Culture Military

The ones who show up

All of us experience our own unique brand of tragedy — whether it involves 21-gun-salutes or the last breaths of an elderly man passing in his sleep — when it hits, it hits hard. Death is a natural part of life, but it always hurts and it never seems to come without its fair share of baggage.

In dark times, having a support system is crucial. Those who try and walk the road alone find it — surprise — pretty lonely. When things start to fall apart, every person needs their family; whether that family is related by blood or not is irrelevant, as some families are chosen and not born into.

These support networks can help in all sorts of ways. They can give you emotional support when needed, they can take care of practical, daily necessities (cooking, cleaning) that are the last thing you want to do, they can listen, or they can help coordinate the moving parts of funerals or other details surrounding what has happened.

But above all else, they show up.

It’s like the Winston Churchill quote, “Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities… because it is the quality which guarantees all others.”

Similarly, all of those other qualities — emotional support, cooking or cleaning, listening, saying the right things at the right time, empathizing, giving you space and making sure others do too — these valuable things are useless if the person doesn’t show up in the first place, as showing up is what guarantees all the other traits.

If someone goes missing, who shows up to the search party? If someone dies, who shows up with food ready and a shoulder to cry on? If someone is struggling with depression or PTSD, who shows up every day when other people would fall to the wayside? If your house burns down, who helps you pick up the pieces? When you need to move, who shows up with a truck?

A lot of people want to be this person, but when the time comes, only a few people show up.

When my friend Patrick was killed in Afghanistan, I came back to escort his body to the US. There I found myself consoling grieving parents and a grieving widow. They were struggling and they took the loss in different ways.

Patrick and I used to work for another Ranger, Jay. Jay had already been on his last deployment, and he was on his way out of the Army when all of this happened.

He and Patrick weren’t best friends, they weren’t related by blood, and their relationship wasn’t always flowers and sunshine. He was our Team Leader back in the day, and he had to be hard on us when it was warranted.

When Patrick was killed, a lot of people didn’t show up. A lot of friends were too worried about what to say or do, or too concerned with their own logistics in their own lives to drop everything and help where they could. A lot of people made promises alongside condolences, but never came through.

But not Jay.

Jay dropped everything to take care of Patrick’s widow on day one, and he was there when needed from then on out. He was there on behalf of his fallen brother-in-arms, and he aimed to do Patrick right.

Once I was able to escort Patrick’s body to US soil, I was there too — but I was pretty shaken up. I tried to support Patrick’s widow as best I could emotionally, but there were a million practical things that I didn’t have the mind to take care of. I was also working with the Army to make sure the burial went well, and I was traveling often.

Jay stepped up and made sure everything got done. Any coordination with the Army that needed to happen, he took care of. Any food that needed to get bought, he bought and brought to the apartment. Travel plans were generally figured out by the Casualty Assistance Officers (CAO), but there were a million tiny things leading up to flights that needed to be taken care of — Jay handled it all. Need a run to the pharmacy or just want to go for a drive? Want to take a walk in a park or don’t want to tell someone that you’re not up for a dinner? Jay handled it.

This all happened in the middle of the government shut down as well, so the random, unexpected calls from reporters on the subject were all shut down by Jay before they made it any further. Later, Patrick’s widow told me that Jay “insulated me from the stressors of the government shutdown.” He also picked up the slack when one of the CAOs dropped the ball — the list goes on, but you get the idea.

He didn’t tell anyone he was doing it, he didn’t talk much about it afterward, and he didn’t act like it was a big deal.

But he showed up and he came through. And that’s more than I can say for many others.

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2 years ago

Luke-Great insight. The same can be said for family as well. Some show up and do the right thing for the remainder of the family, others are incapable. I’m dealing with estate of a client right now. He came to me a few days before he died and wanted to transfer assets to his son Bob. He said he was proud of Bob for staying sober and whipping addiction that had plagued him for years. He had Bob listed a a beneficiary anyway so when he died, Bob inherited $250000. When I met with Bob, I told him how his… Read more »

2 years ago
Reply to  homanj1

Sheesh. I’m always surprised at behavior surrounding inheritances. Death and love and assets to pass on are an amazingly toxic combination. I’ve been in situations where I was positioned to be the one able to help due to long friendship and/or particular skills or grasp of how to help effectively, which really didn’t require effort on my part. Sometimes the most I could do was express sincere empathy and stay out of the way while others much more adept stepped in to help. One thing I try to remember is to keep paying attention over time, because simple opportunities to… Read more »

2 years ago
Reply to  Miche

I’m dealing with three estates right now. One died intestate. That one is personal. The others are business. Trying now to help the sole living heir on the guy without a plan. She’s like a daughter to us.

Joni Smith
Joni Smith
2 years ago

Great insight Luke. You and Jay stepped up and took care of things that Patrick’s widow didn’t need to deal with. I can assure you she appreciated all that you both did regardless if she ever said so.

Joni Smith
Joni Smith
2 years ago
Reply to  Luke Ryan

Yes we do. I’ve been in her shoes and I know how much you appreciate the little things that people do that often make the biggest difference. But it’s also those who are there the days and weeks after when you are suddenly surrounded by deafening silence of your house with all the memories that come out of no where and you realize you need an escape hatch. Those that call or ask you to dinner or a movie or just a walk the days and weeks after are the escape hatch and are often the reason you don’t loose… Read more »

2 years ago

Thank you for sharing your experience, Luke. Thank god for those like you and Jay who do show up. It’s never easy losing a loved one, but when it comes unexpectedly like for the widow in your story, they are dealing with shock as well.

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