I am a happily married mama with three little ladies. I am a teacher, a poet, a playwright. I live on a tiny island in the Pacific Northwest and write babybythesea.net often, or at least when I'm not making espresso or sneaking chocolate.

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Parades, Memories of a Fallen Soldier

I’m the daughter of a marine, friend of fallen soldier.  For me, patriotism is politically unbiased.  As a child, my grandparents always taught me about service to country, pride in a uniform.  I believe a bit of each grandparent lives inside my heart, and I’ll always show respect to a person in uniform and teach my girls to do the same.

I dress my family in red, white and blue for the Fourth of July, try to buy locally made/USA made goods as much as possible.  I’ve even been known to make one of those cakes decorated with blueberries, cream and strawberries to resemble the flag.  Although I may prefer the 1892 version of the Pledge of Allegiance, I’ll stand with my right hand over my heart and recite it proudly, especially at a parade.

Maybe it’s the metric ton of candy thrown from parade floats, the sound of a marching band approaching, the sight of patriotic pinwheels against a blue sky but I love a good parade.

My friend, a dear friend’s husband, was killed in Iraq on Good Friday four years ago.  He died one week after my second daughter was born.

Celebrating birth and mourning loss simultaneously forever shifted my perspective in life.

Losing a soldier, a friend in Iraq, forever altered my belief in parades.

My friend died during his third tour in Iraq.  He left with dreams of returning to open a dive shop, to live far from roadside bombs and the stress of combat deployment.  Some days, I see him in the faces of scuba divers surfacing at docks in our harbor, at beaches around our island.  What he left behind has taught me to live in the moment, to picture the grand scheme of things.

It doesn’t matter if I always pick up socks around the house and throw them in the laundry, or if my husband can’t place a PBR can in the recycling.  Life is too short to have petty arguments.  It’s the important things that matter – the heart at it all.

After my soldier-friend was laid to rest, we planned an extended sailing trip around and afloat in the San Juan Islands of Washington State.  We’d been working our sweat and financially-strapped tears into our 113-year-old Victorian house.  Luke, my husband, had also been working between 60-100 hour weeks restoring power lines that fell down all the time since we lived, apparently, in the windiest island in the US.  We rarely saw each other, rarely had time to simply be.  In mind’s back we’d always say, Oh, but wait until our home is done and we’ll sell it all renovated, all perfect.  Then we’ll really be able to go somewhere. Then we’ll really have a big savings account with all that profit.

On our extended sailing trip with a newborn and a two year old, we kept sailing back to San Juan Island for groceries.  People were happy, polite and funny.  Luke fell into an interview during that vacation one morning after dock’s walk and was hired before he even returned to our slip.  Our roofer had fallen in love with our Victorian and offered to buy our home.  Not three blocks from the marina, we found our new home, happily already renovated in a different era.  Each time I look out at our harbor, I think of how we moved here, how it all came together so peacefully.

In harbor’s view I see what I learned during first visits:  life is too short for:  just wait until ______, then things will be perfect, sure I may be working all the time now but soon things will be different.

My friend’s death has profoundly marked all of our lives in ways where I could write endlessly about his character, his lovely widow and mama friend, his sweet little boy.  I don’t want to retell their story; all I have is my own family’s story and how his loss changed our lives.  The last time I was with him, before he shipped out for his third tour, we stood curbside at a Christmas parade.

My friend loved what he did, whom he surrounded himself with.  The calmness that lingers in my mind after recollecting his smile still teaches me presence, patience.

Since I last saw him at a parade, I’ll think of him each time I sit curbside at one.  I’ll tell my daughters about what it means to serve our country and what it means to wear a uniform.  I’ll tell my daughters about what a parade really means and why the American Flag looks so beautiful in our cloud-speckled Pacific Northwest sky.

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Comments (5)

  1. Mandi 06/29/2011 at 4:56 pm

    How beautiful. I’m sorry for the loss of your friend. I’ve welcomed my brother-in-law home once from Iraq, once from Afghanistan. The most recent time he came home, he didn’t come home with all his guys. I didn’t know his fellow soldiers, but I met their widowed wives and their small children and I ached beside them. I couldn’t imagine to know their pain and don’t pretend to. Last night we went to our hometown rodeo. The display of the flag and the national anthem was so overwhelming it brought me to tears. I have great respect for this country and those in uniform.

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  3. charley 06/27/2011 at 4:14 am

    Brought a tear to my eye too. The only place you can find perfection is a single moment int ime, in the present when you can appreciate it for the joy its gives you there and then. I have the same desire to bring my children up with respect for those in uniform. My brother has now left the British Army after several tours of Northern Island and a couple of stints in Iraq. I am so grateful for his safe return to his wife and kids in Florida where he now lives, and grateful for the sacrifices others like your friend have made for others. Have a very Happy 4th of July, and enjoy your parade

  4. Adrienne 06/25/2011 at 11:11 am

    teary eyed. thank you.

  5. Katie Neuman 06/25/2011 at 9:24 am

    The now is all we *really* have. I try to remind myself daily.
    I will be passing this piece on to my brother. Welcoming him home three times now has taught me a new perspective, a new gratitude and deep respect for those who serve.