Tuesday, April 24, 2012

My First Visit Back

It was my first time visiting my baby since his funeral. I hate being so far away, but I love knowing that he’s in a place of the utmost respect and honor. Arlington is an overwhelmingly beautiful place. The hills and fields are covered in headstones and cherry blossoms.

My friend and I arrived at Arlington station on the metro. My heart pounded with excitement and nervousness as we began walking. I was so very excited to be near to the place where Jalfred’s body rests, but nervous because I knew it would strike up a lot of emotion in me. We walked all the way from the front entrance to section 60 where my bear is buried. It was a very long walk and my friend asked if we should get a map to find where Jalfred is located, but I told her that I remember the exact place. It’s burned into my mind- York St. three trees down from the directory post, 9827. As we walked, a lot of the surroundings became vaguely familiar, not like I had been there before, but as if I were having déjà vu. It was like I had visited before in a distant dream. We walked past several streets, and finally arrived at York. 

It began to rain as we walked closer to Jalfred’s grave. My heart was plummeting, as I am so used to it doing now. I knew the rain was Jalfred’s tears. I just know he’s with me, and it kills him to see me hurting. When I cry, he cries- in life and in death. The light, wintry sprinkling rain explained my emotions better than I can with any words. But it didn’t rain hard, just a drizzle to get the message across. I feared that the clouds would begin to pour down rain while we were there and all of the pictures and flowers I brought along would get destroyed before we even had a chance to put them around his grave. We continued walking through the chilly wind and rain until we finally arrived three trees down from the directory post. It took us a moment to find Jalfred’s gravesite because an entire new row had been filled up since we last were there. We also didn’t know whether to look for the temporary marker or if the permanent headstone had arrived yet. But finally, we found him. I don’t remember my initial reaction when I first saw his site, I just remember lying on the grass in front of the marker that read “Jalfred David Vaquerano” and weeping, and weeping. 

After crying for a while, I looked up and my friend brought to my attention the fact that at the very moment we reached Jalfred’s gravesite, it stopped raining and the sun came out. It happened almost instantaneously. It was yet another sign of love. It was a gloomy day when Jalfred’s body returned in Dover, but the moment his body reached US soil, the sun shone through the clouds. It was a windy and cold day December 30th, the day of Jalfred’s funeral, but when we were watching him be buried, it was warm. Its little things like this that help me keep my faith. Its little things like this that keeps my spirits up just enough to put one foot in front of the other. 

This is the actual pic of the sun coming out after the rain.

The second day in Arlington my friend and I woke up fairly early and headed out to Arlington once again. I was so happy to be there. It becomes a really sad thing when you’re at a level where you’re excited just to visit your fiancé’s grave. Being a widow, or whatever you consider me, you sometimes forget that this tragedy doesn’t happen to everyone and that you’re not suppose to ever have to visit your lover’s grave, especially not at twenty. You forget that your excitement should be from them walking off a jet and into your arms. I can only fantasize about that kind of happiness now, it’s so far out of reach. My happiness now comes from thinking about this life being over or having a dream where my bear is alive again. I find happiness temporarily by thinking of sweet memories and reliving them for as long as my mind allows.

As we neared Jalfred’s site on the second day, we noticed that some headstones were laying out and the workers were getting ready to place them in the ground. I was pretty disappointed Jalfred’s headstone wasn’t there the previous day, it had been over 3 months since he was buried and I thought that he should have it by then. We walked closer and it looked like only the grave next to Jalfred’s had a headstone waiting to be placed, but we were wrong- it was Jalfred’s! I ran over to it as fast as I could, I was so glad that my baby finally had his headstone- and I was there to see it be placed in the ground! What are the odds? We made it there just in time to witness it all. I looked over it and made sure everything was correct and of course, it was. The workers had to place the headstones one by one in order so I laid next to Jalfred’s headstone until it was his turn. In a way, lying next to it felt like I was cuddling with him. It was the closest thing I’ll ever have to that feeling again. I laid there for a while waiting, and I felt at peace for that moment. The weather was beautiful and the sun was out covering me with warmth. It was like Jalfred was giving me a giant hug. 

It took a while for the workers to install the headstone. They have to make sure everything is lined up perfectly. The headstone must be in impeccable shape and evenly spaced. While the workers were adjusting the headstone, the manager of Arlington came to oversee the work being done and I called him over to Jalfred’s grave. I asked him if I could possibly keep Jalfred’s temporary marker, the one that had marked his gravesite until then, and he said yes! Again, another gift! It meant so much to me to have that, I have no idea why, but it just meant a lot. Jalfred finally had his beautiful headstone. It reads: 

Jalfred David Vaquerano
Jan 20 1991
Dec 13 2011
Bronze Star
Purple Heart
“Just a smile from you made a brighter day”

How true the saying is. Jalfred was a very shy man. He was soft spoken and only unveiled himself to few, but his eyes and smile could not be forgotten by anyone who saw them. His smile was contagious. Even now on my hardest of days, when I see his smile in photos or videos, I smile too. His life brightened so many others. Jalfred was my sunlight.

We spent nine hours at Arlington on the second day. My friend candidly photographed my experience and some of the scenery around Arlington while I laid at my baby’s grave all day. I talked to him; I sang to him, I cried to him, I even napped there. I decorated and redecorated his grave to make sure it looked perfect. I wanted Jalfred’s site to be the most loved grave in all of Arlington. We also visited graves of some of the other widows that I am beginning to know and laid a rose and took pictures for them. It was so comforting to be near Jalfred’s resting place. I can’t find the correct words to perfectly describe it, but while I was there, I knew that everything was going to be ok.

The second day we also visited the tomb of the Unknown Soldier and watched the changing of the guard. It was a moving thing to see. I felt strange around all the “tourists” there. It was like they were strangers in my home. I hated seeing middle school kids on field trips laughing and having a good time at a cemetery, Jalfred’s cemetery, while my heart was bleeding out in so much pain. Ignorance truly is bliss I guess. I often long for the ignorance I once had. However, I was grateful that so many people came to honor the fallen. I wore a shirt that I made with Jalfred’s picture on it so that people would know Jalfred’s sacrifice. People may not remember forever, but in that second where they’re reading Jalfred’s name on my shirt and looking at his picture, Jalfred’s name is in their minds. He is not forgotten.


  1. It's funny how we end up in these places. I just finished watching Saving Private Ryan and the scene at the end with the headstones from Arlington got me on a search and somehow I ended up here. What a beautiful site, a beautiful man, and a beautiful woman. I appreciate his sacrifice and at the same time I know I will never truly understand it. One day I will take my kids to DC and I'm sure they'll watch the changing of the guards. I'll remember your bear when that happens, I promise.

  2. Thank you Jennifer so taking the time to read Jalfred and I's story and honoring his sacrifice. I strongly believe that every American should visit Arlington at least once in their lifetime. It is a moving experience and I would be honored if you remembered Jalfred there. Thank you again and God bless <3


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