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Merck's widow feels husband's presence

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A strange thing happened to Tanya Merck the day after she lost her best friend.

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Tanya Merck (center) says her children Nick (from top left, clockwise), Jake and Mackenzi remind her of her husband.  Special
Tanya Merck (center) says her children Nick (from top left, clockwise), Jake and Mackenzi remind her of her husband.


October 25, 2005: Evans soldier dies in Iraq

A friend of her mother whom Merck had known all her life called to tell her about a dream she had.

"Go outside and walk toward the fence in your backyard," said the woman, who had never been to Merck's house.

Merck stepped onto her patio into a chilly October evening and walked toward the fence.

"You'll find four feathers, one for each of your children and one for Dennis," the friend told her, naming Merck's husband, who had just died in Iraq.

Merck looked down to find four feathers at her feet.

"I was just in shock," she recalled years later.

It's still a mystery to Merck how her friend knew about those feathers, but she doesn't question the messages from her deceased husband, Staff Sgt. Dennis Merck.

She keeps those feathers in a box with other feathers that have appeared at the most appropriate times. Some stand out more than others.

When her daughter rolled and totaled her car, first responders were amazed that she survived with hardly a scratch. Merck wasn't. She found a feather in the cup holder of the wreckage.

Merck collected another feather that landed on her shoe as she walked to her car after meeting with a teacher about her son's poor grades.

Another feather circled around Merck as she walked alone on her parents' property. The urgency in its swirling convinced her it was from Dennis.

"You can tell the difference," Merck said.

Call it supernatural or power of suggestion, but it doesn't surprise Merck that her husband's strong love and devotion continue after his death from an accidental weapons discharge in 2005.

That's just the way he was.

Merck was accustomed to his long absences before he died. He worked long hours as a diesel mechanic to provide for the family.

During his time in the Army, he was frequently gone for one or two weeks at a time for training missions.

"It wasn't abnormal for me," she said.

She still remembers in chilling detail the morning two soldiers in crisp uniforms arrived on her doorstep. She had fallen asleep on the couch waiting for her oldest son to return from a birthday party; she wouldn't have had heard the doorbell from her bedroom.

When she opened the door and saw the soldiers standing on the doorstep, she slammed it in their faces. They eventually convinced her to open the door and recited the known facts concerning Merck's death.

"They were so sterile," she said quietly, remembering. "But I don't begrudge them that."

Merck went upstairs and woke up Nick. The other two children were sleeping at friends' houses.

When she came back downstairs the soldiers had left the living room. Nick thought she was just having a bad dream and for a brief moment Merck believed it, too. Then the soldiers stepped back into the living room from the kitchen.

"No, son, it's not a dream," they said.

Over the days that followed, Merck quickly realized that giving into depression wasn't an option. She still had three children who needed clean clothes, meals on the table and help with homework.

"I didn't have a choice whether I wanted to move on," she said. "I had to be strong for them."

Merck was resolved not to cry in front of her children, and for the most part she succeeded.

"I had to be tough and put on a happy face," she said.

At night, with the children asleep, is when she let go. When she couldn't contain her grief during the day, Merck escaped to her bedroom. She turned on the shower to mask her sobbing.

A few days before her husband's death, Merck struck up a conversation with a Walmart employee at the photo counter. She knew the man, Troy Hinton, vaguely from a previous job at WalMart and offered him help getting a home through her new job doing mortgages.

Hinton called her several days after her husband's death to offer his condolences. He continued to call occasionally and agreed to teach her son how to ride a motorcycle. She repaid his kindness with a home-cooked meal. Their friendship deepened.

He became someone she could count on to bring her out of a funk on her lowest days.

"He was a huge rock for me," Merck said.

Their relationship blossomed into a romance. Merck was scared at first to tell her children, but they welcomed Hinton from the start.

Hinton told the children he didn't expect to replace their father but would always be available to them as a friend.

In March 2008, Merck learned there would be an addition to the family. She was getting ready for carpel tunnel surgery when doctors discovered she was pregnant. It was a shock because Merck thought she was physically incapable of becoming pregnant again. They ran several more tests, each with the same result.

"Ma'am, there's not mistake," they told her.

Jaxon was born Oct. 10, a month early and on Dennis' birthday. Merck took it as a sign from him that everything would be OK.

"Jaxon has been a huge help in making me happy with life again," Merck said. "He's really melded us as a family."

As someone familiar with grief, Merck no longer believes that time heals all wounds. But, she said, it does provide a balm.

"I think you just learn better how to deal with it," she said. "Life goes on."

Comments (5) Add comment
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getalife 08/29/10 - 10:26 am
You have a beautiful family

You have a beautiful family and your husband is certainly a hero. May God bless all of you.

dianeb. 08/29/10 - 02:24 pm
so very sorry about the loss

so very sorry about the loss of your husband and your children's father.
he was a hero and so are you. god bless you and your children

WiseOldMan 08/29/10 - 02:54 pm
Such signs like the feathers,

Such signs like the feathers, give me a most peaceful feeling that
our creator has provided an avenue to receive comfort from our deceased loved ones. I believe that the after life is full of many powers that we mortals do not possess. God Bless your family.

SunnieC15 09/04/10 - 11:29 pm
I am Tanya's baby sister, and

I am Tanya's baby sister, and I knew Dennis all my life. He and Tanya began dated before I was even born. He was like a brother as well as a brother in law. We all find feathers from time to time, and they are always at the moments when you need that sign from the other side everything is going to be alright. And we all feel his presence.

Wise Old Man: Soon after Dennis death, I had a dream where only I could see him, and when I asked him why he told me, "God only allows some people to see His angels."
When I was pregnant with my son, I was working at a hotel. One of the guests who was a medium was there to work on a cold case file. I hadn't seen the woman the entire time she was there, until she was checking out. It was out that time, out of the blue that she told me a bald headed angel would watch out for me and my son. (I feel it only fair to mention that she did not know I was pregnant, and I was not far along enough to know whether I was having a boy or girl.)
Dennis was a great guy and a decent father and husband. And I know that he would approve of Troy. I can't think of Dennis without thinking of the song "If I Don't Make it back," sung by Tracy Lawrence. Because that was him; he'd want Tanya and the kids to move on and be happy... just have a beer once a year to remember him. Natural Light was his brand.

WiseOldMan 09/06/10 - 01:10 pm
SunnieC15, When non believers

When non believers question me about the creation, I just tell them to look around at the beauty of life, not the ugliness.
Good and Evil fight each day, God has an army of Angels to fight off the constant recruitment of souls by Satan.
I find it amusing that smart folks, even a dumb old man like me, believe in dinosaurs of millions of years ago, but try every way possible to dis-credit The Bible. The year 33 AD (approx. Christ's age at death) till present is only 1,977 years ago. Humans were putting their thoughts and witness accounts in writing fairly well at that point in history.

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