30 July 2011 was just like any other day. Or so I thought. I was 16 years old, just got back from my family vacation to Myrtle Beach, and just got my drivers license. Life was golden and proceeding as normal. And in an instant, it seemed as though my world collapsed in upon itself. At 0445 my parents woke me up to tell me they had to go to my brothers house. I was half asleep didn’t pay it much attention.
And there I was…two hours later, learning that my brother had been killed in the line of duty early that morning. My brother, my hero and my best friend…gone. What started as a normal day was shattered in an instant.
And not a day goes by that I don’t relive that moment of realization in my head over. And over. And over. Not a day goes by where I don’t feel that pain. The pain that absolutely paralyzes you. The pain that makes time stand still. An emotional pain so deep and so vast that it turns into physical pain. You can feel every tear and crack shock through your heart.
Not a day goes by that I don’t remember how that one, excruciating day seemed to carry on for what seemed like an eternity. The week following seemed endless, and it all merged together to feel like one day. The countless people fluxing in and out of our house. Expressing how sorry they were. People reminding me to eat…to sleep…to breathe. Kleenex definitely go their money out of us that week. Not being able to hold a simple conversation without tears flowing from my eyes almost as easy as it is to smile.
Not a day goes by that I don’t vividly remember his viewing. Being driven via limousine to Wake Forest University. Pulling up to a building where dozens of officers waited at attention to escort us inside. Walking to the front of Wait Chapel. Looking at the lobby filled with tables containing cards and letters. Pictures of Russell. His uniform on display. Not a day goes by when I don’t remember seeing his casket for the first time. When denial and reality crashed into one another so hard in my head it was petrifying. My tears and the tears of my family soaking the American flag draped over the mahogany box that held a man who was too great to deserve such a fate. The thousands of people that flowed through the assembly line to hug us, cry with us, tell us how sorry they were. Chief Cunningham asking me what he could do for me, and all I could reply was “I want his hat” and him looking…not at me, but into me. And I was met with an unequivocal “done”.
Not a day goes by that I don’t recall every painful detail of his funeral. It was 4 August 2011. The high was 113 degrees. The heat didn’t phase me. I’ll never forget standing on the steps of Wait Chapel and looking out at the quad at all of the Law Enforcement Officers from all across the country saluting as the Caisson marched around the quad carrying the flag draped casket. When the caisson pulled up to the stairs and the pallbearers passed us with my brother on their shoulders, I couldn’t breathe. Sitting through countless hymns and testimonials that stated the obvious, which was that my brother was the best cop to walk this planet. Something that didn’t need to be solidified. We knew it.
Not a day goes by where I don’t close my eyes just to hear bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace” and I see that flag draped mahogany casket on the shoulders of six Winston-Salem police officers as they walked out back onto the quad. Hearing the 21 gun salute ring through my entire body. My brother’s final radio call….
“3314…3314…Dispatch be advised; 3314, Officer Russell Mark Willingham Jr is 10-42. End of Watch: 30 July 2011.”
Not a day goes by where I won’t remember the reality of watching his flag being folded and presented. And having to leave….without him. Having to leave him there. Going home…to what? Carry on with my life? It took a minute to realize it, but that’s exactly what happened.
All these things….and there I was. All of it being engraved into the very depths of my memory. But…
Not a day goes by that I don’t remember my brother’s laugh. That laugh that was so stupid. That laugh that was funnier than the joke that was just said. The laugh that made you laugh too even if you didn’t hear the joke.
Not a day goes by that I don’t remember sitting on the couch with Russell. Eating Doritos, watching C.O.P.S., Law and Order, 24, The Simpsons and family guy. Russell would be working on endless papers and projects for college. If i was lucky, he would make me gourmet Ramen noodles…by gourmet I mean, made with love.
Not a day goes by that I don’t remember how much love Russell projected. Love for law enforcement. Love for education. Love for justice. Love for the Lord. And love for others. I can only hope to be half the person he was. He loved fiercely.
Not a day goes by that I don’t remember the arguments we used to have. The stupid, pointless, meaningless arguments over absolutely nothing. And 30-minutes after those arguments, we’d go right back to sitting on the couch watching TV again.
Not a day…not one single day goes by…that I don’t do everything I possibly can to emulate all that you were. That I do whatever I can to make you proud. To see the world the same way you did. To love life and serve the Lord in the same capacity you did every day. To be even a fraction of the person you were. Not a day goes by that I don’t lace up my boots and speak a silent prayer in my head to you to stay with me. I only hope you can see the person I’ve become.
Russell Mark Willingham Jr., I pray every day that you know how much I loved you and still do love you. Until we meet again brother…
Your baby sister.