Just enough room

I don’t know Erin McSween. The first time I ever saw her was Tuesday morning, as she sat in the front row at her husband’s funeral.

She’s this tiny, little woman with giant resolve and apparent deep faith. That’s what I garnered from her presence in the first five minutes my eyes gazed upon the woman for whom our hearts break.

She sat on a blue folding chair, with her husband’s flag-draped casket in front of her. There was a sense of grief in the big room filled with people. She looked forward, resolved and accepting of her situation. I don’t know what she was thinking — but I sensed it was that she knew her husband, Adam McSween, was in a better place.

Her little girl was being held by another family member. But the youngster in the pink dress looked like she was getting tired and wanted to be held by her mother. So they passed the little girl down to Erin who promptly cuddled her in her arms while the young one drifted off to sleep.

She held that little girl in her arms while she listened to pastors and military men talk about her husband. Erin smiled at the funny stories and looked down when the words were about the love shared between her and the great guy she met at York College.

It came time for the posthumous medals to be bestowed upon her husband. The Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, the combat ribbon. Each was described as an award distributed by the President of the United States only to men and women who make the ultimate sacrifice.

A high-ranking military official approached Erin with a shadowbox, filled with those medals and awards that signified her husband’s bravery, love of country and willingness to give up his life for others. The shadowbox was passed to her — and she had just enough room on her lap to hold it.

There was just enough room on her lap for her child and this wooden box.

Just enough.

She has just enough room on her lap, in her heart and in her soul to bear this incredible tragedy — and still move on to provide a life for herself and her two little girls.

She is one of thousands of women and men who have held that box on their lap and stared ahead as their soul mate’s body was covered with a flag in a silver casket. She’s one of thousands of women and men who have had to move on with their lives, because their spouse was killed in action and won’t be coming back. She’s another 20-something person who has to rely on stories and pictures to make sure their children remember their father or mother.

I can’t imagine the burden these people, like Erin, must bear. First, she had to watch her beloved get on a plane and fly away — knowing he was going into a place many liken to hell on earth. She had to spend nights alone, cherishing an email or a phone call, with one side of the bed still tucked in. And then she had to answer the door when the men came, in formal attire, to tell her that he wouldn’t be coming back and she could never hold his hand again.

She has to hold her children alone, and yet still have room to make the commitment and sacrifice military wives and husbands are called to make. It’s not just the people who serve — it’s also those people at home who are giving up their lives for their country. At least the lives they used to have.

I mentioned to some who know Erin that she seems to have incredible spiritual faith, it seems to ooze out of her. The look on her face made it clear that she knows her husband was saved, that he was a believer, and that he’s home with his savior. Her friends said she is absolutely that way, she’s always been that way. They said she is a strong, resilient person who relies on her faith and knows with all certainty that Adam is OK.

So she sat, with her little girl and that box full of metal that says she lost her husband in Iraq. If they would have brought anything more for her to hold — I believe she would have had room for that, too.

We need to help these people hold all they have to — they shouldn’t have to bear the weight of the world by themselves. They shouldn’t have to juggle everything on their laps . . . although they do. They have all this to bear because they serve this country just like their loved ones do and did.

And this week, I believe the community of York pulled up a chair next to her and helped her hold all she had to carry — grief, longing, patriotism, respect, love, sadness, faith and hope. That’s a lot for one woman to hold onto, and everyone stretched out their arms to help. What everyone did was much more than wave a flag, don a ribbon, salute or hold their hands over their hearts.

Because of this community and our God, I believe she had just enough room on her lap to hold everything.

Just enough.



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