Veterans Day has always been sort of an abstract concept for me. I do believe in celebrating the people who have served our country, and I deeply appreciate that service and the families who sacrifice for that service. However, no one in my immediate family has been in the military. Our service has always taken different forms, so the holiday hasn’t ever touched me in the way it does others. This year is different.
Just this last week we learned that my nephew (by way of my ex-husband) and my son Blaise’s cousin, Brandon Buttry, was killed in Afghanistan while manning a watch tower. He was 19, just a couple of years older than my own son. I know this boy. I hadn’t seen him in several years but my son and he were always fast buddies when our families gathered, and Blaise and Brandon had used Facebook to stay connected. Brandon had the sweetest of hearts and such a kind and gentle spirit.
Brandon was adopted by his parents when he was 3 years old, and I remember his arrival well. He took to his family as if they had always been together. He was one of 14 children, and each child has known nothing but a loving upbringing, and Brandon was blessed with 16 years of being adored and cared for. My heart has ached every day this past week for the family. I can’t begin to know the kind of sacrifice they have given. I can’t begin to imagine the pain of losing a child.
On the same day we learned of Brandon’s death, I learned of the death of the mother of a close family friend. Fanny Martin was 98 years old when she left this world and had something like 64 great grandchildren. She was a devoted servant of the local Catholic church and a loving mother, grandmother, and great grandmother.
When I was in high school, Fanny hired me to play the pipe organ at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Imogene, Iowa. I did that for a couple of years and did a few funerals there as well. I found out after my stint there that the $10 I was paid every week came from her own pocket, not the church itself. She quietly did that without ever saying a word, and no one in the church must have known it either.
Because I heard about the loss of these two people on the same day, my brain keeps trying to connect them somehow. But there is nothing logical about one person getting only 19 years and someone else getting 98. We could say it’s “God’s plan,” but that doesn’t explain the vast difference between 19 and 98. A few years ago I attended a very sad funeral for a young man who was the brother of a friend of mine. The pastor reminded us that we all get a lifetime. I guess that’s really the only answer: we just get what we get, short or long.
I can’t reconcile in my mind the injustice of the death of a teenager, and I am so sad to think of Fanny no longer with her family. All I can do is appreciate these two people and the sacrifices they made to make the world, be it close to home or as far away as Afghanistan, a better place.
Angie Albright, author of A Growing Season