Monday, October 24, 2011
As I said before - I'm mainly writing this for myself. It's the first time I've really tried to put things in order as the whole first month seemed just a blur.
During this time - my mom was still here, Terri (Bre's best friend had flown in and was staying), Matt (one of Mike's best of friends and Terri's former boyfriend) was staying, Rob had flown in for the funeral and the burial. And I may have the next two ceremonies mixed up as Rob wasn't here for the big memorial but was here for the burial. I'll have to check and then may come back here and correct, or if I don't have the emotional energy it'll just be wrong. It's my blog dammit, it's not like I'm going to be fact checked.
So the Memorial for all 31 in Virginia Beach was originally going to be held on base but it was so big they moved it to the convention center in Virginia Beach. We were gathered up by our CACO's, which I think a little bit of Stockholm Syndrome goes on with CACO's - they deliver the worst news of a persons life but within a week you've learned to rely on them to the point of feeling like they are family - Anyway, we were taken to the base. Bre by this time was on autodrive. But when the buses that were taking us to the convention center pulled up everyone laughed. In big blue letters "Fun Tours" was written on the side of each bus. Mike would have gotten a kick out of it. It was about a 15 minute trip and when we turned that last corner a sea of white lined the road. Sailor after sailor was standing at attention as our bus went by. We all got quiet and I couldn't help but let the tears flow. One young female soldies standing there was crying so hard her shoulders were shaking, I'll never know her name but I'll never forget her face.
We were lead in to where those not related were already sitting. All watching as we walked by to take our seats. A large picture of each one was lined up on the stage along with there medal shadowbox - Bre sobbed upon seeing Mike's picture as I'm sure every widow that day sobbed. There was a bomb dog and his handler on the helicopter. The Memorial included the dog and of course his handler. The Commander of the Navy spoke quite eloquently - the best thing he said was " he imagined it went something like this - there was a bright light, then everyone looked around - someone said "what the fuck", someone else said "where the hell are we" and then someone said "who the hell is in charge here and I want to see them". It was a nice mental image and kind of reassuring to think of them altogether. Because I can tell you that even if Mike had known how the night would end he would have still gone with his teammates. Bre on the other hand would have paid someone to run over both of Mike's legs to keep him from this deployment had she known. I personally would trade spots with him in a heartbeat if I could.
Arlington - I actually think this came before the memorial. But we were planning the trip to Arlington - we had a few choices of transportation to choose from - the Navy was chartering some buses, drive ourselves, or a couple of people that was going up offered seats. The problem was that Irene was coming in. So our plan was to drive up Thursday night and then drive back Friday after the service. But then there was the issue of Schmayze - Bre's 95lb Rhodesian Ridgeback. There was no way she was leaving him behind with Irene coming. My mom offered to stay back with Schmayze but I didn't want her staying in a hurricane. So we chose to take two cars. I can't even remember the name of the hotel we stayed at but they were very dog friendly and upon hearing the story waived the dog fee. I need to come back here and make sure I give them due props! Betsy had a friend that kept him while we went to the burial.
17 families out of the 31 decided Arlington would be the place that their loved one was buried. Bre and Betsy was allowed to go to the funeral home and place something in the casket if they wanted. Bre chose to place the toy stuffed squirrel she always stuck in his bag when he left - he called her many names - Breazle, Breagle, Face and Squirrel are just a few (the squirrel relates back to when he "met" her in Pensacola and she'd rescued a squirrel after Ivan swept thru and kept it in her barracks until it could take care of itself). He had it and the bracelet she'd given him on his bunk - Dan grabbed them and sent them to Bre before the could be caught up in his "personal belongings" that were kept until just recently. The bracelet simply reads "LAMU" - love and miss you. - She now wears it every day.
There's not a word to describe the ceremony at Arlington. If you're not a part of it, it's amazing. If you are it's horrifying. But that doesn't do it justice because there's just so much respect, love and honor in that place. We sat in the small church and listened to the pastor give a short sermon, then a soldier played his guitar and sang a song he'd composed. I don't remember one single word but I remember it made me cry a little.
Then we all filed out and the people that had gathered while we were in the chapel was amazing. Hundreds were lined up in rows. A white horse in all it's regalia was hooked up to a white carriage. We walked over a mile to their burial site passing hundreds of graves as we went. My mom was accompanied by Jake, one of Mike's friends and the JAG officer at the command. She just turned 69, has had two hip replacement surgeries and outwalked most of us!
Mike's casket was at the end of the row. There was another short ceremony and then the family members were each given another folded flag. The picture above probably says more than all of these jumbled words could ever say. We chose Arlington because although Mike would probably be embarrassed with all the pomp and circumstance Arlington is a place of honor. Mike deserves all that comes with that honor, and if some some boy or girl walks by his grave one day and is inspired somehow Mike would be good with that.
We heard the Irene actually had picked up speed and were told we shouldn't head back that night. We decided to hunker down in Washington and ride it out there. The Navy had sent guys over to Bre's place to place sandbags in front of doors and tape up windows. So we just collapsed at the hotel. Bre was imploding, I could tell she just needed some breathing room. I talked to Jake about getting her out of there for a bit. He told Terri and Bre that he was staying at the W in Washington and wanted to get them a room for the night. She didn't want to so I all but shoved her out the door. He took them for dinner and drinks and got them a fantastic room. She texted me later "thank you". Jake's just one more person I owe a ton too.
Rob's flights got cancelled until Sunday so he flew out of Washington and then we headed home. We found not much damage at all from Irene. Thank goodness.
PS - that hand on the right? He was someone's very weird son, I had to rescue Bre a few times because he liked to touch. A lot.
PSS - sometime during all of this I experienced my first earthquake.