Life goes on, but not the same

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Daniel Phelps
  • 94th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Four years ago Jan. 12, I received a phone call that completely changed my life. I woke up to news that my best friend Robby had been killed. For several hours I felt paralyzed before I broke down. I poured through all the photo albums I had looking at pictures of us from when we were kids hanging out with all of our friends.

It didn't seem real. Barely a week ago, we were hanging out, having a blast celebrating the New Year while I was on leave.

It turned out there were a lot of things going on beneath the surface that no one really knew about.

Robby lost his life to a gunshot wound inflicted by a police officer. A shot was heard from inside his house by a neighbor, and the police were called. When the police arrived Robby stepped outside with a shot gun and refused to put it down when he was warned to. It was later revealed that his gun wasn't loaded.

He purposely forced the officer to shoot him.

Robby was a member of the Air Force Reserve, attached to the 442nd Fighter Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. After a deployment to Southeast Asia, he transferred from the Air Force to the Navy to become a corpsman so he could help save lives. He was a husband, father and best friend to everyone who knew him. If you knew him, he would have been your best friend too.

But, this isn't about Robby and his struggles. This isn't about him not seeking help or opening up about his issues.

This is about those of us who are left. This is about those of us who have a giant hole in our lives, how a part of us is missing with Robby gone.

Several of us struggled since that day. Many wrestled with their faith, questioning every belief they grew up with. A few threw themselves into alcohol, trying to numb the pain of him being gone.

It's hard when your best friend or brother disappears. His sister and brother-in-law adopted a little boy since his departure, and his nephew will never get to know his uncle. His daughter won't get to have her daddy there when she graduates high school or goes to her first dance.
Her daddy won't walk her down the aisle.

One of our friends had moved to the U.S. from Canada for school and lived in the U.S. for a decade. After Robby died, he moved back. Robby was the glue that held our circle together.

Robby was the first person to tell me that my wife was interested in me. I didn't really believe him. He would have been the best man at my wedding, but wasn't even around when we started dating.

I flew out the next day after I received the call so I could be there for his funeral. When I arrived back the next week to report for duty, I had to prepare for a contingency deployment to Korea. I had to take a physical fitness test and go to the combat arms range.

At the range, I couldn't help but wonder if the sound I was hearing as I pulled the trigger was the last sound he heard. My heart was barely in it as I prepared to go overseas, an assignment I had previously been thrilled about. After losing Robby, I couldn't get excited about anything.

Four years later, the ache is still there. His family has holidays and there's an empty space. I go visit my hometown and all I can think of is how I want to be able to invite Robby to hang out with us. There's a missing piece in all of our lives that can never be replaced. Memories are made that are supposed to include him.

One of the things that helped me heal was speaking with a chaplain and other friends who had lost people too early. If you've lost someone or are struggling yourself, strongly consider seeing a chaplain or talking to a psychological health professional. It worked for me.

Four years ago, my best friend died. It still sucks.