The first few years following my sweet husband's death, I would not have been capable of doing this project. It was too raw and too close. The pain needed the covering of time and distance.
What I needed was the desire to change how this day made me feel. And while I know there are as many different ways to grieve as there are losses, our idea was shaped by reading and hearing about what other widows have done on difficult days.
That's how Operation Serve to Heal was born. Will you join us?
My husband Maj. Brad "Gyro" Funk was an exceptional F-15 pilot. He had a box full of awards to show that it wasn't just me who thought so. But he was an even better husband and father. He was my best friend, and I thought our life together was perfect.
The morning of May 1st, 2008, our 13 year old. was already at school. I was making breakfast for our two and a half year old and six month old babies. My doorbell rang.
As soon as I opened that door my heart stopped. I knew all of our lives would never be the same. Standing there were about six Air Force personnel all dressed in their blues -- there to tell me that Brad had been killed in a plane crash.
To say that every May first since have been difficult would be an understatement. We have always tried to do something meaningful on it, and those things have helped. But it was always a day I dreaded, always one that forces me to go through the motions while I just wait for it to be over.
This May marked Brad’s seventh “angelversary."
Brad spent his life serving everyone around him. We knew that a day serving others would make him happy and would help us feel a closer connection to him. So, instead of just trying to power through, this year we started “Operation Serve To Heal."
The girls made a little video telling people about it and inviting them to serve others with us on this day. We served in honor of our hero, and daddy. We invited others to serve in honor of someone they loved -- and, if they felt comfortable doing so, to share their story with us via social media.
The response was overwhelmingly positive: friends, family, and strangers sent texts, emails, and social media posts throughout the day about what they were doing and how they were feeling about doing it.
What we felt during Operation Serve To Heal was something much more than what we anticipated: My girls and I got to feel loved and supported in our loss. We spent the day feeling that people remembered and loved Brad. My little ones have grown up hearing stories about their daddy, but not having many memories of him otherwise. Those stories are a treasure to us and they got to hear new stories this year. They got to read about what others had done in honor of someone they loved, and we got to experience the joy of playing a small role in helping others serve to heal in a way that made sense to them in their own circumstances.
The girls got to see that something good can happen on a day that in the past had only represented pain and loss. And they got to be part of that goodness. We all felt the miraculous power of serving someone else and how you somehow always get more than you give.
That day may be behind us for the year, but we have another opportunity to serve in the name of healing and remembrance -- Memorial Day. If you are looking for a way to honor the fallen, do something this year in service to honor someone you or someone else has lost in the service of our country. Be a part of a movement towards healing while reaching out to others. Visit a nursing home. Pick up trash in a park. Volunteer at an animal shelter. Reach beyond yourself in someone else's honor and experience the healing, too.
May 1 will never be an easy day for us -- tears will always be shed. But I am thankful that we have found something that helps us no longer feel held hostage by it. I am grateful to everyone who joined in and spread the word about Operation Serve To Heal. It began to transform this day from the worst day of our lives into something that had a sacred purpose. We are continuing to heal because of the love shown to us and our hero on this day.
Do the same for someone else this Memorial day.
Jen Funk is the proud widow of Maj. Brad "Gryo" Funk and mom to three brilliant girls.