‘Deadliest sniper’ Chris Kyle's widow tells of his gentler side

  • Books
  • Tuesday, 09 Jun 2015

Remembering Chris: Taya Kyle (right) with her late husband Chris, after his autobiography, American Sniper, became a bestseller in 2012. While Chris' book focused on his war experience, Taya's book is about Chris the husband and father. Photo: TNS

Taya Kyle is ready to tell the rest of the story.

The North Texas-based widow of Chris Kyle, the US Navy SEAL who became a household name because of the book and movie, American Sniper, is sharing her memories of life with and without her husband of 10 years.

American Wife: A Memoir Of Love, War, Faith And Renewal, published by William Morrow, was written with Jim DeFelice, who co-authored Chris’ American Sniper autobiography, which was a 2012 bestseller and inspired the blockbuster 2014 movie starring Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller.

After Chris and his friend Chad Littlefield were murdered at a gun range in February 2013, Kyle went through a difficult grieving and healing process that is still ongoing. (The gunman, Eddie Ray Routh, was convicted of capital murder in February.)

She ultimately felt compelled to write her story of life with Chris.

While he was widely known as the most lethal sniper in US military history, with 160 confirmed kills, Kyle experienced “so many more layers to him” beyond that of celebrated soldier, she says.

“There was so much to love about him,” she says. “I wanted to do something to let people know the other sides of him that were equally great.”

Another powerful motivation to write American Wife was Kyle’s hope that the book might comfort others like her who are coping with devastating loss.

“It might be healing for some readers to know that they’re not alone,” Kyle says. “Even if the book helps only one person in that way, then it’s worth it.”

We chatted with Kyle recently about the book, which is almost certain to become a bestseller in its own right.

You write that, when asked if working on his memoirs helped heal him after his haunting Iraq War experiences, Chris would say no. You reveal that, if anything, it “reopened old wounds, maybe including some Chris didn’t even realise he had.” But did your book help you heal?

I agree with Chris that his book didn’t help at first. Writing it was hard. Only later, like every time we did a book signing, when people kept coming up and saying how much the book meant to them and how it helped them in some way, only then did it help him. Because he saw that people could be blessed by it.

For me, with this book, it was a little bit different. Yes, it was hard, but it also allowed me to put things down on paper. No longer would I have to try to remember every single detail of our lives together.

In that way, I could feel a weight lifting, knowing that now these memories can be preserved forever, not just for me but also for our kids.

Do you think it’s necessary for someone to have read American Sniper and/or seen the movie to follow and enjoy American Wife?

I don’t think that’s necessary, because there are aspects of our story that are universal. It’s everybody’s story in some way or another. It’s every veteran’s story. It’s every married couple’s story.

I think one of the main reasons Chris’ book connected with so many people is that it’s real and relatable. It’s not picture perfect. It hasn’t been airbrushed. It’s just raw.

I think that’s why people responded the way they did. The tagline with this book is Love, Faith, War And Renewal. In some form or fashion, we all have those components in our lives.

How important was it to you that you wrote the book with Jim DeFelice, someone who had had a productive working relationship with Chris?

It was hugely important. It was almost a deal breaker on whether I would do it or not. Because he knew Chris and me together. I felt like that was important to have somebody who already felt like family.

When you’re telling your life story, it’s essential to have somebody you trust. So to have him was vitally important while going through so many personal and painful and important moments in our lives.

You write in the book about fame and how surreal it was when Chris became famous. Are you prepared for how much more famous you probably will be as a result of this book?

If there’s one thing that this journey has taught me, it’s that we’re all still people at the end of the day. Some aspects of my life might change, but who I am, hopefully, will never change.

My friends are the same. My family is the same. Maybe I can use whatever celebrity status I have to do some good with it. Other than that, hopefully, it will never be any different for me.

Is there any chance there could be a movie based on American Wife?

We’ve gotten some calls on that already, which is interesting. It’s something I never expected. I don’t know if anything like that will happen. It’s one thing for people to talk about making a movie. Actually getting it made is a whole different animal.

If there’s enough interest or if people think there’s a need, we will certainly look into it. But I definitely don’t have any expectation of it.

In the book, you list dozens of life lessons from the past two years. They range from common-sense maxims (“Celebrate every wedding anniversary”) to humorous observations (“Don’t expect a miniature pig to be an easy pet”) to heavy thoughts (“PTS is not an excuse for murder”). But will you expand on one in particular? The one where you say, “Don’t be afraid to ask about a loved one who has passed.” Did people often treat you with kid gloves and go overboard in NOT talking about Chris after his death?

I’ve been in both sides of that conversation. I have been with widows or family members or friends who have lost somebody and I know that awkward feeling you have because you want to do what’s right and you don’t want to upset someone who is in pain, so you don’t say anything at all.

But I’ve found, not just from my own experience but also from talking to people who have lost someone, most of us will tell you it’s OK to ask about them.

So take it from me. It’s OK to ask about the person who’s gone. You don’t have to be afraid to say something.

You moved to North Texas (from Oregon) years ago because it was Chris’ home. What keeps you here?

Texas is the first place I’ve ever lived where I truly felt at home. I just really love it here. It’s the people, it’s the atmosphere, it’s the land. It’s just a beautiful place to be.

I heard a great quote once from a military person. She said she cried when she found out she was being stationed in Texas and later she cried when she found out she had to leave. I thought, “That’s perfect!”

Texas gets in your blood. It’s just a good place.

Healing and recovery being an ongoing thing, are you in a different place today from when you actually finished writing the book?

It’s still a process. I am continuing to heal and I am continuing to find my way. So me things have changed. I don’t have all the answers. But this is going to be a long journey. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. – Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service/David Martindale

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