Michael and Taryn Davis were high school sweethearts and married right before Christmas in 2005, months before he deployed to Iraq. "I found my soul mate," Davis said.
Then, on May 21, 2007, she lost him. Taryn Davis was a widow, at 21.
Davis remembered her husband's friend calling two days after his death and saying, "'He was really proud of you, Taryn.' And when he said that ... I think that's when it hit me that he wasn't coming home."
In the days and weeks after his death, Davis did not leave her home. "You just want to end your life at some points," she said.
Davis scoured the Internet and attended widows' support groups that were filled with senior citizens; she felt even more alone. If she looked older, Davis remembers thinking, perhaps people would understand the depth of her grief and stop telling her she would move on.
"I look at those married for 50 years before they lost their husbands, and I say they had 50 years, where I have to live 50 years knowing I can't have him here with me," she said.
Desperate to talk to other war widows who could understand, Davis set out to find them. She found six young widows and began documenting their stories of love and tragedy on film. That's when she began to realize how much widows could help each other.
"I have cried with these women, and they have cried with me," Davis said. "I feel like it's an honor that I am in the presence of someone whose husband is just as honorable as mine."
Davis created "The American Widow Project" (AWP) in late 2007. Despite many women telling her they hate the word 'widow,' Davis chose it to reclaim the word and help replace the stigma with honor.
"They're like, 'I'm not 80, I'm not with big-rimmed glasses with a shawl around my neck. I am full of life still,'" Davis explained.
With half a million visitors so far, the Web site is a thriving community where women share love stories and thoughts on surviving. There are notes about everything from what to do with a husband's toothbrush to telling children the bad news.
"I went through the first year of my grief alone, miserable," Markham said. "I didn't think I could make it another day and then I found the AWP on MySpace and everybody just helps each other, encourages each other. It just gives me hope, makes me get up another day."
Davis arranged American Widow Project retreats last year that featured zip-lining, river-tubing and surfing lessons. "I felt bad the first time that I laughed," Davis said. "Michael can't laugh, I shouldn't laugh. In the beginning, I hated to take even one step without Michael. I have taken a lot of steps now."
Davis is rewarded seeing widows begin to open up and laugh. "They were able to relax and really maybe do the first fun thing that they have really even done since their husband was killed," she said
Angelee Lombardi, widow of Staff Sgt. Keith Lombardi, said, "It's about still finding a way to have fun. Even though our husbands are gone, you know, finding a way to still live."
On the web-site and in person, the widows of American Widow Project talk about the little things, the little things they miss and the little things they still have.
In her closet, Davis keeps the black box the military gave her with her husband's personal effects inventoried, including 40 pairs of socks and 15 pictures. "What my husband's life was over there has now been put down into little tiny plastic bags."