We have never met. In fact, I have never met anyone from your family face-to-face, but I've seen the pictures, read the stories, and already I feel the unimaginable void you left on this earth when you were killed in Afghanistan one year ago today.
When I was about 5 years old, I remember my mom looking at me squarely and saying, "Allyson, life is not fair" in response to my whining about not getting a toy or a Happy Meal or some such thing. And truer words have never been spoken. Life is not fair. The rich get richer, a government sends our military into a combat zone to protect their interest in oil, and a young man...newly wedded and a full life in front of him, dies on a battlefield in some remote corner of the world. Back home, a widow grieves for the love she has lost, for the life she faces without him. A mother pours over childhood photos...of birthdays and baseball games...of graduation and boot camp. She grieves for the laughter she will never again hear, the hugs she will never get, the family he'll never have.
It is not fair.
We, as a country, could never begin to thank or repay you for your sacrifice. The one where you literally laid down your life for every freedom that we take for granted. The freedom to shop 24 hours a day, to hold the hand of a loved one in public, to sing in any choir of any religion of our choosing. You got on a plane with weapon in hand and flew across the world, to a place that none of us can pronounce, and made a stand...you will not attack America, you will not bully the world, we are here to see that you understand that loud and clear. Crystal clear. And the price was your life. How can we possibly begin to repay your widow, your mom, your unit, your friends, the children you'll never have? Whatever we do will never be enough...and yet, we still must do something because not doing anything is not an option either.
I have been reading your wife's blog. Sometimes she's quiet, sometimes she's heartbroken, occasionally she's angry, but mostly she's surviving. She's taking it one day at a time and trying to give herself space and time to grieve. But she's so tender-hearted. She takes things personally and allows the voices of the judgmental access to her head...she begins to doubt her decisions, even though she is doing what is best for her and no one should be questioning that. This is her rocky, foggy road to walk and we are in no position to tell her what to pack or which turns to make. She must do this on her own and Chad, you would be so proud of her. She is still, I imagine, the fiercely independent and brave woman that you fell for and married. You picked an excellent life partner...if only that life hadn't been so short.
It is not fair.
As for Mama Bear, she has met the past year's vast and various challenges head-on, too. I cannot even begin to imagine losing a child during, irrefutably, the prime of life. I think, as a mother, you would face each day of the teenage years knowing that there is good on the other side...you just have to not kill them in the process. But I know that with you all, the good days far outweighed the bad and she is so proud to have you for a son. We are all proud of you, but she beams with it, it leaks from every pore. Her foundation, Wings for Our Troops, would make you proud. She is giving other Marines the opportunity that you had when you came home before deployment. She is bringing invaluable joy to families. Even as she grieves. The day Neal returned home from Iraq, she texted me asking for pictures. This is sadistic, I thought. Why does she want to see photos of a day that she'll never have? But her response? It brings me happiness and peace...to see a unit home safe. Where does a person find that kind of strength? Why can't they bottle and sell it?
As an observer in Katie and Tami's grieving process, I know that this anniversary is the end of so much and the beginning of some, too. The "firsts" are over, but that does not at all mean the sadness is gone. And I know that you would do anything to keep those tears from falling. You were just that kind of guy. But they will fall and that's OK. You are loved, you are missed, and sometime you just have to sit down and cry about it.
As a nation, we salute you today. We break out our orange (uh...you did see that UK vs UT game last Saturday, right?? First time we cleaned your clocks since 1984! BOO-YAH!) and we pray for your wife, your family, your friends, and above all, your unit...who stood beside you during those last inches. Because life is all about inches...
Cpl. Chad Wade