“Hey, GraceAnna, I’d like to go out to my dad’s memorial marker today,” Grant told me.
It was the third day that Grant was visiting me in Beaufort. We were having a good time together despite the fact that I was still feeling disconnected from him. I decided not to talk with him about the way I was feeling though, and instead just give myself some time to adjust.
I was sure that after a few days I would probably be fine.
Sometimes, I put too much pressure on myself to feel a certain way, which only makes me feel the opposite way that I want to feel.
I figured this is what had been taking place since Grant arrived. I had expected and desired everything to be like a perfect fairytale from the moment Grant stepped off the plane.
After all, we had fallen in love across the ocean through the “power of the pen,” or well, the keyboard. When my prince charming set his foot on American soil in my beloved hometown, I was supposed to fall into his arms and we would live happily ever after.
Instead, I had felt awkward, scared, and the reality of the fact that we had never spent time together had become very real.
Perhaps if I had not put so much unrealistic pressure on myself for everything to be perfect, then I would not be experiencing the “disconnect” (as Grant later called my condition).
Grant on the other hand, was just taking things in stride. He was living in reality. He had not imagined some romantic ideal of how things would play out when we were together.
He was just enjoying his time with me. He was not putting pressure on me or on our relationship. He was being himself, enjoying being back in America, and somehow, despite my “issues,” he was loving my company.
We arrived at the Beaufort National Cemetery later that afternoon. I’d been there countless times over the years since Beaufort is my hometown. But since I had been unaware of the story of Grant’s father’s tragic accident until that year, I’d never been to Kelly’s memorial marker.
I had gone out there one day when I was visiting home that past fall, after Grant and I had started talking. I wanted to see if I could find his dad’s marker. However, I ended up abandoning my search because I somehow felt like I needed to wait to visit it for the first time with Grant.
Grant parked the car and got out. I knew this was a special day for him. I knew that visiting his dad’s marker was one of the reasons he had been looking forward to coming to Beaufort that Christmas.
Before Grant and I had started talking, when Grant first joined the Marine Corps, he requested Beaufort as his first duty station. Instead, he got Japan.
Beaufort has always been near to his heart because it was the last place that his father was on this earth. It was the last place Grant had seen his father. And it is the only place that Grant has memories of his dad.
His memories are few and vague of Kelly since Grant was only two years old when he died. But he remembers his dad chasing him around the house while he screamed the screams that only a toddler can in excitement and playful fear of his dad catching him. He also remembers his dad bathing him and turning the cold water on and off which made Grant scream and laugh.
And of course, he could never forget his two-year-old firetruck birthday party in Laurel Bay. His dad asked the base fire station to drive to their house with the firetruck sirens blasting and give all the little boys a tour of a real firetruck.
“That was the coolest party ever,” Grant told me as a twenty-five year old man.
These are Grant’s few memories of his father that he cherishes. Oh, he has so many more memories of what other people have told him about his dad, but these memories are his.
Grant had shared these memories with me before that day and I thought about them as I watched his tall frame get out of the car and walk to the place where he knew his dad’s memorial marker was located.
Even though it had been seven years since Grant had last been there, he knew exactly where to go.
It didn’t matter that his dad’s marker was situated among hundreds of white stones that were identical. The path to where it was located seemed to be seared forever in Grant’s memory.
I guess you don’t forget something like that.
I stood back, just watching him make his way to his dad’s marker.
This was his sacred moment and while he had allowed me to be a part of it, I didn’t want to intrude.
Grant stood quietly in front of the memorial marker. It’s a memorial marker, and not a grave stone, because his father’s body was never found after the plane crash.
Searchers did find his dad’s pilot helmet floating in the Atlantic Ocean. From what I understand, items like that are normally not given to the family, but are instead kept for investigation purposes. But in this instance, Grant was given the helmet at his dad’s memorial service a year after the crash.
Grant’s mom saw the helmet as a sign from the Lord that Kelly had gone home to be with his Savior and was not lost somehow at sea. Grant cherished that helmet.
Even from where I stood at a distance, I could make out the inscription on the marker.
It read on the front:
IN MEMORY OF
US MARINE CORPS
JAN 5 1960
SEP 23 1986
“GraceAnna, come here.”
Grant realized that I was standing far off.
“Come, stand here with me.”
I walked over, feeling honored that he wanted me there.
“Read the back of the marker, GraceAnna.”
We walked around to the back, and as I read, the tears I had been trying to hold back started to fall.
LOVING FATHER OF
II TIMOTHY 4:7-8
IT IS WELL
WITH MY SOUL
“It’s so dirty, you’d think they’d keep these clean,” Grant started to say, but his voice trailed off as he choked up.
I looked up at him, my heart breaking as I saw his tears starting to fall.
“I just never got to know him, GraceAnna. I just wish I could have known him. He was such a godly man. He was an awesome husband and a great dad.”
“I know, Grant.”
Grant turned towards the huge oak that was a few feet away and walked towards it, he didn’t want me to see his tears.
I watched him as I tried to process it all. I tried to imagine what this must be like for him.
Somehow, I felt Grant’s pain, as if it were in some part, my pain too.
Grant is such a strong person who trusts in God’s sovereign plan, but here, in this moment, I saw his sadness that his dad had died. True sadness.
The sadness of a little boy, and the sadness of a grown man.
I loved this man. I loved his character and I loved his heart. I knew my love for him was not a feeling, it was real.
Grant walked back over to me and we sat on the grass there in the cemetery for a long time. We talked about his dad and we cried and then we laughed as Grant told funny stories of things people had told him about his dad. I felt like I somehow knew Kelly too.
After a long while, we got up and made our way over to a stone bench. Grant put his arm around me.
“GraceAnna, thank you for coming here with me today. Thank you for caring about my dad.“
I stared into his face. I didn’t know why I had been feeling so disconnected from him. While my time in the cemetery with him had confirmed my love for him, I still couldn’t put to rest the fears I was feeling.
While I had arrived there that day planning to keep the truth from him, I now knew I couldn’t do that anymore. I had to be honest with him. He deserved that.
“Grant,” I said as I took a deep breath, dreading my next words and hating myself for what I knew I had to say, “there’s something I need to tell you.”
to be continued…
*Pictures, top to bottom –
Grant’s firetruck birthday party
Grant at his dad’s memorial service a year after the crash
The dirty memorial marker that day we visited the cemetery