On February 25, 2014 I was involuntarily put in the Gold Star Club. This is his story.
Life. Our new normal. It is excruciating, lonely, difficult; yet calming, maybe even peaceful at times.
I hate it.
But it is what it is. I can’t change it.
The roller coaster of emotions is cruel. Daunting. Sneaks up on me when I least expect. The smallest things set me off. Smells, sights, sounds… Things a ‘normal’ person wouldn’t consider painful.
It’s like getting my heart twisted and broken, over and over and over; I can’t control it.
When he passed away, the night was a blur. Still is in fact. I want to remember, but I don’t.
I ran to the gas station for him. I was gone, at most, ten minutes. I will never forgive myself for leaving.
I came home, hollered his name. No response. I looked down our hallway, to see him slumped over and passed out. Same ol’ song and dance we’ve been through for the last year. I knew the routine.
Get him on his back.
Get the oxygen on him.
But somehow, this was different. His chest wasn’t rising and falling.
He had a pulse. But it was faint. I began CPR, I was slamming on his chest, I thought I’d break his ribs. I was screaming at the dispatcher to get the damn paramedics here now. She kept counting.
One and two and three and four.
Pinch and blow.
One and two and three and four.
It seemed like hours, days before they arrived. It was merely 6 minutes.
I was screaming. I think. One of the paramedics, the one that I’ve seen every time, picked me up. I felt like a rag doll. I remember being limp, I couldn’t feel my legs. I knew Graham was gone. I felt him leave me. But I kept screaming, save him. I begged. He moved me to the living room, out of the way. They worked so hard on him. I kept repeating, he promised not to leave me. He said he’d never leave me. I don’t know at what point, my kids were taken by my friend, and my other friend was holding me, praying. I told her to stop. God was the last person I wanted to talk too.
She drove me to the hospital. I called my mother. She still wont tell me what I said to her. I can’t remember.
We arrived at the hospital in minutes. I literally live right down the same street. I was taken back to ‘that room’ the one they take people when something bad has happened. That room. I knew. I just knew. But I still had faint hope. They came in to get more information on him. And then they asked if there was anyone they could call for me. I knew.
White coats came and went. I sat. Seemed like days. It was 15 minutes. She came in, sat across from me. The look, she had the look. The sorrow, the one people give you when there are no words.
I asked to see him. She said they were still working on him. I needed to see him. They took me in. They had soldier after soldier pumping his chest. I remember my knees giving out. I had a chair. I sat. I watched. But I knew. He left me a long time ago. He was tired. He didn’t want to do this anymore.
They stopped. Said it was over. I had to get out. I couldn’t breathe. The doors wouldn’t open fast enough. I remember my legs didn’t want to work. I couldn’t walk. I remember my friend telling the doctors to leave me alone. I remember how cold the floor was. But the world stopped spinning while I was down there. I couldn’t hear anyone. It was silent.
They moved me back to ‘that room’. So I wouldn’t be a spectacle or something I don’t know. I didn’t care. I remember sending out a text or two. It simply said
Graham’s dead. He died.
I requested to see him. I needed to see him myself. Alone. They walked me back in and I sat and held his hand. I told him I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t mad he broke his promise to always be with me. I was at peace that he wasn’t hurting anymore. I told him I loved him.
And I just sat and held his hand.
I don’t remember much after that. Lots of people coming and going. I was brought home. I was taken to the neighbors house, because CID (the army’s criminal investigation department) was at my home. It was a crime scene.
A crime scene.
I had to tell the boys. I had to tell our boys. That I can remember. I remember the tears. The sobbing. I can remember every detail of that part. And it was one part I want to forget.
The days following are still blurry. I get bits of memory coming back, little by little. But I don’t remember a lot. Still more people. Coming for signatures. Plans had to be made. Things were moving so fast. I just wanted to sleep. Forever.
Sleep was a bitch. When the day was finally over. Things would replay in my head all over again. Why did I leave? If I’d stayed he’d still be alive. This wouldn’t be happening. Then I’d wake up. For a split second I’d have bliss. Then I’d remember. And it would suck all over again.
The days were hard, the nights were harder. I was angry. I was tired. I was confused. But oh, so angry.
I had so many questions. No one could answer anything. Lots of hate. Oh, I had so much hatred.
I still do.
We flew out to Atlanta Wednesday March 5. His escorts, the boys and I all few with Graham. When we landed, the pilot announced over the plane that we had a fallen service member on board, and if everyone would remain seated until his family and escorts left the plane first. It was the hardest, longest, walk of my life. People stared. People just looked at me, like they were lost for words but glad is wasn’t them getting off first.
We were escorted to the tarmac. They brought him off the plane first. We stood silent. Watched. It was agonizing. I wanted to hide from the looks. Everyone was looking. We followed him to the cargo area, where the Honor Guards were waiting for him. It was beautiful. They carried him so gently. So respectfully. Everything he deserved and more. I was proud to be his. His wife, his best friend, his soul mate. Just his.
The viewing was set for Friday, March 7. I wanted to see him before then. I needed time to process his body before seeing the thralls of people that would come to pay their last respects and the endless hugs and I’m sorry’s. I needed to have time to process it. So, they took me into the parlor. He was there, the gorgeous flag draped over him. It was quiet. So quiet. They pulled the flag back and opened ‘the box’. I realized I was walking backwards after bumping into one of the many chairs in the room. I was also holding my breath. I sat. I just sat and gathered my thoughts. That ‘box’ is holding my husband. It’s his final resting spot.
He didn’t look real. He looked like a doll. A plastic doll. He was in his dress blues, white gloves, and of course, his favorite pair of sunglasses – aviators. I slowly walked towards him. Making myself keep moving forward, taking slow breaths. Just keep moving forward I kept telling myself. This is the worst part. I held his hand, again. I spoke to him. I just took it all in. I knew I would be okay. He’s always with me.
The viewing itself was beautiful. People came and went and were respectful. I held it together Until we prayed over him. Until my brother and I prayed over him.
The funeral was amazing. I know, funeral and amazing shouldn’t really every be placed in the same sentence. But if you were there, you know. Amazing. Patriot guard, Jeepers, it was,
It was also the second hardest day of my life.
They handed me the flag, oh so neatly folded in the triangle. They handed it me and it just felt like it was over. Everything was over. He really wasn’t going to come bounding back through the door. No more text messages saying, I love you more. No more phone calls.
It’s over. My old life, I have an old life now. I’m a widow, at 28 years old. A widow. I have a new life, a new normal.
I was told, I’ll never be the old me. I’ll never get over this. I’ll learn to live with it, learn to deal with it but it never truly goes away. That I have to find the new normal.
So, here it is, a few days before our 7th wedding anniversary. And I’m still lost. Still trying to find my path.
But I do see a light. Somewhere at the end of this dark nightmare. One day, I’ll make it through 24 hours without crying. One day. Just not now. I’m okay with that, I’m okay with knowing it will hurt. Because I loved that man with everything I have and more.
And sometimes, love hurts.