By the second part of the vacation the honeymoon effect of being together with the kids all the time began to wain a little as we prepared to say goodbye to lots of family. I looked around the one bedroom condo that had been our home for a full week and realized it was going to take way longer than initially planned to actually repack our bags and load everything up. We had a six hour car drive to Denver ahead of us and then two days later we would drive back across country. Unlike normal last days of vacay, where you can just shove it all in a messy pile knowing that the second you get home you will throw it in the wash, we had to try to figure out exactly what we would need and repack it into a single bag. As I folded and packed the kids would pull items out and lay in the suitcase. Overall I think it took us almost four hours to pack up a tiny condo and load it into our car. By the time we put the kids in the car they were covered in mud from head to toe. We said our goodbyes and headed up north, hoping that the kids would nap so that we wouldn't have to pretend to see a bear run towards us the entire 6 hours for the sake of an adrenaline rush. We stopped in Pueblo and visited Jason's dad and then headed up to Denver. It was a weird mix of feeling relieved and yet somber at the same time. The purpose of this part of the trip was to be a part of the Remembering the Brave ceremony. This ceremony honors fallen heroes and gives their grieving family a chance to come together in a beautiful event that is truly life changing. Unlike our condo, we were in a much smaller room and with less amenities. We decided Saturday morning that we had to get the kids out of the hotel and let them stretch their legs so that they would be good for childcare that evening. We took them to the Denver Zoo and they had such a good time. Jason and I loved seeing so many of the animals that our quaint little zoo doesn't hold, like polar bears, apes, chimpanzees, etc. Cruz rode the train and the carousel and it was wonderful.
I will say that the afternoon was insane between kids crying, whining, screaming, throwing an entire box of cereal into the bed, and us trying to get ready for a black tie event. We checked the kids into childcare and began to mingle. It is such a truly humbling event to attend. There is a hall of heroes which displays the uniform and bodice of each fallen hero with two framed pictures, their citation, and all of their medals. It was truly heartbreaking to see pictures of some of the men with their children, knowing the outcome of their fate. We ate dinner and sat next to Ed and Pam Rogan, who are a truly amazing selfless giving couple that devote much of their time to volunteering and awareness. We also had the pleasure of sitting with two families who's sons were 3/5 Marines that had been killed last October in Afghanistan. For them, it hadn't even been a full year. The ceremony featured 3 gold star families that spoke briefly of their journey's and how they had tried to cope with the grief. They presented colors and sang the nationals anthem. Listening to the powerful words of the song, I couldn't help but cry knowing sacrifice and bloodshed behind the protection of that flag. We had a wonderful steak dinner, and then the ceremony commenced. There wasn't a dry eye in the building as family after family was addressed by Marines in dress blues presenting them a bouquet of yellow roses, one for each year of the life that they were honoring. They were also presented a plaque of mounted medals that the hero had rated. There were young widows, moms, dads, brothers and sisters, so many there to mourn the loss of their loved one. It was beautiful. Colonel Grosso spoke afterwards in a touching detailed speech that left everyone choking back tears and swallowing the lumps in their throat. Grosso shed insight in the perspective of an officer and how they process through the grief when one of their men is killed. Johnny Bulford concluded the event singing the song 'Remember the Brave'. In those moments of complete humility there is sometimes nothing that you can really say to any of these families that is appropriate. I'm sorry for you loss begins to sound very cold and formal. Everything that Jason and I experienced was as a couple. Now, being a mom, my perspective has changed. Trying to possibly understand the hurt these women were feeling... I just couldn't imagine. I was speaking to Deb Tainsh, who has written two wonderful and honest books (Heart of a Hawk, and Surviving the Folded Flag) She told me that when you lose a spouse, you lose a partner... when you lose a child, you lose part of your future. The Tainsh family name ended with the loss of their son Patrick.
The next day we attended the 10K run and the kids loved watching everyone run and march! Before we headed back on the long journey home, we took the kids to the Denver Acquarium. It was the perfect way to end the trip for the kids. They got to run freely and explore and see all of theses amazing beautiful creatures. There were otters, turtles, sharks, stingrays, there were even mermaids that swam in the tank while we ate lunch. Winding up, we grimaced knowing the long trip that lay ahead. We dreaded the never ending corn fields, and constant whining from the back seat. We were exhausted and didn't feel like listening to Nemo one more time in the car. "Let's just drive a little farther," we said at each passing town. We actually made it all the way to Topeka despite the screaming that lasted the entire last two hours. We were all exhausted. But the next morning we headed into KC and saw our family and let the kids play with their cousins at the park. The last 2 1/2 hour trip home seemed like a breeze after the whirlwind we had been on. It was hard to believe all the things we had done over the last two weeks. Like a dream, it seemed distant and vague.
Ending the trip with the Remembering the Brave ceremony was, as always, a sobering reminder of the fact that while we face our daily obstacles and hardships, we are together. We are alive. We have freedom, because someone else is standing in the gap protecting our freedoms. We are able to go through our daily life because someone else was willing to lay their life down. Another mom is grieving right now because she lost her son today, so that mine would have a future. As I am trying to lay out Cruz's clothes for school tomorrow, another mom is making funeral arrangements so that we can live in freedom. It is up to us to never forget what was done for us. Yet in addition to our worldly freedom, we are able to have true joy and peace in the circumstances that life brings us. Jesus Christ stood in the gap for us and laid down his life. He paved a way for us to know true freedom and everlasting joy and peace. He has provided for us that which we don't deserve. It's so humbling I can't fully fathom.
These moms that lost their sons would give everything they could to hear their child's voice again. Even if Cruz's voice tends to be whining or screaming, even if it is accompanied by hitting and kicking, how can I complain? He is making sound, which is a miracle. He is alive... This is the perspective I must continually strive for, even on our roughest days. I just may occasionally need some headphones or some time outs for myself, after all I am only human. But I do have peace and joy and freedom, thanks to our American Heroes, and Jesus Christ.