A photo of a four-year-old in a patchwork dress stood watch at the bottom of my email list. “Alanna is visiting her father's grave for the first time,” wrote Roberta Willis in the accompanying email. “Her father (my son) SPC James A Willis III was killed while on active duty on November 15, 2011.”
Although a SpouseBuzz photo contest we ran had ended months before, I couldn’t just file the picture. Maybe because little girls shouldn’t look so sad. Maybe because mothers shouldn’t have to bury their sons or daughters.
When I heard the last Sunday of September is Gold Star Mothers Day, I found myself thinking of this picture again and reached out to Mrs. Willis who is also a military spouse. She reached back immediately:
I wish I had some incredible words of wisdom to share with your readers.The sadness and bewilderment reflected in Alanna's face that day kind of says it all. Not just for her, but for all of us. I guess that is why I felt compelled to share the picture.
The reality of losing someone so dear is never simple. It hits in waves and often catches you unaware. It never makes sense. As the independent wife of a retired Navy submariner, my family and I walked many difficult paths during our 24 years in the military. Nothing we previously encountered prepared us for facing the loss of our son.
I thank God every day for the time that we had with him. I also thank Him for the faithful friends and family who have stood beside us shoring us up when we felt like we could not stand any longer. One day at a time, we continue to move forward in our grief, remembering what was and cherishing what is.
So today I hung my American flag out front. I will light a luminary the way that Gold Star Mothers request. And I will leave Alanna's picture on my desktop where it belongs.
Keep Up with the Ins and Outs of Military Life
For the latest military news and tips on military family benefits and more, sign up for a free Military.com membership and have the information you need delivered directly to your inbox.