I was 14 years old the first time I met him. He was 18. My sister introduced us. He’s cute (I thought), a little old and my classmate’s brother (eww!). We both were partly raised in our small hometown, military brats. A year later I found myself arm-in-arm with this half-boy/half-man at my sister’s wedding thinking “Bryan is REALLY good-looking! Why didn’t I see that before?” My heart beat fast as we signed the marriage license, me not wanting him to let go of my arm. Months pass and I find myself sitting across from this good-looking guy at my sister’s house. He announces “I’m going in the Air Force, and leaving tomorrow for boot camp. Can I have your address so I can write to you?” I excitedly give it to him. A few days pass and he returns. “A delayed enlistment”, he explains. It’s the 4th of July. Me, my sister and her family head to the lake for a picnic and fireworks. Excitement grows as we are awaiting the fireworks. “Come in the water with me” he says as the fireworks were set to go off. We stand in water watching the fireworks; he pulls me close and tenderly kisses me. I sigh softly as he later kisses me goodbye, promising to write. He leaves the next day for boot camp. As promised, he writes. We were so silly! So young and in love! I recall writing in my diary that summer; “I don’t what it is about this guy, but I think one day I am going to marry him.” He returns, getting stationed in our hometown of Rancho Cordova and quickly breaks my heart. I later discover it was because he feared getting into trouble dating a 16 year old, him being 20 years old. My sister consoles me saying “just you wait. When you get close to your 18th birthday, he’ll ask you out again.’ I had no idea how profound that statement would become.
Because, three months before my 18th birthday I find myself once again sitting across from him, my heart still broken. It was time for a convenience store run. He goes with me. It happens. He asks me out again. “I don’t know if I am willing to have my heart broken again” I say. “Give me a chance, I promise; I won’t break your heart.” I trust him. We date. I fall hard for him. He tells me he’s in love with me, I tell him I am also in love with him. Two weeks after my 18th birthday he proposes to me. I accept. We eloped two months later (telling no one) and plan our big wedding. People later asked why we eloped. Plain and simple, we eloped to get the additional income from the military early! Our wedding was beautiful. On our honeymoon I discover I am pregnant. Eight months later our 1st child Nicolas comes into the world. We are overjoyed at becoming parents! A year passes and Bryan gets orders for Germany and we find out that once again, we are to be parents. Germany was of significant importance for our marriage and our relationship. I knew I had married my best friend, but now I was a stay-at-home-mom, as I had begged to be and the adjustment was tough. But, my heart still beat quickly as his key entered the lock each night as he returned home from work. I knew our relationship could stand this because we were deeply in love… Our second son Rory arrives. I had a difficult delivery and Bryan held strong. Always the extraordinary labor coach and doting husband we once again were overjoyed to welcome our new child. We enjoyed our tour in Germany and took some great touring vacations. He once surprised me when he came home and told me that we were going to Paris (France) on a 24 hour MWR trip, just the two of us. It was surreal as we walked the River Seine. With our last Francs he surprised me once again, and we had a sketch done by a local artist in Artists’ square.
Bryan’s favorite trip was when we went with his mom (she came over to visit) and we got to meet their distant relatives; his Great-Uncle and cousins. They owned a Gasthaus and restaurant. One evening I stayed with the kids at the main house while Bryan and mom went to the restaurant. The local farmers were having a celebration of the harvest that night. Home-brewed Bier was passed around, mom and son sang, laughed at jokes they didn’t understand and made beautiful memories with family they never knew.
We returned to the US after a four-year tour in Germany, to another beautiful assignment in Myrtle Beach SC. I went back to work and we began planning for another child. Hurricane Hugo hit, and I, like many others, miscarried. Bryan was wonderful as he held my hand while we discovered our baby wasn’t to be… We tried again and six months later I happily discovered we had another baby on the way. My pregnancy was going smoothly and we had just moved into base housing, and as it’s often said “you make plans and God laughs!” Bryan was going to be deployed to Saudi Arabia. Indeed he was! He was on the second jet out of Myrtle Beach, leaving me 5 months pregnant, with two little boys to take care of and terrified I may never see my beloved husband again. How could the military do this?! Couldn’t they see I needed my husband? I was pregnant and had small children to care for! But we always knew this was a possibility, and Bryan proudly went. Mom came to stay with me one month prior to our baby’s birth. It was both a blessing and sadness. A blessing because mom and I had never had that chance to have that mother-daughter closeness (my older sister was a handful), and she was present for the birth of our baby (her first time seeing a baby born!). Yet, there was sadness because my terrific labor coach and father of my baby wasn’t able to be present to see our baby come into the world. That December our last child and only daughter, Samantha Rose came into the world at 0558 AM. One month later we went to war and three months later Daddy returned to meet his new baby girl. We have the most beautiful video. It still makes me cry every time I see it. Sammy squished between Bryan and me, Bryan pulling back the blanket to say “hi Samantha, I’m your Daddy.” A year later we moved on to WA State, then two years later on to Tucson AZ. I loved the military life but moving WHEW! We settled into DMAFB.
We lost my mom a few years later and nearly lost Bryan to a heart attack at the age of 39. I recall thinking as he lay in the Cardiac ICU, “he’ll be okay; I know he’ll be okay”. And he was. Two cardiac stents later and a nine day stay at the hospital, he was sent home to continue living his life.
It was at this time that I had just started school to begin my nursing career. He supported me, but sternly said “we can’t afford this, you will find a way if this is important to you.” We eventually saw our first child graduate from high school and Bryan’s career was moving along smoothly when we got the news, that it was, time again, for us to move. This time we were moving to Nellis AFB in Las Vegas. He was to man Red Flag. How exciting! Sadly, that changed as soon as we got there. He was given an assignment in the worst flight unit on the base, and the new Chief was no peach either! Within four months they went from the worst AMU (Aircraft Maintenance Unit) to the best on the flight line. Coincidence you say? No, I knew how good my husband was and smart! He worked along side the Chief and knew the guy’s job inside and out. He was eventually rewarded and was moved into a position where he was responsible for all of the aircraft maintenance on the flight line on swing shift. The bosses loved him and he loved his job. Along the way I finished two Bachelor’s degrees; one in Health Education and another in Nursing. All the while he supported me. I went back to work full-time as a nurse and we finally felt more financially secure.
As things so often happen, Bryan was enjoying his career when he suffered a minor stroke at 46 years old that left him with an eighteen-month migraine and no longer able to do the part of his job that required scheduling, details overwhelmed him and he was off work for nine months. Eventually he was forced to medically retire after a 27 year career.
In that time our second son moved back home (and eventually back out), our oldest son moved out permanently, our daughter whom had been battling an eating disorder got so sick she had to be hospitalized and placed in treatment, I lost my job as a medical-surgical nurse, and, sadly, we had to have our beloved basset hound of twelve years put to sleep. It was quite a rough year, needless to say. Eventually things did get better; our daughter improved and was released from treatment, I got another job and Bryan secured employment as a civilian contract worker on the base. Rory got engaged to a wonderful girl, Paola. Life was good. But, somehow Bryan never seemed the same after his stroke. We took fishing trips and a short vacation or two and for my birthday last year he surprised me by agreeing to take me to see the Grand Canyon for my birthday. I think it was more for him then me, but hey! I loved seeing the look of joy and his excited words as he called his parents to tell them he was standing in the Grand Canyon. A few months later we took a trip to a Malibu Marriage Encounter and followed it up with a stay at Disneyland. I tried so hard to get him to go again this year. He needed a vacation so badly. He was so tired all the time.
The best news came thru when he found out his VA claim had been approved and he was increased to 100%! I didn’t mention it before, but Bryan had other numerous health problems, one of them chronic, debilitating back pain. He had had two back surgeries that left him in constant pain and on pain killers (he broke his back in Saudi Arabia and we had no idea until it got so bad he could barely walk. He had surgery and got better, but then he was rear-ended two years after that and had further failed back surgery). His last year and a half of his life was spent trying to get off of those stupid narcotics. He hated taking them. They left him sluggish and tired. I begged Bryan to quit working. He refused. He loved working and felt it gave him purpose in life and he liked the money he made.
Our last summer together was rough. Our relationship was up and down and we were fighting to keep our marriage together. At one point he told me to leave, and I did for a few days, only to return to try and work things out. We had been married nearly 27 years at that point and I desperately wanted to save our relationship, as I was and still am deeply in love with him. Two weeks before he died we had this huge argument. He told me he wanted a divorce. I was devastated. I cried for hours. The next morning I picked up my book “The Love Dare” and I fought for my marriage harder then I ever had in my life… I did thoughtful things and he noticed. I bought him a surprise gift that I would have never bought him before, and he beamed! I was thoughtful, caring and kind to him, as he deserved.
On the day before he died I have the best and funniest memory! We were having breakfast at home from the local fast-food Mexican restaurant and he picked up the pepper on his plate, nibbled it and said “oh, this tastes pretty good.” So I pop the whole pepper in mouth and FIRE! My poor mouth! He says “drink your coffee it has milk and eat the rice”… all the while concerned. I was shocked he wasn’t laughing! Because after I felt better I rolled with laughter! It was a wonderful morning. And he had to go to work. Sigh… I said to him out of the blue “how can you stand the thought of me being with another man?” He said “I can’t!” “Why, then do you want to divorce me?” I said. “I don’t.” He then said the most wonderful words that I will never, ever forget, “I told you that night right away when I said it that I didn’t mean it, but I guess you didn’t hear me. I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you.” Tears welled up in my eyes and I gave him a great big hug and kiss and told him I felt the same way. I look back now, and I figured that it was probably good that I did not hear him. Otherwise I would not have worked so hard to save my marriage.
That night Bryan returned home at 0000 from work, immediately came to bed and told me his heart was beating fast. I listened and could tell it was fast. How fast, I did not count. He had run out of his anti-arrhythmic medication and the base satellite pharmacy mistakenly told him to come back on Monday. I instructed him on the Vagal Maneuver (he had done this in the past and it worked) he tried it, and it wasn’t working. Eventually he went downstairs to try to wait it out until he felt better. I awoke at 0120 to hear our little dog barking. I waited; she paused and started again, but louder. I got up because I knew something must be wrong. The dog was barking at Bryan. He had died in his sleep on the couch. Samantha and I tried to revive him (Sam had heard him “snoring” five minutes prior to my discovery) as did the wonderful paramedics and firemen. Rory and Paola were at the hospital when we arrived and Rory got hold of Nick to tell him to come immediately. Sadly, Bryan was pronounced after one hour of life-saving CPR at the hospital. Sam bravely came in with me and said “goodbye” to her father while we awaited the priests’ arrival to bless Bryan. He came and went, I filled out the paperwork and we all went home to figure out what to do next.
The hardest thing for me to do was to call my husband’s mother and father. I barely recall the drive home. I called her on my cell from the car and his mom answered. I had to tell her that their son had died. She kept saying “oh my God, Marianne. Oh my God.” Telling Bryan’s mom was as hard as telling our daughter “I’m sorry Sammy, your Daddy has died.”
We all got to the house, sat on the living room floor and began making plans for his memorial. I wanted it to be on Friday, September 24th, 2010, as it was our wedding anniversary. Our kids were so wonderful, yet so devastated by this overwhelming loss. The days after this day blur one into another. My sister came right away and stayed and took care of me for the next two weeks. Bryan’s family arrived Thursday night. I saw Mom for the first time that Friday at the Chapel. We grabbed one another and cried…
The service was beautiful and Rory gave the most memorable of Eulogies. The Priest did a great job and the music was beautiful. Taps and Flag-folding ceremony was exactly as I hoped. Well over one-hundred people we estimate came. Even our Best Man from our wedding! Afterwards we had a nice, laid back party to celebrate Bryan’s life. It was wonderful to see the outpour of love, good memories and we all got a little buzzed on alcohol, good food, good company and good music.
I look back and reflect over the last three months as I write this now, not wanting to forget any detail. I miss my Baby so very much. I am trying to move forward. I still cry everyday for him. Working helps, and I went back a month after he died. I was accepted in my Masters program (I applied in August) and started school already. We are yet to take Bryan’s ashes to Monterey for scattering in the ocean, but are waiting for warmer weather and better timing for the kids. Rory graduated in November with his associates IT degree and is already working on his Bachelors, Paola and him are getting married in October of this year. Sam is getting ready to start her 2nd semester in college and is working part-time. She is still struggling to understand why her Dad had to die… Nick has a new girlfriend and he is calling more often.
Christmas was nice, but we all missed having Bryan around, yet felt he was there in Spirit. Life moves forward. We had so many plans… I am starting to make my own plans. I feel so Blessed to have known and loved my Soldier and I am very proud to have known him, loved him and to have spent more than half my life with him. I look forward to the day that we meet again in Heaven. Because I know he is there, and probably having one of those long and interesting conversations with Jesus or God, asking him something like; “who killed Kennedy and why did he have to die” type questions.
I miss you desperately, deeply and longingly Baby. But I sleep well at night, knowing you have no more pain. Rest well my Love, Rest well. I love you. ~M