A letter to my son, my hero


memorialDearest Derek,

There are no words.

There are no words to describe this feeling.

There are no words to express what is going on in my head.

There are no words to explain what happened.

There are no words that can make this even slightly better.

I can talk and talk and talk but it all comes out in circles, fragments, empty thoughts.

How can I say “good-bye,” when I have no words?

The world was a better place with you in it. The people who knew you are better for having you as part of their lives. The world will never be the same. The world is a darker, sadder place now that you are gone.

The emotions, stories, love expressed during our last two days at Walter Reed was overwhelming. The tears shed could fill the Potomac. The laughs as we told our Derek stories still ring through the halls. Everyone who knew you, loved you.

We don’t know what happened. Investigation is pending.

What we do know is that you are dancing in Heaven, your body restored. Please hug Noni, Nana and Granny for me.

We also know that our lives are irrevocably changed. We went from VA appointments, preparing for retirement, training with an amazing service dog with an angel’s name, Gabriel, and planning a wedding, to dealing with Casualty Affairs, muddling through Army protocol, and planning a funeral.

Krystina and Derek

How do we wrap our heads around this?

How do I wrap my head around going from a Blue Star Mother, to a Silver Star Mother, to the dreaded Gold Star Mother, all within two years’ time.

I could have accepted this better twenty months ago. When you were so sick. When you were in the ICU. When Dr. Ugo took my hand and simply said, “I don’t know if I can save him.” When Dr. Perdue was in constant touch, giving me his cell phone number, and working so hard to save your life. When I was standing guard at the door demanding action and refusing to let anyone into the room who did not know you or who would not give exemplary care. I could have accepted it then. Almost.

But now? After twenty months of fighting to get you better? When you were a couple of months from coming home to us?

This is not okay.

This will never be okay.

I am angry.

I am hurt.

I am heartbroken.

Your little lady is the strongest woman I know. She was there for you for the six years since you waltzed into her classroom with a smile, of course cutting your own class to hang out and chat with her teacher. She was there for you for the twenty months you were at Walter Reed. That morning, she was there trying in vain to wake you. But you were gone. You were the love of her life.christmas

We will miss your Derekisms. “Mom? Did some old lady somewhere, ever call baseball, basketball?” Your singing, “Baby, come back! You can blame it ALL on ME!” when you ticked Krystina off and she walked out of your hospital room. The “hot boxes” in the car or elevator when you burped that darn colostomy bag. The evil laugh. The sick sense of home. Your devilish smile. You were a hot mess. Yes, I know, I remember your response to that time I called you a “hot mess.” “Well, Mom, at least I’m hot.” You kept us laughing. We were the noisiest room on the ward. The party room.

I love you. I will always love you. Everyone is better for having known you.

Rest well, my son, my angel, my hero. You earned your rest.

Stand down, Solider. Your watch has ended. You are now Heaven Deployed. Never to be forgotten.

In loving memory of my baby boy, my soldier, my hero

Derek Tra McConnell, October 8, 1989 – March 18, 2013

—- Siobhan Fuller McConnell