Nearly six years ago, I raised my right hand and swore an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Today, I said a similar oath, except instead of second lieutenant, I said captain.

He was supposed to be here.

Last year, my husband and I went to visit my grandfather and his wife of five years in Florida. BWB was terrified of The General, but we were both delighted to discover we had an amazing time. My grandfather took me out to the driving range to the first time, and I can only wish that I had let him do so many years earlier. It was so much fun, and such a bond with him. Over the weekend, he told me how they’d found a tiny little spot on an MRI, nothing to worry about, and that he promised he’d be here this year when I had my promotion ceremony.

He was supposed to be here.

Last summer, when I was on active duty for a month, I could not for the life of me figure out what the etiquette should be at the gate coming on and off base. I mean, there I was in a sundress and pigtails, headed out to meet my friends, and the young airman checking my ID wanted to salute me. Should I salute him back, despite not being in uniform? Not return the salute? Either option seemed disrespectful. My father said I should call my grandfather and ask his advice — he’d like that, my dad said. I called The General, and he reveled in it.

As summer faded to fall, an irresponsible oncologist and my grandfather’s naive fighter’s soul conspired to end his life.

Last fall, as I filled out the pages and pages of applications and forms required by the military for the match and graduation process, I agonized. How do I do this? How do I balance my family, my career, and the needs of the military? How can I possibly be fair to everyone and to myself? I needed him, I needed to speak to him, I needed his advice, but he was beyond my reach.

Last December, we buried him next to my grandmother on a hill at Arlington.

Today, I had to say that oath without him. Today, the Lt. Commander from the Navy base across the river read my words off to me, after making sure he knew my name by checking it in the program. He was articulate and heartfelt, clearly honored to be there with us, with wise words of advice for his fellow military physicians, but he wasn’t my grandfather. Today I felt his absence more keenly than I have felt any loss before.

I can almost hear him, the cadence of the words he would have said, the look in his eyes, the expression on his face. I can imagine the way he would have pointed, gestured with his index finger at me and at my husband. I can picture the way he would have looked, reading off an oath he took himself decades before I did, bursting with pride at his grandchild

It would have been our moment, his and mine. It was our connection, our shared history, our Air Force.

He was supposed to be here.

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