Monday, November 11, 2013

Thoughts for Veterans' Day 2013

The Maze today is not draped in black—though it would be fitting. Today it’s draped in red, white, and blue.

Last week I lost a friend. Her passing hit me far harder than I ever would have anticipated, forcing me to examine my feelings in the days after her sudden and shocking death.

My conclusion was just as shocking.

Cadet Harold Headlee, USMA Class of 1951
circa 1947
Lt Col Harold "Hal" Headlee (USAF, retired) circa 2012

Please allow me to introduce you to the Vietnam veteran I honor today, my late father-in-law. He was big, loud, annoying, didn’t pay attention to anything the women in his life said, complained about the most trivial things—like the rising cost of Chicken McNuggets(tm) and the season-to-season doings of “his” Pittsburgh Steelers(tm)—and I loved him dearly.

Hal died in his sleep the morning of 1/1/2013. His oldest son Chris, my husband, found him within a few hours of his passing, and to this day I cannot imagine how awful that must have been. Chris walked in to his dad’s house expecting to act as chauffeur to help Hal pick up a brand new car he had bought the day before. He walked out with an entirely different job, one he had long expected...and dreaded: executor of his dad’s estate.

Not knowing what else to do, I threw my time, energy, and talents into helping Chris settle his dad’s affairs insofar as I was legally enabled to do. I wrote letters. I made phone calls. I researched options. I fielded questions. I emailed heirs. I made recommendations. I wrote invitations and thank-yous. I filled out paperwork, including not one, not two but three years’ worth of unfiled income taxes. I established physical and electronic filing systems for the estate’s records. I created PDF scans of important documents. I made deposits and paid bills. I set up a memorial service and interment at West Point for the ashes of Hal and his wife Jeri, Chris’s mom, who predeceased her husband by 16 years. I could go on.

The point is, over the past 10+ months I’ve done everything but mourn Hal myself.

Today I would rather have him here—in all his big, loud, annoying glory—not just because his children and grandchildren and nieces and nephews and friends miss him more than my paltry words can ever describe, but because I miss him too. Today Chris and our children and I would have joined him at our local Applebee’s(tm) for their annual Veteran’s Day meal, listening to his stories of past military missions and escapades yet again.

I have to confess that I didn’t appreciate those stories as much as I should have, and I’m sorry, Hal. I have always appreciated that you gifted your children with the courage, loyalty, and integrity you acquired as a West Point cadet and subsequently honed throughout your Air Force career. I appreciate the advice and support you gave us throughout the years. I appreciate the magnitude of your distinguished service to this country—and the magnitude of sacrifice you had to make to your family as a result.

Now I fully understand the sentiment expressed by others who wish they had kept a recording of their departed loved one’s voice.

Today I would give anything to hear Harold Headlee tell one of his stories once again.


Scribble a note on the wall of the Maze so you can find your way out again... ;-)