• Athena Ives

Gone but Never Forgotten

For many this Memorial Day is a break from work, a chance to hang out with loved ones, and for others an excuse to drink and throw a party. For some of us, it is an extremely painful reminder of those that never came home.

For me and others, it can bring back a significant amount of survivor’s guilt. A glimpse into why this “Holiday” doesn’t feel like a holiday and not a reason to thank people or party.

It’s evening in Fallujah, Iraq 2008 and it’s still 95 degrees as I sit and wait to call home. After hearing the worst news of my entire life (more of this story is shared in my book) I was interrupted by a female Marine I knew well. We had slept in the same tent and facilities for over a year, saw her every day, trained beside her, overheard conversations about her family, heard others talk about her behind her back, and chatted with her several times. A simple misunderstanding about phone wait time combined with the worst news of my life resulted in a verbal assault on my part. The tears in her eyes as my words ripped her to shreds haunt me.

Less than 8 hours later she breathed her last breath after a roadside bomb instantly killed her and three others I knew during a convoy. One day you can be chatting with them in the chow hall, the next you are looking at their boots, dog tags, and upside-down weapon at their memorial service. Then roll call starts. If any of you have ever sat through a military memorial service you will know the haunting silence that rips you up inside.

“LCpl Smith” the Sgt Major calls… Silence… She had a boyfriend, a mother and father she can never see again. “LCpl Jane Smith” Silence… The last thing I did was make her cry and keep her from calling home to speak with her family one last time. “LCpl Jane Marine Smith” Silence… They should be calling my name. I would trade places if I could. Let her go home instead of me. She had more to go home to. You feel angry, guilty, numb and a deep sense of responsibility for not protecting them even though you couldn’t have done anything to prevent it.

Many of you have lost loved ones. For some of you this day reminds you of your best friend dying in your arms. Others, it brings back the sound of the doorbell and that soul crushing view of the men in dress blues delivering news that rips out your heart. For some, it’s the memory of those they were in charge of that never made it home and blame themselves. Mothers, Fathers, Sisters, Brothers, Sons, Daughters, Husbands, Wives, Best Friends, Loved Ones, that will never get to see their loved one again. They will never get to hug their mother or father, feel the arms of their lover around them, knock back some beers with your best friend…

There are different ways people deal with death and Memorial Day. Some celebrate the life and focus on the good memories of their loved one. Others choose to workout in remembrance of those that no longer can. Some avoid all contact with anyone as the memories are too painful. Many find comfort in drinking with friends and sharing stories about their loved one with others. We don’t all deal with grief in the same manner. However you choose to spend your time this weekend, do so with respect and in honor of those that have given you the opportunity to live in a free country. Spend your weekend making them proud of you not wanting to come back and reprimand you.