Four years ago today, our world stood still for a while. Hearing a knock at the door, we opened it to two uniformed military officers; immediately we knew. ABN's son and only child had been killed while serving in the U.S. Air Force in Afghanistan. The next 24 hours were somewhat of a blur as a steady stream of friends gathered at our home while we made arrangements to meet our daughter-in-law and granddaughters in Dover to receive his body and to travel to Navarre, Florida to make funeral arrangements. With the help of the USO and Fisher House, we made it through the fog of those first 48 hours.
While waiting for his remains to arrive in Florida, friends and family came in from throughout the country. We could tell hearts were breaking for us and for his wife and children; not only in Florida but also at home. A couple of our dearest friends chose to not make the trip to Florida but to stay in our hometown and comfort ABN's father who was confined to a nursing home and could not attend his grandson's funeral. Our minister held a memorial service at the exact hour of the funeral, when we saw the video and read the notes left for us; we felt the love of our church family and our community.
We have learned so much about grief these past four years. And we have learned we have so much for which to be grateful. We, especially ABN, will often hear comments about our strength. As we reflect on the past four years, we would like to share some of the things that we feel gave us strength and allowed us to once again feel joy.
We were fortunate to begin our grief journey in good mental health. Unlike those dealing with chronic depression and anxiety, we know that when we find ourselves in sad, dark moments, it is temporary, and we can ride it out knowing that it will be better tomorrow.
We are fortunate that our family bonds are strong. Meeting other surviving parents through TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) we know that is often not the case. We have met parents who were not invited by their daughter-in-law to participate in funeral and burial arrangements and some are now estranged from their grandchildren.
ABN's son lived a full 44 years, he chose a wonderful wife that values family and he gave us two beautiful, talented granddaughters. So many of our fellow TAPS parents lost their very young sons and daughters, leaving no offspring; they do not have the privilege of seeing their child's spirit in his/her children.
ABN's son loved his work; he felt he could make a difference in the lives of the people of Afghanistan. Except for being separated from his family, we feel he was happy. Not so for so many young folks that succumbed to PTSD and drug addiction after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Through TAPS we learned the magnitude of military and post military suicides. How hard it would be to live with the knowledge that your child was so unhappy he chose to not live.
We had an abundance of support from our family, friends, church and community. Although we always valued these relationships, we did not fully appreciate them until our darkest hours.
Our faith in God was already established; through our grief it has become stronger.
As we continue on our grief journey, which we understand will never end; we have so much gratitude in our hearts, especially for our family and friends who are learning it is okay to talk about Darin. In fact we want to talk about him. Our eyes may water and you may notice a few tears; they may be because we feel a bit sad or it may be because we are feeling gratitude. We hope our tears won't keep you silent.
Being a Gold Star family, we have advantages that are not available to civilians under similar circumstances. We would be remiss if we didn't mention the ones that have helped so much during our grief journey. These are all NGO (Non-Government Organizations) supported by true patriots.
Since we have mentioned TAPS, let us start there. Tragedy AssistanceProgram for Survivors was started by a surviving widow 25 years ago. Their purpose is to bring all families who experience military loss together through grief workshops, retreats, camps for children and through online chats. In 2013 we attended a retreat for parents, many with whom we have continued to be in contact through Facebook and our travels.
Snowball Express is a four-day event for children of the fallen held every December in the Dallas/Fort Worth area made possible by the generous support of American Airlines, Niemen Marcus, the Gary Sinise Foundation, the Patriot Guards and many other organizations and volunteers. Seeing our granddaughters having a grand time while making solid friendships gives us a great deal of peace.
The Special Operations Forces are dedicated to taking care of the children of their fallen comrades. Through generous donations to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, our granddaughters will have the opportunity to attend whatever college to which they are accepted.
Our oldest granddaughter is benefiting greatly from the Gold Star Teen Adventure program. She has participated in two week long backpacking adventures on the Appalachian Trail, became a certified scuba diver last summer and has attended an all-girls retreat in Virginia (all expenses, including transportation provided by donations to GSTA.) The Special Operations Forces volunteer their time to raise money for the program and use their leadership skills to work with the teens. Through this program she is learning leadership skills, gaining self-confidence and making life-long friendships.
So, in answer to how can we be so strong after having such a devastating experience? It is because of you, dear friends and family; you and our military family that are dedicated to caring for one another. And because of the patriots throughout the country that understand our loss and demonstrate their gratitude.
This week ABN is re-reading the many notes sent to us four years ago, many are from you. When you wrote your heartfelt note, you probably knew it would give us a measure of comfort at that time. What you may not know is your messages continue to provide strength.
Since most of the readers of our blog are family and close friends, you know our Darin's story. For others that are interested, you can find links on the J.Darin Loftis Memorial Scholarship page.
Sending our love from College Station, TX to all our family and friends.