Saturday morning I got up early to take our son to football practice. At 9:15 there was a knock on the door, and I figured it was a neighbor.
But it wasnít.
The 29th of September. 9:15 that morning. Thatís when I learned my husband had died in Iraq.
No matter how many years pass, itís never easy. Memorial Day, a day of remembrance for our fallen service members, is never easy.
I find that people who donít have a connection to the military tend to think of Memorial Day as a long weekend with barbeques. And thatís OK, as long as they also keep in mind that this is a day to honor our men and women who have sacrificed their lives so that we can have those barbeques.
In my experience, itís not that people forget. People want to care. But I believe that they donít really understand (and to be fair, itís hard to understand when less than 10 percent of our country has served in uniform) what it means to get that knock on the door and hear about the sacrifices that our loved ones have made. Itís my hope that by sharing my story, and perhaps some of my pain, that it helps to bridge that gap.
Iíve grieved. But the most important thing I want to tell people is that I donít grieve any more. Rather, I honor.
I donít wait until a holiday comes up to recognize those who have fallen ó and the families of the fallen. I feel these service members ó and the families who are left behind ó should be recognized daily. We shouldnít wait for a particular day to honor them.
It is every day that we should honor them.
Iím often asked how to do this. Itís not too hard. Just say ďthank you.Ē Donít wait for a special day or a time that ďfeelsĒ appropriate. I donít think people understand how powerful a simple spoken expression of gratitude can be for those of us who are Gold Star family members ó someone who has lost a loved one to military service.
When Iím introduced as a military widow, people offer their condolences for my loss. May I make a suggestion? Please add, ďAnd thank you for all that youíve given up for this country.Ē
I know it can feel uncomfortable. I understand. Thatís why Iím sharing my story, because itís not as simple as what you may see on TV. If you talk to me, youíll have a better sense of what is happening. And, you may not realize it, but you are helping every person to heal when you allow them to tell their story.
Even 12 years later, itís hard to go back and reflect on what happened. I donít like to go back but there is purpose in knowing that this will help people better understand the real impact of Memorial Day to the families left behind.
And so I leave you with this: every day is a time to honor veterans, those in uniform, and families of soldiers. Itís appropriate to say ďthank you.Ē You know those signs ďIf you see something, say something?Ē The same is true for all of us touched by military service.
Stop Ö really stop. If you have time, ask if you can sit down with them. But above all, just give an honest ďthank you.Ē Your heartfelt words will mean more than you will ever know.
Latrese Dixon is the Blue and Gold Star Family Partner for Dixon Center for Military and Veterans Services, the non-profit that is named for her husband. Staff Sgt. Donnie Dixon was killed in action in Iraq in September 2007.