Dear TAPS Family,
Last Sunday I took my baby girl to visit her Uncle Chris’s gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery. I set her on a blanket next to his headstone, and she reached out with one little hand to touch his flowers as I took a photo of her.
Chris died almost three years before she was born. She will never know him in person. She will never know what our family was like before he died. Nor will she know what kind of people we were back then.
Sometimes what we’ve lost threatens to overwhelm what we have. Chris left us a legacy of service, faith, hope, and love. It would be a tragedy for her to never know him. Or for his name to never be spoken because we are all afraid of causing each other too much pain. Or for all of her memories related to him to be a cold stone in a cemetery.
The best way I know how to make his memory come alive for her as she grows up is through storytelling. So even though she is too small to understand, I tell her stories about Uncle Chris. How he disliked broccoli. How much he loved fireworks. How knobby his fingers were. How smart he was. How good he was at playing practical jokes. How he gave me my family nickname.
Sometimes the stories make me a little weepy, but I know I need to share them. I figure I am practicing now for when she really does understand. Someday she will remember these stories, and his personality will shine through.
Storytelling has given me more of an appreciation for recording the past. My project to complete a scrapbook of my brother’s time in the military sputtered to a halt when my daughter arrived. I recently revived it and am charging toward completion. I started a project to scan and record our family photos, too. And in a major milestone for me, I recently began a scrapbook with new photos showing my daughter and her life—her life that includes Uncle Chris.
There are many people in our lives who need to hear stories of our loved ones: our families first and foremost, but our friends as well. Sometimes they need to hear us talk about the person who died, so they know it’s okay to mention his or her name.
With less than one percent of the US population serving in the military or impacted by the current wars, the public needs to hear us share our stories, too. They need to know about the amazing people all our loved ones were. And they need to hear not just stories of loss and sacrifice, but stories of hope and resiliency.
One way we can share our loved ones is through a special website TAPS created for the Give a Thousand Thanks project. You can find it online at GiveAThousandThanks.org. It’s a place where people can post thank you messages for the families of our fallen military and honor the service and sacrifice our loved ones made. This summer, if you find a little spare time in your schedule, consider posting a written, photo, or video tribute to your loved one.
Don’t let their stories go untold.
Public Affairs Officer