Cartier: How do you say ‘goodbye’ to someone who sacrificed so much? (column)
October 22, 2017
Friends are often left speechless at a funeral because they know there is nothing they can say that will relieve the pain; all they can do is express condolences and be there for support. It is far more difficult for someone who does not personally know the family to share their sorrow in a way that comes across as genuine.
This week, there has been controversy about what one says to a grieving widow, especially when you are not personally acquainted with the family. How do you awkwardly express condolences and sound sincere?
As Commander in Chief, the death of any soldier hits a president hard, yet they won't typically call the surviving families because it is difficult to express the depth of a nation's sadness and appreciation of the ultimate sacrifice that has been given by both the deceased and their surviving families. Nothing said will alleviate the grief of those left behind, so rather than risk their words being insufficient, most presidents will send a letter instead. President Donald Trump felt that wasn't enough.
A life has been extinguished, along with their dreams. Families plan wonderful futures together — it's years in the making, filled with laughter, challenge, its share of disappointment but also successes — and the plans, the many, many plans.
It's a calling. "To whom much is given is much required" (Luke 12:48), and regardless of how little they have, they know that there are others with substantially less. People around the world are suffering, and there is a passion, almost a need to protect the vulnerable. There is danger, certainly, but there is also gratitude, for their life, their country, their family and a strong desire to make those things possible for others.
This sense of gratitude, combined with patriotism, has taken them to foreign lands. These are not the places you dreamed of together, filled with hot lattes, great food, warm beaches, incredible sights and amazing new experiences. No, these areas are filled with gunfire, bombs and pain in places where many chant, "kill the Americans," while aiming straight at the love of your life.
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You are told not to worry, yet you worry when they leave the house without their jacket. You know they are driven to go; something deep inside has guided them to this point, and they have chosen to run toward danger, rather than away. They instinctively understand that if they don't go, who will? Someone must sacrifice so that the next generation won't have to.
A military life has its rewards. It connects you to those you might otherwise never meet. The farmer teams up with the urban kid, the wealthy with the poor, techies with artists, leaders with beginners, people who might have never mingled together become best friends over the common values of service, sacrifice, pride and dedication and are forever connected by mission, purpose and newly established experiences.
This bond is rarely found elsewhere and is quite different than the one with loved ones but equally important because these are people who have "got your six"; they'll give their life for you and you are eternally grateful, even if they do snore at night and have weird eating or hygiene habits.
They train together, eat, sleep and live within a few feet of each other, and soon discover the subtle cues of communication that you wished existed between you and your spouse (it would have saved many a Friday night). The more intense the experience, the closer the bond. How do you reconcile the fact that these distant strangers may become as important to your loved one as you are?
This week, Gen. John Kelly addressed a controversy over Trump's phone call to a fallen soldier's widow. What was a heartfelt moment between the Commander in Chief and the family of a national hero was inappropriately politicized.
The truth is that no words can ever possibly console a family member on their loss. To have someone say that they were exactly where they wanted to be, with exactly the people they wanted to be with, when their life was taken can seem harsh and insensitive, yet also accurate. Their team had become family, too. If they couldn't be back home, then living their last moments, fulfilling their passion, with people who cared so much for them that they'd have given their own lives in his place, was a choice they felt worth the price.
We all grieve for the loss of this incredible soldier, whose selfless actions saved lives, even at the expense of his own. Myeshia Johnson, please accept our nation's sincerest condolences at the loss of your amazing husband, Sgt. La David T. Johnson. May he rest in peace.
Jacqueline Cartier, of Avon, is a political and corporate consultant in Colorado and Washington, D.C. For further information, visit http://www.cartierwinningimages.com. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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