When I returned to my office in Waterford yesterday, my “cup was full and overflowing.” I have been blessed with five of the most wonderful children for which any parent could ever hope. But the specific reason my “cup was full” yesterday was because of time spent with my daughter-in-law Patty. My oldest son and her husband Justin was killed while serving in Iraq almost three years ago widow). We had just spent seven of the most beautiful hours together.
I had picked Patty up at her house at 6:00 in morning and had driven to the residence of Michigan’s Governor Jennifer Granholm, where about 50 or so of us had breakfast. This annual gathering is for the parents and spouses of Michigan’s Fallen Heroes. If the conversation during the ride out to Lansing hadn’t already put us both into tears, the time with other Michigan families who have an empty seat at their table each meal did.
As we drove away following the breakfast, I asked, “Well, Patty, what would you like to do next?” “Well, Dad,” she replied, “(do you) want to drive out to Great Lakes National Cemetery?” An hour or so later, we arrived at the ever-expanding national cemetery. With groundskeepers putting the finishing touches on everything for Memorial Day Weekend, and with flags blowing in the breeze against a nearly cloudless sky, Patty and I stood beside Justin’s grave and talked, laughed, and cried together. She shared with me things that I had never known before … things like how she had scattered the ashes of Zoe, Justin’s Rottweiler, in the snow above his grave after his ten-year old pet had to be put down … and how we both have these conversations when we’re there by ourselves as though Justin was listening to our every word (silly to some perhaps, but cathartic to us) … and how she wants just the two of us to drive out in Justin’s “dream machine” – a Jeep Wrangler (Michigan license plate “JDP2”) – with the top off and revisit his grave together sometime this summer.
We had also planned to have lunch together that day too, so as we finally drove away from the cemetery, I asked, “So—what do you feel like eating for lunch?” Patty looked over at me with a mischievous tinkle in her eye and grin on her face and exuberantly exclaimed, “I feel like Mac ‘n Cheese!” Well, that could only mean one place—the Clarkston Union—Justin’s favorite restaurant in Clarkston, and his standard dish – macaroni and cheese! For the next hour and thirty minutes we spent some of the greatest quality “father/daughter-in-law” time together that we’ve ever had – laughing, talking, crying, reminiscing, and philosophizing! And in spite of our losses—she a husband and I a son—we again concluded that life must go on, even when it’s tough.
And while I have my periodic moments of emotional meltdown, (because I still miss my boy), my pain surely must pale when compared to a young wife and mother who sacrificed her husband for the cause of freedom. You see, ladies and gentlemen, all across this nation there are untold numbers of wives and mothers who today will be strong for their children, parents, friends, and neighbors, but tonight, when the kids are tucked into bed and are fast asleep, will close their bedroom doors, wonder how they’ll rear their children alone, worry over how to pay the bills, and cry themselves to sleep while clutching a pillow rather than the rock-hard body of their Marine.
And surely, in a nation of 300 million people, I’m not the only grandpa who will set aside my morning’s work to babysit a little three-year-old girl whose daddy went off to war two days after she was born, but whose dad came home in a flag-draped coffin, and will forever be to her the stranger in the photographs and the voice on the recordings of children’s books left behind, lest daddy be forgotten.
My friends, don’t let your family forget what Memorial Day is all about. Put a face on it for them each year. And when you pray this weekend, include Patty, Jared, Jayden, and Caitlin Peterson in your prayers. And by all means, thank the Lord for the men and women of the Armed Forces of the United States of America who sacrificed their lives for our freedom, as well for those families left behind who make the sacrifice daily as they awaken each morning to an empty pillow on the other half the bed, and empty seat at the table each meal, and an empty “hole” in their hearts 24/7.
Yet, in spite of the void in our lives, we have a responsibility to each other—as individual families and as Americans; therefore, we face forward and carry on. Semper fi.