Sgt. David Andrew Croft, Jr.

In 2010, my future brother-in-law was killed in Iraq. There aren’t any words that I can use to define the depth of the loss we endured. The formality, tradition, respect, rituals and ceremony of a military death was something I had never experienced and was not prepared for. Every movement seemed carefully planned. Every step, every salute, the folding and unfolding of the flag, the click of soldier’s heels- all of it calculated, organized, honorable. It was surreal order in the midst of emotional chaos.

There was a moment when David’s casket arrived at the funeral home. The U.S. flag had been laid upon his coffin. I approached him and without thinking, stroked the stripes. I felt the thread over and over, touching every seam, as if somehow it would help me understand what had happened. As if somehow it would help it all make sense to me. I wished his loss wasn’t real, but each stitch under my fingertips told me it was.

I will never forget the moment I was told, the moment I first saw my sister, the days following of newspaper articles and local news interviews, the generosity of friends, family and strangers, the family members that immediately hopped on a plane to us, sharing grief and utter disbelief with his family, the reaction of the Tampa Bay community, the protection of the Patriot Guard Riders, the jarring sensation of the 21 gun salute, the melancholy of “Taps” played graveside.

The American flag is an interesting object. People react strongly to it, fight for it, sing about it, swear allegiance to it, defend it. It’s been almost ten years since David died and I still don’t view it the same as I did before his death. I view it as a symbol for what he believed in, and the country he sacrificed himself for. But I still see it blanketing him as we said our final good-bye. To me, it will always represent the enormity of our loss.

Below is a poem I wrote, attempting to briefly capture our experience. I know in my heart, it doesn’t do it justice. David was an amazing young man that I was honored to know. He is greatly missed and will never be forgotten.




“Sgt. David Andrew Croft, Jr.”

At the end of high school,
He was enlisted.
Shortly after graduation,
We sent him off with hugs and kisses.
A small-town boy
Who dreamt of being a soldier.
A fantastic kid,
Who wanted to give the military all he had to offer.
Basic training flew by,
And he was off on his first tour.
Said good-bye to loved ones again,
The call of duty in his core.
He utilized his training,
Fought the war in Iraq.
But with all he experienced,
That young kid we knew never came back.
He lost a leader over there,
And gained brothers, too.
He acquired strength and confidence,
But also lost his youth.
He learned a lot during that tour,
In the desert heat with boots full of sand.
He left home an eager teenager,
But returned home a wiser man.
He loved being a soldier,
He chose to enlist again.
He found a brotherhood in the army,
And his second tour in Iraq began.
He said this tour was easier,
Less action than the last one.
After this he would come back,
Leave the army when his time was done.
Just a couple of weeks to go,
Then he would be home.
Just a few days before his 23rd birthday,
Our lives changed by the ring of the phone.
David was killed,
His convoy struck by an I.E.D.
His plans for his future would never come to be.
Just like that- his life was over.
His remains would be flown to the U.S.,
To the air force base in Dover.
The day of his homecoming is forever etched in my memory.
People lined the streets from Tampa to Plant City.
Miles and miles of salutes, flags and tears,
How vast was his precession!
This homecoming of a small-town boy,
Left a lasting impression.
He was brought to the funeral home,
His casket covered with Old Glory.
As I ran my fingertips over the seams,
Underneath was his life, his story.
I ran my fingers over each seam,
Not knowing how to feel.
Touching each thread,
There was no denying this was real.
This flag that means so much to so many,
This flag that was draped over him.
This flag that symbolizes
What he fought for- our freedom.
Now it was draped over his remains,
Forever symbolizing his loss.
Forever reminding me of his absence,
And that freedom has a cost.
Underneath every stitch
And underneath every seam,
Was the life of a beautiful young man,
And his future hopes and dreams.
Every loved one that will miss him,
Every person his life touched.
Every brother he bonded with,
And his fiancée that he loved so much.
Before he was a soldier,
He was his sibling’s brother.
Before he served his country,
He was the beloved son of his mother.
Years have gone by,
But sometimes it feels just like yesterday.
I like to remember his comforting hugs,
And his smile that went on for days.
I choose to focus on the life he lived,
Not that he is no longer here.
I choose to remember what all of us had,
(Including that trick with a bottle of beer!)
I choose to remember who he was,
Before his country called.
I choose to remember how he lived,
Before he gave it all.
I choose to remember that small-town boy,
His faith, love and truth.
I choose to remember the life he lived,
Before being covered by red, white and blue.

~April Stanley


The Brief Life of a Newborn

This month, our grandson, Wilder Owen Walsh, passed away at only twelve days old. While death is something I have experienced in many ways throughout my life, I have never experienced the loss of a baby. I had no experience with Neonatal Intensive Care Units. I wanted to share a few things I observed and learned in just a few days of his brief life.

The NICU world is a completely different realm. Time itself takes on a whole new meaning. Victory comes in small doses. You are literally in the moment. You live an hour at a time, one test at a time, one result at a time. The NICU staff are a group of amazing souls and frankly, I don’t know how they do what they do. The balance of education, knowledge and experience with love, compassion and sensitivity for the baby and family is impressive to say the least.

I was in awe of our physical bodies and what they can endure. Based on my previous experiences with death, I thought I had a deep understanding of the fragility of life. I don’t think I fully grasped it until I watched a newborn fight for his. The moment where Wilder was methodically disconnected from all support, and soon afterward took his last breath, is a memory that will never fade.

I was reminded that none of us are exempt from death, loss, grief. We will all experience our own loss of loved ones while we are here. I was reminded that while the pain of the loss can be shattering, each loss helps guide me in the life I want to live while I am here.

I spoke at Wilder’s service. While it was intended for the family and friends during that personal moment, I am choosing to share the eulogy here. My hope is that someone will find comfort, especially if enduring a loss of their own.

Much love,



Wilder’s struggles and his passing away is tragic. It is a loss that will be felt by many forever. It’s normal to question why. It’s normal to want to know the purpose behind the tragedy. The reality is, we may never know the answers while we are here. Many of you may ask, “Where is God in this?”- “Where is the good in this?”.

I can tell you the good I observed:

The good was in his calm, easy-going demeanor after his birth. The bonding as his mother nursed him. The awe in his parent’s faces as they looked at him. The excitement of his sisters. The joy of his family upon his arrival. The love given to him through every person that held him. The concern from the medical staff. The tenderness of each NICU nurse. The knowledge of every NICU doctor. The strength and unity of the family. The relationships that were built. The hope expressed in every comment and message on social media. The support of friends, family and in some cases, strangers. The compassion of the NICU staff in is last hours. The comfort given with every hand held and every embrace given during his passing.

There was some aspect of good in every moment.

Wilder’s life didn’t turn out the way we wanted, expected or hoped for. His loss is heartbreaking. But each of us can honor him as we move forward in our lives. We can display the very traits he embodied and the traits embodied by those around him. We can honor his life and memory by freely giving the same love that was so easily given to him.

1 Corinthians 13:13 states, “And now these three remain: Faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

In Wilder’s brief life, one thing that impacted me was the amount of love he had while he was here. I believe he received more love in his few days than some receive in a lifetime.

For those of us here grieving, the pain is intense and the journey through it is difficult. While Wilder will never be forgotten, the pain will lessen. Be kind to yourself in the process. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, and there is certainly not a specific timeframe to do so.

I encourage you to focus on his beautiful presence while he was here with us, rather than focusing on his absence. I encourage you to focus on what we gained through him, rather than what was lost.

For me personally, I am honored and grateful that I knew him at all.




Reason, season or lifetime

Tonight I found out a former co-worker passed away. We weren’t close and our contact over the years after we worked together was only on Facebook. The news of his loss reminded me of the years I was at this job. It reminded me of the many people we come in contact with through life and the impact we can have on one another. Gregg and I weren’t very good friends, but his placement in my life at that very time was important and pivotal.

Shortly after being promoted to Supervisor, my husband and I separated. Our daughter was a toddler. I was the only female Supervisor on our leadership team. I was excited and nervous. I was eager to do a good job and please a boss that had high expectations. My family was falling apart and I was juggling the emotions of all circumstances in my life.

Gregg spoke with me often about our religious beliefs, often referencing faith and quoting scripture. He referred me to a counseling center at a local church that had been helpful to he and his wife when they were struggling. I made an appointment and began therapy. As my husband stopped attending the appointments, I continued solo. I worked through layers of issues that I didn’t even realize I had.

This is what I thought of tonight. As quick as I was to say that he and I weren’t close, he also gave me one of the greatest gifts in my life. Because of his referral, I began a path of healing. Tough inner work, exploration, acknowledging difficult truths- that continues to this day as I show up daily as authentically as I can. A path that has led me to who I am today.

Sometimes we think we have to be close to someone for them to have deep meaning in our life. My knowing Gregg at this moment on my timeline of life is a perfect example of how false that assumption is. Back then I used to say, “People come in to your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.” Today, I realize people have the potential to be all three. I’m grateful for him and the many people I worked with in those years. Thank you, Gregg. RIP