The Best of Family in the Worst of Times
Though many might argue that nothing I write is particularly funny, I can assure that this post, in particular, will not be funny. I’ve hesitated to even write it, but I’ve had one of those experiences that shakes you to the core. The kind of experience that forces you to consider your own actions. The kind that brings us great perspective about what is truly important and what really matters. The kind that…Have I lost you already?
Four months ago, the brother-in-law of one of my closest friends (I’ll call my friend Steve and the brother-in-law Craig for the purposes of this posting) was killed in a military training exercise. I didn’t know Craig particularly well, but I had met him a few times, most recently a year ago when he officiated Steve’s wedding.
Craig was, by all accounts, an amazing guy. Patriotic soldier. Committed husband. Accomplished carpenter. And…unbelievable dad. Yes, Craig and his wife (let’s call her Leslie) had three kids – all of whom were under the age of four when his helicopter crashed – the youngest, basically a newborn. In the short time that I spent with him, it was easy to understand why, despite his youth, Craig was such a trusted leader – of military men and women, in the community and in his Church. I’m sure he wasn’t perfect (who is?), but he was much closer than most.
Last weekend, I spent a few hours with Steve, Leslie, their sister (Amy) and the kids – the sweet, innocent kids who lost their dad before they even got a chance to know him. Frankly, I could barely look at the kids without crying. I was welling up as Steve’s mom told the story that the oldest son had recently asked if he could tell a favorite memory about his dad before saying his prayers and going to be each night.
I couldn’t help but look at the two older boys (ages 3.5 and 2) without thinking of K-Man. Perhaps that’s selfish, but isn’t that part of the takeaway? To appreciate what we have when faced with the horrors of what life looks like when we don’t. But that’s not what struck me the hardest.
As I sat with Amy and talked about the last four months and the kids, I was blown away by the strength of this family. The closest I had ever seen Steve come to holding a baby was when he put his arm around one of his young girlfriends, but here he was in the pool – splashing around and teaching his younger nephew to swim. I sat in awe as he played with the two boys as if they were his own, which is now not so far from the truth. I was amazed at how he had stepped up.
Amy was equally amazed. She said this tragedy had, in her eyes, “Made Steve human for the first time.” Not to be outdone, Amy moved into Leslie’s house to help care for the kids fulltime. Amy, Leslie and Steve’s parents were constantly available at a moment’s notice.
And Leslie? Well, she’s just a rock. Craig had done an amazing job of preparing her for the worst. Nobody ever expects the worst to happen, but it did. It’s not as though she just stood up and dusted herself off, but she recognizes the real mission is the proper upbringing of her three little ones. Watching her interact with those kids was something to behold. They share a special bond that no family should have to share. Yet, they have it. They know it. The way they interact with one another shows it. They are all taking care of each other in a manner that, perhaps, can only be understood with this kind of tragedy. I was simply amazed at the parenting that was happening. The gentle way difficult situations were handled.
I know none of this should be surprising, right? I mean isn’t this to be expected? Wouldn’t everyone’s family step up like this? I don’t know. We like to think so. Thank God, we aren’t faced with this often in our everyday lives. I know it goes on all over the world – especially during these times of war. But, to see it, to witness this firsthand…I don’t have the words.
I’ve long said that perspective is so easy to find and yet, so difficult to keep. Even Steve said that each and every time he comes to the house, which is four or five times a week, he is hit with this reality. He wants to be better…for Craig. Then, five seconds after he leaves the house, someone cuts him off, or he gets a call from the office and the lessons learned are long gone. Instantly.
As I sat there and watched the kids, Steve, Leslie and Amy, I was so deeply struck by my own reality. I thought of K-Man and G. I thought of myself. We have our health. We have each other. I can’t imagine it any other way.
It’s been four days since the few hours I spent with this family. The images haven’t left me. I think that’s a good thing. I know I need to make myself, proud. I know I need to make my wife proud. And my son proud. But, right now…I have this deep, burning desire…to make Craig proud. Rest in peace, man. Your family is in the very best of hands. Thank you…for reminding me what I should be, what I can be…and what I will be.