CHICAGO -- For many, Memorial Day means spending time with family barbequing. For Gold Star Families it means honoring their fallen Soldier. Gary Patriquin attends the Gold Star Breakfast and Memorial Day Wreath Laying Ceremony and Parade every year to remember his son.
"He was well revered by the Iraqi people. Sheik Sattar's tribe adopted him into their family and gave him the name 'waasam', which means warrior," Gary said. "He was an introvert (and) notorious for thinking outside the box." Gary's son, Army Civil Affairs Capt. Travis Patriquin lost his life December of 2006 in Ramadi, Iraq, when his Humvee hit and detonated a roadside bomb.
After finding out Travis was killed, Gary recalled his hardest moment, a phone call. He wondered, how to tell his sick mother in the hospital. He was afraid of the consequences. Instead he called his sister, but his mom answered. His mom sensed something amiss and asked, "what's wrong, you can tell me!" Relief flooded through him. He told her what happened. The next question she asked, "What do we do next?" Next ... he went into overdrive putting his emotions on the shelf. He planned all the funeral arrangements. It wasn't until his cat whom he had forever died on January 6, 2007 that he lost it. He could no longer bottle up his emotions. He spent the next six months grieving and trying to comprehend how much his life changed.
In the spring of 2007, Jim Frazier, the Northern Illinois Coordinator for Survivor Outreach Services, U.S. Army contractor, reached out to Gary to invite him to the Gold Star Breakfast. Gary hesitantly decided to go with his family. The silence was deafening when he walked into the breakfast. But before he could turn around to walk out, Frazier introduced himself.
"Hi, my name is Jim Frazier, I'd like to welcome you to our club, the club you didn't want to join, (and) you can't get out of it."
At that moment Gary realized, "he's right, I didn't want to join it, but I'm in. I'd better learn to accept it."
Every year since 9/11, the City of Chicago and the Chicago Loop Alliance host the Gold Star Family Breakfast in the Walnut Room at Macy's before the Memorial Day Wreath Laying Ceremony and Parade. Before breakfast each family receives an envelope of gift cards and tickets from the Chicago Loop Alliance to go to Chicago attractions during their weekend as they honor their family members.
"We try to provide a welcoming environment for the Gold Star Families, which come in from all over the state of Illinois," said Charles Nash, a member of the board of directors for the Chicago Loop Alliance. "It's honoring the Gold Star Families and getting to know those families through this event and to reunite and support these families all year long."
The survivors themselves support each other through the Gold Star Families of Illinois. Frazier, Tom Yarber, Jerry Terondo, Gary Patriquin and Bill Harris started the Facebook group in 2011. Together they formed a group that's not just for the families but friends who have lost their loved one in any of the wars, said Gary.
"As a group we get together and do things. We can't change what happened and we know that, but we can be supportive of each other," Gary said.
We help each other heal; we share where we are in the journey. And more importantly, each member shares how they made it through the hard parts, Frazier said. The Gold Star Families of Illinois also partners with Survivor Outreach Services of Illinois, which aids them with long-term emotional, logistical, and benefits such as the educational ones the soldier's children receive. They also connect the Gold Star Families of Illinois group with other non-profit organizations that host events for the Gold Star Families, Frazier said.
"I like to remember the ones who were left behind, I've tried very hard to keep the focus on that," Frazier said. "But (also) to remember why we have Memorial Day and to honor those who have died in service."