An Honorable Service – Monday, May 1, 2006

The final day of this emotional weekend was spent going to and from theTahomaNationalCemeteryinKent,Washington. Again, we woke up early and again we had butterflies in our stomachs. We knew that today would be another emotional day and another day of being smacked in the face with reality. UJ is gone.

We got dressed in our snazzy suits and met the rest of the gang at a nearby gas station. We had six cars in our unofficial procession and we all followed my parents to the cemetery.

We arrived a little early so we stopped at McDonald’s and got some coffee (Randy, Erik and I grubbed on some greasy stuff though). After hanging out for a bit we headed to the cemetery where we lined our cars behind the hearse.

Once there the Funeral Director pinned carnations on the suits of the pallbearers (Grandpa, Uncle Steve, Cousin Butch, and me and my brothers). We snapped some photos and took the slow drive to the site where we were going to have the service.

The service was really nice and it was a real honor to be a pallbearer for Uncle Jeff. The casket was covered in the American flag and we got to walk it to the front of the service. We also got the privilege of being the first ones to place flowers on the casket. As we slowly walked off we all said our final goodbye. Uncle Steve kissed the casket, and my brothers and I set our hands on it, bowing our heads and saying something to UJ.

My Mom asked me later what it felt like and I told her it felt good and honorable. It’s unfortunate, at this time in our lives, that the US flag isn’t treated and looked at with as much respect as it once was. People take it for granted and a lot of that has to do with what’s going on (or not going on) in the Middle East. On the way home, Randy, Lis and I discussed this. We all left with a little more respect for our flag, country and the men and women that serve and hope that the respect, not in foreign countries but here in the States, returns.

The service was great and emotional – of course! They did the gun salute, which startled us all. They played the bugle, which, if you weren’t tearing up before you were then. Then the soldiers handed Sara the flag from the casket and also gave a flag to Grandma. It was then that I lost it.

It was very nice, the flag my Grandma got from the soldiers. I guess his battalion had put some money together and had gotten her a flag and a case for the flag with UJ’s medals. It made my Grandpa proud. He served in the Marines around the time of the Korean War and has always been a big military guy. My Uncle Steve and Uncle Jeff both served in the Army and UJ returned in late 2004 joining the National Guard. He served eight months inIraqbefore coming back in March 2005.

When the service was over some of the soldiers from UJ’s battalion came by and talked with Sara, Tito, Nikki, the Grandparents and the rest of the family. It was nice to hear stories from them about UJ about what a good person and hard-worker he was and also about how he was a lot of fun.

After the ceremony we took some family photos and headed home. We had just been through an emotional weekend, we were all exhausted but stronger.

That night Lis and I went home and sat on the couch to watch TV. I felt blah. My body felt numb. Nothing on TV could make me laugh. I just sat there with a blank stare soaking in the week before.

On Tuesday I returned to work but didn’t really feel like doing anything. I had to work both jobs but didn’t feel like talking to anyone or helping anyone. Next time this happens (which hopefully isn’t very soon) I’m taking the following day off. Just to sit and reflect and let my body take in everything that has happened.

That night, at 11pm, I left my second job and headed to the car. While walking through the parking lot I began to tear up. My emotions had caught up with me. I wanted to sit in my car, listen to music and ball my eyes out, but I just couldn’t.

That night I drove home thinking about how I felt. It was the same feeling I had exactly a year ago, on that same road, at about the same time of the day. Driving back from visiting Lis at the hospital, her body knocked out from the chemotherapy treatment she had been given. A year ago I would drive home wondering “Why was this happening? How could this happen?” My heart had pain, like something was missing.

This year, as I drove home I got the same feeling. Though, this time the pain won’t go away. There will always be that missing piece in my heart, that piece that was once filled by Uncle Jeff and his craziness. Love you UJ! How do you feel about that?

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