Friday, June 8, 2012

Saying Goodbye

Travis sitting outside at night under the streetlights during basic training
Ever since I found out about Travis's passing in Afghanistan, I have teetered back and forth, from celebrating our friendship and re-reading his emails, to utter despair and disbelief at his loss. This past Monday offered some solace to me, as I was able to join his loved ones to finally put Travis to rest.

I have never attended a military funeral. I have only seen them on the news, or in Time magazine, the pictures of families sobbing, the grand procession, the flag folding ceremony. It all seemed so heart wrenching, but also detached from my own experiences. After this week, I will never feel that way again.

folding the flags to give to his parents
At the funeral cemetery, when soldiers marched and folded the flag, I felt like I was in a hazy dream. That perhaps none of this was really happening. That Travis couldn't really be gone, that I couldn't be really standing at his funeral watching soldiers folding a flag for HIM. He was supposed to come back safe, like so many people I knew who had been deployed and had returned.

But there it was, right in front of my eyes. When the soldiers handed the flags to his parents, my heart just shattered for them and their unbearable loss. The soldiers took Travis's ashes and respectfully placed them in their final resting place, inside a granite wall with his name tagged on it. And that was it, Travis had finally come home. Right then, an army helicopter swooped above us, circling around the funeral party while waving an American flag. My eyes blurred as tears ran down my face when I saw this. It was all so much, so much emotion, so much trauma, and so much grief.

I spent the time after the funeral hanging out with his family and attending a gathering at his grandfathers beautiful home. His family and friends told me stories about his life, about how he told them about me and our friendship, which touched me deeply. I also learned so much about him. Strangely, it was as if I got to know him better after his death. The friendship Travis and I had had an instant connection, but was brief. I only knew him in the present, as he shared his thoughts and uncertainties about Afghanistan, about his life as a ranger. Now, I learned that he was a huge broncos fan, that he grew up in Washington, but spent summer in San Jose, how he loved football and basketball, and hated taking pictures, but above all else he much he loved his family and always kept everyone together. I looked through his baby pictures and marveled at the man that he had become, and the man that we had all lost.

I want to thank his wonderful family for opening their hearts to me during one of the most difficult times in their lives. They loved the blog post I wrote about Travis so much that they printed it out along with his photos to show everyone, and shared it far and wide. It gave me some comfort to know that somehow, I could be there for them. His mother, father, stepfather, stepmother, and myriad of aunts and uncles warmed my heart with their close bonds. I was inspired to meet them and get to know them. I only hope that one day, I can help cultivate a family unit with as much love and connection as I saw within them.

Thirteen of Travis's friends also flew down from Washington to attend his funeral. I have never seen young men show so much dedication to a friend, to shell out that kind of money to make sure that they would not miss this final goodbye.

with Joe Morgado, Travis's father
I also spoke to his father, Joe, for awhile. He recalled how small Travis had been as a baby and how he wouldn't give up one second of his life with Travis for anything, that every second was cherished. I found out how even at the very end, how brave Travis was, and how he put his military unit first. I remember Travis once mentioned to me that he was more afraid of having someone under his command get hurt, rather than himself. That was him, selfless till the end.

And that is what I carry with me now. All of these memories, all of the love I felt from his family. I am still grappling with sadness and loss. I know that I will never get another email from him, or get to send him another book. But now I am emailing some of his friends and families, it's amazing the impact that one persons life can have. It's amazing what experiences one can go through by just saying hi to someone on a plane.

Travis's father told me that Travis always wanted to do something that would be remembered. I will do my part to make sure that this happens, that people know about Travis and what his life meant. How in such a short time, he has inspired me forever. But it doesn't end there. One thing Travis and I really connected on was our desire to do something meaningful with our lives, to make the world a better place. Travis may be gone, but he always encouraged me. He was so excited for my trip to Vietnam, for me to be involved in politics, for all of the social justice work I am involved in. I feel a renewed passion to go out there and never give up. To live my life to the fullest and make the biggest impact I can make. To be fearless and steadfast in my efforts.  And I will do it, with Travis in my heart, inspiring me all the way through.

Travis, when I close my eyes, I see your kind eyes, your slight smile as we talked excitedly on and on and on while you sat right next to me. Now you are so far away, and I can't get to where you are. But I cherish that memory so dearly. We all cherish your memory in every way possible. Befriending you, losing you, and connecting with your loved ones over your early loss has given me one of the most profound experiences of my life.

So thank you Travis! Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for letting me share your world for a little while before you left.

For that, I am forever grateful.

Love always,

To see more photos, you can go to my Facebook Album: