It’s Been a Year — Part II

It’s Been a Year — Part I

Tuesday was a year since the visitation and Wednesday was a year since the burial, so in addition to getting through the one year anniversary of the day John died there were those days on my mind too.

Below are excerpts from my journal last year about those days, written as letters to my sons so if they one day want to know what that time was like I would have a record of it rather than relying on my memory.

July 5, 2010:

I want to write down how each of you reacted tonight to seeing your dad. I stressed over this part for two days and imagined how each of you would respond and it’s interesting to me to know you both so well that I got parts of right, but also interesting the ways you surprised me.

I tried to prepare you both before we went that daddy would be lying down, asleep, and wouldn’t be able to talk or walk or be the daddy you were used to. We would just get to look at him. I knew that “seeing daddy” had always meant one thing and it was about to mean something totally different.

I wanted to take each of you separate so you could have your own time to be how you wanted to be. Your Papaw went with us. Finn, as the oldest, I took you in first. As is typical for you, you stayed “in character;” you stood there looking at your dad, taking it in but not showing much emotion so I’m not sure what you were thinking, if you were thinking at all. You asked if the handle on the side of the casket was a real sword and Papaw explained it was a handle to carry it by. It looked like sword handle to you. After just a few minutes you asked if we could go now. Of course, we said, and told you if you wanted to come back later you could. You said you didn’t want to come back and you never did.

Caden, you were so excited. I tried to prepare you for what it was going to be but I think your little 4-year-old mind couldn’t get it, couldn’t imagine seeing you dad in any other way than you usually saw him. When we told you it was your turn you ran and skipped and were so happy. Your joy soon turned to what I think was confusion and then sadness when you realized daddy was just lying there. You asked  lots of questions – what color are daddy’s pants, where are daddy’s shoes, why is his hat there, why isn’t he wearing his hat, can I touch his hat, can I touch him, and so on – typical inquisitive Caden. J I answered all of them best I knew how. After a few minutes you said you wanted to go get Kaleb and bringing him to see your daddy. You were out of there and getting Kaleb before I could keep up. The whole family came back with you. You seemed so proud of you dad and wanted everyone to see him. I didn’t expect that reaction but it was a joy to see. It was painful to see, but also a special memory to make at such a hard and tragic time.

You cried a few times saying “I want my daddy” and all I could say was “I know” and “It’s ok, daddy is with Jesus, mommy’s here” which was probably no comfort to you at all but all I had.

You came back again and again and we let you as many times as you needed. Once everyone but cousin Ginger had been in, you wanted Ginger to go with you. Ginger was such a good sport and went with you. You asked if you could hug your daddy and I didn’t know how to do that so I said “I don’t know,” but Ginger said “of course” and scooped you up, lowered you down to daddy’ shoulder and let you give him a light hug. I was so thankful she was strong enough to do that for you because as much as I wanted to be I didn’t know how.

July 6, 2010:

Today we had your father’s funeral. More than 250 people came to give condolences and to mourn your dad at the visitation and funeral services. Your dad was not only your dad and my husband but he was a son, a brother, a co-worker, a colleague, a Navy buddy, and more.

Finn, you had a headache before we left, and once we got to the funeral home you sat in a chair and kept to yourself. I worried about you but had a few details to take care of and people to talk to. Caden, you just kept going to see your daddy, so proud, touching his jacket and his hand and dealing in your own, unique way.

We sat on the front row in the chapel as they rolled out the flag-covered casket. Finn, you started crying, the first time you had showed that kind of emotion during all of this. I hugged you close and whispered it was ok, you would be ok, like I’ve always done with you when you’ve cried doing a tough thing. Tears streamed down your cheeks and I wiped them with my tissue. At one point you took my tissue and wiped them yourself.  I asked you what was wrong and you said “my head hurts.” It makes sense to me that you would get a migraine headache at a time like this. I wasn’t sure which was worse – a migraine headache that would give you the excuse to sleep and not have to endure the next few hours or actually enduring the next few hours.

You fell asleep in my lap. It was kind of beautiful to experience that in a time like that, to experience being your mom to you the way I’ve always been even at one of our worst moments.

Caden, you sat in Nana’s lap for a bit, then between me and Nathan. You cried when daddy’s casket was rolled out. Several times during the service you said “I want my daddy” and all I could say was “I know” and hug you tighter. You also sat in the floor and colored at some point, making your own sweet memory for me. I let you. I let you and Finn both do what you needed to do.

When the service was over, Nanny carried Finn to her truck and Caden, you went with me and Nana and Papaw and Nathan. You were interested in the police cars that kept passing us as part of the procession.

When we got to the cemetery Finn was not well enough to stay. You were still asleep and not well. Friends carried you home to Nana’s where  several ladies from Papaw’s church were preparing lunch. I hated that you missed the graveside service but it was probably better for you perhaps.

Caden was very interested in the military side of things – one of daddy’s Navy friends opened our door and escorted mommy to where we were supposed to sit. The next half hour was a scripture, Taps, folding daddy’s flag and the hard task for me of receiving it. I was never more conflicted during all of this than during that moment, both wanting to pay respect to your dad’s love of the Navy and feeling so unworthy of receiving that honor for him. Bless their heart, they had trouble getting it folded just right so after everything was over they said they were dissatisfied with how it was folded and asked to redo it. I appreciated their willingness to humble themselves and redo it, to make sure it was done well and right. Said a lot about their devotion to their fellow sailor and to the flag and to our country.

We didn’t stay to see the casket placed in the vault or lowered in the ground. We came back (Finn, you were still sleeping off your headache) to see it after they were done and after the flowers were laid there. We all took a flower or two to keep or press in memory of your dad and this day.


3 thoughts on “It’s Been a Year — Part II

  1. Julie says:

    Heather, what a beautiful gift you have given your boys by writing this…..and what motivation for me to get those books done for you so that they will have pictures to go along with your sweet words. I just read this to Matt as we were sitting here having our quiet time together before bed. You have such a gift with words and I stood in awe of your grace and courage as you went through this tragedy. We love you and, a year later, I hope you know we are here for you now just as much as then. Thank you for sharing your journey with us and never being afraid to say how you feel…and for always just being you. Love you!

  2. Krystal says:

    I know how hard it must be for you to write this. Thank you so much for sharing it with all of us. Funny how us writers must get it out there in order to relieve some of the burden in our hearts. Bless you and the boys in the coming years.

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