Ok, I know… I’m sorry. I promised this post yesterday and I failed you. Honestly, I didn’t have it in me to write it yesterday, added with the fact that I was not home and didn’t have access to the photos. Hopefully it is worth the wait though…
I will warn you. This is going to be a lengthy post. If you skip to the end (which is the best part) I understand, but the story behind ending is part of the bigger story.
If this is your first time visiting FFPMaMMa, then welcome! I’m so glad you are here and hope you make yourself at home. I am currently in the middle of telling the story of MM (hubby) & me. How we met, dated, engaged, and all the in between stuff. If you would like to catch up you can do so here:
Fast forward just over a year…
July 2, 2007
Walking through the freezer section of the grocery store. I was gathering groceries for my Monday evening dinner date with a friend. You know, there are moments that happen in your life and you remember exactly where you were when it happens.
I couldn’t understand him at first and I said “what”?
“He’s dead! My brother is dead!”
I don’t remember what I said next. I just took off…the groceries ended up on some floor display in the store.
I remember him saying something about him waking up dead. I made sure someone was with him so I didn’t keep him on the phone
I was about 15 minutes from his house and in that time I made two phone calls. Through my own garbled voice and without any information I called my sister and mom “please pray and I’ll call when I know more” was all that I could fumble out.
What do you say? What do you do? I prayed myself while doing my best to keep my eyes on the road. “Lord, give me words, strength and discernment to know what MM needs”.
Thankfully we have incredible friends who stepped in and were able to help me in knowing what he needed. People came over to make food & clean the house. MM just needed me near, knowing I was there, holding his hand and allowing myself to mourn as well.
Just the previous April I had the incredible pleasure of visiting MM’s brother “AP” in Snowmass, CO. Every year Snowmass hosts the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sport’s Clinic. An amazing site to see disabled men and women skiing down the mountain with volunteer guides.
AP had suffered injuries from an IED a few years before. Lost many of his men in the explosion. After numerous surgeries, his injury that crippled him the most was the PTSD. Severely. He would have horrible dreams night as well as episodes of confusing reality with past situations. A situation where he was not comfortable with his mom coming to visit him. He never knew if he might cause her harm at night.
I remember phone calls MM would have with him. I would usually be able to tell what was going on as MM would slip between speaking in Samoan and English. AP was usually more comfortable speaking in English as that was his day to day language and seemed to be easier for him.
“he just didn’t wake up this morning” MM told me.
AP was currently at one of the VA hospitals in CA. He would be admitted off and on depending on how he was doing. He had just been arrested due to confusing a middle eastern taxi driver with the Taliban he had encountered overseas. He was released to the authority of the VA staff for further treatment. Usually he would meet up with the nurses to work on his physical therapy and when he neglected to show up that morning they went in to check on him. No pulse. Once we finally received the autopsy from the coroner it stated that he had died from an enlarged heart. And oddly enough, it was not until a year later it was stated he died as a casualty of war.
10 short days away was our upcoming visit to CA to visit with him again. That trip was now sped up for us to leave only 3 days after the 2nd. There was going to be a lot of paperwork and details to take care of. The rest of the family was in UT.
This was going to be my plunge into the Samoan culture of burring the dead, as well as the US Military and the incredible detail of honoring family who have fallen.
I did some research before I left so that I would have some idea what to expect, but it really didn’t offer too much help. I knew that there would be specific gifts given and monetary donations to cover the costs. Yes, the military was covering the burial costs and all that, however with the Samoan culture things are a bit different.
People come to pay their respects over about a week’s period of time. If an appointed Chief or Elder is not present, then usually the eldest male family member takes charge of all the event planning and authoritative decisions. The pastor and church family are invited one evening to pay their respects as well as other family and friends. Every night the house was full and meals were served. The main gathering place in the home is cleared of most furniture and the floor is covered with “fine mats”. The women cooked during the day while the children would serve everyone in the evening.
When people came to visit there were specific gifts brought and that would usually include money and a fine mat to present to the family. Depending on the family presenting the fine mat, it would be received and possibly would be returned. This is all out of respect. The family in mourning would keep some mats to be given as gifts. Gifts to the pastor, friends and family who sacrificed time and money. When a fine mat is presented as a gift it is usually from a previous event and thus they continue to be passed around. To me this represents the tight community that the Samoan people represent.
During our time in UT, MM would bring the family together for an evening meeting. Discussing the next day’s activities, who would be visiting, and a time to read scripture. The children would serve us and then come and join us. I will be honest, learning to sit and be served by the children was probably my most difficult thing to get used to. I slowly began to understand that this was how traditions were passed down to the next generation. The youngest one learning was about 5. If the children were too young to help they were kept downstairs and watched by a few of the youth. Keep in mind that I am talking about 15 kids here. As one learned and grew, they would then help the younger ones learn. Pretty amazing really.
There is so much detail that I could include in this post, but for time’s sake as well as your eyes, I will cut it short and allow the photos to tell the story…
This is a series of pictures prior to the funeral service
The day prior when AP was delivered to the church from the street for the viewing, there were no police blocking the street where the hertz was parked and blocking a lane. AP’s death was getting media attention. A pedestrian, who was also a veteran, called into Salt Lake City mayor’s office complaining that there was no respect for a fallen soldier by not providing someone directing traffic. The day of the funeral we saw 12 police motorcycles parked in the middle of the street and one parked behind the hertz prepared to direct traffic when he was brought out of the church and loaded back into the hertz. Amazing what one phone call can make. The 12 police motorcycles also escorted 30+ vehicles approximately 25 miles to the burial site
One challenge I was assigned to was video taping as much of the week as possible. This included the first viewing when he was brought from CA to UT for the family…with the open casket. For me personally I have always struggled with an open casket ceremony. To top it off having to video tape it and catch photos with the family and AP was very uncomfortable for me. I explained to MM that I thought this was intrusive and he had to explain to me that this was very normal. Their way of capturing final pictures & moments with their loved one.
I have lost a few loved ones. Ones close to me. I’m used to meals being provided, condolence cards received, possibly a viewing, the funeral then a reception following. However, having a week long morning till evening of food preparation and visitors in and out of the house as well as 3 different ceremonies was a lot for me to take in. Included, most of it all was in Samoan. I wish I could say that I am so glad to have experienced this cultural opportunity, but that is not true. I greatly appreciated the experience I had, but I would take knowing AP over that experience. Since then I have visited 3 other Samoan funerals, I’m well acquainted now, thank you very much.
Now for the story you are all waiting for…I know you thought you had read enough, but I think you will understand that this experience played a very large role in the next event. And who to better tell it that my own beloved MM. He wrote this for a book a friend of mine put together for us. The only editing I have done is adjust the names.
The original plan was to POP the question to Leah on Thanksgiving Day of 2007, if and when I receive Mike’s (Leah’s dad) approval, permission, and blessings.
But because God called my dearest brother USMC SSG “AP” to come home, I had to adjust and change plans. I stop thinking about what’s next in regards to my relationship with Leah. Now I have to take care of business in hand. My brother died the week before I planned to tell him about asking Leah for hand in marriage and I wanted him to be my Best Man in my wedding, but unfortunately it did not happen.
I prayed and prayed and prayed to God to use this unfortunate circumstance to reach out to my family and friends, especially my daughter “BH” and my nieces. In the midst of celebrating my brother’s life, God revealed a plan within me.
The day after we place my brother in his resting place, Saturday July 14th 2007, I asked my sister that I needed her help with my plan. I told her my original plan about asking Leah’s hand in marriage and about our brother’s involvement. Now the challenge was to go shopping without Leah. So I told Leah I need to spend some private time with my sisters and that we will be back, and of course it work. Sulu and Maggie went with me.
Later in the evening, everyone was told to be at my Mom’s apartment for prayer and dinner. I then picked up Leah from the hotel and drove to my Mom’s apartment. When we got there I again told Leah that Sulu, I, and the girls (daughter and nieces) have to leave to pick some stuff up and we’ll be back. I notice the disapproving look and disappointing body language from Leah ‚but it did not change anything. (I was praying for God’s help through out all this). (Leah’s comments: I was told we were going to have dinner, but come to find out everyone else already had. Then Maea decides to mention that he has to run an errand TONIGHT with Sulu, so dinner will have to wait.)
After we picked up the ring, I called Mike and asked for his permission and blessings for Leah’s hand in marriage. I explained that I did not want to have this conversation on the phone, but since this a rare occasion that my family are all together in one place, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity presented to me. Mike shared and expressed his emotions and most important to me was that he approved.
On our way back to the apartment we made a stop at Starbuck’s and did not buy Leah a drink on purpose. (Leah: everyone else in the car got one!) Leah was HOT with me when we got back but she did not lose her composer. (Leah: By now it is close to 9:00 pm and I have been WAITING PATIENTLY for Maea so we can have dinner.)
We then gathered in the living room with Leah and I sitting on chairs while everyone else were on the floor. I then led our prayer meeting with the hymn “It is well” in Samoan version. Afterward, I acknowledge everyone for their help and how they handle themselves by smiling and celebrating AP’s life. I also acknowledge the support , love, prayers of friends and families who were not with us.
Especially Leah’s parents & sister’s family. I then acknowledge Leah with all she has done for me and my family. Words can not express how grateful and thankful I am to God because of Leah. She is a blessing to me from God.
In front of my mom, sisters, cousin and her husband, nieces and nephews, and my dearest daughter “BH”, I got down on my knees and ask her “Will you be my wife?” and Leah responded with tears “What did my DAD say?” …yup…that was her response…I did not tell her what DAD said but I just said, “What do you think?” (By this time everyone was yelling…“Well, what’s your answer?”) Leah then said with confidence and tears….YES!
Yep, you read that correct. I asked what my dad said first.