At 101 degrees in the Texas summer, a dress is something I would rather not be wearing, especially a black one, with heels. I already had a bit of a panic attack this morning as I put on the dress, praying that it would still actually fit, because let’s face it, it does not leave my hanger very often. Praise Jesus! I actually still owned a pair of black, heeled shoes.
Walking into the line, I pray that others around me do not see the sweat pouring out of my body, because these are the things we think about when we are trying to avoid the inevitable. Any type of thoughts to deter from reality. “Hello’s”, “hugs”, “how are you doings” follow; how do you answer such a question when you are standing in the heat, in a dress, clearly knowing that the other person does not really want the right answer?
The formation begins and I’m told to stand behind my rock. Hundreds begin to line the sidewalk: all standing so brave because this is what they are trained to do. “Line up”; “don’t lock your knees: “drink plenty of water” are now the instructions given. As I stand behind my rock, as I always will do, the sun begins to blaze once more. Sweat continues to drip, my heals begin to sink in the Texas grass, I lean on a pole because I will be the one to lock my knees, and at that moment, I turn. Under the gigantic American flag that I’ve mostly seen hanging from bridges, it is now faces me dead on; almost like a staring contest that I know it will win, and then coffin of a friend, also draped with an American flag, rounds the corner, passing under the flag, and stops. And I begin to ugly cry…..The salute happens in slow motion. Almost like I'm watching from a distance. Hundreds of fellow brothers stand at attention and I notice that their shoulders begin to shake, trying so hard to be brave but having so much trouble keeping their emotions at bay. I lean into my rock as the flag draped coffin rolls by our place in line followed by the loving wife of 37 years and son and once again, the tears begin to fall. I can’t handle the amount of emotions that have been building since we received the phone call, and I just pray to Jesus at this moment for strength for everyone witnessing and participating in the memory.
To say he was a wonderful man would not do him justice. He was loved and loved so many. He nick-named my daughters that still to this day, the fire department only knows them by. He worked at his job for over 23 years, retired proudly, and still continued to be a presence in the small town lives of the ones around him. His family became part of our family and his loving wife gave us so many memories that now hang on the walls of our house. I still hear his voice in my head and still see his sweet smile, and as I sit through the memorial, side by side with the other firefighter wives, my mind and heart agree with every word that is spoken about and of this wonderful mans life.
But the pastors eulogy, truly hits home.
He suffered. He suffered for so long. His family suffered. They suffered for so long. His friends suffered as we watched him slowly die. Help was offered, time and time again. Love and prayers were never far and always given. Tears, pleading, heartache and anger were a part of his and his family’s life, all due to the demons that would not just go away. PTSD, alcoholism, anxiety, depression; all too familiar in my world and now being shared to a crying, hurting crowd.
We all knew. We all knew these were the demons that took over this wonderful mans life and eventually, ended it. While God took him in peace, for many years, there was no peace in his life. He had help. He had the belief in Jesus. He had the desire, but could not shake the demons. As the pastor said, “he would have wanted his story told, he would have liked to have told it, but now it is me telling it instead”….and it is also me.
PTSD, anxiety and depression run deep in the world today, not just in the military, where these words are most commonly seen, but everywhere where there is trauma. Sadly, the stigma of weakness continues to follow: but there was nothing weak about this man. There is nothing weak about what happens to our minds when we can not process the images that roll over and over and there is nothing weak about falling, because we all do at some point in our lives. What makes this time different, is that it did not end the way we wanted. However, it is not our way that we choose but God’s and ultimately, He always wins. He took away the pain, the demons and the hurting and brought him home.
Now, we fight. Now, I fight harder and will continue to fight and advocate for you. Your demons mirror my demons and even though you are gone, I will continue to make our story told. Your death will bring awareness, my story will follow. Your life will bring Hope, my story will follow. Your love and dedication to those around you will not die, and my story and voice will echo yours. This is my promise to you and your loving wife and son. You will not suffer and hurt any longer, as the ones left on earth may, but your death will be shouted and told to anyone who will listen and Hope, help and love will remain. This is my promise to you, my angel friend.
Bagpipes. Any time I hear bagpipes it is not a happy song reminder. As the procession happens once more, now in the opposite direction, the bagpipes begin to play. The roller coaster of emotions running through all of our veins at this moment make me want to crawl under my covers and hide for days. Bagpipes play, saluting happens, shoulders shake, a flag draped coffin moves and is eventually rested in front of his engine. The flag ceremony is a beautiful blur and as I watch his widow accept the flag that he so bravely earned, and listen to the end of duty call, and watch the helicopters fly over in respect, I remember the love that is being poured out, at this moment, to his brothers, family and friends and know, we are all in this together, because together, we are all better.
The bagpipes end, the coffin is placed back on his engine, moving once more under the gigantic flags, and now, it is our time, our duty to him, to continue to be better together.
With love and forever have gratitude that you were in our lives, rest in peace my friend.