It has been a long two weeks. The week of Thanksgiving was (I have been sitting here for 20 minutes struggling to find the right adjective - writer's block, I guess - or maybe there just isn't an adjective) well, it was atypical. Really nice but atypical sums it up. The first part of the week all the children went to Wichita Falls to be with their grandparents, Anthony with his grandparents and the rest of the kids with Troy's mom and dad. Jim had meetings in DC and I tagged along with him. As we landed at Reagan National Airport I recounted to Jim the trip from Phoenix to DC for Troy's burial. Short of a plane crash (and that would have been a welcome relief at the time) it was the single worst travel experience imaginable. We were headed to bury a beloved husband and daddy, across the nation, with 5 kids who had the stomach flu. The twins were 9 months old and were none too happy to travel almost six hours on a airplane. Only Boston truly understood the brevity of where we were headed. I remember the flight back being equally horrible. I hand carried the folded flag in the beautiful triangular wooden box and felt oddly unlike any other passenger as I stowed it away in the overhead compartment with everyone else's carry-ons. My carry-on was attached to my heart with mighty heartstrings. When your heart lives outside of your body and is intricately tied to someone else's; those are heartstrings.
The airline had messed up our seating and though ten of us were traveling together and over half of them children they didn't have our seats together and wouldn't do much to mend the situation. I remember Amy asking a man if he could move for us and he said no, he didn't want to give up his window seat. Lord help me if I ever became the kind of person who sees a forlorn, tear-streaked woman holding an Arlington National Cemetery triangular box and two crying babies and won't give up my seat with the view.
Needless to say, this trip to DC was so much better. I got to introduce Jim to more of my dear dear friends, had a nice evening with and chance to get to know Nic and Kate a little more, visited Troy's last and most well-respected mentor and family friend, General Rand and on the last day visited Troy's grave in Arlington. I realized that I have such strong connections to our nation's capital. Connections on a level and in a way I never imagined when I went there for the first time when I was junior in high school on an American history trip. Arlington National Cemetery was a tourist attraction not where people's hopes died, dreams ended and futures were buried. There are acres of heroes. Rolling green hills dotted with white. Red, white and blue flags. Horses pulling their load. Big black wheels holding up the carriages. Carriages holding the coffins of the ones we love. Cannons go off in the distance. That's the sound of someone else's world turning upside down. I am so sorry for them. I looked out over the hills and told Jim I wondered how many lives were connected to all those graves. I envisioned one of those maps of the world with yarn connecting little red pinheads. Over our nation's history I bet if you started at Arlington there would be a thread linked to almost every place on earth. Someone knows someone who knows someone.... You just pray it's never your someone. If it is, those threads become heartstrings instead.
As Jim and I walked the getting-more-familiar path to Troy's grave I was in awe, once again, of the place's vast and somber beauty. It is a dignified place but one I only planned to see as a tourist. I knelt at his grave and set the flowers down. Little red roses. Jim and I went to the store to pick out flowers early that morning. He doesn't struggle with type of flowers to put on Andrea's grave. Women adore all flowers given by the man who loves them. I feel like I should leave a hunting license or ski lift tickets. I don't know. Just something instead of flowers. But someone would think I was crazy so I bought flowers. Troy liked to send me red roses. They weren't my favorite but they were his so I thought he would think have appreciated the gesture.
As I knelt, Jim took some photos. There I was in between my two lives. No wonder I don't sleep so well at night. Sometimes it's all a little more than one mind can absorb. I walked past other graves of soldiers whose wives I have met, emailed or talked to. What an odd type of neighborhood. Praise God the grave is not the end. Though my soul was heavy, I left there with hope that I will see Troy again and he is the happiest he's ever been.
Jim and I traveled on the metro to visit the cemetery. He and Andrea were stationed at the Pentagon so he knows his way around well. It was nice to let him lead me. He carried the roses. He found me a seat. It was a freezing cold morning. The train was warm and sitting next to Jim was comfortable and safe. I never wanted to get off and face the cold wind nor the harsh realities of life as a VIP pass-carrying member of Arlington National Cemetery. But isn't that just what God wants us to do? Get off the train. Face the cold. Hold His hand. Test the strength of our faith. But we have to get off the train first. That's the scary part. You know that cold northern wind is going to sting your face and chill your bones. During our visit, I spoke at "DC Amy's" (I have so many friends named Amy their prefix has to be regional :)) Bible Study. I told the women my story and that in their lives hard times will come. God will ask us to face something painful. It is inevitable. But at least, if we trust and we believe, we do not step out alone.
We left DC after the stop at Arlington and flew to Dallas to meet up with the kids in Wichita Falls. There we were. Thanksgiving Day, Jim’s first Thanksgiving without Andrea AND the 2 year anniversary of Troy's death. All rolled into one day. I am glad that doesn't happen every year. We all shed tears. Jim, me, Troy's family, Andrea's family. All of us. (Remember Troy's parents and Andrea's parents live 10 minutes apart - another way the Lord orchestrated this whole beautiful mess). We split our time between families. Jim and I laughed that there probably weren't too many other couples in the world who were spending their Thanksgiving with their late spouse's families. As I said in my Christmas letter, there isn't a manual for most of what Jim and I do. We stumbled though the day, holding onto our memories of Thanksgivings past and creating memories of Thanksgiving future. I cut out red construction paper hearts and we all wrote notes to Troy and tied them onto balloon strings. We and Troy's family drove out to the lake, set them free and ate brownies his mom made. Brownies were Troy's favorite dessert. Even though we were all stuffed from Thanksgiving dinner, we managed to eat one for him. We watched the balloons tied with literal hearts on strings disappear into the blue sky. We told the kids we were watching to see whose would reach him first. Afterwards Jim, Anthony and the boys raced each other up a nearby somewhat steep hill. I thought that pretty well represented us; no matter what day of the year it was, we're still climbing. Greyson (who would be embarrassed if he knew I told you) didn't think he could climb it and once he reached the top cried because he was too afraid to go down. That, at times, sums us up as well. Sometimes, after working so hard to climb the mountain, it is scary looking down and knowing you have to work some more to get to your desired location. Especially knowing you can fall and get hurt or you're just plain pooped from getting there. I feel a little of that now, as I still have the hard work of being a godly wife and mother. Still need to do the Lord's work, housework (no Jim, those aren't the same thing!) and general living in a fallen world with a little less strength than you had before. Hopefully with a lot more faith but a little less strength. I have been questioning my trust in the Lord. Do I have enough faith to wade through the sleeplessness, the anxiety, the responsibility, the demands, the grief, the awful dry eyes from my PRK surgery, etc... and still have the kind of perseverance and testimony that I know He is asking me to have? I know that even when my faith shrinks at times, His faithfulness and power are still as big as always.
As we all separately walked back to the cars after the balloons, brownies and boy hike, I noticed Jim walking in the middle Troy's mom and dad. His arms were around them and theirs around him. I spoke to Troy's mom earlier that morning and told her Jim understood if they day was too painful and it would help if he stayed back with Andrea's family. She said no, she genuinely wanted him there. And as they walked arms linked together, I knew she really meant it. No man could ever take her son's place but they are thankful Jim is such a good good man with a heart to love their grandchildren and take over where their son left off. Troy's sister walked ahead, pregnant with twin boys after years upon years of infertility. The kids were all laughing and running and heading to the playground. This was all a miracle to me, no doubt about it.
I am also thankful to each of you who remembered me on that day. I think one of the most special messages was one from my friend Aimee. She sent me a text just to let me know she loved me and then she told me simply “We will NEVER forget.” Thank you Aimee. That’s something I will always be thankful for.