Raising A Snickers Bar: In Honor of R.J. Cottle
As parents, we deal with our children's sorrows, large and small, on a daily basis. Occasionally this requires elaborate rituals created over the course of their little years, from a special stuffie and pacifier when they're babies, to hugs, ice cream, a dorky comedy on the big screen, and some rockin' tunes on the drive home when they're teens. But sometimes it also falls to us as children to console our own parents when they walk through the Valley of Darkness. Last week, my father walked that trail as he charted the awful course of burying his close friend, United States Marine Corps Sergeant Major and SWAT Officer Robert James Cottle (read through the comments on the above link to get an idea of the man from those who knew and loved him). Not only was R.J., as we called him, an accomplished and respected Marine, he was also a Los Angeles Police Department SWAT Team leader and my Dad's partner for many years.
If you were anywhere near Los Angeles, you likely saw R.J.'s memorial service on the news. Maybe you saw the billboards, like those above, put up by a caring local businessman and long-time LAPD supporter. Every source I came across, from print to video to radio, did an excellent job of detailing the life of the Sergeant Major (see links for more). Perhaps you saw one of these that day and the moving promise my father made to R.J.'s family that they will never be forgotten. I cannot begin to express how difficult that eulogy was for my Dad.
From his very first words, it was immediately clear to Mom and I how close he was to outright losing it in front of thousands of uniformed personnel, family, and friends. His voice boomed through the cathedral in what my mother calls his "work voice"--the one that cuts through high-stress moments and gets done what needs doing, the good, the bad, and the worst. Somehow he had us laughing over R.J.'s Twinkie-fueled escapades and his ugly feet. But the laughter was through tears; it was absolutely heart-rending. The sorrows of every one of R.J.'s SWAT brethren were my father's to carry, that day. The soul of the entire Department was behind his husky-throated words.
On March 24th, R.J.'s Marine reconnaissance vehicle had been hit by an improvised explosive device in the Marjah region of Helmand Provice, Afghanistan, killing both R.J. and the much-too-young Lance Corporal Rick Centanni, as well as wounding two others. When Dad first got the call, he and several other SWAT officers accompanied R.J.'s wife Emily to meet the casket when he touched down on U.S. soil. Back in L.A., they shared stories and drinks, laughter and tears. After four weeks, it hasn't gotten one iota easier for any of them. Nor, I imagine, for the Marines who shared time "in country" with their highly-respected Sergeant Major and good friend.
It hurts to see those we have always turned to as a source of strength torn apart by heartache. These are our parents, people we continue to learn from throughout our lives, even after we go on to raise our own families, even when we are separated by great distances. Maybe it will help me to remember, in my own moments of darkness, that my mother and father have deep, difficult, sometimes overwhelming challenges, just as I do. Someone I know and love and has been there first, trampling the path and hopefully illuminating the obstacles ahead, showing me how to accept my grief as part of the natural cycle of life.
I know I can't take the pain away, Dad. But I can tell you I love you by text message as you leave the cemetery in Arlington. I can be there with a hug when you return. And I'll stand with you at the bar, where R.J. stood laughing in his teasing baratone so many times, and raise a Snickers bar over a Black-and-Tan in honor of your best friend. R.J. would have liked that.
A fund has been set up to help support the cherished loved ones of a man who served on the front lines both at home and abroad. If you wish, please make checks payable to "Blue Ribbon Trust for Robert J. Cottle" and send to: Los Angeles Police Federal Credit Union, Attn: Blue Ribbon Trust for Robert J. Cottle, P.O. Box 10188, Van Nuys, CA 91410.
For a more detailed perspective of the events of April 13th, visit A World of Words. You can also click here to follow Angela O. on Twitter, or click here to read her previous posts on SVMG. This is an original post to the Silicon Valley Moms Group. Photo courtesy of Tina Fauci.