It’s been a long week of reflection. Just when you think you’re moving forward, you’re reminded that you’re still just barely gaining ground. Watching a television show this evening, a random story line that crossed its way to including soldiers overseas and their struggles brought me back to where I was (where many of us were) one week ago today, the emotions as strong as ever. Just when I thought the forward motion had somehow carried us a little bit past them…I was moved somehow, to make this my first entry. Maybe because I was asked then to send this to a larger group, and simply hadn’t. So I will repost, below, what I did then. The hope for healing remains, renewed by the reminder that it is still needed – and will be, for much longer, as we move forward more slowly than we sometimes think.
There was no question as we headed into today that it was going to be difficult. As it was the fourth day of events remembering Shawn’s life (and really, the 13th day in a string of unending days since news of his death), you could easily see the toll it was taking on everyone. It’s been hard to watch the family continually shoulder their grief day after day this whole time. My hope was that today would finally bring some closure to this chapter so that they may somehow begin to move forward from it. We gathered at the funeral home, readied the procession line, and began the journey out of town. We were preceded by the Honor Guard again. I had watched my Father-in-Law go to every single one of them individually, shake their hands, and thank them for being there before we left; a somewhat sobering sight. As there had already been a public procession into town two days before that was greeted by the citizens of Grove City on the road (which I had not seen from the vantage point of the person in the car, I had waited along the road as well), I was completely unprepared for there to be people lining the road again today as we left; but there were. And there were many, flags held high, hands over hearts. The fire department had again deployed the ladder truck with the giant U.S. flag, and the whole unit was standing in front of it at attention with smaller flags of their own. The Catholic church towards the end of town had brought out all of the children who also stood with flags, hands over hearts, tall and at attention to the long line of us trailing past them. It was overwhelming.
For the drive from Grove City to Wellston, we were literally the only cars on the road. The amazing police escort leapfrogged each other the entirety of the way (a 90-minute route) blocking entrance ramps and intersections so that we could pass through uninterrupted. It was almost surreal to simply glide through small towns and traffic lights and barely change speed or course at all.
The most affecting part of the drive were the complete strangers we encountered. The traffic on the opposite side of a divided highway that pulled over and stopped completely until we had passed, some standing outside of their cars. The random man in jean shorts and rugged t-shirt standing behind his parked car, saluting as we drove by. The young lady perched in the back of her pickup truck wiping tears from her cheeks, watching quietly. The older gentleman who had briefly abandoned his car at the intersection he was prevented from turning through, so that he could stand next to it with his hand over his heart. The small group of people at a random overpass who stood and draped a flag for us to see as we passed under. We don’t know any of them; they don’t know us – and yet, they were moved enough to spend a portion of their day making sure we saw them. Making an effort to show us that Shawn was not forgotten. Those are the things that caught me off guard; the reminder that we do not suffer in our grief alone, in this world. Even people we do not know will help shoulder it for us.
Heading into Wellston, we knew the citizens would likely be along the streets waiting; however, I was again surprised as I didn’t expect the reader boards. The gas stations, American Legion, Wendy’s and others had all changed their reader boards to hold messages for “Msgt. Shawn Hannon”, thanking him for his “service and sacrifice”. That was dumbfounding to me for some reason. There were, again, so many people; not only on the main street, but on all the smaller side streets leading up to it as well. Holding flags, signs, saluting, hands over hearts, or just staring in awe, as we were. Occasionally you would see a random soldier speckled in amongst the crowd, in an outdated uniform. This was particularly poignant – it meant that they had taken the time to unearth this dress uniform that they had kept for so long, try it on to see if it still fit, and decide to put it on for this occasion. Just to honor this man. What an amazing gesture. Not that any of the other gestures made for him today were any less than…
The graveside service was poignant, and difficult, and also a little surreal. Hearing the pipers play up on the hill behind us; seeing all of the solders at attention; hearing the firing of the rounds; watching the unmanned horse be led past with the reversed boots in the stirrups as taps was played. I kept thinking in my head, as I’m sure many others did, that we simply shouldn’t be here; it shouldn’t be happening. And isn’t that the case for so many other families of so many soldiers? None of us should be seeing these things in relation to anyone we love. The presentation of the flags was the hardest, I think, as that was the final piece. There were three; the first for his wife, the second for his mother, and the third for his father, my Father-in-Law, who is so dear to us and my daughter especially. The closer they got to presenting the third flag, the more I willed it not to happen; the more I willed it not to be real for him. For any of them. But we can’t turn back the clock; we can’t right any of these wrongs that have occurred.
The flags have all been presented. It really is final; this chapter is complete. The only place we can go from here is towards healing. That is my sincerest hope for all of us. In healing, there is light.