It was the unfortunately all too familiar call. The voice was almost unrecognizable in the fury of pain and confusion. This tone was only spoken in extreme duress, the voice that lets others know your full attention is needed. Every labored word is significant. My surprise and shock were evident in my silence. I was lost in spiraling thoughts. I began running the gambit of questions. I rushed home and hastily packed. I rapidly ran through scenarios, what was needed? What was not? How long should I pack for?
My mind frantically retrieved experience after experience. I placed items in the bag with almost no forethought. The brain had retrieved the memories and demanded the body obey. I conducted the final check, experiences of the all-too-familiar past. Before I knew she was gone, the brain had demanded we prepare. My suit was neatly hung on the doorknob. I began the hours drive to be where I needed to be. I spent those hours not in peace, but becoming what I knew I needed to be. I began to consider the tasks that lie ahead.
I began the mental checklist. I made phone calls, I prepared myself for the news that she was gone, and prepared myself for the crushing impact it would have on my wife. In that drive, I became detached. I became who I needed to be. The following week I took upon myself every physical and mental burden I could. I tried to absorb what I could so they could process. So they could be whatever it was they wanted and needed to be. I flung myself from task to task, mind, and body exhausted.
When family and friends gathered, I tried to shoulder whatever I could. I tried to fill every gap so they would not want or need a thing. I tried to be everything anyone wanted or needed.
I shifted gears and began my journey home. I had arrived at my moment, the moment I long knew would arrive and the moment my all-too-familiar experiences had known would come. It was the moment of isolation. It was the moment I had been without the previous week. This was the moment when the work was over, the service complete. It was the moment when I turn the music up and sit with nothing but my own thoughts. My own self-imposed isolation, where I can be honest, where I can be nothing to anyone other than myself.
The setting sun glistened off the water as I drove away. It glistened as I tasted the salt and gasped for air. It was feeling all that I lost. It was the sorrow over what she meant to me, but what left me gasping for air was so much more. It was the husband without a wife. It was the daughter without a mother. It was knowing the pain of losing a parent. It was knowing the pain of losing a friend. It was knowing my wife now had to know this pain, long before she should ever have to.
The slowly streaming tears were for me. The clenched fists and gasping were for all those who lost so much more. The father without a daughter. The brother and sisters without their sibling. It was the son without his mother, the grandkids without their nana. It was the friends… It was knowing I lost a friend, someone I loved and cared for. I lost someone blessed enough to call family and knowing so many had lost so much more.
It was my moment. My moment to finally process it all. It was my moment to be what I needed to be for me. I embraced it. I cherished the pain, a mark of her great impact on the lives around her. I felt the sorrow of the loss and the joy of the experiences of the past. I processed the pain, shed tears, and then… I was at peace.
Jake Smith is a law enforcement officer and former Army Ranger with four deployments to Afghanistan.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.