Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Memorial Post for Lt. Christopher T. Starkweather

Ten years ago today the world lost a special soul, my husband, U.S. Navy Lt. Christopher T. Starkweather.

(Chris with our cat Desi, short for Desiree)

Chris died when two T-39 Sabreliners collided during a training exercise over the Gulf of Mexico about 40 miles south of Pensacola, FL.  Six other crew members died with him. There were two Raytheon pilots: retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. Homer "Gray" Hutchinson III, age 57; and retired Navy Lt. Cmdr. Marshall F. "Fritz" Herr Sr., age 59. (Both had grown children and I know that Fritz now has grandchildren that were born after he died.)  The other victims included two instructors, Navy Lt. Cmdr. William R. Muscha, age 36; and Royal Saudi Air Force Maj. Ambarak S. Al-Ghamdi, age 32, who between them left behind 11 children.  The remaining crew members were students: Navy Ensign James T. Logan, age 26 (who was an identical twin); and Marine 2nd Lt. John N. Wilt, age 23.

"I do not know now, nor do I ever expect to answer or understand why this happened," said retired Navy Capt. Charles Tinker in his eulogy. "I fear it will remain a tragic mystery."

The planes landed at the bottom of the ocean, over 210 feet deep.  The navy did decide to try to salvage the planes.  The only human remains that were found belonged to James Logan, which helped to give his twin brother some closure.

I don't remember much from any of the 3 memorial services that were held for Chris outside of people later criticizing me because I didn't really cry at any of them.  I just remember feeling like I couldn't wake up from a bad dream.  I did cry later though, mostly in my shower because it broke my heart even more when my two year old son brought me a baby blanket to dry my tears with one day.

How would I describe Chris to someone who never had the pleasure of meeting him?  How do I describe him to the two children that don't have any memories of him?  (Joey was 23 months and Jessie was 6 months old when he died.)  I see mountains.....I see him skiing down the mountains with his family, laughing with them and spraying each other with snow when they fell.

(Chris' little brother, Jacob, and younger sister, Mary, skiing ahead of me down the mountain.)

Chris running.....he ran ALL.THE.TIME.  Even while in flight school to become a Naval Flight Officer, ( a navigator like the character Goose in the movie Top Gun) he ran ALL.THE.TIME.  I was beginning to hate running around the time he died.  I was a jealous wife and running was "the other woman" in our marriage.  I felt that we had so little time together as a family and it took him away from us, but he had to run.  It was as essential to his happiness as breathing.  Also, what do you buy someone whose only "hobbies" were flying (the navy paid for that) and running (gift cards for shoes each birthday?)  The man made gift giving kind of hard, especially since he was so frugal!  (Chris would order a whopper without cheese and put the cheese on at home rather than pay the extra money for the cheese-he was a very frugal man.)

(Chris before running in his first and only marathon in Lincoln, NE.  That's him crossing the finish line.
Final time was 3:18:02.)

Chris was Catholic, in every sense of the word.  He couldn't articulate his faith very well, but he lived it, he breathed it.  He was a St. Francis in that he walked the walk and only when necessary used words.  In the infamous "conversion story" post that I haven't published yet I will explain how he loved me into the Church. So many people asked me after he died if I was going to stop being Catholic after two years now that Chris was dead.  I guess they all assumed he pressured me.  Out of the seven years we were together before I converted (three years of dating in high school, two years engaged and the first two years we were married) he only asked me five times if I would convert.  The last three of those five times were during the last four months of the RCIA class before I entered the Church on April 23rd, 2000.  I didn't become Catholic to make Chris happy.  I became Catholic because I wanted that faith for myself, but Chris' patience, love and prayers helped to bring me into the Church.  His example of always attending Mass during college, while on vacation and as much as possible when deployed on the Navy carrier also went a long ways.  He also wouldn't compromise by attending any Protestant service whatsoever outside of my baptism.  If I wanted to attend church with my husband I had to go to the Catholic Church service.  I was free to go by myself to a different service, but he wouldn't attend with me.  I think I went twice without him and decided I was wasting precious time that I could be spending with him when time was so limited to be together.

(The two of us on Easter Vigil 2000.  I was 7 1/2 months pregnant with Joey.)

FAMILY.  Chris was all about his FAMILY.

Thankfully God changed our "five year plan", because Chris died four and a half years into our marriage.  God opened our hearts to being open to having babies sooner than either of us "had planned."  First we conceived Joey-both of us were surprised.  We had just started to learn the Creighton Model FertilityCare System of Natural Family Planning, but I was coming off the birth control pill.  We had been told to expect it to take several months before we could possibly conceive a baby.  With God's sense of humor we actually became pregnant in the two weeks that I stopped taking the birth control pill prior to starting Creighton classes.  Chris tried laughing it off when I told him we were pregnant.  I threw the box at him with the "info sheet" about how accurate the tests were.  He read the info sheet quietly and then a few minutes later informed me that he was going to go rest.  (It was still light out-I think it was like 6pm at night.)  Chris didn't get up until the next morning and was cheerfully resolute.  From that moment on he was already a "dad"-he got on me about caffeine, began coming home from work with parenting advice from everyone stationed at the STRATCOM intelligence offices in Nebraska, etc., etc....

(Chris holding Joey after being awake for over 22 hours.)

(Joey this past Christmas-age 11 1/2)

Chris was a devoted son.  He loved his parents and called home several times a week.

(Chris' parents, Larry and Sherry, holding their grandson and godson, Joey.)

Chris was a devoted big brother.  Anyone who was in our high school drama and speech class remembers the hilarious speech he gave about each time his parents announced there was another baby on the way.  He took his job as the big brother seriously and is probably giving their guardian angels pointers in heaven.

(From Left side, starting in back: me-Stephanie, Chris holding Joey, Laura, and James.
Front row: Jacob, niece Reagan and Mary.)

Here's Chris before going out on a "date" with his sister Mary to see a musical.

Chris was also devoted to his grandparents, aunts and uncles.  We've moved things around so many times in this house and so many things are still boxed up that I could only find one photo album (Joey's baby album), so I couldn't find any of the pictures with his aunts and uncles.  Here is Chris with his PapPap and Nanny.  But he was also devoted to his Grandma Jean.  In fact when we lived in Pensacola at the time of his death our house was just 2 blocks away from the house his Grandma Jean and Aunt Linda shared.  (Thus preparing me for having my new mother-in-law live right across the road from me ten years later.)

(Me-Stephanie, Chris holding Joey, Nanny and PapPap.)

Chris was an uncle.  Here he is with his niece Reagan.  Funny story: after we got married and I moved into the military "hotel room" he lived in at Virginia Beach for intelligence officer training school all the cleaning staff wanted to know where "our baby" was because he had pictures of Reagan hanging in his room.  (For those confused Chris was first an intelligence officer and was transitioning to become a naval flight officer when he died.)  Even in college Chris always had pictures of his family (and me) hanging on his dorm room mirrors, so I didn't think it was unusual, but the cleaning staff informed me that most men only have pictures of their kids taped up-not their nieces.

(Chris helping Reagan hold Joey.)

Friends....Chris was a really devoted friend.  This is a picture of his best friend since kindergarten, Christopher Kaufmann, otherwise known as "CK" in the Starkweather household, and his wife Jackie.  Rather than wasting time watching tv or a movie if Chris had spare time he would usually bake brownies and call a friend to see how they were doing....CK, Dionne, Branden, Michelle, Nathan, Jon Watson, his high school cross country coach, etc.  He would always try to make plans to see one or two of them when we went home to Wisconsin.  He was loyal in every sense of the word.  Maybe that's why I've been so blessed to have so many of them stay in contact with us over the last ten years.  I know that it wasn't easy for any of them especially when I started dating again.

(Joey sitting on Jackie Kaufmann's lap with Christopher Kauffmann)

I'm actually quite frustrated that I can't post a picture of Chris holding his daughter Jessie.  (I've been in tears for over two hours now about it.)  Until I find the box Jess just know that your daddy loved you.

(Jessie age 10)

That smile you see of him holding Joey is exactly how he smiled when he held you.  In fact he had a dream of a baby girl about two weeks before your big brother Joey was born.  Whatever he saw in that dream convinced him that we were going to have a baby girl.  He was quite surprised when they said that Joey was a boy.  Your daddy also wanted the name "Jessica."  I wouldn't even allow it on the list as possible girl names for Joey.  But then one day I was tired while pregnant with you....Joey was napping and I didn't feel up to doing housework, so I got on the computer via dial-up and looked up if Jessica was a saint name....low and behold, it was a derivative of St. Joanna, one of the women who found the empty tomb of Jesus on Easter.....and from that moment on you were either going to be a Jessica or a Nicholas....You are the baby girl your daddy dreamed of....you have even fallen asleep many a night reading your daddy's old Calvin and Hobbes books for years now.

(Chris loved Calvin and Hobbes-he even had a Calvin tattoo that he planned on having joined by a Hobbes tattoo on his next naval deployment.  Calvin was holding an American flag on the tattoo.)

I don't know how it can be ten years since Chris died.  It seems like yesterday....yet it seems like forever.  How do I celebrate this day?  Two years ago I was planning on taking all the kids back to Pensacola and asking the training squadron for a tour, etc., etc...Even just a month ago Jason was asking me if I wanted to go to D.C. where Chris' memorial stone is in Arlington Cemetary.  Since we will be going to D.C. to visit family in June I decided to wait and do it then.  Instead I plan on honoring him the same way I always have on this anniversary date: just doing my duty....

(Joey and Jessie when I first started grad school eight years ago.)

We're starting the day with a memorial mass being said for him, then we'll have breakfast, maybe get some school work done before heading back into town for the Tuesday afternoon kid activities.  We'll finish the day though with a meal of some of Chris' favorite dishes: sweet potatoe souffle and a chicken casserole, maybe brownies if I can get them made in time...if not, we can have that later in the week.  We'll put out Chris' picture on the dining room table and light a candle just like we do for his birthday in September.  I'm sure that I will cry at some point since I have been crying off and on for the past few months anticipating this date......but really I think that I honor Chris most by just doing my duty: raising my kids to the best of my ability.  I have made so many mistakes over the past ten years, so many things that I would like a "redo" on....but in the end I hope that even if I were to die tomorrow my kids would know the things that matter most: God, family and country.

(Joey and Jessie on September 6th, 2011-Chris' birthday.)

Several people "accidentally" used the two edged sword saying, "The good die young" after Chris died.....While I understood it, especially after reading the book of memorial letters people sent me after he died-one could probably seriously begin a cause for canonization, especially with some of the events that took place afterwards-it hurt....what does that mean about me???  (Am I chopped liver?)  Why was Chris taken instead of me, especially because I have felt many times he would have handled single parenthood way better than me??....I begged God to reverse events....to bring Chris back to life and take me to heaven to no avail....so instead "I sucked it up"...some days living in just 15 minute increments....and that was really the biggest miracle of my life....I survived what I didn't think I could survive.  Eventually I could breathe again without it hurting....eventually I was happy without "faking it" for my kids.....eventually I was blessed to find Jason, a man who has always honored Chris in our home....I have been blessed to maintain loving relations with Chris' family.....I have three more children that I can't imagine not having loved....but I still love Chris...I will always love Chris and I still miss him....while I can't "see his face" anymore without looking at a picture, I am blessed to still have moments when I feel him with me.  I was afraid of leaving Pensacola, especially because I could still "feel" him there in our house....but God has blessed my move to Ohio in so many ways-and has included that still being able "to feel Chris" when I have needed it.  Joey and Jessie smell like him when they sweat, and I'm right back there to seeing Chris all smelly and sweaty after running.  At times I hear the kids laugh and I see him belly laughing at something I said.  At times I pray and one of "our" songs by Journey comes on the radio....I pray that I finish the race well, that I hold true to the faith and that when I die I will be found worthy of entering eternal life and being greeted by Chris....that I don't do anything stupid to lose my salvation at the last minute....

(Our family currently: Jason, me-Stephanie, Kids in order of ages: Joey, Jessie, Katie, Christianna (known as "Anna" pronounced "AHNA"-she's the child hanging upside down) and Elizabeth Grace (known as "Libby.")  For the record, Jason picked the name Christianna-one she was conceived around Christmas and two, it's a "family" name.....he's that kind of man....not many men have that sense of duty and honor.

One of the few country music cd's that Chris would let me listen to when he was around was by Collin Raye.    It was only recently that I could actually listen to the one song, "If You Get There Before I Do."  The lyrics of that song's chorus are kind of my motto in life:

If you get there before I do 
Don't give up on me 
I'll meet you when my chores are through
I don't know how long I'll be
But I'm not gonna let you down
Darling wait and see
And between now and then ‘til I see you again
I'll be loving you, love me

May the soul of Lt. Christopher Todd Starkweather and all our military departed rest in peace.

Some of the words to "Eternal Father, Strong to Save"
(US Naval Hymn)

Eternal Father, strong to save
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

Lord, guard and guide the men who fly,
Through the great spaces in the sky.
Be with them always in the air,
In darkening storms or sunlight fair.
Oh, hear us when we lift our prayer,
For those in peril in the air!

God, who dost still the restless foam
Protect the ones we love at home.
Provide that they should always be
By thine own grace both safe and free.
Oh Father, hear us when we pray
For those we love so far away.

(Chris with Joey about eight months before he died.  Sorry about the camera flash.  I was being lazy and didn't want to take the time to scan the picture.  It's late and I have to leave for mass in five hours.)