WASHINGTON — They say the hardest thing for a parent to do is bury a child. But what about after the burial? Is it supposed to get easier? Things aren’t expected to go back to normal — are they?
Those are questions thousands of American parents have grappled with after losing children to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. For Lisa Anderson of Ventura, California, coping with a hard situation has meant immersing herself in challenges that many find exceedingly difficult.
That pretty much sums up how she became a regular participant in the Marine Corps Marathon.
“I love the Marines,” Anderson said on a recent visit to WTOP. “My son was a Marine, and it just seems fitting that I run the Marine Corps [Marathon].”
Lisa was a runner even before losing Nick, but she didn’t run long distances or train for marathons. “I’ve run quite a few since then.”
“It’s my time alone,” Anderson said. “It’s my time if I need to get away … or just be frustrated, cry, scream, whatever. Or [it’s] my time with Nick. It’s a really good time. When you’re running those longer distances, you have a lot of time to think and work out things in your head that you need to.
“It’s cheaper than therapy,” she jokes.
Nick’s platoon leader in Iraq, Maj. Scott Cuomo, has run with Lisa every year unless he was deployed outside the country.
“He was just a great Marine that busted his butt,” Cuomo said. “He’s a hero. He did everything I asked him to do. Everything the nation asked him to do.”
“Thirteen years flies by.”
The Blue Mile
It’s hard to say that any of the 26.2 miles of the race are easy, but Lisa says there’s one mile in particular that’s extremely tough. Known as “The Blue Mile,” it runs along Hains Point, and runners are reminded about the sacrifices made by those who dedicated their lives to public service. Photographs and American flags line the course, and the cheering subsides to quiet reverence so those on the course can be reminded of people, such as Nick Anderson.
“Prior to that, I start getting emotional,” Anderson said. “[Cuomo] knows it’s coming and he knows I start falling apart and he’s there for me. In that respect, it’s probably the worst mile … but it’s also the best mile because it’s honoring not only my Nick, but all of the other heroes that are out there.”
“I touch every single one of those posters when I walk through. I stop; I don’t run through it.”
Cuomo is with her every step of the way, calling it “humbling” as the years of war have helped shape his own expectations of himself as an officer in the Marine Corps. With measured confidence, Cuomo said, “I’ve drilled into my soul … the purpose of the Marine Officer Corps, so the purpose why I breathe oxygen, is to serve the enlisted corps, so Nick, through selfless, intelligent, and courageous leadership. And after multiple combat tours it became clear that I needed to add something to that and it’s ‘forever.’ So the purpose of the officer corps is to serve the enlisted corps through selfless, intelligent, and courageous leadership forever.
“To me, this is part of forever.”
Anderson said she lives life with no regrets, but at the same time, “I think of all the times that we could have had together because he was just so much fun to be around.”
She added, “He was just one of those kids. People were drawn to him; kids were drawn to him — the neighborhood kids all loved him.”
“He was a great Marine,” she said with enthusiasm. “I wasn’t there to see, but his platoon leader, his gunny sergeant, and all his brothers,” her voice lowering as she goes on before pausing to add “tell me so.”