I love you, Dan, Goodnight…

As some of you know, my hometown lost a great hero a little over a year ago in Afghanistan. I have gone through the gamut of emotions. Dan Patron and I were never close. But we were in band together my senior year, and I was always struck by how handsome and infectious his smile was. He would laugh a laugh that would make you turn around. His smile was truly million watt. And he stood strong for what he believed in, while being a goofy kid at the same time. His energy was always present, always on. And he never said a bad thing about anyone. At least, he didn’t that I ever heard.

Dan Patron, to many, is a hero. He certainly is a hero in my eyes. I thank God everyday that he was fighting for our freedom, and he died doing what he loved. He was supposed to come home before he died, but he didn’t. He believed in the brotherhood and stood by his brothers until they all could come home together. Little could he have imagined he’d be coming home first.

When news spread that he had passed, the community went into overdrive. How can we help? What can we do? How in the hell could this happen to the most amazing family we know? How could this happen to Dan? What are we going to do? How do we heal? We cried a lot. We laughed a lot remembering him. And I remember having to make myself leave town so that I would not go to his funeral. It would have been too much for me to bear. Again, not because we were close, but because I just knew I wouldn’t want to leave. His Homecoming was incredible. Perry Township all but shut down. I saw the pictures. I read the stories. We lit candles. We turned to each other for support and understanding. We all needed to cry, to weep, to remember. I told my daughters about him. They may not understand it, but Caelan sure knows that Dan is a hero. She knows he is a hero, and he is with God in Heaven. And we talk about him every now and then. She has been to his grave with me. She’s asked to take him flowers from time to time. I want her to understand that we must honor our fallen. She understands enough to know that Dan was a person we should respect, and that he can take care of his loved ones from Heaven now. It’s incredible what little minds can absorb and make sense of.

I remember the night of his wake; I was in Erie, PA. I had gotten a message that he had friended me on Facebook. I was shocked. I almost threw up. Was this all fake? Was this a dream? Was he alive? I remembered in my bleery, middle of the night fog that I had friend requested him before, and his wife was running and maintaining his Facebook page. That moment had stopped my heart. I cried again. In the weeks and months to come, we banded together to share stories and videos, pictures and snapshots of a life gone way too soon. Watching the videos that my friends posted that starred him, reading the stories about him, talking to my daughter about him, I felt closer to him than I ever had before. I needed those stories to make sense of this all; to understand the loss, I had to understand how those closest to him felt. And it was soul-crushing. Make no mistake. I cried a lot. Openly. I couldn’t help it.

His brother, Matt, had written a book about and for Dan when he left for Iraq for the first time in 2007. It is called, “I Love You, Dan, Goodnight.” I have been contemplating buying it since he passed, but I was afraid it would be too hard to read. I did end up getting a copy of it today, though. I knew it would be a struggle to get through, but I wanted to share it with my girls. It is a beautiful story about a brother’s love for his little brother who makes the biggest decision of their lives. It’s touching, funny, moving, and sad. Knowing now how the story ends, it’s incredibly hard to read. I read the book tonight to my girls, and I cried throughout it. I cried because I know that Dan will never get to read this story to his children. Dan will never get to tell his niece and nephew about his adventures with their daddy. I cried because I looked at my two little girls, sisters and best friends, and I can only imagine what would happen between them if one of them decided to follow a call overseas. I would hope that they would feel the community come around them as it has for Dan’s family in the time since his passing. I would only hope that one of them could write a book expressing their feelings in some way. It hurts too much to think about.

My heart breaks every time I think of it. Dan is a hero. He still is. His spirit lives on in his family, in his friends, and in this community. His life will never be forgotten. His sacrifice was ultimate. His smile lives on in every rainbow that graces the sky. All gave some, and Dan gave all. Let us never forget the sacrifices of ALL of our servicemen and women. If you are a serviceman or woman, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I could never do what you do; please know I admire you to the fullest and thank you every single day. Every single time, no matter where I am, I thank military personnel when I see them. Most of them are gracious and say thank you back. Some of them are touched that I took the time out of my day to thank them. I never want any of them to feel like their work is thankless. I appreciate them and tell them as much. I want my children to treat them the same. I don’t know what I’d do if one of my kids decided to become a soldier. I want them to respect the military just in case they one day walk in their boots.

Please consider purchasing a copy for your family, for someone you love, or a family dealing with the loss and confusion of war and what it all means. I am posting the link here to the publisher for purchase: http://bookstore.xlibris.com/Products/SKU-0041612037/default.aspx. It is a moving story of brotherhood, friendship, strength and what it means to be a hero. It’s well done, tasteful, and it will tug at your heart strings.

This bench stands at the veteran’s memorial at my high school. It was dedicated in Dan’s memory and for his family.

I go by it every now and then. I touch it. I smile at that beautiful smile radiating from it.

And I always thank God that people like Dan and the others honored there did what they were called to do.

In this world, it is valor, courage, and the unending call to do what is right that matters the most.

We ALL love you, Dan.

Goodnight.

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