Photo from Cape Cod Times
That is Yarmouth police Lt. Steven Xiarhos, a man I don’t know well but who I have worked with occasionally over the years as a reporter. He is standing over the casket of his son, Marine Cpl. Nicholas Xiarhos, who died last week at the age of 21 after a roadside bomb went off in Afghanistan.
I didn’t have to cover this story, and for that I’m glad. Not because I wouldn’t have been honored, I would’ve. But because I’m not sure if I could’ve handled it. He was 21 fucking years old. Twenty-one, and he had already done one tour in Iraq. And when he got back last October, guess what he did. He VOLUNTARILY signed up for a stint in Afghanistan with his childhood friend, also a Marine.
You should’ve seen Cape Cod yesterday. When the funeral procession went from Centerville to Bourne, the streets were lined with people the whole way. They held flags, they saluted, their hands over their hearts. Adults, children, veterans…most of them never met Xiarhos. But that didn’t matter because they recognized the sacrifice, both Nick’s and his family’s.
For the life of me, I cannot imagine how Lt. Xiarhos — and the whole Xiarhos family — held it together like they did. I won’t lie, I’ve teared up numerous times since the news of his death broke. But that picture above today really did me in. Forget the uniforms and the pomp and circumstance (although it was unbelievable and impressive). That’s a dad in that picture. That’s a dad who’s lost his son. A dad pounding his fist on the casket in a mix of unbelievable despair and grief.
Yet at the same time…
Pride. An abundance of pride. You can see it plain as day, and you just know that although that family is going through unimaginable sadness right now, they take comfort in the fact that their son — although only 21 — was a man who lived his dream. Nick Xiarhos always wanted to be a Marine and a Marine he was. A Marine who protected all of us in godforsaken places like Iraq and Afghanistan. And he did it voluntarily. I mean, he CHOSE this, as all our service men and women do. And knowing that, it never fails to bring me to my knees with gratitude and amazement.
I didn’t know Nick Xiarhos and I barely know his dad. But I hope they all know how much their son’s life and death has touched people far and wide. I hope they know how grateful and appreciative we are for Nick’s sacrifice.
This kind of thing always hit home with me, as I have many friends who have been deployed. But now that I’m a dad, and seeing that picture…standing over the casket of your baby boy and having to say goodbye one last time…I just…I just can’t even think about it.