I felt the all too familiar back pain as I sat in the all too familiar uncomfortable seats. I sat staring at yet another flag-draped coffin. I watched the all too familiar ceremony; white gloved salutes, guards posted at attention, the change of guards, the rehearsed marching. I heard the all too familiar sound of bagpipes. The all too familiar Taps. I watched the all too familiar wave of uniforms scattered among the seated crowd. I watched the all too familiar tears swell and fall. I watched the all too familiar shoulders bounce in weeping pain.
I sat among the palpable tension waiting for the all too familiar ceremonies of yet another fallen servant, taken from the world by such a simple and unforeseen accident. I sat among a divided family united in pain. I sat among the palpable tension of two parents divided, of two families divided. I sat among a divided family united in pain, looking across the aisle to yet another divided family united in pain. Two imperfect families, united in pain, and yet divided by the sins of the parents. The remnants of addiction were polished by fancy clothes and manicured hair. The remnants of addiction were obvious to most novice onlookers. The remnant of addiction was obvious on the breaths of some. I sat among my family as we looked upon the flag-draped coffin.
I sat among my family as yet another law enforcement leader looked upon the crowd, trying to find the words that will never exist. They sought the words that could explain the randomness of life and strip away the pain of such a loss. I sat among my family as I watched yet another leader seek to find the impossible. I sat among my family as I watched yet another montage of speakers praise the dedication of yet another lost servant. I listened to yet another end-of-watch call. I sat, cringing when yet another name/call sign was left unanswered. I sat among my family as I tried to quell the all too familiar welling tears. The all too familiar welling of tears for yet another lost servant, of yet another lost family member. I paused, writing these words, as those quelled tears fall from my cheeks.
I stood among my family as, yet another crowd flinched at an all too familiar 21-gun salute. I watched as yet another flag was folded. The rain falling upon us, I quelled my tears with absolute dedication. I focused on those who were not all too familiar. Who had not stood, time after time, to watch yet another flag folded? I watched the flag change hands in an all too familiar ceremony. I watched yet another leader hand the flag to yet another child without a father. I looked away from the all-too-familiar change of hands– a change of hands that could break even the strongest of us. I stood, watching the suffering of yet another mother and father having outlived their child.
I sat and stood for everything all too familiar, wanting only unity. I sat and stood among my family, hiding, with intentional action, from those in my own department. I sat and stood, hiding myself and my relation to yet another fallen officer, to avoid the bombardment of attention it would bring. I sat and stood, wanting, if only for a moment, that we might unite in the suffering. I sat among my divided family, united in pain, looking upon the crowd, looking for my all but estranged brother, to see him, if only for a moment. I sat among my divided family, united in pain, and foresaw my own demise. I bore witness to my very own words, “Our death does not absolve us of our lives.” I guess, in this case, “Death does not absolve us of our lives.” In moments of loss, in the greatest of grief, who we are, who we have been, does not change.
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.