Somehow, after eight years, I still woke up this 23 APR with a weight on my chest.
On 23 APR 2011, a call came in that there'd been an incident in my husband’s unit and to remain at my residence for further information. My husband was deployed as a combat helicopter pilot to AFG and these phone calls were common. Deductive reasoning and my gut had taught me when to worry and when to remain calm. This time I worried.
I paced my kitchen floor with my newborn baby in my arms. Opening and closing the refrigerator, hoping to find answers inside. My mom, who was visiting from California, had seen me blow off these calls before. She watched me pace and asked, "What about this call has you more worked up than other calls?"
I paused, evaluated my thoughts, and said, "Even if it's not Sean, it's still someone I know."
Then the call came. It took a second to register what Kristina was saying. Not only was someone I knew, it was someone I loved.
Terry wasn't just my friend, he was my brother from another mother.
For five years, Terry, Casey, and Ava filled the void the military leaves in your life. A space that’s reserved for family. When you live thousands of miles from everyone you love, it’s hard to fill that space. But they did.
They were the first to the hospital when Eoin was born. We moved cross country together - you can only imagine how crazy that was with 2 toddlers, 3 large dogs, 4 vehicles, a million bags of Oreos. Once we arrived in New York, we shared the misery of hotel living together. Then, when they found their little home, they gladly let us move in with them while we continued our house hunt - for WEEKS! Terry even picked our house!
The only thing that separated our families was four miles of country road. We shared every New York holiday, every army frustration, every new baby celebration, and a thousand laid back nights.
Terry and Casey lived in the lines between friends and family - where boundaries blur because its safe enough to let them. Where you can have disagreement and come back from it, because you're stuck. I'll never forget Casey yelling at me for chasing my dumb dog across a highway and through an electric fence - 8 months pregnant. Or how hard Terry laughed and pointed when Sean introduced him to 5-finger running shoes. We scolded each other's kids, and snored on each other's couches. The guys would to step in as "Man of the House" when the other was out of state for training - killing big bugs, moving heavy boxes, walking dogs, wrangling toddlers, etc. That is not a colleague. That is not a friend. That is family.
The last time I saw Terry he was buckling my preschool boys into my truck after taking them Trick or Treating. Sean had already been gone for three months and I was pregnant with Libby. It was freezing that night. So he and Steve and a few others took all of our kids around the neighborhood so that us "womenfolk" could stay nice and toasty inside. When they returned Terry had zipped Cian up in his coat to warm him. Cian was 4 years old. He didn't think twice about the fact that this guy - who wasn't his dad - had snuggled him in as if he were his own kin. Eoin's cheeks were bright red and he had snot smeared across his face.
"Mama, Terry and Mason's Daddy took us to all da neighbors and made dem give us tandy!" my 3-year-old shouted, proudly thrusting his little plastic jack-o-lantern in the air.
I regretted that night for months after Terry passed. He should have had Ava in his coat. He should have spent those minutes with his own child - not mine. I should have gone with them. I should have stayed home. He was deploying the next day. I should have given them all that time together. One night, a few years later, I shared that regret with Casey. With kindness and confidence she reassured me -"It's okay. That's who Terry was. He wouldn't have let us go out in that cold if we wanted to." That was healing for me. That is family.
Losing Terry was a crushing blow. I thought we would be a life-long friends ... The kind of friends you plan your career with, move all over the country with, finally retire with. The kind of friends who - because this is my own perfect fairy tale - your kids end up marrying each other. The kind of friends you live happily ever after with.
To be honest, it still pisses me off. You get use to grief like you get used to a toothache - it doesn’t go away - you just find a way to chew around it.
For me, the memory of Terry is a Spirit of Security that shows up in my dreams. His memory represents “home” for me. When I “see” him in a crowd, or hear his laughter in the woods - I know it’s God’s way of telling my heart to settle down.
Rest in Glory, brother.
Terry Lee Varnadore II
23 Apr 2011
Terry showing Cian how to play the Wii at his second birthday party.
Ava and Cian over the years (left to right):
1 year old: Living together at the Best Western in Watertown, NY.
4 years old: Playing at the park.
12 years old: Last summer, at Fort Fisher Beach.
My favorite family photo of the Varnadores from our fall portrait session in 2010.
Terry and Sean pre-flight, AFG 2011.
This is a photo of Casey and their daughters now. Casey is the kindest, bravest, most fearless woman I know. She has handled this years with grace and growth. Basically, I want to be her when I grow up. Casey, I'm proud of you and I can't wait to see what the future holds for you. <3 All my love. (PS - I totally jacked this photo from your FB page)