, , , , , , , , , ,

I first met Jay and Heather Strickland in March of 2013. Heather and I had met on an Army Wife Facebook page, and we just clicked! Not only did we share the same name, but our husbands and even extended family members shared the same names. We had also grew up in the same places, and had similar career backgrounds. Ha! We made it a plan to meet up with our husbands at her place for her 25th birthday celebration.

When we arrived, we saw Jay and the three children outside in the front yard, kicking around a soccer ball. The kids were squealing with laughter and delight. My first thought was, “Wow, what an amazing dad he is, playing with his kids outside!” He was halfway dressed in his Army ACU’s and a black sweatshirt. (An all too common look for a soldier, tired from the day, coming home and too lazy to fully change — I would know, being an Army Vet myself, and married to a soon to be Disabled Vet).

Heather’s birthday bash went amazing! She loved my gift, and we ended up staying there until almost 6 am, in their hot tub, laughing the night away, and getting to know this amazing married couple and the family.

I’ll admit, I hadn’t met a friend this fun, in years! I honestly didn’t want the night to end. But just as the sky started lightening and the sun was rising, we called it quits and headed home.

Our friendship became close, in a short period of time. Jay was getting ready for his deployment to Afghanistan (I believe his 3rd deployment) but 1st deployment while being married. I was determined to help her survive her first deployment….

Fast forward to September 21, 2013…the countdown has begun for Heather, for the kids, for the family…for friends…Only a few weeks left until he would be home.

My husband was home from work, and we were getting ready to head to the Sea-Tac airport to pick up his friend who was visiting from Texas for the week. We still had a few hours before picking him up, and so Joel (my husband) said he would watch the kids while I went on a well-deserved trip to my favorite store Joann’s and Starbucks for my favorite coffee drink.

I keep my phone on silent throughout the day, because I’m breastfeeding my 4 month old, and if it rings, it sometimes startles her out of her nursing bliss, and into a arm springing spook. Little did I know that I’d be missing “the call”.

So I got into my car, backed out all while listening to my newest voicemail, showing a missed call from Heather, who I hadn’t heard from in weeks. On the line, I hear the voice of a family friend, there was a long pause after letting me know who it was…then the words hit me like a ton of bricks. “Jay’s been killed”.

I immediately slammed on my breaks in shock, almost hitting a tree in the process… The words were ringing in my ears, in disbelief….I felt a huge knot swelling in my throat, and for a minute, I’m pretty sure that my heart stopped, and my breathing ceased. The rest of the voicemail faded away and I couldn’t really make much of it…I turned around and parked, and ran into the house…

Joel, staring at me, wide-eyed, asked me what was wrong…I stumbled on my words, and pulled out my phone to put the voicemail on speaker so he could hear the message. Through our tears of shock and sadness, we fumbled to get the kids things together (since we didn’t have a babysitter in town), to head over to their house right away…

When we arrived, we were explained what had happened, gave hugs, shared tears, shock, our last times spent with and/or talking with Jay… I had spoken to him last on September 8th…Everything was starting to become real in my mind, and I truly didn’t know how to handle it. Not only that, but how do I handle being there for my friends, who are losing a husband, and a twin brother?

Jay’s funeral is tomorrow…Never in a million years did I think this would happen…Not like this, not to such a beautiful family…

Jay & Heather’s Last Kiss Photo HERE

Rest in Heaven Jay! You made the ultimate sacrifice to our country…I will never forget you, and the amazing person you were. You touched the lives of many, including my own family, even if just for a short time. Joel and I were looking forward to the plans made when you got home, we were looking forward to introduce you to our newest family addition, whom you had only met while she was in my belly…

There are so many other things I’d like to say, but right now, we all just need a little healing to take place, where it’s easier to share the amazing memories of the life you lived… Thank you Jay for all you have given for our country, and for the freedom that we have.

Until we meet again…

Spc. Joshua J. Strickland
1990 – 2013