Evelyn and her family sat together on the comfortable family room sofa the night before the launch. A fire roared in the hearth, tempering the frigid January air. She gazed at Matthew, barely aware at the tender age of three that his father would be in space tomorrow. And Laura. What an inquisitive girl.
“Daddy, have you always wanted to be an astronaut?” The animated 8-year-old climbed into her father’s lap like an eager puppy.
“Yes, Honey, since I was about your age. I love planes and spaceships and have always wanted to fly them. Whenever I heard a plane, I looked up and tried to figure out its size and kind. And I would wave my arms and hope they could see me,” Rick explained. Evelyn’s heart swelled with proud thoughts of her husband’s accomplishments. He had been a second lieutenant in the Air Force, flying 40 different types of aircraft. Then, after his fourth try, he was finally accepted into NASA’s space program. Fear didn’t enter her mind during the ten-day Discovery mission in 1999. He made an excellent pilot and astronaut, one who mentally prepared to perfection.
“But do you know what’s even better than being an astronaut?” he asked.
“What?” the three of them asked in chorus.
“Spending time with all of you. God has greatly blessed me with such a wonderful family. I’ll think about each one of you every day that I’m gone.” He beamed at Evelyn, and she returned the smile with an appreciative grin. She couldn’t keep up with everything regarding his job, but she knew that this was Columbia’s 28th mission, and Rick’s second. Rick loved flying the shuttle and spoke highly of the crew and all who worked on the craft. She thanked God that Rick had the chance to follow his dream. Few could claim such good fortune, especially in his line of work.
The next morning, they all said their goodbyes. It would be a long sixteen days without the family’s anchor.
Back in the same family room, Evelyn answered phone calls from NASA, friends, and church members. Her children wept until the well of tears ran dry. No words could describe what she felt. The ache, the emptiness, and the questions all taunted her, threatening to disintegrate her faith once and for all. But she must remain strong, if only for her children, who need her now more than ever.
She glanced at her watch. Time for the memorial service. “Alright, kids, let’s go honor your father and his crew.” As they made their way outside to the car, Evelyn looked upward into the cloudy, gray sky. No planes. No sun.
A voice piped up beside her. “Mommy,” Matthew whispered.
“What is it, Baby?”
“Mommy, is Daddy up there?” A sweet innocence graced his chubby face.
“Yes, he is. You can’t see him. He won’t fly the shuttle anymore, but he’s there. He’s up in heaven, looking down on us, waiting for us to come join him some day.” Her calm voice belied the turmoil inside. She managed a smile.
Matthew grinned, looking again into the heavens. “Wave, Mommy.” He waved both arms with more vigor than Evelyn had ever seen. More tears came then. And she waved.
This is a work of fiction, based on a real event. Rick Douglas Husband and the Space Shuttle Columbia’s crew perished during re-entry, 16 minutes before its scheduled landing on February 1, 2003.
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