Beth Croft has changed.
She remains distant from friends because anxiety that rarely reared its head in the past follows her every move. She prefers staying at home in her comfort zone despite being an outgoing person.
She used to garden for fun, but now she plants for therapy.
“I’m a completely different person,” Beth said. “Ever since he was killed, anything new and unexpected I get anxious over.
“Things are just unfamiliar. ... Part of me was abruptly taken away.”
This month marks seven years since Beth’s son, Army Sgt. Joshua Born — or “Josh” as she calls him — was shot and killed at the young age of 25 during an insider attack in Afghanistan.
She woke up Feb. 23, 2012, at her home in Fort Walton Beach, having dreamt the night before that something had happened to her son.
She listened to the morning news and heard a soldier had been killed in Afghanistan.
Out of thousands of soldiers overseas, Beth never imagined it would be Josh.
While at work, she noticed several missed calls from her daughter-in-law’s mother. She returned the calls, and the news changed her life: Her son had been killed in action.
“In that moment I was lost,” Beth said.
She waited at home knowing two soldiers would soon deliver the news she already knew but couldn’t bear to actually hear. Finally at 6:30 p.m. the knock came.
“I didn’t want to let them in at first,” Beth said. “I didn’t want to hear it.”
Beth said the following days and the funeral, which took place in Illinois, are a blur, some parts blocked from her memory.
“I was just numb,” Beth said with a quivering voice. “I didn’t want to believe it. I was so sure that he was going to come home.
“I don’t like to think of the funeral. I don’t like to think of him being in a coffin because I know he’s here. But I just want to hear his voice.”
Beth struggles to look at the flag folded tightly in a wooden box given to her in Josh’s memory. But she often visits the wooden bench in Niceville dedicated in his honor. Josh also has a memory tree at Fort Stewart and a memory brick at Fort Leonard Wood.
“Knowing that people walk by and they say, ‘Yeah, he gave his life for his country’,” Beth said. “That’s what helps.”
Beth occasionally shares her struggles with other Gold Star parents.
She relishes in memories that keep Josh alive.
She often thinks about him when she sees anything “Star Wars” related. She remembers how happy he was when he bought his dream car, a Mazda Rx8 that he called “Pandora.”
She remembers his unwavering love for a cold can of Mountain Dew.
“I could always tell if he was home, where he’d been, how long he’d been there by the number of Mountain Dew cans,” Beth said.
She talks to Josh's friends and brothers-in-arms about memories they shared. She thinks about their trips singing in the car together.
“It was him and I,” Beth said. “We were happy then.”
She laughs about the time he dressed up as Elvis for a Christmas play because his personality was too big to simply wear a Santa Claus outfit.
She remembers how he loved the holiday season because he loved quality family time.
“At Thanksgiving we leave a plate for him,” Beth said.
When Josh set his mind to something, Beth said no one would stand in his way. He was spunky and sarcastic, but he cared deeply about people even enough to die for them.
She remembers crying “like a baby” on the first day of school for the first five years in Josh’s childhood. She also cried when Josh left for basic training.
“It’s sad when you see them growing, but you have to let them go,” Beth said.
Josh decided one day he wanted to be in the Army and did exactly that.
“He got killed doing what he wanted to do,” Beth said.
Josh was a soldier, but to Beth, he was so much more.
“He meant everything to me,” Beth said.
With tears in her eyes, Beth said she’s assured Josh rests in heaven, but that doesn’t replace the yearning to see him once more.
“I don’t want him to be gone,” Beth said. “I want him to be back. I want to hear how mad he is, how frustrated he is, how happy he is or what he’s doing. But I can’t.
“I just want to give him a hug and tell him I love him.”