Well, here I go again. I'm reflecting on a year ago. I'm off by a day, but needed to do this today for several reasons.
Almost a year ago, on March 6, 2009 I wrote the following "note" on Facebook. Rereading and posting these notes this year is helping me...helping me reflect, helping me remember, and helping me heal.
A Hero's Homecoming
Thursday was the day we had all been waiting for; the day we got Schuyler back home. Nothing about the day was ordinary...the circumstances, the transportation, the crowds. It was a day I'll never forget and something I hope I'll never experience again in my lifetime.
We loaded into the cars for the drive to Moline. Being together helped...we were there for one another, as my family always is. When we got into Moline we were to stop at the McDonalds just outside of the airport to meet up with the Partiot Guard Riders. My understanding was there'd be some veterans on motorcycles that would help lead the way. When we pulled in there it seemed like a stop-over for a Surgis-bound caravan. They were there for Schuyler.
Then on to the airport. We were early and his plane was running late. The immediate family was taken into a building to wait and shield us from the press. After receiving a briefing on where the press were and how they were going to position us we went out to the tarmac. Small private planes were lined up in the space opposite where we were lined up, creating a line of planes and family that Sky's plane would taxi past. Once we were lined up we all spotted his plane making its final descent into Moline...wow...what a moment.
The plane landed and taxied to us and stopped. Once the engines were cut the family was told to move forward and line up off the left wing. The preparation here took a few minutes...I'm not really sure how much time passed. Finally the American Flag draped coffin was removed from the plane.
Reality hit us all...we were there because Schuyler is dead.
Through the tears we watch as his coffin is lowered from the plane and into the waiting white-gloved hands of the military pallbearers. Our boy is home.
The slow-motion salute makes my heart ache...why did WE lose HIM?
We get back into our cars for the drive back to Kewanee. As we drive out we pass a line of military uniformed men and women, all who hold their salutes until the last of the family cars is past them...this makes us all cry even harder.
Beyond them is the line of motorcycles...then we are on the road. After the last family car passes, the motorcycle brigade jumps on and passes our cars to take the lead. We are on our way to Kewanee.
I expected people in towns...that was not a huge surprise. However, as we made our first turn onto Route 150, I noticed cars pulled over on the roadside...we passed a semi. Then I saw her...pulled over on the side of the road was an older woman, probably in her 70's. She was sitting there alone in her car, sobbing into her hands. It was at this point that I realized the depth of the ride home and how intensely emotional it was going to be. I thought being inside the safe cocoon of our car would shield me from the grief outside. This obviously was not going to be the case.
After we passed through the towns we were met at each city limit by either fire truck(s), ambulance, police cars, or other official vehicle. The townspeople lined the streets. This I expected.
What I didn't expect is the farmhouse between towns where an entire family stands waving American flags.
What I didn't expect was the bicyclist who stopped and stood with his hand over his heart as we passed by.
What I didn't expect was looking forward to see over a hundred motorcycles and looking back and being unable to see the end of the line of cars.
As we came into Kewanee we saw the massive American flag hanging over the street for us to pass under. I think I said something about the "Hog Days" flag...then we turned the corner and there was another one.
People lined the streets...everywhere you looked you saw flags, red white and blue, people holding signs, people crying...people there to support and honor Schuyler and his family.
As we pulled up to Veteran's Park, our driver told us we could get out or we could stay in the car. It looked like the other 2 cars were unloading, so everyone in our car got out also. Once we were out of the car you got a sense of the number of people there. I could not see the end of the people, regardless of which way I looked. The KHS band started playing patriotic songs. People everywhere were crying, holding one another, and waving flags.
When the band stopped, a lone trumpeter started playing "Taps". I don't know about anyone else, but I lost it at that point. The only thing worse than that was after "Taps" when "Amazing Grace" was played on the bagpipes. I think everyone in our family lost it there...Schuyler loved bagpipes.
After that we got back into our cars for the short ride to the funeral home. The same military pallbearers were there to transport his casket from the car into the funeral home.
Finally, our soldier is home.
No longer do we wonder and wait. No longer do we worry if he'll make it back. You are now home with us for your final journey.
That evening our family gathered at John and Amy's house. We all had a drink and stood outside to watch the amazing sunset. It was a beautiful evening and a most spectacular sunset. Raise your glass to Schuyler, for it's a breathtaking night and we have our boy home.
God Speed Schuyler, We Love YOU.
Reflecting...that's what I'm doing now...reflecting on those days and weeks after his death. Remembering everyones reactions, but honing in on my Mom's. How baffling to think now that only 4 months after going through all of this together she would be gone too. I remember how anxious she was to get on a plane and get here...she was driving everyone nuts! She just wanted us all to be together and be there for John, Amy, Amber, and Seth. She knew that there is strength in numbers, and she knew that by her, Dad, and Jeff getting on a plane, our numbers would be increased by 3, and how powerful those extra 3 would be.
It really stinks that hindsight is always so clear. In the moment we so often fail to see the whole picture...to embrace the moment and suck the life out of it. Time spent with family is something that is NEVER a waste...there's never something better to do...in my opinion. I spent a lot of time with my family over the last 38 years, and will continue to do so as long as I'm able. But, even spending all that time, I still long for a few more times....a few more trips....a few more lazy afternoons at the River, grilling out, playing in the water, and helping Mom deadhead flowers in one of the gardens. I long for one more beer, around the fire pit, late....late....late at night. Just one more Aunt Lori....just another 15 minutes of talking and sharing time together.
Enjoy the moment...savor it. Pull all the happiness and joy that you possibly can out of it, because you never know when that moment is the last moment.