My Friend, Like Me

I am sitting here and I honestly don't know where to start this post or really how to go about it. The words have been floating around in my head but I just can't organize them. Maybe it's because I still can't grasp the fact that my friend is like me. This young widows club I've belonged to for nearly 5 years has been extended, once again, to include one of my own. And honestly, I am totally and completely not okay with it. I guess I'll begin where logic makes sense, at the beginning.

On Thursday, August 14th at 0559, my phone was vibrating. This was unusual because I'd already silenced my alarm twice and that makes a really annoying ringing sound. The different sound roused me from my sleep and I checked the caller ID. It was my friend Katie. She was in Chicago. I quickly tried to calculate the time difference, "what is it there? 3... 4... in the morning... is she drunk? I guess I should see what's up." I answered and was floored. Right off the bat she told me that our mutual friend, her best friend, had lost her husband the night before. I was still asleep and rambled some questions, still not quite comprehending what she was telling me. As it slowly sunk in I could only think... Fuck. Fuck. Not waking up like this again. Fuck. I texted my dad to see if he was up. Maybe if I talked it out this would make some kind of sense. There was no way a friend of mine from "before" had become one of "us." No. Way. I told my dad what I'd heard and talked it out. This wasn't the first time I'd called him in the wee hours of the morning with terrible news. Things felt too familiar. This must have been one of my nightmares. I texted with Katie, still trying to grasp my bearings. She had said she'd spoken to Raechel so I knew she was up. I called Raechel. She was going to tell me this was some mistake, or I was going to wake up. There was no way this was real life. It was real life. "How did you do it?" She asked me. Fuck. I don't know how I did it. We talked about logistics. I realized if I stuck with business, I'd be okay. I called my then-boyfriend. Things were not okay. I called my boss. I'm going to be late, I need to get myself together. I texted a fellow widow in a similar situation for advice on how to proceed with the business side of things. Stick to business, stick to logistics, stay away from any emotion because the emotions would crush me.

Raechel, what can I say about Raechel. I start to cry as I write this, thinking of my beautiful, strong, graceful friend. Raechel was the girl who introduced me to the 1/6 family.  When I was lost in North Carolina with no friends and wandered into the FRO's office, Raechel was there helping with the tour of Camp Lejeune. She was there when I said, "Hey, can I just come hang out with you guys every day?" She was there was I became a Family Readiness Assistant. Along with a couple others who were present that day, she was my first friend in Jonny's unit. Raechel came to the hospital when Ariana was born. She had just gotten back from a trip to Florida and had to drop some things off to a fellow 1/6 wife. She had the knowledge that that particular 1/6 wife talked with her husband over the internet regularly and could let Jonny know his baby girl was coming. She returned to the hospital and snuck me McDs french fries when I was so hungry after being there for hours. She asked what I wanted to listen to and had a Bob Marley song ready when I asked for it. She witnessed Ariana's birth and made Jonny's phone call to witness it possible. She was one of the first ones through the door when the CACO and the Chaplain told me Jonny had died the day before. She walked with me on the side of the road when all I wanted was a fight, keeping me toward the inside of the road in case I got any crazy ideas. She drove a group full of my friends from North Carolina to Delaware to be present when Jonny arrived home from Afghanistan. She came back to North Carolina when I got back with my friends and piled in my bed. She slept at the foot. We told "ghost" stories, and she witnessed Jonny's presence. She came down to Florida for Jonny's services even after finding out her husband had been injured. She stayed as long as she could. She introduced me to Katie. She always understood and never judged. She snuck into my house with me before I closed to check it out.... She's been there for ridiculous amounts of the most important moments in my life.  And that's just how she has been present in MY life. 

I went to work. I tried to work things out logically. I'd told my dad I wanted to get down there but wasn't sure when was the best time and I'd talk to my mom about it when she woke up. I thought I'd probably go down on the weekend. I tried to work, I only thought of Raechel. I called my best friend. Dammit, another one in our club. Not one of my own from before. I couldn't stay at work. I talked to mom and Mandy more. There was no way I could be here and her there. I told my bosses that and I headed south. There might have been nothing I could do but I had to be there. Maybe I wouldn't be the one pushing the chaplain out of the way, but there was no way I wouldn't be there for my friend.

She was surrounded by great people. Thank God for the great people in our lives who pull us through this shit. I did what I could. I never felt it was enough. Sometimes, I felt it was more for myself. Stay busy, stay logical. I needed to be there for her, but I couldn't let myself slip back 4 years and 5 months ago when I'd entered this. I never expected to be so close again. I did what I could to make things easier, to be there. I learned what my friends have known for years after being next to me during my step into the journey of grief - you have no idea what to do. You do what you can and you pray that what you do makes even a little bit of difference. You pray so hard you can take the pain away but you can't find a way, so you help in any way possible. I knew the pain. Maybe I could absorb it. I'd already done this for our group - wasn't that enough?! Let me take it, I already knew the pain. I didn't want anyone I loved to go through this. My aunt, so close to me, had just gone through this a few months prior and I couldn't do anything about it, please let me just take some of the pain from Raechel. Wasn't there any way to sponge away her pain?

I hate talking about Rob in past tense. It just doesn't feel right. Raechel found him. We all believe it was a bad medicine combination. He was a fucking warrior, how could he just slip away from us? You might know Rob Richards as the badass who was featured pissing on the Taliban. Oh man, how I wished I could have pissed on them, but thanks Rob, for doing it for all of us, including us widows who lost our loves to them. Rob was a sniper. He was injured during Jonny's deployment and made it through. He was hand selected to return. He did his job and he did it extremely well. He was medically retired following the little peeing incident and was well on his way to a new life. He was going to college to become an engineer and work with prosthetics or weapons. I remember the day he came home to Jacksonville from Bethesda. I hadn't been up to visit him, dealing with my own loss and emotions, but had the pleasure and honor of being there when he returned. Even with a cane, he still walked tall. His voice was gruff and rugged, fitting for a warrior but certainly different from the times I'd heard it before the deployment, before his Adam's Apple was replaced with a titanium piece because of the insurgents who pulled a string and detonated a bomb on him. They didn't get him. They didn't win. He thanked me for being there, I thanked him for a job well done and for fighting. He might not have known it, but I thanked him for returning home to my friend. Many others thanked him for returning their loved ones safely. Rob saved lives. He was a warrior and a hero. Over the years I stayed in Jacksonville, I saw him here and there. His fervor for the fight never ended. He wanted to finish what he started. I wasn't surprised to learn he was going back again. Again, he came home. Again, his badassery reigned. Not long after his final homecoming, we learned of the scandal and I will not deny, I was proud and a little jealous.  How I wish I could have peed on those men who stole my love from me. Thanks, Rob. Just a little bit of karma! Of course it erupted into a huge ordeal but Raechel stayed strong. Damn, that girl was graceful. There were court hearings and media attentions and changes galore and still she held fast. There were rough times, but they wouldn't get her down. She was an inspiration. Someone to aspire to be like every day with the way she held herself, fought for what she believed in, and most importantly stood by the man she loved the most.

The funeral was held at Bay Pines in St. Pete. I suggested Anderson-McQueen funeral home, the folks that handled Jonny's, for their kind and considerate manner. I attempted to organize what I could and take away as much stress for Raechel as possible. It helped me feel like I was doing something, anything, to help her, and it kept me in the present. Rob was honored. His bike club, American Infidels, rode by his side on the way from Jacksonville to St. Pete. They stood guard while he rested in both cities. Friends far and wide journeyed to honor and remember him, and to lay him to rest. It still wasn't real. I stayed busy. We were surrounded by such amazing people. We found ways to laugh and celebrate a life lost too soon. 

The services were beautiful. The services hit close to home. I made it. She made it. We made it. A few hours later, with a little help from alcohol and wondering thoughts, I lost my shit. Repeatedly. I cried over Jonny. I cried over Rob. I cried over all that had happened in the last 5 years. I cried over Raechel's addition to this stupid club. I cried over the absense of light. Raechel let me know it was okay. I apologized. I can't believe after all this, I'd let go and lost it and she was consoling me. Of course she would, because that's Raechel's way - strong, and graceful, and caring. But man... I lost it. I knew better. I knew better than to drink and I knew better than to let myself feel too much during this time, but still I unraveled. Wasn't I supposed to be an example? I assured her time and time again that she would be okay. That I was okay and that I knew she would be okay, and then I proved to her that the pain was still something that couldn't be muted when it wanted to present itself. I kick myself for that. And dammit, this wasn't about me! It was not my time to fall into the depths of my grief. It was my time to be a friend and to be strong for someone I loved. I know that she is fully aware that I hurt. I know she knows so many people hurt along side her. But dammit, couldn't I keep myself together for just another couple days to show her that after time you can make it through. Maybe it was good. Maybe she felt less alone knowing her pain was inexplainable and here was her long time friend with similar inexplainable pain. I hope to God I didn't make her pain worse. The last thing I wanted to do was to make anything harder for her. Pain and grief are sneaky. You think you're doing alright and it sneaks right up on you. I knew better and still I apologize. Some days I think I'm the example of everything not to do as a widow. Do not act a fool. Do not try to hide your pain. Do not be a crazy person... the list goes on and on. 

I had to come home. I want to be next to her, even though I'm not sure at this point I could provide any comfort. But I want to. I know that she'll be okay. I know that I have my moments of weakness but I also know that overall I've been okay, even when I just knew I wouldn't be. I want to provide her some sort of guidance into this wretched world of young widowhood, but there's really nothing I can provide except someone who understands. Someone who will never say "I know how you feel" or "I know what you're going through," but who can say, "I understand the suck" and "You will be alright, even through the pain." Someone who can hold her hand and maybe share the pain. Someone who can cry along side her.

Please pray for my beautiful friend in her coming days. It's not going to get easier. One widow told me early on something along the lines of "It doesn't get easier, you get used to it." That is so true. Every day it's hard. It is so damn hard. Every day it hurts. But it becomes your norm and you learn how to deal with it. I hate that I can't take her pain and I know I am not the only one. I hate that she's "like me." A young widow. I hate that she has to embark on this journey. I am comforted in knowing that she is such a strong and graceful person that I know with my whole heart she'll be alright. I am comforted in knowing the widow community is a wonderful place that will embrace her and lift her up. I am comforted in knowing that Rob is in great company up there. I am comforted in knowing that she feels his presence. 

You'll be alright, beautiful girl. You may fall apart at inopportune times years later (or that might just be me) but I know that you will be alright. Know I am always, always here for you, even if I'm a few hours away, or having a little meltdown - your stuck with this crazy gal. You are loved. Rob is loved. He will never be forgotten and you will not only survive but you will thrive.

As Raechel embarks on this journey, she will have so many things to deal with. Coping with her loss, navigating her grief, and finding her new norm are of utmost importance. One thing she shouldn't have to worry about is funds or keeping Rob's legacy alive. A Memorial Fund has been created to assist in both of these - to help with costs Raechel will now face in her time of loss and to donate in Rob's name to charities that were most important to him. Even during her own time of tragedy, Raechel is still thinking of others.
Please consider donating to the Rob Richards Memorial Foundation


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