x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

After a very public grieving period, war widow finds love again

Christina Schmid has tirelessly commemorated her husband's life and is now allowing herself the space to begin again. She should be applauded as much for this as for the work she has carried out on behalf of the British military.

Illustration by Sarah Lazarovic for The National
Illustration by Sarah Lazarovic for The National

Christina Schmid's memoir begins with a moment of domestic dullness, a snapshot of an ordinary family about to descend into extraordinary circumstance.

Schmid, an army wife, is at home in the UK, rattling around in her kitchen on a Saturday evening in late October 2009. She is reaching into her fridge for something to drink and waiting for an order of Chinese food to be delivered by her local takeaway. Her young son is upstairs in bed while thousands of miles away, her husband, a bomb disposal expert in the British army, is close to completing a period of duty in Afghanistan's Helmand Province. In essence, she is marking time, waiting until her husband is back within the warm embrace of the family home.

Schmid's evening is interrupted by a knock on her front door, an intrusion that would forever change the course of her life, one that would vault her almost unwittingly from unknown housewife to informal spokeswoman for the British armed forces.

"I wasn't expecting anyone," she writes in Always By My Side, "I suddenly felt frozen in time - please no." When she opens the front door, she is greeted by a pair of "green lids" (army officers), who are there to tell her that her husband, Staff Sergeant Olaf "Oz" Schmid GC, had been killed earlier that day while trying to disarm an improvised explosive device. He was 30 years old.

Oz's death propelled Schmid into a media spotlight that has burned brightly in the two and half years since that fateful Saturday night. Pretty and articulate, Schmid became both a champion of her hero and a people's champion. She was celebrated for her intelligence, for her quiet and unbending dignity, and her intuitive sense of what it was to be a soldier's wife: "Becoming his proud widow is the hardest [and] best thing I have ever done," she writes in the concluding pages of her book.

Schmid's story, rarely far from the headlines since, has been back in the news once more both for the publication of her memoir - which in essence is a love story and a lament wrapped up in a touching eulogy to her late husband - and for its postscript, delivered via the pages of a celebrity magazine last week, in which she revealed that she is now ready to move her life forward with Mark Clarke, her new partner: "I didn't know if I would ever be able to love again," she told Hello! magazine, "but Mark has taught me that ... I have a lot of love still left to give and a lot of life left to live." She is 36 years old.

Only the churlish would stoop to criticise Schmid for beginning the long process of moving her life on. If history once painted a war widow as forever veiled behind and trapped within her loss, then she surely is the modern rendering of that same woman: Schmid has tirelessly commemorated her husband's life and is now allowing herself the space to begin again. She should be applauded as much for this as for the work she has carried out on behalf of the British military at large.

As anyone who has lost a close relative or spouse will know, grief is a seemingly unending, uncomfortable and often dark road. It forces one to look inwards, to outwardly put a brave face on it all and to reassess everything that you may have taken for granted or wrongly assumed would always be there.

It is the journey you would not wish on anyone, be that your closest friend or your worst enemy. But it does, remarkably, eventually become bearable, even though the memories never fade and the pain only subsides. Whatever the future holds for Christina Schmid, one does not doubt that Oz will always be by her side.