|Francis in Rocky Mountain National Park, Sept. 2007,|
one month following his release from the Army.
When our loss was still new, I quietly feared the time when years would begin to pass, when distance would grow not only from when I last saw Francis, but from the intense grief of those first months and years. The pain is like no other, but as awful as it was, I did not want to lose that intensity. It kept him close.
But time is relentless, and indifferent, and the years have sanded the sharp edges of grief to a smooth roundness that enabled it to embed itself within, a permanent fixture, ever present but not always painful.
Another parent who had lost a child told me back then that the pain would become less intense. I wasn’t sure I wanted that because I thought it would also mean forgetting him. I was wrong. In the time since we lost him, Francis has filled our lives with purpose and with many friends and experiences and even joy.
His passing brought new people into our lives, with whom we share his memory. Losing him also gave us a sense of clarity about our world. Much has happened in the past five years. Heather has spent four of them converting and testing and transcribing all of his 100-plus recipes. She has also become a grief group leader at her church, helping others through the pain of their losses. I have written with renewed purpose about our experiences while he was in the Army and afterwards. And the need to end our wars and preserve our environment has never seemed more important—especially as his sister Erin will soon bring his first niece or nephew into the world. His brother Alex will also remember Francis by keeping a place for him as best man when he gets married this June.
Additionally, the generosity of hundreds of friends and family and also friends we’ve never met has brought our memorial fund for Francis to the unimagined amount of $25,000. Melissa Jacobson at the Kansas City VA recently shared an instance that exemplified the value of the Francis Fund, as we’ve come to call it. A homeless woman in Kansas City—a veteran—had suffered a psychotic breakdown and was brought to the KCVA Medical Center for treatment. When she was well enough to be released, she still needed home care, but her family lived in Florida. She had no one nearby. Without support, the cycle of breakdowns and treatment and homelessness would only continue. The VA Medical Center had no funds to pay for her ticket to Florida, so they turned to the Francis Fund and arrangements were soon made to send her home. Stories like this have come to characterize the Francis Fund.
As I write, I imagine how astounded Francis would be to read such stories. It’s a notion that keeps him with me, with all of us, just as he is with us when we go hiking in Colorado with his friends J and Kim, or I ride the waves of Lake Pontchartrain with Bobby and Matthew, and later Allison sputters through a story about Francis so funny she can barely finish it; or when Isaac and Matt and other friends send pictures of their growing kids to us every Christmas, or when Dave writes a song for Francis, or Heather cooks another of his amazing dishes, or Benny and Leslie share his name with Patrick Francis, or Bennett makes his photo a screen saver, and so the catalogue of wonder goes. We will never regain what we’ve lost—but we have gained much, and that is something.