Died After Action 

I wrote this poem 5.25.15 in memory of my brother Earl Steele.  Remembering all those who have lost loved ones after military service as a result of PTSD, coping addictions or risky behavior. 

I hold this flag close to my heart

Can’t bear the fact that we’re apart

It was not the war that took you away

But you died just the same- you were DAA

Died After Action, the wounds were real

We couldn’t see them but you could feel

The horror that lingered the beer couldn’t chase

The nightmares you took home from that dark place

You put on a brave face, you tried to be tough

You tried to be “normal” but it wasn’t enough

Now your battle is over and I’m left to hold

A folded up flag and a picture that’s old

You don’t get the honor or respect of KIA

But I know that you fought bravely and I miss you everyday

For those who lost a loved one but it wasn’t on the field

My heart goes out to you and the loss that is so real

Remembering Rusty

7 years ago this afternoon, we said goodbye to Rusty. Rusty was less than two weeks away from his 16th birthday; pretty impressive for a dog over 90lbs. He ate well that morning (my Grandmom fed him lots of hamburger meat and treats). With help he was loaded in and out of the car, and he laid down on the vet table without protest. He lived with dignity and faced death the same way. He was a happy boy until the end; seemingly appreciative of even the smallest kindnesses.

Rusty was a great first pet. He was such a faithful friend and ever willing participant in shenanigans. He was loving and funny. He was understanding and good natured. He was everything you would expect from a Golden Retriever. (Hot spots and separation anxiety included.) Some of our favorite activities included running free at the school, agility, and exploring the woods. In college, I brought Rusty to my public speaking class to give a demonstration on how to train a dog. It was a great hit except for the smell. (It rained that day!)

On December 18th, at the appointed time, I sat down in front of a clock and waited. I was living hundreds of miles away and was forced to say goodbye to my buddy over the phone. (It was agonizing as I heard his nails clicking on the floor and I could picture how uncomfortable he was. He always hated the phone being held up to him.) A huge lump formed in my throat as I both realized the ridiculousness of the situation and also searched for the right words to say goodbye.

Seven years later, I have experienced profound losses, and have walked through unspeakable pain with loved ones. Even today I am in mourning for a dear friend. As I reflect back on the life of Rusty, I am so grateful for the good times and the love shared. To a greater degree, I am thankful for the people I still love deeply who are no longer around for me to share that with. If I have learned anything at all, it is this. Love. Love God and love others. Tell people. Even more, show them. Spend every ounce of energy and time on loving others. Right before my Grandmom passed she told me “in the end, love is all that matters”. The last thing my brother ever told me was “I love you”. My Dad used all his remaining strength to nod to me that he loved me (and our family). What I came up with to tell Rusty was “I love you”.

When all is said and done, the only thing that holds up is love. Today I remember Rusty. Today I remember love.