We celebrate the life of the best man I ever knew: a soldier, a father, a husband, a man of faith, a great friend, a warm heart, and the biggest smile ever - my nephew Ray Wallace. His cousin, Cameron Ray Wallace joined our family at 1:32am this morning. May he be as happy in life as his namesake!
The funeral for my nephew Capt. Ellery Ray Wallace, 33, was held in Big Spring, Texas on Sept. 7th, 2010. Ray was killed when a rocket-propelled grenade struck his armored vehicle in Afghanistan on August 29, 2010. Services were held at a church then the funeral procession drove the cemetery some 5.2 miles on the other side of town. As family and friends made their way to their cars to join the funeral procession, it began to rain quite heavily. Despite the heavy rain (which was heavy enough to limit visibility) the 5 mile route from the church to the cemetery was lined with hundreds of individuals holding flags. Most of them did not have umbrellas or raincoats and were soaked to the bone within minutes. They stood there, patiently enduring the rain and cold, many of them having no previous knowledge of the funeral or the route the procession would take. There were gas station attendants and mechanics who dropped what they were doing to stand at the curb and salute or place their hand over their hearts. There were business owners in suites, women in dresses. There were individuals who had pulled over on the side of the road and exited the dry warmth of their vehicles to reverence the fallen soldier. There were countless dozens from the VA Hospital, somberly saluting. It seemed like every bank, every store, every restaurant had emptied out into the rain. Every city employee, from the sanitation worker to the office administrator seemed to line the street as car after car of the funeral procession splashed water on them. There was no flinching, no cursing. Only respect. Ray hadn’t lived in Big Spring for almost 20 years, so 99% of these people were complete and total strangers to him and to us. But on that day, they were family.
I've been unusually quiet the lest few days. Not just because it's been a travel whirlwind but because there was a lot to take in in 36 hours. The only word describing it accurately is overwhelming.
Monday morning at 5am our wonderful babysitter, Sarah, came to watch the kids for a couple of days and Doug and I headed to the Atlanta Airport. We knew we were headed to a small town in Texas but we weren't sure of what things would be like when we got there. I don't think it's anything anyone could prepare for.
We got in Monday afternoon and unfortunately missed the airplane arriving in town, but we did get a chance to say hi to everyone before the viewing. It was good to see how everyone has grown and it was nice to just be able to pick up where we left off after not seeing everyone one soo many years. Before the viewing we went out for dinner (if you can call it that) with Marsha, Doug's big sister. Doug's always adored her and her incredibly big heart so being around someone like that during this was comforting. She also validated some of Doug's feelings regarding his parents and gave him a chance to talk it all out, which was another big thing. From there we went straight to the viewing and Doug got a chance to see a lot of familiar faces. People that have known him since he was born, and have loved him since day one. It was good for him. I was doing good at the viewing until Jan (Ray's wife) and I started talking and she ended up comforting me. Giving me her thoughts on faith and preparation, trials and family. It amazes me how she was able to be so giving of herself to all of us during a time like this. She's my new hero. Her grace, her positive attitude and her testimony are all characteristics I saw from her that I will forever strive to have. Jan's family was also amazing through this entire thing as well, aware of everyone, watching the kids, and comforting each other constantly, all with smiles on their faces as infectious as Jan's.
After the viewing we went to visit with a family from Doug's home ward, another good thing for him. It was interesting though because he refused to tell her about him leaving the church- I don't think she knows and he steered away from the subject every time that the church was brought up. On our drive home, I asked him about it. He just said, "I can't.".
Tuesday morning was the funeral and it was heartbreaking yet, beautiful and comforting. The main thing that sticks out in my head is patriotism and faith. I've never been a 'proud' american. If anything, it's my canadian roots that I was taught to cling to. I was proud of my Grandpa serving in WWII for Canada. I was proud of my ancestors settling Southern Alberta, I was more proud of my tiny part of Canada then I was the country I was raised in and call home. Tuesday that changed. I was proud of the way the army treated my niece and her family. I was proud of the way my husband's hometown paid tribute to Ray's service and the family. Even though I disagreed with Ray about him still being in the military, I was proud of Ray and how much he believed in his country and what he was doing. I was heartbroken by the loss yet proud to be an American.
The funeral was beautiful and Ray's siblings did a great job doing something that must have been so hard on them. The sentiment of Faith that Jan had put so eloquently the night before was just reiterated to me and I was also left feeling proud of my religion, which I hadn't felt in a long time. There was a huge moment for both Doug and I that I won't share now because Doug wants to but, I do have an image of it that I'm thankful I caught.
Another thing that is still sticking with me is Ray and Jan's kids. I'm not sure if it's just because they are the exact same ages as my kids or if it's because of the circumstances but, everything about them touched me. Liam is their oldest, he and Ethan were babies together and throughout the entire thing he was just trying to be so big. He was trying to be strong and you could see the weight of the world on his shoulders. He's always been such a goofy, fun loving little boy (like his Dad) but, to see him so serious and suddenly so mature was both sad and peaceful at the same time. He's a strong kid and I'm sure he has the personality to be there for his little brother and sisters just like Ray always was. I hope he always remembers how much his Dad loves him and how happy Ray was to just be his Dad.
(on a side note; I love, LOVE seeing Doug in a suit) Doug's family was wonderful, his siblings were so loving and welcoming, his nieces and nephews were so much fun to be with that even having Doug's mother there couldn't ruin the moments they had together. Yes, we did see Doug's Mom, she said hello to me once and right before we left she finally acknowledged Doug and said hi to him. Every time I see her I'm hurt for Doug, I hate how much she has hurt him. I am soo glad that we went. I'm glad Doug saw everyone and I am happy we went and got a chance