Sunday marks three years since we lost Chris in Afghanistan and became a Gold Star Family. Those years have passed with challenges, triumphs, changes and new expectations. We look at the pictures we have and remember the smile, his eyes and his love and friendship. We treasure the time and the love we share with Amanda(and Jeremy) and Nate and Meredith. California and Belgium are both wonderful places. We will always miss Chris but the memories we love are stronger than ever.
A recent opportunity to help out with the Travis Mannion Foundation (@TMFoundation.com) helped me develop additional perspective on the last three years. Speaking about “hope” as a leadership trait with the young men in a “If not me, then who?” leadership program at St. Joe’s Prep in Philly, Chris’ home for college and a favorite place for him, provided me critical questions about me and my life.
“How did your life change after Chris was killed?”
I had to pause and consider the before and after. Most people would not be brave enough to ask this and I do not think I ever put it into words. Our discussion focused on that while some of my expectations and hopes of the future were lost, my overall life has remained stable. We came to the conclusion that integrity is a critical life trait that can support you through a crisis.
“What was your life like while Chris was deployed? How did you deal with knowing the possibilities?”
I am an engineer. I dealt with the statistics. I was optimistic, positive and confident – about 1 in 20 is killed, less for officers(prior Navy EOD officer – 1994, – I had data that gave me the hope and expectation of him coming home. It was not to be.
That said, we valued each interaction with him while deployed. We lived life the way we would if he were not deployed (mostly). Chris had the expectation he would come back to celebrate his sister, Meredith’s wedding and grow in his relationship with Amanda. He was booking rooms and tuxes from a dirt hole in Afghanistan. If that is not living life in the present, I am not sure what is.
“Knowing what you know now, what would you change?”
This was the easiest, … and the hardest question to answer. Hardest because I would love to pick something that would put him back here with all of us. But that cannot be done. I cannot pick and choose what to change. If I changed that one thing, would he have been happy? Would he still have been my friend as well as my son? What other things would have changed and possibly created other deeper problems?
Sunday, April 26, I will find myself thinking of him as I do every day. I will probably go for a solo bike ride and be at peace with where I am today. I will come home and have a beer for Chris. I will more actively pursue the “If not me, then who?” motto and add the as important “If not now, then when?” piece.
Less than 1% of all Americans serve in our military with about 10% on foreign soil and about 20% of those in dangerous places. About 15,000 are in Iraq and Afghanistan and 10,000 are sitting in ships off the coast of Yemen. Please remember these warriors in your thoughts and prayers. Support their families.For those, like us, who have lost someone or had a loved one return with severe injuries, find the right organization to support. http://www.travismanion.org/ http://www.eodwarriorfoundation.org/ http://www.taps.org/