Manuscript Corrections

Page 56, first sentence: Change ‘Spring’ to ‘Springtown’…was from [Springtown] Texas, not too far north of Cleburne where Bryan had been born and raised.

 

 

Page 57, third paragraph: Rewrite

After his graduation, Bryan was stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington [where he was assigned to the 24th Infantry Division, Deuce-Four, before his first deployment to Iraq in 2004.]

 

 

Page 59: Fifth paragraph, fourth sentence: Rewrite

Bryan was assigned to the [4th Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment for his second deployment to Iraq.]

 

Page 164, 4th paragraph, first sentence:  Add comma after ‘Dallas’ delete ‘and’

As Beth and I were leaving Snowball Express in Dallas[, and] I noticed a police cruiser following closely behind me.

 

Page 169, Block with the names of the fallen, last line ‘Falukner’ should be spelled ‘Faulkner’

Private First Class Jeremy P. [Faulkner,] 23 years old, of Griffin, Georgia.

My apologies for the errors. Terry A. Burgess Aug. 6, 2019

The Forever Rose

One of my mom’s treasures was a “Forever Rose.” It was a real rose encased in a fluid-filled globe which sat on a gilded metal base which in turn sat on the coffee table in the living room of our little farm house near Clyde, Texas.

While “helping” my mother clean house, I somehow dropped and shattered the globe, spilling the water and the rose all over the coffee table and the living room floor.

My mother cried. I felt horrible. In an instant I had destroyed the thing that my mother obviously loved so very much.

I was eight years old.

 

The “Forever Rose” was gone. In its place was a thorn of guilt that constantly pricked at my heart; even into adult-hood.

 

Many, many years later while helping my sister-in-law move, I discovered a “Forever Rose” in a box in their garage. The rose had deteriorated so badly that it was nothing more than black specks floating in murky water. So much for “Forever.”

 

The globe was intact and still sat on a base that was tarnished and rusted. Looking at the forgotten, disused, decayed object in my hands, I flashed back to that day when I had destroyed my mother’s precious decoration. Guilt, as old and blackened as the rose in my hands, resurfaced.

 

I asked if I could have the rose, and with one look at the horrid thing I was holding was told to please take it.

 

I cleaned out the old water and rose bits, polished the glass globe and cleaned, scraped and polished the metal base until my fingers bled, and went shopping for the perfect rose to place inside the globe. When I was done restoring the “Forever Rose” I lovingly placed it in a beautiful gift box, wrapped the box with some glittery paper, ribbon, and bows, and then on Mom’s 63rd Birthday I proudly gave her the restored “Forever Rose.”

 

As she unwrapped the gift, I could feel the decades of guilt that I had carried peeling away like the glittery paper from the gift box. I just knew mom would cry when she saw the rose, but these would be tears of joy and forgiveness!

 

I held my breath as mom lovingly lifted the replacement “Forever Rose” from the box and gazed at the perfect rose inside the perfectly polished glass globe.

 

“This is pretty!” was all she said.

 

“Mom,” I said, a little disappointed that there weren’t gushing tears of gratefulness. “Remember out at the farm when I was helping you clean house and I accidentally broke your “Forever Rose?””

“No,” she answered, way too truthfully.

 

With just a little bit of incredulity I recounted the entire event; the tears, the wailing and gnashing of teeth which accounted for the decades of guilt I had carried with me until the glorious day I discovered the replacement “Forever Rose” in my sister’s-in-law garage. I explained the detailed cleaning process of the globe and the base. I depicted the nail-biting during the exhaustive hunt for the perfect replacement rose, and then impatiently waiting until her birthday to give her this symbol of love which bore my own blood, sweat, and tears.

 

“Well, you did a good job! It’s very pretty! Thank you!”

Some things are forever. Some things are not.

 

I had been carrying that guilt and regret for decades. My gift of restitution was completely unrecognized by the person whom I had deeply hurt. My hurt returned, along with the realization that mom had long ago forgiven and forgotten my accidental transgression. It was a lesson to me of not only letting go of offenses, but also the importance of letting the offender know that they are unconditionally loved.

 

Some things are forever.

 

The “Forever Rose” that I restored now sits on a shelf in our living room beside mom’s photo and her urn. They are both reminders that nothing, except love, truly is “Forever.”

Out of gas

“Some things broke can’t be fixed,” Kaylee told Mal. She was holding a crappy, broken catalyzer in her hands. Their ship, Serenity, was dead without the simple, single part. They would all die without Serenity. Kaylee’s job was to fix the ship. There was no one else to call.

Beth is an analyst. Her entire job is testing computer systems to see what can be broken and then she and her team set about fixing the problem, no matter how large.
When Bryan died on March 29, 2011, both of our hearts, along with dozens – if not hundreds – of other hearts were broken in an instant. Beth could not fix it.

“All the King’s horses and all the King’s men…”
Some things broke can’t be fixed.
Real life doesn’t allow the players to solve a life-or-death issue in a one-hour episode. Bryan’s heart stopped. Ours broke, but kept on beating. That muscle kept right on pumping even though the arteries in Bryan’s body were running dry. Ours keeps on beating even though we wish that single, simple part would just stop.
“How are you even speaking right now?” Brent Jacobs whispered to Bryan on that blood-soaked mountainside in Afghanistan. Bryan’s life ebbed away. Brent was a medic. His job was to fix broken bodies.
Some things broke can’t be fixed.
Bryan visited me in a dream that morning. He couldn’t speak. (The living have been unable to tell me if the dead cannot -or, are not allowed to – speak.)
Near the end of the dream, or vision, or visitation, Bryan glowed with such a white-hot intensity that (even in the dream world) I had to look away. When I could see again, Bryan was gone.
Not even five minutes later, Tiffany told me over the phone he was gone. I told her over and over that I had just seen him.
Our world – our life – was broken. Bryan’s life, lived shortly though fully, was broken.
Some things broke can’t be fixed.
I would have traded every single drop of my blood for Bryan’s seeping through Brent’s fingers, soaking into that mountainside.
Instead, Bryan’s family (and by family, I mean everyone that loved him) have taken that broken moment and turned it into a living, beating organism of honor. Even though we all felt like we had simply run out of gas, we got out of bed each morning, we ate, we worked, we performed our simple daily tasks, and we shared Bryan’s story.

Life goes on, as painful as it feels. The world keeps turning. The sun keeps rising. The seasons change.

Broken hearts keep beating.

Broken hearts keep beating.

No one can fix a broken heart. Wise people refrain from telling us that “it will get better.” We refrain from punching unwise people in the throat. We do what we can to not only share Bryan’s story, but to share every grieving parents’ story.

If and when you feel like you’ve “run out of gas,” put your hand over your heart and call me. I can spare a few gallons.

Stormy Outlook

 

 

We conduct our annual Gold Star Parent’s retreats on the beautiful Lone Oak Ranch property just outside of Gainesville, Texas.

It’s a three-day retreat starting on Friday afternoon and ending Sunday morning. This year, the retreat coincided with the Medal of Honor Host City parade downtown Gainesville, and we were excited that we had an entry in the parade. The weather had other plans.

Like, when you have your life planned out, maybe even if it’s just the next few weeks, and suddenly the rug is yanked out from under you.

After the death of a son or daughter, life takes on a stormy outlook. You might as well be carrying the weight of the world straight into a tornado. It doesn’t look good.

When the Texas weather destroyed any plan for the annual Medal of Honor Parade, we were thrown a curve-ball of how to entertain and engage our guests on Saturday morning.

We wound up sitting on the less windy side of the main hall building, smoking cigars, having some drinks, and just talking. And I don’t mean chatter about the weather, sports, politics or any of that. We TALKED. As the moms and dads shared stories about life after their sons and daughters were taken from them, several connections were made; connections about where they had served, what units they had been in, and where all they had traveled and what they had accomplished in their short lives.

The rain continued coming down, the wind had a chill to it, but on that wooden porch on the west side of the building, you could feel warmth. You could actually feel a few of the storm clouds that had darkened some hearts lifting, letting in a little bit of light. Sure, there were a few tears, but that came from letting a little bit of the load rest on someone else’s shoulders for a while.

One of our moms gave a talk about how the ancient Romans saw rain as a blessing.

The Texas landscape was certainly blessed by the downpour that Saturday morning, and we were all blessed by the downpour of love each of us shared on that porch. And when the sun finally came out Sunday morning making the cloudy day lighter as we were all saying our farewells, you could see by the smiles that our loads had become a little lighter, too.

You can’t plan something like that.

Grief is not like a pie.

We were watching the show ‘Tin Star’ and one of the episodes dealt with the tragic murder of one of the character’s daughter. The make-believe tribe of Ammonites on the show gathered together at the grieving mother’s house, filling the dining room table with casseroles and pies, saying prayers, reading some scriptures, and then they proclaimed that the mother was now “absolved from her grief.” The mother was told she was no longer allowed to grieve in public since her time of grieving for her daughter was “over.”

One of the writers for that show must have experienced a devastating loss and had someone tell them it was time to move on; that they had grieved enough. There is no way a parent can ever grieve enough for their child, and there is certainly no way a parent can ever be absolved of their grief.

Grief is not like a pie.

You can’t slice it up, serve it up, swallow it, and then wash the pan and put it away. You can’t brush away the crumbs and you certainly cannot wash out any stains. Grief, especially grief over the loss of your son or daughter, is a stain on your heart and soul forever. Crumbs of memories are everywhere. You can’t sweep them away, and you surely do not even want to.

Your best friends and family will share the pie with you, but they get to put their dishes in the sink and walk away. They can digest their piece. A parent will carry that lump of indigestible grief in their stomach for the rest of their life.

Grief is bitter. It sours your stomach. It can make you want to starve yourself, throw dishes, say horrible things to the ‘Well-Wishers,’ and isolate yourself from the rest of the world forever.

No, grief is not like a pie. Whether that life was cut way too short, or extended through adulthood, your child is still, and always will be, your child.

Please, don’t ever think that there is something wrong with you when your grief overwhelms you; whether it is after eight months or eight years. Grief is a form of love and will be just as strong as the love you feel for your child. Nothing in the world is stronger than love, and there is nothing in the world that can ever absolve that.

If you are reading this, and you are fortunate enough to have never lost a child, some of what I’ve said won’t make a lick of sense. But, if you do know someone that has suffered the loss of a son or daughter, your love, your support, and your understanding will be appreciated and cherished way more than any baked good.

The Flag Line

Joining the North Texas Patriot Guard Riders was not an easy choice for me, but it was a completely logical one. As Bryan’s family departed the little white chapel where his memorial service had been conducted, we were led off base at Fort Campbell by the Patriot Guard Riders. The procession was headed to the Clarksville funeral home for Bryan’s viewing.

The line of Patriot Guard motorcycles extended further than I could see down the highway.

Even though we were in an obvious funeral procession, there was one driver that tried to cut into the procession to get on the highway. One of the Riders cut her off, jumped off his bike and proceeded to explain to her – vehemently – that this was a military funeral procession. We found out later that his actions were a bit out of the usual procedure for the Riders and that he should have let the local police handle the situation. But it spoke to me of the passion the Riders have for their mission and especially for the Fallen and their families.

We arrived at the Clarksville funeral home, exited our limousines, and made our way to the front doors. Entering that building seemed to me to be the end of everything that I had ever taken for granted.

Bryan’s body lay at rest somewhere in there, along with any future hope of looking into his eyes, hugging him, wishing him Happy Birthday or Merry Christmas, watching him play with his kids, or simply sitting on a couch watching a movie with him. I would never again see him eagerly biting into a Whataburger, hear his distinctive laugh, or feel the touch of his hand.

My ‘normal’ was gone.

So, I didn’t go into the building. I just stood on the sidewalk and watched as people slowly climbed the steps into the funeral home. The feelings of sorrow and grief were coming off everyone so thick it was almost visible. That’s when I saw the Patriot Guard Flag Line. Easily two dozen Riders, standing tall and silent, each of them holding an American Flag ramrod straight, lining the sidewalk on either side of the funeral home all the way out to the street. Their bikes were all parked beside the building, side-by-side, gleaming in the mid-morning sun. It was so quiet right then that I could hear the motorcycle exhaust pipes pinging.

I walked to the end of the sidewalk on my right, stuck out my hand to the Rider standing there, shook his hand and told him in a voice that came out a little cracked, “Thank you for doing this.”

The Rider grasped my hand tightly and simply nodded.

I went down the entire Flag Line, shaking each Rider’s hand, getting a firm handshake or a hug back. There were men and women in the line, each of them wearing sunglasses, but I could still see a tear rolling down a cheek here and there.

Beth came outside then, took my hand, and I reluctantly went into the Funeral Home.

A week earlier at Bryan’s Dignified Transfer at Dover Air Force Base, Tiffany had told me that Bryan had left me his motorcycle. That bike was just one of the many regrets I would suffer in the coming days, months, and years. During my last visit with Bryan and Tiffany, he had asked me if I knew anything about motorcycle engines because he couldn’t get his bike started. I told him I only knew how to check the plugs, etc., but that we could take the bike to the local shop to get it tuned up for him. It was, after all, his birthday week and I wanted to do something special for him. He declined, saying we didn’t have much time that week and he wanted to spend it doing other things. So we covered the bike and let it sit.

Now, that bike was in my possession. I didn’t ride at the time, but it hurt me so bad to just see it sitting in the garage, unused. We called our local bike shop, had them come pick it up and give it a good tune-up stem to stern. I signed up for a motorcycle safety course in Burleson, passed the class, got my license and began riding Bryan’s bike.

With the encouragement from a good friend of ours, “Weasel,” who was a member of the North Texas Patriot Guard Riders, I joined the PGR and went on my first mission on January 29, 2015. The mission was for a World War II veteran, John S. Hart in Mansfield, Texas. I met a PGR couple there who would become my mentors and wonderful friends, Randy and Niki Smith. With much patience and respect, Randy “showed me the ropes” of standing a PGR Flag Line.

I nervously took my place in the Flag Line, gripping the flag pole so tightly in my left hand that my knuckles went white.

I thought right then that I had come full circle. I was one of the PGR. I was a Patriot Guard Rider and I was standing ‘Tall and Silent’ for a Fallen Warrior.

The Hart family began exiting the funeral home, and a few of them stopped and shook hands with the PGR. A woman stopped right in front of me, took my right hand and said, “Thank you for doing this.” I couldn’t even respond. She had spoken my words of four years ago right back to me. I had come full-circle indeed.

I was wearing sunglasses, and I removed them to wipe away the tears in my eyes. Another PGR member, Rick Crabb, who would become as close as family to us put his hand on my shoulder and whispered to me, ‘And that’s why we all wear sunglasses.’

I participated in many other PGR missions, each one of them cutting a little deeper into my heart and soul, but I’ll never forget that first Flag Line I saw standing for Bryan, or my first Flag Line I stood because of Bryan.

“Standing for Those Who Stood for Us.” – Patriot Guard Riders