How do you even begin to think about bidding an earthly farewell to your husband, the love of your life, the person who lives life with you? I had no idea how to go about doing so. What I did know is that in order to do so, I would have to be an active participant in the planning. In order to make it special, I couldn’t sit back and let everyone else plan while I just showed up. I sat in the car thinking about the memorial service that would be held at our church. What would Javier want? My mind was flooded with memories. The memories made me smile. They gave me comfort. It was in these moments that I remembered a particular Sunday morning. I had picked out our church clothes the night before. All five of us would wear our Dallas Cowboys jersies. I was standing in front of the mirror putting my makeup on. He was standing behind me looking at me. He was already dressed. I looked at him through the mirror and thought to myself, “My goodness! He sure is handsome!” He must have read my mind because he said, “I’m a sexy beast, aren’t I, Baby?” I laughed out loud. He got really close to me and said, “Damn, we make these jersies look good!” As we drove to church, he grabbed my hand and kissed it. He kept looking at me. It made me nervous. I asked him, “What? Why are you looking at me? Stop!” He smiled and said, “I can look at my wife whenever I want!” Thinking of that day warmed my heart. I smiled thinking about how when we walked through the doors of Discovery, people started commenting on our jersies. Keep in mind that we live in a military town. There are people from all over the country stationed here. These people are passionate about their home football teams. It was completely normal for us to hear a bunch of crap talking. Javier laughed and took it all in stride. On our drive home from church, Javi was quiet…thoughtful. Out of nowhere, he said, “Babe, if something happens to me, the marines will obviously wear their dress blues, but I want everyone else to wear Dallas Cowboys stuff.” I was surprised and asked him why. He said, “because I would find it absolutely hilarious to see all of them representing my team after all the crap they’ve talked every time we wear our Cowboys jersies!” He laughed. I didn’t. I told him to stop being morbid.
When I snapped back into reality, I felt grateful for that moment in time. I was extremely grateful for that memory. I needed to do my best to fulfill Javi’s wishes. I called Joann right away. I told her about this and asked her to spread the word to everyone. For Javi’s memorial, Marines would wear their dress blues. Everyone else should wear Dallas Cowboys attire. I wondered how many people would care enough to do so.
It was still Friday, November 19th, and it was an extremely busy day. I still had not been able to sleep, and had not really eaten anything since receiving the news. I was exhausted. The phone calls were never ending. Reporters from Rochester, NY were calling. Coverage of Javier’s death was all over the news in Rochester. I was feeling very overwhelmed. I had so much to do, so much to think about. I had to go to the uniform store to buy two sets of medals, ribbons, and chevrons for the boy’s dress blues. We had to take the dress blues to get altered. The medals needed to be mounted. We needed to go to the mall and buy Dallas Cowboys attire. My little boys needed haircuts. I had to go to Walmart and print out a poster sized picture of Javier. I allowed myself to get caught up in the small details because it was easier than focusing on the bigger picture. I thought about the marines from Javier’s platoon. I wondered how they were coping. I was worried about them. I wanted to know they were ok. I thought about Javier’s sister, Glory. I wondered how she was holding up. I thought about Javier’s friend, Benji, who would also be his escort. How was he doing? Had I asked too much of him? I thought about Javier’s mom and dad. I wanted to know when our friends, Nicole and Marquese would arrive from Hawaii. (They had been our neighbors for three years. I needed them. Their presence brought me comfort.) Our friends from church wanted to see me. What should I do? Was I strong enough to receive people in my home? I had agreed to allow visitors the next day. By this time, we already knew that a memorial service would be held in Jacksonville, the funeral would be in Rochester, NY, and the burial would be in Arlington, VA. We would be leaving to NY right after the memorial service on Sunday. I still needed to pack for myself and the kids. Yes, my thoughts were all over the place! I had so much to do. I didn’t have much time to do it in and I was exhausted. Lourdes helped me get as much done as we possibly could during the day.
That evening, Javier’s friend, SSgt. Lopez and his wife called to ask if they could come visit. I told them yes. I knew that seeing SSgt. Lopez would be hard. Javier and him were very close. SSgt. Lopez had taken Javier under his wing and expected a lot out of him…only because he knew Javier was fully capable of exceeding his expectations. Javier loved him dearly. “He’s been like a dad to me in the Marine Corps,” is what Javier would tell me. It made me sad to think about seeing SSgt. Lopez without Javi. I pushed the thoughts out of my mind and continued occupying my time with anything that would take my mind off of the sad and painful reality in front of me. At around 8 PM, the doorbell rang. It was SSgt. Lopez, or Ram as we call him. I came to door. I will never forget how he began to cry the minute he saw me. He held back tears and couldn’t even talk. Instead, he walked away from me. His wife, Nery, hugged me and apologized. She said he was taking it all very hard. She said he was heart broken. I let a few minutes go by and then I went outside to look for him. He was at the end of my driveway, sobbing. I could hear the pain in his heart through his sobs. This moment in time was very important because it was in this moment that I realized how much others were hurting too. We may not all have been feeling the exact same pain, but we were all hurting and mourning none the less. To see Ram cry was truly a sobering moment in my life. He’s a marine…a grunt. He has experienced war and led platoons of marines into battle. Men like him seemed above tears! In that moment, I realized that the Marine Corps had formed a brotherhood between Javier and many other marines. The Marine Corps was in mourning with us. I thought about Javier’s platoon again. I thought about Alex, Lt. Jason, Angel, Peg, and every other marine that was deployed with Javi. My heart hurt for them. It was seeing Ram’s tears and hearing him sob that brought me to the realization that this was not all about me. While everyone around me was catering to me and the kids, I realized that they were putting their feelings aside to help me deal with mine. They were swallowing their pain in order to help me stay strong. I was filled with gratitude. It was in that moment that I made the decision to do my best to always remember that I wasn’t the only one hurting. I told myself not to become a “widowzilla”. Although it hurt my heart to hear Ram cry, I gave him private time and walked back in the house. When he came back in the house he smiled at me and hugged me. He said, “How you doing?” as though he was just fine and ready to be strong for me. Ram taught me something without even realizing it. He taught me that it was ok to put on a strong front, but it was also ok to have private moments of weakness. Moments of weakness did not mean I was weak. Allowing myself to cry and have private moments of weakness would be the only way I could stay strong publicly. I respected him more than ever before.
We sat around and talked about Javier. We laughed and cried, but it felt good to remember. It was comforting. When Ram spoke about Javi, I could hear the pride in his voice. He called him, “his boy” and although he probably used it in terms of friendship, it reminded me of what Javier would say, “He’s been like my Marine Corps dad. He didn’t push me to be a better marine. He pushed me to become a better man.” That made my heart smile. For the first time since the nightmare had begun, I felt as though I could literally feel Javi’s presence in the room smiling. By the time they left, I was calm, but the cloud of sadness seemed to linger.
Then, the doorbell rang again. It was Marquese and Nicole! And for the first time in three days I felt happy. They brought with them a sense of comfort and peace I can’t even explain. They took charge, they helped Orlando in whatever way they could. For a brief moment, the cloud of sadness was lifted. They had arrived and they would accompany me to New York for the funeral and to Arlington for the burial. They dropped everything and put their lives on hold to come be at my side when I needed them most! I was grateful for their presence and for their friendship. I went to bed that night feeling a renewed strength. God, was again showing Himself to me. He was giving me what I needed to stay strong and showing His love for me through people on Earth.
The next day was Saturday and I had agreed to receive people in my home from 11 AM to 1 PM. I’m not sure why, but I got the bright idea to go to Walmart that morning. Lourdes went with me. She was such a trooper. She took me where I needed. She didn’t protest at my stupid ideas, and she did whatever she could to make me laugh. She was a constant blessing to me. We took our time at Walmart. So, when I arrived at my house it was a little after 11 AM. When we got there, people where already there. I was showered with hugs, words of encouragement, and with love. My church family showed their support in every way that they could. If I was unsure about letting people visit me, any doubt I had was put to rest. My Discovery family lifted me up and God used them to speak to me, yet again. Ms. Gail told me about a time when Javi was in the foyer of the church. She asked him if he was looking for something, and with pride in his eyes and a big smile, he said, “I’m waiting for my wife and kids” Crystal then said, with tears in her voice, “And that’s what he’s doing now. He’s waiting for his wife and kids in heaven.” Wow! That spoke to me! I have reminded myself of that every day since. More than anything, our friends reassured me of how much he loves me. Imojean told me about how his his love for me was written all over his face. Joann told me how when he looked at me, she could see the love and pride in his eyes. I found it extremely comforting to be reassured of this.
Everyone left and we proceeded with plans for Javier’s memorial and funeral. Orlando was bombarded with phone calls from New York. He would relay information to me in small doses, so as not to overwhelm me. Marquese and Nicole were a big help. I told Orlando to run everything by them too. Whatever decisions I couldn’t make alone, they helped me to think through. Lourdes was probably the biggest emotional help of all. She laughed with me when I needed to laugh, listened when I needed to be angry, and shared in my frustration in moments when I felt as though I was going to lose my mind with anger. As much as I would like to take credit for the strength I displayed, the truth is I can’t. God brought the right people to my side. He brought me the people he knew I needed and led them to help me be strong all in their own way. My strength came from God and the people around me who were lifting me up in prayer and helping me every step of the way. That Saturday night, I went to bed exhausted and also nervous for the next day. Javi’s memorial was the next day. I wasn’t sure what to expect or if I would be able to maintain my composure in a crowd that large.
Sunday morning came. I pulled out my Dallas Cowboys jersey from the closet. I felt torn between wanting to be present at the memorial to honor my husband and wanting to skip out in it because i didn’t want to accept the reality of his death. Had it been left up to me, I would have sat in my closet all day. Thanks to Lourdes, I didn’t. She lifted me up, and said, “Come on ya dumb broad. I gotta fix your hair. There’s gonna be a lot of people looking at you. You can’t look like crap. Don’t embarrass Javier by showing up to his memorial looking like ass.” I laughed and did as she told me. When she was done fixing my hair, she reminded me that I should put some makeup on because four days of no sleep was not a good look for me. When I was finished putting my makeup on she told me to put on some fabulous shoes because a jersey was not a fabulous look for any girl. I wore some silver and blue sequined shoes. (which i received many compliments on) When I was ready, I looked in the mirror. For the first time in three days, I actually took the time to see myself. I looked different. I had lost a lot of weight. My eyes looked tired. There was a sadness in my eyes that no amount of smiling could erase. This was taking it’s toll on me in every way, shape, and form. Lourdes told me that there was a glow about me, and that she was sure it was Javi shining down on me. Those words encouraged me and lifted my spirits.
I walked down stairs and saw my little girl dressed in a Dallas Cowboys dress. She looked beautiful. Then, I walked into the living room and saw my little boys. They were wearing miniature dress blues. Everything in their uniform was exactly to what would have been on their dad’s uniform. To say I was proud is an understatement! I wanted to show the world how precious my little boys were. I wanted to scream from the roof tops, that the most handsome man and boys to ever have worn the uniform love me! One made me his wife and the other two call me Mommy! I was extremely proud of my children and of my husband.
We all piled in the car and drove to church. When we arrived, the parking lot was already starting to get full. I felt a horrible ache in my heart. I loved going to church. It was the highlight of my week, but that day I dreaded it. I walked in the doors and the very first thing I saw was a large picture of Javier. It made me want to cry, but just as the tears were about to start rolling down my face, Mike walked up to me, hugged me and gave me a bouquet of roses. He was wearing dress blues. They were beautiful! I felt comfort in their act of kindness. Me and my family stood in the foyer for a while. I watched people walk in and I was amazed at what I saw. Marine after marine after marine came in wearing dress blues, and at their side were wives and children wearing Dallas Cowboys attire. The entire praise and worship team had on Dallas Cowboys attire. Pastor Pam, Granny, Sterling, Stephanie, countless people wore something related to the Dallas Cowboys. It was amazing to see die hard Saints, Giants, Bears. Eagles, Raiders, Packers, Redskins, Panthers and countless other team’s fans decked out in Cowboys gear! For those that weren’t decked out in Cowboys gear, the church had prepared a small cut out of the Dallas Cowboys star for them to pin on. In the middle of it, it said “Javier Ortiz”. I was in awe.
When we had taken our seats and the the service had started, I made it a point to look back and take a look at everyone in the sanctuary. It was packed, and It was a sea of silver, navy, and red (from the marines dressed in their blues). It was an amazing sight. It was do amazing that for a moment, I forgot about my pain. God had put it in the hearts of all these people to honor Javier by fulfilling his wish. My heart was bursting with gratitude.
My church did an absolutely amazing job at honoring and remembering Javier. Although they only had 2 days to plan, they put a lot of thought into every detail. From the bulletin, to the songs that were sung, to the message that Stephanie preached, to the video message that Pastor Ron recorded to be played for me. (He was out of town and he had also had a death in his family the same week). Everything was absolutely perfect. Then, came time to read the letters.
You see, I was determined for people to see for themselves what an amazing husband, father, marine, and man of God my husband truly was. The only way to do so was to have one of the letters that he wrote to me from Afghanistan read out loud to the congregation. I asked Javi’s brother to read the letter, and I read my response. By the time we were finished reading the letters there was not a dry eye in the room. I could sense that people were truly touched by these letters. I was proud to show people how wonderful Javier was. He wasn’t just an American hero, or a brave marine, he was an extraordinary person. A slideshow of pictures was played next. It was extremely difficult to maintain my composure during this slideshow. It hurt me beyond words to see Javier in a picture and know that in pictures would be the only way I would see him from now on. The service ended with the song, “Trading My Sorrows”. That was Javier’s favorite song, and how fitting it was.
Javier’s memorial service was absolutely perfect. It was most certainly special and honored Javier beyond anything I could have ever imagined. We left the church and went back to my house. I felt relieved that i was able to get through the memorial service, but this was just the beginning. It was time to start packing and leave for New York. More difficult days were ahead….
***I truly feel the letters are important to our story. So, here they are.
Letter from Javier, written October 22, 2010
Well, today started off BAD! One of my marines got into a fight with one of the ANP (police). So I had to explain that to FSgt; and then deal with talking to their commander and say sorry for the “behavior of my marines!” Sometimes, Marines are so stupid! I’m already frustrated at the fact that one of the Marines locked the phone out and we had to send it back. Who knows how long it will take to get it back. I wasted all the minutes of the ANP commander’s SAT phone, and the one we have does not have minutes on it! I think I’m going to spend some money and buy some minutes for it, but I don’t know how much it will cost. I tried to send a text through it. It said the message sent, but I have no way of knowing if it got to you. I think it did, but I’m not sure! Then, the day took a change I did not see coming. I got your package, with the GPS, PSP stuff and the games. I swear, every package has gotten to me at a time when I needed a smile and something to take my mind off things! I love you much! And I’m thankful for having you as my wife. You have no clue how overqualified you are to be with a person like me! I’m grateful that God put you in my life and kept you in it even during the times when I could have pissed it all away. I promise I will be a better husband, father, man, and person as I continue to see things in a different way. You have no clue how much more happier you have made this place for me. The PSP, the games, the stove I forgot to bring (by the way I got it to work), the blue blanket, the extra shirts, socks, and skivvies, the book (by the way I already finished it, it took me two days. It was a good one), the FOOD!!! OMG, it’s good to eat American food! The baby wipes, coffee, dental products, laundry soap, razors, the list goes on and on. I can’t thank you enough for being there for me; in the past, present, and I hope to God in the future. I can really see us being old together, me rubbing my wrinkly feet on yours! LOL! Anyhow, the past two days have been horrible due to weather. It has been non-stop sand storms that get dust all over our stuff and it’s hard to sleep at night. Our bible study has been going good. I got the CD you sent from church, so hopefully that gives me an idea to discuss on my turn of discussion. We have done it two weeks in a row now. The first I opened it with praying and how it does not have to be elaborate does the trick; that’s what the Bible says! The second week it was Doc Vidal’s turn to put something together, and he did it on faith. It was good, he went to a Christian college so he was able to put something nice together. Next week, (or I should say, in two days!) it is Montoya’s turn. I also finished the one book I told you about. Psalms 91 God’s shield of protection, Military Edition, by Peggy Joyce Ruth. That was an awesome book. We all seem to be enjoying the bible study group. Lt and I have been doing a lot of reading. If we are not on a patrol, we have nothing to do. We don’t stand post unless something happens. We are not in the COC (command center)! So we sit in our “shack” (that I built, by the way!) and read. I have read four books in the past two weeks, and I think I’m going to continue it when I get back, and get the kids into it. I’m also going to start, what will be called “bike riding Saturdays!” And, you, my friend, are coming with! More details when I get back! October is almost over, and all that means to me is the time till I hold and kiss you guys is coming closer and closer! Also, as I was reading that Psalms 91 book, I decided I am going to stop cursing and using the Lord’s name in vain. So far, I have been doing good! Ok, my love, I have to go. Love you with all of my heart and soul. Take care of the kids and yourself………I know you are doing a good job at it!
MY RESPONSE, written November 12, 2010
Hello My Love! I got a letter from you today! It’s the best letter I’ve gotten from you EVER! It made me so happy, that I cried. It’s the one about how you’re having a bible study with the guys out there…the one about how you’re going to stop cursing and using the Lord’s name in vain. I am sooo proud of you JOOR! I can’t even put into words how proud I am. It’s funny that you say you’re gonna stop cursing because when I talked to you a day ago, I noticed you didn’t say a single curse word. I was in such a bad mood when you called. I did say a few curse words, and after I got off the phone with you, I thought about it and told myself that I don’t want to curse anymore. It’s not attractive and I’m sure it probably doesn’t please God. I’m more than sure that God was speaking to my heart about that, and then when I got the letter from you, it just confirmed it. I’m not sure what you mean by “bike riding Saturdays”, but sure, I’ll come if you want me to. I’m so happy Babe! I know God has a plan for us! We just have to let Him carry out His will for us.
I too have made a few changes with our kids since you left. We pray before we eat. Andrew is always the first to volunteer to pray. He loves to pray for you and always asks God to help him do good in school. I took the tv’s out of their room. We pray at night before we go to sleep, and I read a book with them before bedtime. I try to do this every night. Every now and then I get busy and we don’t do it, or I forget, but they are quick to remind me. I want to be a good example for them. I want us to show them what God has done for us and help them to want to have a relationship with God. I want them to like going to church, and I want them to be proud of their faith.
Your letter came at a time when I really needed some motivation. I keep saying it, but it’s the truth, I’m tired! I don’t think I ever recovered from the vacations to Rochester and Disney World, LOL! I so needed to hear something to keep me motivated and remind me that God answers our prayers. It’s funny that you say you’ve gotten every package exactly when you needed it most. That’s how it’s been with your phone calls. You have called when I needed to hear from you most. Every time I’ve felt the most lonely, sad, or unmotivated…you’ve called! Even though sometimes I feel alone, I know that God always knows what I need and in those times of need is when you call me.
Every phone call means the world to me. I know I keep the conversation pretty casual when you call. I do this because I want to avoid crying. Most days I miss you so much, I’m on the verge of tears. So, when you call, I try to keep it positive. I’m sorry if it seems as though I’m distant. I’m not trying to be. I’m just trying to keep it together. I don’t want you to worry about us.
Despite the circumstances that we’re in, we have so much to be grateful for. God has blessed us in so many different ways, and He has answered every one of my prayers! He is so faithful! I was thinking, I’m gonna start sending you the Email 4 Though via Motomail every week. Maybe it will give you ideas for your bible study. Keep doing what you’re doing, Baby. I’m very proud of you, but most importantly, God is proud of you…and that’s what matters most! You are being obedient to God’s will for you and you are allowing him to work in you and through you so that you can set a good example to your Marines. Obedience brings forth blessings, Baby. Always remember that!!! I love you Papi. Take care. Stay safe. Say your prayers. I am so very proud of you!
“If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all His commands as I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth.” Deuteronomy 28:1