by Drew Holmes
Today was the Summer Solstice, the favorite day of the year for our friend Andrea who we lost to cancer this past November. The interment service was held today and not during the winter months partly due to COVID restrictions on gatherings but also as an opportunity to remember her on the longest day of the year, a day her daylight-loving self-believed should be a national holiday.
As part of the remembrance, we were asked to write a word that describes a quality of Andrea that comes to mind when we think of her. I cheated and picked two: Curious and Cheerful. She accompanied me to France in 2014 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day and both qualities were crucial to the success of the trip.
The main purpose of the trip for me was to participate in the inaugural GORUCK Challenge held overnight from June 6–7. But rather than go just for a couple of days, we spent almost two weeks in Normandy. This left plenty of time for exploration and sightseeing, which is where Andrea’s curiosity was on display. Each morning our group of four would put our heads together and think of what we were going to do that day.
This led to touring Caen and an ancient fort of William the Conqueror, finding an amazing World War II museum that we happened upon, exploring Mont Saint-Michel in all it’s wonder, and finding a damn fine brasserie down the street that we ate at almost every night. No matter what we saw or did, there was always more, and she was always ready to find the next thing just around the corner.
Her cheerfulness was tested when it came time to go to the GORUCK event. Being such an important anniversary, dignitaries from all over the world were attending ceremonies at Omaha Beach, our destination, which caused major road closures all over Normandy. We allotted about three hours to get there for the 9 pm start, a drive that normally should have been closer to 45 minutes. Every highway entrance we tried to use had a gendarme who firmly told us no, we were not allowed to pass, so we reprogrammed the GPS to find another way. This led us through the French countryside, across fields and into tiny villages. Over and over again we calculated and recalculated the route, getting slightly closer with each turn.
We barely made the 9 pm deadline for the start of the event, but we got there in time. Never once did she complain or get angry at the literal roadblocks in our way. This was just another part of the adventure, so why fight it?
I had not intended to tell that story at the memorial today, but something moved me to speak up and share. Since her death, I have gotten to know Andrea more and in different ways through the other people in her life she held dear. Hearing their stories and remembrances has enriched my memories of her, so it is only right that I share mine as well.
In trying to come up with the words to relate this story to the assembled friends, another thought occurred to me to share. When we mourn the loss of a friend or loved one, our grief does not diminish over time. We grow. And in growing the loss becomes more bearable.
I had the honor of knowing Andrea and having her as a friend. Even though she is no longer with us physically, I continue to get to know her even after her death through the memories I have, and the ones shared with me. And because of this I continue to grow.