December 18, 2011
A week before Christmas.
Several times after midnight my phone rang. Calls in the night are always from Wayne but I knew before looking at the phone it wasn’t him. We weren’t really speaking to each other that week. It was from someone in New Jersey. I went back to sleep, kinda.
It was the kind of sleep were you are still thinking conscious thoughts. I was trying to ignore the feeling that this was THE call. I kept trying, harder and harder to put that idea away and get back to sleep.
When I finally answered it was almost as if I knew what the man was going to say before he said it. “…passed away last night…” No no no no! I was almost incoherent. Not from sobbing but because I couldn’t sob, yet. I was in shock.
I sat there for a short while, I think. I have no idea how long. I was praying. I wanted to cry and sort of did. I didn’t know how to feel, what to do or who to call first. I can’t remember if it was Mom or Troy. Neither one answered the phone and I was desperate to get the information to those two people immediately before it hit Facebook. Both times I sent a text when the phone wasn’t answered. I hate that both of them were informed by a text message. I’m so sorry!
The only thing I could think to do was make sure the kids didn’t find out on-line. They needed to hear it from their mother. Thankfully, after I called another relative, she got the news and got to them first.
Time has passed but emotionally I’m still sitting on the edge of my bed, phone in my hand, not knowing what to do.
We weren’t doing well. We were pretty much separated since he worked as a DoD contractor in Afghanistan and hadn’t been home in 2 years. He was often emotionally/verbally abusive, especially when he drank. I coped by tuning him out. (Not the best tactic.)
I still cared for him but once in a while I caught myself thinking I would be relieved if he died overseas. The abuse was that bad and he was working on ways to make the divorce horrible. He had the resources and I didn’t. I was terrified of what he was planning. I always felt ill whenever I had that thought. Now it makes me almost vomit.
Other times we acted like good friends and confided in each other, but we were headed for divorce once my long-term injuries were healed. I was looking forward to the day the marriage was behind us and we could go back to being friends.
When I got the call I wasn’t relieved. I suddenly remembered my best friend, forgave him everything, and dealt with my own guilt for not continuing to fight for our marriage. I have ridiculous regrets that won’t go away. I never wished him dead but I still feel guilty for his death. Had he been home with me I’m convinced he would still be alive.
I spend hours avoiding important after-death issues I need to deal with, instead finding ways to truly honor and memorialize him. I’m the worst kind of hypocrite. But I don’t care.
Death has a way of discarding all the crap and leaving us with what’s truly in our hearts. If someone acts differently after a loved one dies, who are we to say they’re insincere?
Sitting here, on the edge of the bed with the phone in my hand, I still don’t know what to do.
I’m so sorry, Baby. I miss you every day.
I wanted to provide you with part of an e-mail I received from our personnel in Afghanistan. It details the initial movement of Wayne from the site he was supporting in Afghanistan. I wanted you to see the e-mail because it shows the appreciation and respect that both coworkers and military personnel have for the sacrifices that Wayne was making in his current position.
I’ll rely on you to share with Wayne’s family if you feel it’s appropriate.
Just to let you know; I just returned from FOB Salerno and met with as many folks as I could regarding Wayne Bernhardt’s death. I met CSM Cave and CSM Moore.
They honored Wayne with a Fallen Soldier ceremony. Soldiers lined both sides of the C-130 with the casket bearers solemnly marching Wayne to the aircraft. The soldiers all saluted Wayne as he passed and a prayer was said for him.
Both CSMs stated that Wayne gave his life for the safety of the soldiers on FOB Salerno and they were honored to send off a hero. Every person I spoke with had only positive things to say about Wayne. He always had a smile and was always willing to do what was necessary to support our Warfighters.
SSG Bazaar said that minutes before Wayne’s untimely death he was downstairs at the ECP joking with the soldiers there.
Every soldier at the ECP did their part in trying to keep Wayne alive.
He wasn’t just another contractor. Wayne was family and he will be missed. Wayne’s professionalism, dedication, and selfless service reflect greatly upon EOIR, ManTech, and the United States Army.’
Written by Ken Dempster
Wayne Thomas Bernhardt
May 26, 1967 – December 18, 2011
~Navy Desert Storm Veteran
~EDD trainer & handler/expert
~Contractor in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kosovo, Iraq, & Afghanistan.
I love you.
See ya Later, Punkin’