|The two of us|
Chris died while jogging. He was stationed in Macedonia, serving in the Army, and had just completed a two-mile run that was slower than he wanted, so he asked for permission to do it again. When this was granted, he took off, probably faster than his heart wanted to take him. He experienced what is known as "sudden cardiac death." He was observed falling over, and by the time his fellow soldiers reached him, he was dead. It comforts me to think he didn't suffer for long before losing consciousness.
I had not seen him since he left stateside, but in the meantime he had made a life for himself in Germany and married a young German girl, Silvia, who had a five-year-old son by a previous marriage. Chris was very close to him. Until I arrived in Bamberg, Germany, I had never met either one of them. We spent a very emotional week together. Chris and I used to talked on the phone and emailed each other as well, but I had not seen him in years. Today we would have Skyped and texted each other, but those things didn't exist then.
He had been sent on a three-month stint in Macedonia as a border guard. It was in August when he died, and it was probably a combination of heat, altitude, and effort that caused his heart to fibrillate. His father died of the same thing at the age of 51, although Derald died in bed, retiring early because he didn't feel well. Chris got heart disease from both sides of his family and was being treated by the Army for high cholesterol. He had recently had a physical, which didn't discover the possibility of the event that took his life. He was pronounced healthy.
It's been a long time now. I look at that picture of us and realize that he must have been around 21, and me around forty. My hair doesn't have any gray in it, but he had begun to turn gray himself by the time he turned forty. When he died, he was the age that I am in that picture. Time has moved on. He has not, but his remains lie buried in a grave in Bamberg, where I will never visit. If it had been up to me, I would have had him cremated, but Silvia was the one who got to make that decision, not me. It simply astounds me that marriage made her his closest relative, although I was his mother.
But never mind. I don't intend to ever return to Germany, and Silvia and I are Facebook friends, although she writes her posts in German and I don't speak the language. Now that Chris is gone, her limited English is probably never practiced, and the Army base where he was stationed has been closed. Chris worked in the mail room, which was dedicated to his memory, but now the entire place is gone. It's just as well. Dwelling in the past is not something I like to do very much, but today I am making an exception in honor of Chris' birthday. Do you still celebrate birthdays once the person is gone? He was forty when he died, and forty he will remain forever.
When he returns to me in dreams, he is inevitably a teenager or a little older, around the age he is in the picture. He's filled with laughter and energy. Chris was an optimist, like me, and he was very well liked by everyone he met. When I met his fellow soldiers in Germany, many of them took me aside to express their condolences and tell me how much he meant to them. It was very touching. When I think of that week when we all said goodbye to him, the part that stands out the most are the heartfelt conversations I had. We were grieving, missing a soul who was taken away from us in his prime.
And here I am today, living in a place he would have loved, living a life he would have appreciated. Tomorrow is Veterans Day. It is a day when we remember those who have served in the military. In my family, that includes not only Chris, but my father and brother as well, and several nieces and nephews, many of whom are still serving today. It's a federal holiday, and I had forgotten it was coming up until I saw a TV scene, and every single person in the picture was wearing a poppy. That's what they do in Canada. Yesterday on my Fairhaven walk, Terry, who is a Canadian, was wearing one and we had a chat about it. We should do something like that here in the US. Another veteran, JFK, once said, "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."
I will always be grateful for the veterans in my life, and I will always be grateful for the gift I was given of my son, Christopher Eric Heath, 1961–2002. One day we will be together again, and we'll laugh and cry and hug each other, and time will be no more.