I was counting the days until our son’s four-year enlistment ended and his life as a civilian began. I was looking forward to putting his active enlistment as an experience on my life’s resume, even though I knew that it would always be a part of our entire family. Ironically, he was arriving the Sunday evening prior to Memorial Day, so we would welcome him home on Memorial Day and the first thing we would do together would be attend the Memorial Day parade.
As a proud American, I had always honored all those that served our country and was extremely thankful for their sacrifices and dedication to our country. Then during our son’s enlistment, as with most military families, the connection to any of the national military holidays became more than just a day off work, attending a parade and having a picnic. It became personal.
My son’s unit had tragically lost a large number of men during their tours, so I knew for him being able to honor them on the day he returned would be an appropriate ending to his enlistment I was prepared to join him in that honor.
However, the joy of our son’s arrival was put on hold when late on Sunday evening, about the time my son’s plane was landing, we received a call from a friend informing us that another friend, in our city, had just been notified that their son had been killed in Iraq. We contacted our friend, telling them we would be right over. Driving through a torrential thunderstorm to their home, three thoughts kept running through my mind; first, the inability to believe their son had really been killed; second, that the storm seemed appropriate for the circumstance; and third, I didn’t know if I could be a comfort to them when I would be able to hug my son in a few hours and they would never see theirs again.
Through out that unbearably emotional night friends and family came to share in the grief hoping to be a support in any way possible. I sat on the sofa for a couple hours, my hand grasped tightly in my friend’s hand, watching the raw pain, intense anger, the reality of loss, the deep sense of loss and the devastation caused by war engulf her entire being. There was nothing that could be said or done to alleviate any of the emotions running rampant in that house. Yet, mixed in with the grief was immense pride as stories about their son’s childhood, his beautiful daughter, his military experiences and courage were shared. It was a heart wrenching experience for me, yet I will always be grateful that I was able to honor their son’s service, by supporting his parents.
Arriving home in the early morning hours of what was now Memorial Day, I was caught between being excited that I would soon be able to hug my son, and boy was I ready for a momma bear hug, and the overwhelming sadness of our friends’ tragedy.
After just a couple hours of sleep I woke still struggling with the conflicting emotions, but I was determined to focus on my son’s homecoming. Upon his arrival I got the momma bear hug I so needed, then with tears flowing I told him about the previous evening.
His wife, in-laws and my husband and I then proceeded to attend the Memorial Day parade in a joyous yet low-key mood. We saw the usual crowds sitting along the curbs, clowns throwing candy, creative floats, bands playing, and beauty queens waving in convertibles. Intermixed with all the fun stuff was the real reason for the parade. The cars filled with Veterans of all ages and branches of the military from World War II right up to the current conflicts. Seeing them caused me to stand a little straighter, my heart to beat a little faster, and tears to flow freely, as our friends came to mind and I understood more clearly the importance and true meaning of the day and the responsibility I had as an American.
Memorial Day gives me the opportunity to display true honor and respect for the deceased Veterans that served our country regardless of whether or not they served during a conflict. The Americans that put their lives on hold in order to be prepared to protect 24/7. It’s also a day to express honor and respect for the families of those same men and women. A chance to remember the sacrifice and loss the loved ones of all our deceased service members live with on a daily basis.
I wouldn’t want anyone else to undergo the grief we saw our friends endure on that Memorial Day weekend, but I can honestly say their tragic loss made me a better American, An American that will reverently honor all deceased Veterans and their families each and every day.