They can't hide their pain, so they honor it with memorials of love
Colleen Parkin, mother of fallen Marine Cpl. Matthew Smith, of West Valley City, keeps his uniform in her closet so she can keep his memory close. Colleen Parkin curled up on the floor of her bedroom closet and sobbed uncontrollably.
That's where her husband found her. Where he curled up beside her. And where he told her that, no matter where she went from that point on, her son would be there, too.
It's been 16 months since Matthew Smith was killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq, but Parkin still comes to this small, packed space to be near him.
Every morning, after rising from her bed, Parkin slips into the closet and kisses the sleeve of her son's dress uniforms, which hang among her own clothes.
On particularly difficult days, she runs the dark fabric along her cheek.
"I come in here and I do this because I just need to feel him," Parkin said. "That uniform was everything to Matthew. He was so proud to wear it. I can feel him in it."
Grieving families of slain service members will recognize today, Memorial Day, as they always have before, visiting cemeteries to be near their children, spouses and siblings. But like Parkin, many have determined that their loved ones' memorials will not be limited to granite markers.
Their memorials are softer, closer. Quilts and photographs. Uniforms and pillows. And flags, lots of flags.
Every room in Parkin's home has something from Smith - a photo, a set of dog tags, a teddy bear. And one room has been dedicated in its entirety to his memory.
Red and white walls are accompanied by denim blue couches, each lined with a blanket donated by sympathetic quilters. A shelf that runs the span of two walls is lined with statuettes, photographs and, most prominent, a triangular glass case holding the flag that draped Smith's casket.
This is Parkin's family room, and the first thing people see when they come into her home.
It might seem overwhelming to some, she acknowledges.
"I'm sure," she says, "it's hard to understand."
Not for Brett Allred. He'll spend a few moments today replacing the faded United States flag that has flown outside his home since shortly after his son, Michael, died in a suicide bomb attack on his military convoy, near Fallujah, Iraq.
"It's up all the time," Allred said. "It has lights on it so when you drive by at night, it's lit up all night long."
The Allred family also has a room dedicated to their dead Marine.
"We have Michael's room, which is decked out very patriotically," Allred said. "It's the guest room, but when you go in there you know. You know it's Michael's room."
Marie Payne, the mother of Rocky Payne, who was killed March 16, 2005, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his Humvee in Baghdad, resists calling such places "memorials."
"It's not really a memorial room," she said of the space she has reserved for her son's mementos - a place she visits each day. "It's a living room."
Jodi Wood sees it the same way, though she understands that not all will share her view.
"We have one relative who doesn't share the same sense of, I don't know what to call it - Honor? Grief? - whatever it is we're going through," said Wood, whose front yard is adorned with a flag, perpetually at half-staff, and whose living room wall has been turned into a memorial to her son.
"We've been told we're being morbid, that we should just put these things away and get on with our life," she said.
Impossible, said Carol Thomas Young.
Young's son, Brandon Thomas, was killed May 7, 2005, in Baghdad. She has also dedicated a room to her boy.
Can it be hard to visit that space?
"Absolutely," Thomas Young says. "I go into that room and I just bawl, because of all of the pictures."
But that, she says, is preferable to the alternative.
"I couldn't just let all of these things fall back into boxes and basements," she said. "Those reminders? You want to have them front and center."