Photo courtesy Shelby Summers

By Shelby Summers – – Thursday, June 14, 2018


Baton Rouge, Louisiana

At about 6 in the morning on Aug. 3, 2009, I had a package delivered to me in the shape of two Army Casualty Assistance Officers. As soon as I saw them, I knew.

The day prior, my dad, Sgt. First Class Severin West Summers III, was hit by an IED in Qole Gerdsar, Afghanistan, and lost his life. I was 13 years old at the time and couldn’t truly grasp the reality of the situation. My emotions were overwhelming. In a sense, I was completely paralyzed, having never imagined being without my father.

My dad was full of life and a man who couldn’t be broken. I was in awe of him. As a child, I watched him survive deadly spider bites, a chainsaw cut on his knee and an accidental gunshot wound to his posterior. My father — this wild, reckless, beautiful, loving, self-actualizing grunt — was more than anything, free.

While he survived all the reckless chaos he subjected himself to, it was just one unseen punch that slipped through, and put him to rest. A man with the most ravenous appetite for life, a man like my father, is still human — and what a vulnerable thing that is to be. Neither myself nor family or friends saw it coming.

We knew he was volunteering for his second tour in Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom and, sure, we were worried — but only a little. It didn’t keep me up at night because it was Sev! — my dad — who had more lives than a cat.

But at the innocent age of 13, I discovered a secret I could not return. People die. I’d never truly processed what death was, until it struck me. I was young, and I was lost — how could I contend with news this heavy, this thick, this incontestable and permanent?

It took about seven years for reality to catch up to me. It wasn’t until I got to college and was left hostage to “the real world,” that the feeling of dismay and deep grief truly incapacitated me. I was dealing with feelings, thoughts, deeply embedded emotions entrenched in the far reaches of my mind, and they paralyzed me.

I received help from Freedom Alliance — an organization which gives children of fallen soldiers’ college scholarships. But the organization does more — it builds a community. Through Freedom Alliance, I met a lot of young adults in my same situation. These were people who I didn’t realize existed for so many years, and the connection that each of us developed with one another is something only we understand. We hold a special bond with one another, we can talk about our grief and rejoice about our lost parent, and it’s not awkward or taboo — it’s just natural, accepted and special.

Now, almost 10 years later, I can concede my emotions about my fatherless Father’s Days. The main thing I feel on Father’s Day is exceptional love for the people most important to me. I also feel remembrance of the resolute, inimitable and supremely fierce man that my father was. I am so proud that he, out of every being in this infinite universe, was my father. I feel extremely glad that, when I think about how he always made everyone laugh and how much he loved that feeling, I was always his most important audience. I truly do feel a sort of gratification now despite still feeling twinges of painful grief every now and then: A tithe for what once was.

I sometimes feel a desire for retribution, not only for the tangible adversary that killed my father, but also the intangible cruelty and unfairness of life. Why should a 13-year-old have to bury their parent? In what life is that a good or sensible thing? That question will plague my thoughts for as long as I live.

However, this misfortune has allowed for a realization of how benevolently we must act toward our loved ones and even toward everyday strangers. It has given me greater appreciation for the life I have been given. I urge anyone reading this to call your loved ones and let them know how important they are to you. If they’re around, embrace them, love them — remember the feeling for as long as you can. This Father’s Day appreciate your father and his presence in your life. Make them feel so loved and don’t confine that love and appreciation to just one day a year, because you truly never know what tomorrow holds.