A Dad’s Loss

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.

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8 thoughts on “A Dad’s Loss

  1. I grabbed our big flag, my kids and the family of four who is visiting us from out of state and we spent a wonderful hour standing along route 28 in Cotuit, waiting and watching the funeral procession go by. What an incredibly sad and profound moment. All we can do is hope that the outpouring of support will somehow help the family cope with their incredible loss. I have been crying for days and hugging my children so much they think I’m nuts.

  2. Wow – I couldn’t have said any of this better myself. . . my thoughts exactly. I do know Lt. Xiarhos and he is a wonderful man who has always spoken with extreme pride about his kids and their accomplishments. He is well respected because he is fair and kind and has done so much for others. Just watching his interview and seeing this picture tears me up – how does a parent go through this? How does a family recover from such a loss? As a mom myself I can’t even fathom what they are going through. I hope they can feel the love and prayers that surround them and I hope that it upholds them during this time and in times to come. Thanks for the blog.

  3. I can’t imagine the pain, either, but I have immense respect for those who serve. 21 is too young for anyone to die, and I feel for his family.

  4. When I first read this post earlier this morning, I cried. The pain of losing a child is something no one can imagine unless they’ve lost a child. In this case, the pain is so finely etched on this dad’s face, it almost comes through the photo. If anyone has reason to be proud, it’s this family. I am hoping that in time the pride overshadows the pain. That will take awhile.
    After reading this I am even more grateful to the soldiers who chose to serve their country and those who give their lives so I can be as free as I am.
    Thank you for sharing this.

  5. I have family members over there and I can’t think about it either. I’m terrified that someday I’ll be at a funeral for my 21 year old cousin, or my 24 year old cousin (or any of the others). It’s scary, the world we live in. I can’t even imagine what it would feel like to have a CHILD over there, to have to bury a child. It’s just not right.

  6. It is amazing how this horrible tragedy has touched the Cape. There are yellow ribbons everywhere and everyone has really come together to honor this amazing young man.

  7. You should have seen it in my area. I live right in Yarmouth and it’s been amazing to see everyones efforts to support the family. I was driving my kids to camp last week when we passed DY and saw all the police officers lined up and I misted right up. Then I was passed by a few cops and a limo and a few more cops. Even the empty limo going to pick the family up got a police escort with full lights and sirens.

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