It is amazing how the meaning of Memorial Day has changed for me through the years. I am somewhat ashamed to admit that before my sons enlisted in the Marine Corps and Army National Guard, the last Monday in May was simply a much anticipated day off work, a holiday, a week at the beach with my family, the beginning of a grand summer season. When my Austin and Randy were deployed to Iraq, Memorial Day took on a whole new context. I was terrified my sons would be one of the heroes honored on what now became a solemn and important day in my life. I was jolted into a new appreciation for this special day in May.
On September 7, 2009, Memorial Day in an instant took on yet another meaning. My son, SSG Austin Daniel, was now one of our great country’s many fallen heroes. The last Monday in May became a sad, despondent day for me. The Memorial weekend at the beach no longer meant joyous family times. Instead, Memorial Day became a day of sadness and mourning, tears and pain. How could anyone possibly display fireworks or celebrate with concerts and auto races? Didn’t they know my son was dead? I could not see past my grief to appreciate the day for what it really represented. I then had the good fortune to learn about TAPS. I slowly became involved, online at first. I next took the “giant leap” and attended a TAPS parents’ retreat. The weekend in Tampa was an incredibly positive experience. I became determined my family would attend the National Survivor Seminar in DC.
Wow! Memorial Day is finally upon us. The last Monday in May has become a day to anticipate with joy and pride. Hotel reservations were made long ago and online peer mentor training has been completed. My family is attending it’s first TAPS National Military Survivor Seminar. Even my little Anna Lee will be joining us. She is now four and old enough for Good Grief Camp. Anna Lee will have her own Good Grief Mentor. Jill will have the opportunity to meet other widows, people just like her. There aren’t many military widows in Baton Rouge My husband will have the opportunity to meet other bereaved fathers, know that he’s not unique, and learn from the experience of others.
Memorial Day has taken on yet another meaning for me. What a privilege to attend Memorial Day services at Arlington as well as the concert and festivities on the Capitol Lawn. Rather than sadness and mourning, there will be celebration. Rather than tears and pain, there will be camaraderie and healing. There will be another week of family memories and invaluable time spent together. And finally, Memorial Day has become for me a day of pride, honor and celebration. Instead of mourning Austin’s death, I will celebrate his life and service to our country.
It is with great appreciation I thank TAPS for helping me move forward in my journey of healing. And I thank Ms. Bonnie Carroll for the gift she has so graciously bestowed on grieving military families. May our fallen heroes rest in peace. God bless our wonderful United States of America.