"Taps" is not a Christmas Carol
There are those of us who have only heard “Taps” on Memorial Day, at presidential funerals or in John Wayne movies. Most of us have watched a president place the wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, salute and stand at attention while “Taps” is played. While dignified, somber, and somewhat moving some of us are at least several steps removed from feeling a direct impact. Let’s imagine what your line of duty death would do to your family’s Christmas. Let’s focus on their first Christmas without you.
Somebody went to your home and told your spouse you were badly injured. A neighbor was called to watch your three children, all under the age of ten. Another neighbor drove to the hospital. All the spouse could do was look out the window, staring at nothing with a sense of foreboding. Beads of sweat were a liquid caterpillar on the upper lip as an accompaniment to the nausea that burned the gut. The route to the hospital went by your crash site. When the spouse saw the rig a gasp exploded as a precursor to the tears, shaking extremities and wide eyed terror.
The ER entrance was crammed with rigs and staff cars in addition to the usual traffic. If this was a movie plot, it would be dark, cold and rainy, but the usual reality is it’s a bright, sunny day with normal road conditions. As your spouse enters the ER, “Code Blue, Trauma Room 1” blares from the overhead speakers. Everybody with a patch on their sleeve freezes. Although not medically trained, your spouse has heard enough of your war stories to know what that means. A few minutes later the co-worker who transported you apologize, “We’re so sorry. We did everything we could.” Holding back tears, the customary hugs and back pats are given with the usual “If you need anything, just let us know.” They go to the unit to clean out the other potentially infectious material that was once a part of you.
Your folks help with the funeral arrangements and finances, pending resolution of the insurance issues. Your spouse needs to work. Thank goodness your folks and in-laws can help with watching the kids and taking them to their various school activities. Your spouse and kids develop a new routine—without you.
Some time has passed. Your spouse reluctantly decorates the house for the Holidays. It’s not just that money is tight. In Medical Transportation, you were never rolling in dough, but you loved working together to make the money stretch to give the kids not just stuff, but a sense of security, family and well-being to carry them through the tough times, as your memories carried you. With you gone, your spouse carries on alone. No one to help—like you did. No one to share—like you did. No one to muddle through the instructions written in five languages to put together the toys—like you did. Some of the traditions you established can’t be done without you.
Christmas morning there is no need for mistletoe. You’re not there for your spouse to kiss. There is no special gift for or from you. You’re not there to be awakened by your happy, laughing, excited children. Your kids are old enough to know you’re gone and miss you. When your youngest is playing, she still on occasion runs to your favorite chair and looks for you. After Christmas at home, they will go to your folks’ for dinner.
Your death has been hard on your folks, especially your mom. She’s aged considerably. She couldn't bring herself to make your favorite pie this first Christmas without you. She hopes nobody mentions it. Your Dad let you carve the turkey for the first time the Christmas before your death. Mr. Tough Guy hopes he can do it this year without bawling.
After dinner, your extended family relaxes over a few toddies and reminisces. The funny things from everybody’s past are usually good for a few chuckles. When it’s your turn to be mentioned, your mom says, “Wasn’t that a beautiful funeral? I thought the bugler played wonderfully.” The chuckling stops. People stir uncomfortably and try to think of something meaningful to say. They all read in the paper that your unit and the car you hit were both going too fast. You weren't running hot. Somebody, maybe everybody, just wasn’t paying attention.
You’re not dead, yet. But think about this. If you drive unsafely and allow your co-worker to drive unsafely, it could be your fault that the song your family remembers on Christmas is “Taps”.