Have you ever lost someone you love? Have you been forced to confront the grim reality of death?

It’s not as easy thing to face, not for anyone.

But I believe death is not the end…

Last weekend I visited the grave of my friend who died while fighting the war in Iraq. It was the first time I went there since I was on his burial detail in 2007.

For a long time, I just sat there looking at his tombstone and the countless number of them all around him. It was a very powerful, intense and humbling experience…

By the end of my time with him, I told him…

“I’m sorry I wasn’t there with you, but I will earn this life…”

I met Jacob Neal when I first joined the Marines in 2004. We were both attached to the same Marine Corps unit in Austin, Texas and soon became very close. We did everything together in our training.

Us being Marines, of course we had to compete with each other any time the opportunity presented itself, like on the rifle range or the physical fitness test.

It was always a very close competition. But I would beat him by just a few seconds on a run, or just a few points on the rifle range.

Our last year together in the unit, we made a bet that the loser on the rifle range would have to buy the winner and his date a drink during our Marine Corps Birthday celebration.

Here we were together after I beat him on the rifle range that year…

Outside of our friendly competitions, we also made a commitment that we would go on deployment together. Every chance we got, we volunteered to go to war.

Twice, the Marines told us we would be going, and both times they canceled the deployment at the last minute.

One summer, while I was vacationing in India, he found a unit that was being deployed to Iraq and volunteered to go with them. That time, the Marines did not cancel his deployment.

While he was in training with that unit, he would often call me and mess with me saying that I didn’t volunteer to go with him because of my girlfriend at the time. It wasn’t true and he didn’t mean anything by it. It was all in good fun, but I still felt guilty that I wasn’t there with him.

I still remember that one day when I was in my apartment with my girlfriend and I heard my phone ring.

I looked down at my phone and saw the name Neal. I knew he would give me a hard time about not being there with him. My girlfriend was right next to me, so I didn’t pick up the phone.

I never got to speak with him again….

********

Neal was a good Marine, so he was quickly promoted to Corporal. As a result, he found himself in a position where he got hit by an Improvised Explosive Device.

Since I always beat him by a small margin in training, I always felt like had I been there with him, I would have gotten that promotion instead of him. And it should have been me in that seat instead of him.

Rationally, I am well aware that war is unpredictable and a million different things could have happened. We could have deployed together and he still could have been killed, and I still could have come back home.

But emotionally, it didn’t matter.

I couldn’t get rid of the guilt.

I was off having fun in India, and because of that I wasn’t there with him.

It’s now my responsibility to honor the fallen…

A few months after he was killed in 2007, I was then deployed to Iraq.

But I made it back home…

For a long time, I wasted my life away with alcohol, plagued by the guilt of not having been there that day instead of him.

I struggled with the fact that I didn’t do shit in the war. I didn’t suffer enough. I didn’t get shot. I didn’t lose a limb. What right did I have to come back home? To be happy? To even be alive?…
.
I don’t know why I’m here and he’s not, or why some made it back home and others did not, or why some suffer more than others. All I know is that by being here now, it’s on me to do something with this life.

I now know that it is my responsibility to make something meaningful out of this life I have been gifted.

So when I visited Neal last weekend, I told him “I’m sorry I wasn’t there with you, but I will earn this life…”

The dead depend on you…

Many of us have already experienced death and loss in our lives. And if you haven’t yet, you will. I don’t wish it upon anyone, but it’s inevitable. We all have to confront that pain and grief at some point.

We can’t stop death, the only thing we can control is our reaction to it.

But death is not the end my friend…

Do not let death destroy you, as it once almost did me. Instead, use it to reaffirm life. Use the pain of death to awaken the beauty of life, within and without.

Through our reaction to death, we have the power to immortalize those we’ve loved and lost. It is by our hand, the hand of the living, that we honor the dead and continue to give their life meaning.

I know how hard it can be to lose someone you love. I have lost many other people close to me after Neal. If you have lost someone, I am so sorry. I know your pain and I empathize with you {first_name}.

You can’t change what happened. But you can do something about it now.

Use that pain. Use it to honor the dead. And to honor their life.

As Harold Kushner said “The dead depend on us for their redemption and their immortality.”

What you do every day matters.
Who you are matters.

Through your being and your actions, you immortalize not only the legacy of all those you’ve loved and lost, but your own legacy as well.

Death is hard to confront, extremely hard. But it can also be the most powerful affirmation for life.

Live this day my friend….

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This