"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." John 15:13
Last night we attended the Tennessee Marine Family (TMF) annual Gold Star Banquet. Every year families throughout the state who have lost family members in service to our country are invited to share a meal together and a program oriented towards honoring them and their loved ones' sacrifice.
I've been associated with this organization for years in various capacities, serving on the board, and other committees and projects. Unfortunately, I've had to scale back all of my outside commitments for awhile due to increased demands on my time and energy. On this night I was involved only as the guest of my boyfriend who lost his son in Iraq in 2005.
Over the years, I've looked at and edited the photos of these young heroes over and over again as I worked on various projects, slideshows and displays for TMF. As a result, I've come to know their names and faces by heart. Last night I was able to connect for the first time some of the families to the names as each name was called and the family stepped forward to receive a commemorative token. Whether their sons were lost in Vietnam or Afghanistan, I was struck by the freshness of the grief in each face. As one of our table companions, a Gold Star dad, stated "It gets better, but it never will be ok."
The keynote speaker for the evening was another Gold Star dad, and he expressed the same exact sentiment. My boyfriend says they are in "the club nobody wants to join." It felt as I looked upon the crowd that the attendees were there with mixed emotions. On one hand not wanting to miss an opportunity to honor and remember their loved ones - on the other grief-weary overwhelmed by how much it still hurts.
I'm always moved when I see communities come together to honor the fallen when they come home. But there is another side of the story - the story of the families left behind. I would like to challenge people to go a little deeper when they hear news of a fallen hero. Often you can find out something about the family and stories about the lives that were sacrificed with a simple Google search. Take time to absorb their stories, and understand how much is lost with each life. Each one matters. Their life mattered. Their families matter.
If you need a place to start, I invite you to take a look at this video featuring the family of LCpl Philip Clark, who served with my son on his first deployment to Afghanistan. My son, Adam, is in this video along with his other brothers who served with "Pheezy."