For me there is something powerful in our military salute. I love it! I love my country. I am sure you do too and we support everyone who defends our freedom. It is a costly task leaving many spouses, children, parents, siblings and other family and friends to mourn. Thankfully, these United States of America are still free. May we always be free.
One of my children served in the U.S. Air Force and I am proud of his accomplishments. He has served his country faithfully, doing his best, giving his all and fortunately lives to share his stories.
Then my firstborn died by suicide. I have only why questions and no answers, not unlike many of you. We survive the tragedy by the grit of our teeth; enduring the shock of it all by God’s amazing grace.
Perhaps your memories of loss are etched in your mind . . . seared more likely and tattooed forever on your heart. Me too. Getting through those first hours, days are still somewhat a blur . . . perhaps never to be fully slowed down and the blanks filled in but instead, just remain a blur. But there is one exception in my bank of memories about the events that followed after my son’s death.
I love each one of my boys unconditionally. I was blessed to give birth twice. I was privileged to add a 3rd son by marriage. Soon after we had our first real family gathering, we were forced to say goodbye to my firstborn. Of all the choices I am allowed to make in my life, preventing his death was not one of them. Fortunately my remaining children have managed to go on and live their dreams which gives me great joy. They are privileged to live by independent means and I am blessed to share my life with them even if only in small ways and sometimes from a distance.
Recently I watched our President share heroic stories about our fallen comrades, those who gave themselves as a living sacrifice to defend our homeland. I know the pain in the hearts of the families will never go away. They have been blessed to share their children to keep us free. We owe them a debt of gratitude and our President paid the nation’s respect in their honor. After the stories came the medals followed by a crisp salute given by our President and received by the one who is fortunate to have survived.
Perhaps this post will seem disjointed. For that I apologize. The pain in my mind and heart slow down the flow of words to the page even though my mind swirls in search for just the right words in an attempt to convey feelings from my heart to yours. Perhaps you understand this internal conflict? Those of us on a survival journey “get it” and require no further explanation. There is a story that I shared in my book “Shattered by Suicide” that took me forever to write. The telling was so wretchedly painful and the words so deep that unearthing them seemed an impossible task then and still does now. I have a point. Really.
The point is about the salute. I won’t quote the book. That would be silly. And I won’t reread it now for I don’t want this to be a carbon copy. The images are stuck forever in my mind. We had gathered to say our last goodbye to my firstborn son. We were sitting in the shade under the canopy that hot August day. Morning or afternoon. Hmmm. I remember sunshine, but I’m unaware of the time of day. Apparently it didn’t make the cut in my memory. You know the drill. Most of us have experienced such a gathering at least one time in our lives and too many times it is in honor of one of our children . . . way too often and if you, too, have lost a child, let me say how sorry I am for your pain.
My stepson spent much of his life serving his country. He looked fine in his uniform, creased and pressed to perfection. He had the gait, the language, the perfect performance, the manners learned and executed flawlessly throughout his career. He knows the salute and has given it often when in the presence of a senior officer. Nothing less would be tolerated. It is a habit, but respectful to be sure.
Back to the tent. The last words of comfort had been said although I don’t remember them. I heard sound ~ mostly my own weeping. We each caressed the box . . . oh how I hate the box . . . but it contained precious remains so I must cherish it. Slowly we stood to our feet. It was time to leave the box behind for that is the decision we made at the time. Mind numbing pain = mind numbing decisions which could later be mulled over and regretted, but not now. Now we must bid a fond farewell to the box displayed on red velvet. No matter the softness of fabric . . . nothing about this moment softens the blows to my heart.
And then I saw it. My stepson stood to his feet, approached the stand where the box rested. He paused, then snapped to attention, clicking his heels together and gave his brother a sharp salute. Silence. Even the air seemed to pause in respect and stood still. Through blurry eyes I witnessed a shower of honor bestowed on my firstborn by an elder brother. For him, the salute offered the highest respect, love and praise to his fallen brother. No, my boy did not die in combat, not like we usually think of combat. And yet it is combat. The forces of evil fighting against the forces of Good. My heavenly Father, in His unfathomable love and mercy gently laid a hurting heart to rest . . . for now.
Slowing the story down frame by frame is not intended to draw tears (even though mine flow) but to bring relief. If you are a parent who has lost a child or you lost your sibling or a dear friend, you understand the need to slow it down, do you not? The heart aches to unearth pain. The heart aches to release to the wind the agony it feels. The heart aches to share it, for it is in the sharing that we deepen our understanding of loss where mind and heart ache to be connected again. We can’t bring our loved one back, but we can open our hearts for the benefit of others who may not have experienced such tragedy. Not to be morbid, but somehow in the telling of our stories we help others to become wiser, more reflective and understanding in the love and honor we feel about our fallen child. Does that make sense?
Like a maze, we work our way thru twists, turns, stops and starts as we tackle the pain from within, trying to put it into words not only for the healing of our hearts, but to help those who cannot fathom our suffering. With encouragement from a willing listener we are able to unearth some painful words deep in the core of our being and release them for a bit of relief. Granted the process repeats often for there is always more, still more. Such is the process of healing, slow and steady.
For I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power. Philippians 4:13, LB