On February 2, Eddie Ray Routh seriously shook my faith. In the moments and hours after my husband led me quickly away from a friend's birthday celebration and into the street to whisper the shocking news, I seriously questioned what possible meaning such a senseless and cruel act of violence could have. As we struggled through the next few days, my husband's endless phone calls and quiet grief, I bitterly condemned what seemed to be a complete lack of humanity.
When I was very young, maybe 6 or 7, I was pulled out by an undertow while playing at the beach. My siblings and I struggled to get back to shore, ignoring the advice we'd had drilled into our heads over and over: swin parallel to the shore and get out of the current. My oldest sister grabbed my younger brother and got him in, leaving my other sister and I to keep our heads above water on our own. In reality, it was probably only a couple of minutes before the lifeguard reached us, grabbing each of us up under one arm and carrying us solidly back to safety. To me, it felt like I'd survived an eternity of struggling for my life. I'll never forget the fear I felt as I swam as hard as I could toward the shore, only to see it receding nonetheless. I'll never forget watching my sister struggle, either, knowing that we shared the predicament, yet fought singularly for survival. At that moment, we each may as well have been alone, because we could not help each other.
I watched my husband with the same helpless feeling - we struggled independently, our grief in different shades. He bears a heavier burden, having already lost so much, and having loved Chris so dearly. I was drowning again, in my inability to comfort him. I watched him fight the current and knew, no matter how great my desire to save him, I could not pull him out. I felt a deep fear once again, as I watched him struggle and wondered if it would change him. The bitterness surged like a riptide, drawing us deeper and deeper into the cold depths of shock, disbelief, anger, and sadness.
It hasn't been an easy couple of weeks. Certainly, I question the place on the Earth for men like Eddie Ray Routh. I wonder how this could have happened, and why. I don't even care for the answers - they can't bring Chris and Chad back, or fix the hearts broken by their absence. I feel compelled to admit, however, that I cannot assert there is no humanity left in this world. The literally thousands of people from whom I witnessed an outpouring of love, support, and sympathy in the weeks since February 2nd disprove the notion. I stand firm in my belief that there is good in this world, despite an awful presence of evil.
Our first thoughts were to get to Texas, and immediately. As the dust settled, we began to think more carefully - How long could we be gone? Could we afford the plane tickets? How would we pay for the rest of the trip? My husband is a PA student and we survive on his VA benefits. Although we would have spent the thousands to be in Dallas if we had to, it would have certainly been paid for out of our savings.
Fortunately, we were the beneficiaries of immense generosity. I posted one note on Facebook about needing to get to Dallas and was bombarded by messages from friends and strangers alike, offering everything from buddy passes on various airlines, to connections with travel agents, to frequent flyer miles and simple cash. It was so touching that so many wanted to share what they had with us, it was almost overwhelming. Air Compassion for Veterans and American Airlines paid for our plane tickets in full, and took amazing care of us. When we arrived at Piedmont Triad International Airport, the clerk at the American ticket counter expressed his condolences, explained he'd been expecting us, and put priority tags on our bags, for which the fees were waived. Our captain requested we be boarded first, which was incredibly convenient since we travelled with a 2 1/2 year old. Not only were our tickets taken care of, the representative from American Airlines' Military Affairs office changed our reservations three times as our plans continuously changed, the last time only a few hours before our departure from Austin after Chris' burial. We were not hassled, charged fees, or even made to feel responsible for our plans. They simply helped us.
We weren't the only ones, either. There were several individuals who received tickets in the same way, and Southwest Airlines accommodated dozens of military personnel who flew in from San Diego. It was amazing to see such large airlines, organizations that we normally view as so stingy, be so completely generous. We are very grateful.
We booked a rental car and received word that it would be covered by donations taken up by a friend in Connecticut. Once again, people who we have never even met were eager to share whatever they had so that my husband could grieve with his teammates and be there in support of Chris' family.
The Midlothian Law Enforcement Agency provided hotel rooms for literally hundreds of guests that travelled into Midlothian for the memorial and funeral. I believe that the extent to which all of these people went to help Chris' friends and family speaks volumes about the type of man he was.
All throughout the week leading up to the services, people continued to commit acts of generosity. Fellowship Church sent enough food to feed a small army to the house every night. Nolan Ryan sent steaks and a team to barbeque for us. A tour bus was donated by a band for the use of anyone who might need a bunk to crash in or a quiet place to reflect. The police officers assigned to the Kyle household, 24 hours a day, kept constant and vigilant watch.
In times of tragedy, it seemed to me I was always the one sending "thoughts and prayers to loved ones." It was a startling moment when I realized every time I heard or read again, "My thoughts and prayers go out to the Kyle and Littlefield familes, and their friends and loved ones," that those prayers were for us. Thousands of people across the country and even the world wanted to comfort us. It doesn't change the situation, but it does provide a little comfort. I hope that Chris and Chad's families feel it, too. I received messages from friends who live in other countries expressing condolences - they had seen my husband on the news, serving as pall bearer. It amazed me that even outside our nation people mourned Chris - a notion that was reinforced by the wreath and letter presented from the Polish GROM, among others, at Chris' funeral.
Maybe I should have expected it after the week of support from the public, but I was again amazed on Monday when we drove in a procession to Cowboys stadium. The motorcade was escorted by police, but it seemed to me they weren't even needed. Even cars on the other side of the highway, across the median, pulled over until we had passed. Everywhere I turned, strangers paid their respects to a hero.
The memorial was incredible. The use of the stadium was donated by the Cowboys - it included security, set up, food, everything. Close friends, teammates, and a few others attended a reception before the service. Sarah and Todd Palin, Dean Cain, and Grady Powell were there - unassuming and without fanfare - simply to pay their respects. Numerous politicans and dignitaries were also present, though none drew attention to themselves, as it was clear what this day was about. We were seated on the field and Troy Aikman came and sat in our row. I had to smile to myself as I was once again so impressed with the sheer scale of the memorial, and its singular focus on Chris. Celebrities who attended blended into the crowd. It was really about Chris, nothing else. The service was touching and heartbreaking, and when I walked the aisle to reenter the building under the stands and I looked up at the 10,000 odd onlookers, my eyes once again filled with tears. These people didn't know Chris, yet there they were, standing solemnly, many crying, in love and support for his family and friends.
The most amazing part of the entire week was the procession from Midlothian to Austin on Tuesday morning. For nearly 4 hours, we drove in relative silence. Each of us in the car was captivated by the thousands of people who lined the highway for the entire trip. I honestly don't believe we passed a single overpass where there wasn't a fire truck or utility truck and people holding American flags and signs. Along the side of the highway itself were endless streams of people, many of whom stood in the rain. I saw people crying, uniformed military personnel who stood at salute for what must have taken ten minutes for the motorcade to pass, parents holding small children, and school children whose teachers brought them out to pay respects. As sad a day as it was, I have never been more proud to be American as when observing the most awesome display of patriotism, respect, and honor I've ever had the privilege of being a part of.
Once we arrived at Texas State Cemetery, we were greeted by the hundreds of Patiot Guard who had accompanied the procession. They lined the streets immediately outside the cemetery and its inside perimiter with American flags. They provided the perfect backdrop for the send off we gave Chris.
The service was harrowing and beautiful. Everyone in attendance remained completely silent as the more than one hundred SEALs, past and present, hammered their tridents into Chris' casket. The only sound was the heavy "thump" of a fist on wood, each man paying homage to and leaving a piece of himself with Chris. I had heard and read about these funerals, but never attended one. It's an experience I will never forget and hope I will never have to repeat. As the service concluded, the SEALs took their knees and placed their hands on each others' shoulders, heads bowed. Amazing Grace played on the bagpipes and tears fell quietly. At the song's conclusion, a resounding "Hooyah, Chris Kyle!" boomed from the kneeling men, and a final farewell was bid to a warrior.
I wish we never had to make the trip to Dallas, but I can honestly say it restored much of my faith in humanity. The tremendous public support during such a trying time showed me that, though one man may be evil, he cannot conquer the spirit of a good and free people. We appreciate your love, thoughts, prayers, and support. They have been, in large part, the lifeguard whose solid grip has grasped us both, pulling us safely to shore.