National Memorial Day Concert

Bugler in front of US Capitol building

A Lifelong Journey in Grief

Last Updated by Paula Davis on
Paula Davis with her son, Justin, who was killed in Afghanistan.

On the 2016 National Memorial Day Concert, S. Epatha Merkerson shares Paula Davis' story.

I’m the Mother of Private First Class Justin Ray Davis. Justin was my only child. My son was serving in the United States Army supporting Operation Enduring Freedom when he was killed in action in Afghanistan on June 25, 2006. Justin enlisted into the Army directly after graduating from Magruder High School in Montgomery Co., MD. He was an Infantryman with the 10th Mountain Division – 1st PLT A CO  1-32-INF. My son loved being an elite soldier. Justin was a courageous young man who had a passion for life, a passion for people and most of all a passion to serve. He was blessed to follow his dream with an infectious zest until the very end. He was serving in the United States Army supporting Operation Enduring Freedom when his life ended in Afghanistan on June 25, 2006. Justin exemplified courage and service and was proud to serve his country and to help his fellow man. I know he gave his life doing what he loved. I miss my beloved son every day, but I know without the shadow of a doubt, if he had the opportunity to live his life again, he would make the same decision to serve our country. I know I would not be able to dissuade him.

For me, losing my son was the worst day of my life. I don't know what could be worse for a parent. My grief was very, very intense for a very long time. Time doesn’t heal all wounds. The wound is always going to be there. A piece of my heart is missing. You have to find a way to cope and survive the pain, and your new normal. Burying my son ripped my heart out. As a parent, it’s a life long journey in grief. You can’t get over it– I have survived it. I’m healing from it, but it will take a lifetime. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Learning to live with pain and grief is a process. There are still times when the grief will hit me out of nowhere.

I have survived because of my faith, other Gold Star Mothers, and my family and friends. I have found strength and support connecting with other survivors, other moms who lost their children in service to our country. With the other Gold Star mothers, it’s a sisterhood. We can laugh and cry all at the same time. When I met other Gold Star Mothers, it was validation for me that I wasn’t going crazy. There’s camaraderie, a bond – you understand how the other one is feeling. It’s easier to talk about your children with other mothers who’ve experienced that loss, because they’ve been there. They get it. They are going through the same pain as you. When you lose your child – you lose a part of yourself. It feels unnatural. You expect your children to bury you. Your children are your legacy. 

Justin DavisJustin Davis I manage by visiting my son’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery often. I read my Bible there. I mediate and I connect with other Gold Star Mothers whom I have met there. I’m part of support groups on Facebook. I have read every grief book I could find. All of these things have helped me. The grief never goes away, it softens over time. In time you learn how to live with it and how to adjust to your new normal. In the beginning I would wake up every morning and realize it was true, he was never coming back home, that it wasn’t a nightmare. I would pray, all I could say was Lord help me. For the first few years everything was a blur.

My inspiration also comes from the knowledge Justin loved what he was doing. My faith, family and friends have helped me to cope. So many acts of kindness, compassionate care and continued concern towards me helped me so much. Everyone grieves in different ways. When I start feeling sad, I can call another Gold Star Mother who will just listen to me vent. They don’t try to fix me, they just listen and a lot of times that helped me. To be able to verbalize what I’m feeling. I don’t deny those moments, I let those moments come, knowing that this too shall pass. You have to learn how to move forward, I don’t know what the phase “move on” means when you are talking about the death of your child. I have been able to move forward and I try to live my life to honor my son’s memory and sacrifice. I’m active with the Maryland Gold Star Mothers. They have helped me cope with my grief.  Our organization serve our veterans. I honor my son’s memory by serving others and doing what I can to make sure the legacy of our fallen heroes selfless service and sacrifice are not forgotten. There is no time limit to grief. Once you have lost someone who meant the world to you, you will never be the same. You can eventually learn to live with the void in your life, and you can learn to live with joy again, but life will always be different.

Read Ruth Stonesifer's blog entry for another Gold Star Mother's perspective.

Paula and Justin Davis About Paula Davis

Originally from Frederick, Maryland, Paula Davis is an active member of the Maryland chapter of the Gold Star Mothers and participates in the Veterans Ministry at Mt. Calvary Baptist Church.