No one wants this Gold Star on their paper

Nothing prepares you for the final farewell. What words could describe the emptiness, grief, and fear that the loss of a loved one brings?  We all know that life is temporary, and everyone close to us will die one day. 

Yet, most of us are totally unprepared when that day comes.  Even though the death of a loved one is inevitable, that doesn’t make it any less painful.

In my military career as a US Army Ranger, I witnessed the unexpected deaths of many friends. When I became a chaplain in the Army, I had to help countless military families struggle through the worst news a parent, spouse, or child will ever hear… new of the tragic loss of a family member.

I’ve seen the folded flag, heard the bugle call of Taps, and watched the 21-gun salute to honor the service of my country’s warriors.  Unfortunately, there’s nothing to honor the sacrifice that military families make when they send their loved ones oversees, never to return.

I have witnessed families who were broken by the death of a service member.  I have also stood amazed by the strength and resiliency of those who are left behind. These patriots have paid a tremendous price for the freedoms that most people take for granted.   

I wanted to honor military families right away in my new podcast, UNBEATABLE.  Although, I have many contact cards for military families that have endured loss, two women immediately come to mind when I think about the strength it takes to endure the loss of a spouse or parent in combat.

One of the strongest military families I know

I recently did an interview with Nancy and Savannah Weaver. They are members of an amazing Gold Star Family. “Gold Star family” is a phrase that refers to the military families that have lost a service member in combat. 

They are the wife and daughter of Aaron Weaver, a soldier who sacrificed his life in the name of service. I knew the Weaver family for many years before Aaron’s death. He was my Ranger buddy for two years and one of my best friends. Aaron and Nancy had the kind of family that most people can only dream about. 

In this interview, Nancy struggles to tell people how good life was before he left for a combat deployment in Iraq.  When asked about what it was like, she describes her life before the news of Aaron’s death this way:

“Imagine right now you have a great life. You have a great husband. You have little kids. Life is good! Then one day you have to leave your job, your kids have to leave their school, and they have to leave their friends.”

Nancy Weaver

This is the moment when life radically changed for Nancy and her children. It’s like the pages of a story that no one wants to read. This is the Gold Star no one want to receive. Yet, these are the moments that will show you what you’re really made of. Real internal strength doesn’t show itself on the easy days.  It’s only on the hard days of life that you get to see a person’s grit.

That fateful day came for the Weaver family on January 8, 2004. Nancy recounts the details of what it was like when she came back from a lunch break at work to military leaders who were tasked with notifying her of Aaron’s death. She describes the moment she learned that her husband and best friend was killed in action on a helicopter which was shot down in Iraq.

In one instant, Nancy went from loving wife and co-parent of two children, to widow with the responsibility of raising their two children alone. Some goodbyes are hard to say, but the most difficult, by far, are the final goodbyes that were never said.  

How to face tragedy

Do you feel the need to always maintain a positive mindset, regardless of how dire the situation? Don’t settle for phony positivity. Life isn’t always rosy. Life doesn’t always end up “happily ever after”.  Sometimes, God will allow us to be broken.  It’s in the brokenness that we turn to him for healing.

Jesus spoke to the broken and the hurting in Matthew 11:28-30 of the Bible. [Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.]

If you’re passing through a dark tunnel in life right now, learn from the way Nancy and Savannah Weaver handled tragedy. It took them not months, but years of struggling, crying, and praying to get through the tunnel. They learned that there is a light at the end of all tunnels.

They learned that when life takes a sudden turn and knocks you down, suck it up. Cry if you must. Scream if it helps.  But never give up! No matter the circumstances… be UNBEATABLE!

Listen to the whole interview HERE.

Further reading