Earlier this week, a friend shared a link that made me so sad I wanted to cry. It was the photo of a war widow spending the last night with her husband. Longing to sleep next to him just one more time. It didn’t matter that he was there only in spirit. It didn’t matter that two Marines stood just feet away. What mattered is that she got to say her goodbye her way and under the watchful eye of his brothers, she shared one last moment of intimacy with the love of her life.
Today is Veteran’s Day, the day we’ve honored our war heroes for nearly a hundred years. Yet, today is a different kind of Veteran’s Day for someone – a husband, a wife, a mother, a father, a daughter, a son. Someone is not coming home this Veteran’s Day. There will be no parades, just sadness. The medals which adorn the mantel and the flag folded carefully into a triangle cannot take the place of a warm hug which once held any of them. The veterans we have lost were also just the everyday heroes to the sons whose catcher’s glove they oiled just right; to the daughters who learned how to dance on the tops of his toes; to the wives who were told they were the prettiest girl in the world 15 years since walking down the aisle; and to the husbands who never realized how much harder a working wife really toils.
We’ve all been touched by a veteran’s life in one way or another. For many of us it may just be the knowledge that they defend everyday our right to live freely. For others it may be the loss they feel at the senseless taking of their loved one for a cause they may not understand. Yet for many of us, it’s the loss of the hero in our lives who taught us so much and who wish they were still here to teach us more – our Dads.
My Dad served in between WWII and the Korean War. He did not see combat, thankfully, but he served this country proudly. He kept his uniform till the day he died, some 50 years later.
I will never forget his funeral………it was a difficult day after a long illness which saw me as his primary caregiver for 10 heart-wrenching years. I thought I was holding it together pretty well because as the primary caregiver to an Alzheimer’s patient, it is the long goodbye and it was 10 years of preparation. Yet, as we entered the mausoleum and there ahead of me I saw the military honor guard, I stopped dead in my tracks. The funeral director, a family friend, was right at my side and I looked at him with true shock and awe because it was unexpected. He said this was all for my Dad. My Dad who taught me how to dance on his toes. My Dad who said all of those guys who broke my heart weren’t worthy of me. My Dad who just laughed when I told him a psychic said he was my father in 2 other lives (BTW Daddy, I am posting this at 11:11 on 111111 because I believe angels walk the Earth). This was for my Dad.
The trumpeter started playing taps and the lump in my throat grew bigger. I turned to my left and my sisters and cousins all barely held it together. Then carefully, these soldiers folded the American flag which blanketed my Dad. They must’ve done this hundreds of times before but their focus this time was unwavering, this time, as every time before and every time since. Then the soldier approached me and placed it in my hands with the words so many families have heard before, “On behalf of a grateful nation and the United States Army as a token of appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”
There and then I passed it to my nephew, the next generation of Americans. I pray to God that he will never see war in his lifetime but as long as men are men, there will always be conflict. The point is, you never, ever know when it will be the final goodbye, whether your loved one is a veteran or just your hero. Don’t waste a second of what precious little time we have to share. Start and end each day with “I love you” instead of regrets for things left unsaid.