As Independence Day celebrations wind down and people go back to their every day lives, families that have suffered a loss of a loved one from the war continue their quiet and constant remembrance.
Cassie Nolen knows about such loss. It’s the first thing on her mind when she wakes up and her last lingering thought as she drifts off to sleep. Like so many families throughout the nation, hers was changed forever with a knock on the door in December 2006 that brought news her husband Kyle Nolen would not be coming home.
“It still does not seem real to me somehow,” she said. “It feels like he is still on a long deployment because to me it is like I just spoke with him yesterday. I mean obviously I realize that he is gone but it just doesn’t seem possible in some ways.”
For the Nolens, the romance that started in high school was something they both cherished and felt blessed to have.
“We had what most people never get,” Cassie said.
The fairytale romance had everything every little girl dreams of, the element of boy meets girl, the high school sweethearts, two adorable children (a boy and a girl) and it seemed like happily ever after was just around the corner.
“Kyle and I built a home in Ennis with our children and our families and we loved every minute of it but Kyle wanted to do more. He was really passionate about joining the Navy and I supported him 100 percent,” she said.
After boot camp and basic training, Navy Corpsman Nolen was sent to Iraq, where Cassie said he felt like he was making a difference.
“I didn’t get behind the war movement in Iraq until Kyle started calling home explaining how appreciative the people were for the effort the military was making,” she said. “He said people would walk up to him and just say thank you and hearing his description of what his presence and the presence of all the other men and women meant to that country, it made me realize how important and crucial his job was.”
Understanding his job and his mission helps Cassie cope a little bit but it doesn’t take away the lingering sadness and disappointment as her dream of happily ever after melts away.
“Some days are better than others and I think I’m going to make it, and other days I struggle to get by minute by minute,” she said. “The two reasons why I manage to get out of bed everyday are our kids.”
Their children share the same birth month as their father and Ryan celebrated his fourth birthday the day after his father’s birthday.
“Kyle’s birthday is July 2, Ryan’s is July 3, which leads right up to the day we celebrate what a great country we live in and the men and women who allow us to do so, it is almost too much,” Cassie said.
Adding to the emotions of the month are their daughter Railey’s first birthday on the 18th and Kyle and Cassie’s wedding anniversary on the 22th.
“It will be a very hard month for me. I will celebrate for our children but I am not looking forward to the special moments I wish I could share with Kyle and the moment we should spend as a family,” she said.
The special moments are something she still shares with Kyle, just in a different way. Father’s Day balloons and messages of love sit beside the stone Cassie visits every day.
“I come here because it lets me talk to Kyle and it helps me make Ryan understand why his daddy isn’t coming home. If you ask him, he will tell you his daddy is in heaven but he has started asking why his father can’t come back like he sees in cartoons. It is my way of letting him remember his father and explaining the reality of something I wish he didn’t have to know,” Cassie said as her eyes fill with tears.
Her future is a subject she is completely unsure of only knowing that, whatever she does, Kyle will always be at the forefront of her mind. Her major concern is that he, along with others who have lost their lives, will never be forgotten. She wishes an end to the war but does not support pulling troops out until the mission is complete.
“If the government were to pull their troops out before the job is done, I feel like Kyle’s death and those of his peers would have been for nothing,” she said.
Cassie would like to use her husband’s death to bring a renewed awareness to the real meaning behind holidays such as Memorial Day and Independence Day and to help the families left behind cope with picking up their lives and moving on.
“I will admit until Kyle joined the service I didn’t stop to think of what these holidays were really about and I just wish that instead of thinking of going to the lake and backyard cook outs that more of an effort be put into services for those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country,” said Cassie, who wears an ever-present button with a photograph of her husband Kyle in uniform on it.
E-mail Candie at firstname.lastname@example.org