I Want You To Know

I’ve wanted this for so long. And finally . . . it happened.

I stood on the banks of the bay in St. Petersburg on Wednesday. And I looked out into the waters that sucked you and twenty-two of your crew members to your deaths. The waters where angels — Heaven’s ambassadors — met you and escorted you Home. The waters that forever changed the paths of the twenty-five men who resurfaced in the oily water * that night and did their best to pick up the pieces of their lives and move forward.

Where your live here, ended.

Where your life in this world ended.

It was all so hard. You wouldn’t be very proud of the way I handled things for those first couple of years. I was so lost in my pain — dominated by anger and fear. I missed you.

My big brother from the beginning

My big brother from the beginning

Sharing our birthdays like we did so many years growing up

Sharing our birthdays like we did so many years growing up

I hated God. He could’ve saved you. He didn’t. Maybe He wasn’t really so powerful after all. Or so loving as I’d always been taught. Maybe He didn’t even really exist. Maybe life was just one big crap shoot, and we all just took our chances every day.

It didn’t matter to me anymore, because I was done with Him after that. I didn’t care If He was really there or not.

But, deep in my heart, I did care. I didn’t know that — not then. He did. And He never left me.

He sent people to help me along the way. The most important of these was your friend, Scott, who has loved me; carried me; cried with me; walked this path by my side all through the years since you left.

Marrying your best friend

Marrying your best friend

Gradually . . . quietly . . . there came a day when I was able to recognize God’s whispers of love over my aching heart; feel Him breathe strength into my feeble attempts to respond to that love.

Eventually, I learned to trust Him again. More accurately, I eventually began learning to trust Him again. It’s a life-long lesson — this back-and-forth dance called Living a Life of Faith.

I watched Him work so much good through the loss of you.

And I want you to know!

Because you died, Scott and I were changed. We became different people, and the path we were on was altered. That path has led to a most incredible adventure.

You have twenty-one nieces and nephews.

Two of these are sons who remind us of you in so many ways. One looks so much like you. You would be proud of the men they are, even though they don’t have it all figured out yet.

The Wedding #12

Ryan and Anna

Two are daughters — one very broken, according to the world’s standards for measuring such things, but she’s leaving her own beautiful mark in the world.

Erin's 31st #1

And the other is filled with so many of your positive personality traits, zest for life, and outgoing social skills. What lively conversations you two would have!

Your oldest niece on her wedding day -- doing it her way.

Seventeen others certainly would not be here if you were.

At Home Family - Barn - for mailing

Because you died, they have been given new life. They are growing up hearing about their Uncle Gary; being told stories of his eccentric personality, his humor, his bold testimony of God’s work in his life, his respect and deep love for God and mankind.

They are told how much he would love them if he were here — how awesome he would think it is that they are home.

Most importantly, they are being taught about a loving, all-powerful sovereign God who used a tragedy — there must be a better word to capture the depth of all that happened that cold, sad, darkest of nights — to bring about His plans for their lives. How He brought to fruition plans that He laid before the beginning of time.

Three of them — our youngest — attended the memorial service with us yesterday at the site of the monument where your name is listed among the other twenty-two: QM2 Gary W. Crumly. A service is still held here every year in memory of you and the others.

Memorial Service #2

They chatted and giggled with your captain’s wife (can you imagine that!?) while we visited with survivors and others who lost loved ones.

They sat in their wheelchairs beside me, looking out over that water where a ship not so very unlike yours floated in the bay.

Kids Looking At Bay

They are too young to understand my tears, or your role in their being here. They only know that they are safe and happy and loved. But they will know. We will tell them.

You have eight great-nieces and -nephews. They are amazing, and three of those are precious little Down syndrome babies who were also rescued from lives of hopelessness and brought home to their family — your niece and her husband . . . because you died.

Mikaela's 5th Birthday Outing #3

Hallie's 5th #4

Isabelle's 5th B'day #4

But there’s even more.

Because you died, hundreds of other children are also living new lives. Children who would otherwise now be dead — or worse, living in hellish mental institutions or prostituting themselves on the streets to survive — are now sons and daughters; brothers and sisters. They have been rescued! They are free to pursue their dreams and serve the God that many of them have come to know and love.

A few of the hundreds who have come home

A few of the hundreds who have come home

And . . . some of your shipmates tell me that, because you died, they are now walking with the God you told them about during your time here.

I want you to know!

I still miss you. I miss you every single day. Constantly, I think of things I want to tell you — share with you. I ache for you to know our children who were saved because of your death. I long for them to know you.

For years I dreamed over and over again that God allowed you to come back occasionally for visits. Not foggy, unreal dreams. These were dreams of great clarity that left me feeling like I had actually spent time with you. We would talk about the kids and my life. There were rules concerning what questions I was allowed to ask you about where you are now, and, in the dreams, I was always careful to follow those rules lest I lose the privilege of having these times with you. They were comforting dreams in spite of the fact that they drew fresh blood from my broken heart. But they were only dreams.

Someday, though . . . oh . . . I can’t wait! You and Scott and I — along with all those who love you — will walk and talk to our hearts’ content. Someday . . .

For now, though, you are never forgotten. You are remembered and loved by so many.

Your impact lives on. You would be shocked to see the legacy you have left behind.

You didn’t become famous. You created nothing spectacular. You never became rich. You never even owned a house or had a son or a daughter to carry on your name. Yet, the imprint you left behind is still growing, spreading — like ripples, it stretches on and on, touching lives, changing the world even now, thirty-five years after you left it.

If everyone could leave behind such a mark . . . what a world this would be!

Someone mentioned to me that coming to this service — seeing the place where you died — would bring closure for me. I hadn’t realized that there was still any need for closure, but in some way that I can’t quite explain or figure out, it does feel like that has happened.

I have been able, for a long time now, to be thankful for all that God has done through your death. But now . . . that joy somehow runs even deeper than it ever has before.

Seeing the place where it happened, and meeting, for the first time, people outside of our family who fully understand and share our pain, somehow freed me even more to celebrate all that God has done through taking you home. Tears flowed as I looked out over the bay, keenly aware of your absence and the absence of so many beautiful memories I once thought we would all make together.

Memorial Service #23

Yet, amazingly, even in the midst of the desperate sadness in my heart, I stroked my babies’ heads and was certain that it would make you happy to know that they were home because you died. And I felt contentment; peace.

God’s plans, while not always appearing to be beautiful, are always good and right and perfect.

He truly does make beautiful things from ashes.

“You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us
All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos, life is being found in You”
(“Beautiful Things” by Gungor)

I miss you. I will miss you until the day we are together again. But I see God’s fingerprints all over this story.

You made the world a better place while you lived. And God continues making the world a better place through you in your death. Lives have been saved; souls have been redeemed.

And I know that there will be more.

I want you to know.

(*The article at this link, while a good picture of what the survivors experienced, does contain inaccuracies and misleading information about the findings in the investigation and the fault of the Blackthorn’s captain, according to our understanding of the actual events that night.)

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13 thoughts on “I Want You To Know

  1. A beautiful tribute to a beautiful man. A man whose friendship in this life was a treasure and I look forward to being with him again in the life promised to us.
    C.

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  3. What a beautiful tribute to Your brother. I cried through the entire reading. I didn’t know Gary very long, but I remember him just as you described him. Gerald has missed him over the years also. He rarely shares a memory of his “18th Avenue” days that doesn’t include Gary. He would be so proud of you, Kathy. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Thank you, Kathy. What a wonderful tribute to a member of the finest crew I ever had the privilege to serve with. I can’t express my appreciation for you and Scott and your beautiful 3 children attending the 35th Blackthorn Ceremony with us. It was special.
    Jim Sepel, Commanding Officer, USCGC BLACKTHORN

    • It was so, so special to meet you and Joyce. Thank you for being there and for being so available to answer questions for us. Please thank Joyce again for her awesome babysitting/Grandmother skills. 🙂 She and Mary and Cindy made it so easy for us to be able to mingle and get to know everyone. We’ll never forget this time with you guys. Much love to both of you.

  5. I didn’t know Gary really. I met him a couple of times when I picked up Ron from the boat is all. I learned more about him after Tampa Bay from Ron and others, and especially this anniversary. What I am absolutely sure of about him, is he is so happy with your and Scott’s life choices. You both, aside from your miraculous family, live a life that inspires others. Both of your blogs, Kathy, give inspiration and self examination to those who read them. Scott is an amazing witness to God as a husband and a father. These are also a great legacy of Gary’s. God is well pleased with you both.

    • Cathi, your words are very sweet and so encouraging. It is always our prayer that God will show Himself through our (sometimes pitiful) efforts to follow where He has led – and continues to lead – us. If you have seen Him in our lives, then that is an answer to prayer. Thank you so much for reading and for taking time to write out these words to encourage us in our journey. It was so wonderful to meet you and Ron in Tampa this past week. Meeting everyone there touched our hearts so much.

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  8. Gary was a friend and a shipmate. We were in boot camp together, we served on the Blackthorn together. In boot camp, almost every night Gary played taps on his trumpet. Then, he’d play a song he’d pick himself. I can say, his “Lonely Bull” would have brought a tear to Herb Alpert’s eyes. Gary was ALWAYS squared away. After boot camp he went off to A school to become a Quartermaster then he reported aboard the Blackthorn as a Third Class Petty Officer. We stood many an underway bridge watch, he as the Quartermaster of the Watch, me as the Boatswain’s Mate of the Watch. Gary was still the most squared away guy I knew. I didn’t make it to his wedding, I had the duty that day. I met his wife a few times when she’d visit the ship. They seemed like a matched pair.

    I was transferred ashore a few months before the Blackthorn’s last trip so I wasn’t aboard the night she was rammed by the MV Caprocorn. Even so, I KNOW that Gary’s last minutes were spent at his duty station, on the radio, giving the exact position of the Blackthorn and calmly giving the Coast Guard watchstanders ashore ALL of the information they would need to respond.

    I KNOW this.

    I know it, because Gary, who was about five foot six, was one of the biggest men I’ve ever known.

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