Spouse of the Year; as Northwest Catholic went to press, she was up for Military Spouse of the Year, a national recognition from Military Spouse magazine and Armed Forces Insurance.

Krista still wears the diamond-and-sapphire cross necklace Mike made for her out of family jewelry. His pictures line an entire wall in her dining room. She speaks of him daily with her two boys. But there are also new photos that include her second husband, Gustaf “Gus” Anderson IV.

Andersons at church
Krista Simpson Anderson’s late husband, Mike Simpson, and their son. Courtesy photo

Gus was a member of the same company as Mike and brought Krista some of Mike’s effects after his death. A few years after Mike passed away, Gus and Krista began dating. It took a period of separation and some soul-searching on Krista’s part before the two were ready to marry. They did so at her home parish, St. Thomas More in Narragansett, Rhode Island, in March 2017.

“When I see Michael make his first Communion I know I’ll wish that Mike was there to see it in person because I know how proud he is of him,” Krista said. “But what a blessing that Gus will be there.”

Krista continues to find support in the Catholic community. The family attends Mass at St. Michael Parish in Olympia and the boys attend the parish school. “It’s always been a blessing to have God as a part of their day,” she said.

For example, as Michael left school the day the family was flying back East for the wedding of Krista and Gus, his teacher told the class: “Michael’s going to have a daddy in heaven and a daddy on earth.” That wouldn’t happen at a public school, Krista said.

Krista returned to school this year, pursuing a religious studies degree at St. Martin’s University in Lacey. Even if she doesn’t use the degree toward a job, it will enrich her knowledge of world religions and be something for herself as well as a reminder of Mike and his interest in other religions.

Benedictine Father Kilian Malvey, her advisor and professor, said in an email that he was impressed with Krista’s passion and enthusiasm for studying theology and spirituality.

“I am struck by her humility, her love for the church, her faith in Christ and the deep and abiding love she has for her children and husband,” he wrote.

Mary Sherman, a fellow St. Michael School mother, said Krista teaches her boys by example. “I just see how strong her boys are throughout this entire journey thus far,” Sherman said. “We have to allow God’s grace in to see that he’s truly working in us. She truly does that.”

Krista said she has come to terms with the idea that suffering can be a blessing in its own way: “Because if I didn’t suffer, then I would never have any joy.”

Northwest Catholic - May 2018

Anna Weaver

Anna Weaver was the multimedia, online and social media editor, and writer for Northwest Catholic from 2013-2018.