(Page 2 of 3)
“What we do is always important and meaningful, but when you are alone at a funeral there is an added relevance,” Willey said. “You feel an even greater need to be there, like you’re helping to close the circle. For those grieving far away, a personal letter letting them know that someone was there can help soothe their sorrow. It shows them that their loved one’s service was not forgotten and also that their loss has not been ignored.”
The connection between the bereaved and an Arlington Lady does not end when the funeral is over, either.
“One of the first things I tell all my families is, ‘I am your Arlington lady, not just now but forever, and you can always contact me,’” said Paula McKinley, the chair of the Navy Arlington Ladies. “It’s a bond that is built to last.”
This may sound like hyperbole, but consider the following: McKinley has placed roses on a grave for years at the request of a Navy widow and last summer on what would have been the couple’s 50th anniversary she sent along 50 roses because it’s what she imagined the husband would have done.
“We write everyone a follow-up letter six to eight weeks later, as well” McKinley said. “In most families, there’s a great support group that hovers for a month or so. Then, it’s not that their family abandons them, it’s just that they go back to their own lives. But the grieving is not over. We just want to remind them they are still in our hearts and we are still available if they need us.”
“Usually by the end of a service, families have a glazed look,” Willey added. “They’re gone emotionally. But hopefully they’ll have a memory of somebody being there, being kind and touching to them in some way. The feedback we get suggests that’s true. Oftentimes I’ll get a letter a few months after a funeral from someone saying, ‘I didn’t comprehend what you were doing at the time, but thank you for being there.’”
For those who have not served in an official capacity, it might be difficult to understand what draws this group of women to events most of us spend our lives trying to avoid.
“It’s not emotionally grueling in the least,” McKinley said. “It can be emotional, but that’s a different thing. We are not mourners. We are there to pay tribute.”
“There is some distance you can get from the situation just by recognizing you are part of the ceremony,” Willey agreed, but added that when death comes suddenly or orphaned children are involved it can be tougher. “There have been times, I’ll admit, when I’ve had to fight back a big lump and stare at the sky or do whatever I have to do to keep myself from falling apart. And you do it, because part of my job is to protect the integrity of the ceremony, to make sure everything goes smoothly.”
IT’S CLEAR IN SPEAKING with these women that performing the duties of an Arlington Lady calls for something above and beyond being able to dress well. So, just as not everyone is made for the Honor Guard, the Arlington Ladies are a select group. There is no sign-up form on the Internet or any open call: One must be asked to join their ranks by another Arlington Lady.
Once invited, the motivations for becoming an Arlington Lady vary, but only slightly. Mostly it comes down to the same reasoning that draws a lot of people to regular military service: Honor, duty, country.
Willey, for example, became an Arlington Lady after much cajoling from a close friend and fellow military wife.
“I agreed to try it out just to shut her up,” she laughed. “It was sort of a fluke. But I quickly realized what a unique opportunity this was to serve the Air Force. It’s a feeling I can’t even describe, sharing these moments with people. As members of military families, we have a special insight into what their life was like. So these funerals we attend really feel like the funeral of somebody from our extended family.”
“There are few things in my life that have given me as much satisfaction as serving as an Arlington Lady volunteer,” Margaret Mensch of the Army’s Arlington Ladies contingent added. “It’s an honor to be asked to be a part of these ceremonies that pay tribute to the everyday heroes that make up the armed forces. We’re just giving back a little to those who have given us so much.”
For McKinley, serving as an Arlington Lady helps make up for some of the indifference to military sacrifice in modern society.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?