The first time I ever had a Marine in uniform show up at my door, my heart began racing as I quickly began to think of all the worst case scenarios that he might be there… I was inexperienced in the military world—I essentially knew nothing. Everything I did know was from what Julian taught me, the self-help stuff I would find online, and bits and pieces gathered in conversation with friends and acquaintances that knew from firsthand experience. I was a total and complete newbie.
Had this not been the case, I would have quickly recognized the nature of his visit by the simple fact that this staff sergeant was alone, and he was NOT wearing the proper uniform to “inform” me of a casualty. Rather, he was kind enough to pay me a personal visit to discuss Julian’s progress he was undergoing in the medical platoon at bootcamp. I quickly relaxed, thinking that I was very grateful my Boi was simply alive—after all, injuries are not the worst thing that a parent could face… Since losing my precious daughter (Julian’s big sister, Josie) to a drunk driver just a year and a half prior, I did not sweat the “small stuff” like most Marine mom’s did—even though my Boi was recovering from broken ribs and pneumonia. He was still alive, and that was all that mattered to me.
This was a particularly hard time for Julian—he would not give up his dream of becoming a United States Marine at ANY cost, and he wanted so much to make his momma proud!!! I reiterated to him on numerous occasions that he had nothing to prove to me—I was already SO VERY PROUD of the young man he had become!!! He was, above all, a genuinely good person that loved his family and friends fiercely—his loyalty was second to none. He possessed an amazing attitude that exuded tremendous tenacity and positivity—even when everything in his life seemed to be turning southward. He ALWAYS kept his word. He treated others kindly and with respect—especially his parents. He loved his little brother and sister more than life itself. He set the bar high for all of us, as we witnessed him time and again strive to do, and then accomplish, what seemed impossible—and he NEVER quit. My Boi was EVERYTHING AND MORE than a momma could ever hope for in her son; I could not be any prouder. To me, my Boi was perfect in every way…
His entire career (lasting just shy of four years) continued in much the same way, with his marked tenacity and forward mindset. After earning his well-deserved title of United States Marine, he went on to do many things that were so dangerous, he often did not mention them until after the fact—often joking in such a way that I never quite grasped how literally he really spoke. “Ma! I almost died today!” became a common phrase that I never liked, but tried to find humor in as he would proceed to tell me some fantastic story of near-death peril. My Boi was living his dream, his best life, and I did my best to support him a thousand percent.
Towards the end of Julian’s four years of service, I had now acquired enough experience to instantly recognize what necessitated a second visit to my doorstep. This time, there were two Marines. This time, it was just before midnight with snow quietly covering the ground. This time, they were dressed looking extra-sharp. This time, there was not even the slightest glint of a smile on their handsome, but extremely somber faces… I knew before they could even pronounce the words. I knew in that instant that they were here to inform me.
My Boi was gone.
I also knew, from experience, that it was futile to even try to kick against the pricks. He was gone. Never to come home again…
The week leading up to this fatal nightmare had been, by far, the most difficult I had encountered since my sweet daughter, Josie, was killed just five years prior (almost to the day). It had been especially hard for him, too. There was a heaviness, even a darkness, that seemed to be hovering in the air. Julian and I were so deeply connected, even being nearly 6,700 miles apart, we always seemed to have this sixth sense where we could feel what the other was feeling—I am certain of it.
It is for this reason that I still feel a sense of guilt for what he experienced that week… I had “let my guard down” so to speak. Normally, I was very careful to keep my spirits and emotions in a positive and forward looking direction; this particular week had been very different. We both felt it.
At the time, I had attributed the darkness to the five year anniversary of Josie’s death. To say it had been an arduous journey we had traveled thus far was an understatement. I think we both were feeling like we had done our absolute best to meet every challenge and obstacle along the way, but now, we had come to what seemed an impenetrable brick wall. Far too high to scale, and way too thick to bust down—we had reached our limit, and what lay before us was not only daunting, it felt impossible.
I did not believe I possessed the strength, nor the will, to keep going. I believe my Boi could sense my defeat, too… That week, I failed him; I faltered—lacking both the strength and reassurance that he so desperately needed and deserved himself from me, his momma. Nevertheless, we both muddled through—we, at least, still had each other…
My story gets complicated when describing the chain of events that occurred in the hours surrounding his death due to a fifteen hour time difference that we shared. Stationed in Japan for three years meant many late night/early morning phone calls and texts for me. When it was 2 a.m. here, it was 5 p.m. there. Try as I might, it was often a challenge to be “fully present” in our conversations, or not drift into sleep!
The night before he died (my Thursday night, his Friday afternoon), after my already described tumultuous week, I finally broke down while in the shower before bed. It is not often in my life that I have curled up into a fetal position because life just got to be too much, but that is exactly how I found myself in the safety of my shower that night. Camouflaged by the sound of running water, my family would not hear my gut-wrenching sobs…
As I left the shower and put myself quietly to bed, I slept fairly well—only receiving a few brief words in text from my sweet son that night, not knowing they would be his last. Strangely enough, I awoke the next morning with a feeling of peace that I had not encountered in a very long time… The Colorado skies were flaunting their deepest blue, and the birds were chirping. I would only later learn that my son had already passed “to the other side…”
That morning, as I drove my younger daughter to the barn where she kept her horse, I happily blasted one of Julian’s latest tunes he had sent me. It brought me comfort. Then, as I turned down the road leading to the barn, I spotted some beautiful little kestrels hanging out on a wire. These little birds always made me think of him, because as a falconer’s apprentice, a kestrel was going to be his next “bird project.” I missed him with every breath.
I spent this whole day feeling a peace and comfort that I could not explain at the time (I now know it was because he was literally right there with me). Nevertheless, the longing for my Boi weighed extra-heavy on me that entire time… I missed him in a way that I will never be able to put to words. My entire being ached for him… I just wanted to have him home again.
Though I continued to feel peace that day, the heaviness was undeniable. I continued to attribute it to my daughter’s “five-year mark” coming up in two days. As I fed Julian’s fuzzy cows (this is what he called his two Scottish Highlands) that night, my tears returned… Early February meant cold fingers when throwing hay. It also meant frozen water-troughs. I could not help feeling a tinge of despair when, in an instant, the thought crossed my mind that my son might not be home for a very, very long time to help me tend to his budding “ranch.” Sadness loomed all around me.
I went to bed that night (now Friday), not having heard from my son all day. I assumed he was busy, so I was not concerned. My heart continued to ache. I think I slept a couple hours, when suddenly, I remember waking to a feeling of immense relief and peace that was even greater than what I had experienced earlier that day. It was so profound, that it compelled me to sit up in my bed and give thanks to my God for “rescuing” me. I cried, as the love I felt in my heart for my God and my family washed over me. I also cried, because I knew that God was with me, and everything was going to be ok.
That moment was brief.
I layed back down in my bed, and was just beginning to drift back to sleep when I was suddenly startled by the loud knock on my door that would soon turn my whole world upside-down… again.
Today, thinking back, it is all very curious to me how those events played out that week leading up to my Boi’s horrific and tragic car accident that claimed not only his life, but also his friend and fellow Marine, Bailey’s as well. I knew in an instant that it was Julian that my heart had been grieving so intensely. Every fiber of my being is so intricately connected to him—as it is to all of my beloved children… just like when Josie was killed, I missed her so incredibly much that entire day, right before she died—an indescribable “homesickness” that came before she ever even “left.”
So it had been with my Boi.
The hours that followed were both a blur, and also so deeply, and permanently imprinted upon my soul to this day. As I failed to comprehend the stunning revelation that I had just been informed of, I simultaneously began searching in my mind and heart for the whereabouts of my precious son in a way that only a mother who has lost her child can ever understand… Where was he now? Was he ok?!!! And could he hear me?!!!!!
In the following hours and days, much to my relief, I was able to connect with my Boi in much the same way that I always had. It is beyond my understanding how this occurs or is even possible—I only know that it is. And I am eternally grateful to my God that it is!!!!
It has only been through this “connection” with my angel children that I have found the strength to continue onward in my life, and keep pressing forward in every possible way. It is for this reason that I do—because they have consistently communicated to me their desire for me to keep going—or in Marine terms, “KFG…,” and as I like to call it, “KEEP FORWARD GOING!!!!” Though it hurts, and I often falter, I do not want to disappoint these brave, warrior angels I am so very blessed to call my own. For as long as I have left, and for as long as it takes, I will honor their lives and legacies as I keep forward going.