â€œChris doesnâ€™t have his own solid memories, but there are memories that are tangible for him that he can see, he can watch, he can hear,â€ said Mikki Frison. She and her husband filmed many videos of each other, and before he left, Demetrius Frison captured a day on video, including taping himself reading books to Christopher. He read â€œThe Night Before Christmasâ€ and six other books to his baby boy, all videotaped.
Christopher, now 10, asks for â€œThe Night Before Christmasâ€ book every Christmas, Frison said. â€œHe wants to watch the video, but itâ€™s hard,â€ she said. He watches the video of his dad reading the book, and follows along with his book.
â€œI keep Demetrius very alive for him.,â€ she said. â€œI make sure he has his dad. His dad was too wonderful for him not to have any part of him. Iâ€™d be doing a disservice to my husband if I didnâ€™t.â€
Christopher keeps his dadâ€™s memory alive in many ways. â€œHe holds on to his dad,â€ she said. That includes writing â€œDadâ€ on the back of every pair of soccer cleats heâ€™s ever owned, she said, â€œto keep his dad with him when he plays. I donâ€™t think anyone ever sees it. â€¦ More importantly, he knows itâ€™s there,â€ she said.
For most Gold Star families like the Frisons, those memories â€” and making sure their loved ones are not forgotten â€” are an essential part of their lives.
The Frisons are among 56 families being highlighted by First Lady Jill Biden as part of Gold Star Families Remembrance Week, Sept. 20â€“26. Each day on the First Ladyâ€™s social media, a number of families are featured, and the Frisons are expected to appear on Thursday representing Pennsylvania.
The families, one from each state and territory, represent every branch of service; every relationship â€” such as spouses, children, parents, siblings and others; and every circumstance of death. â€œThey are as diverse as the United States,â€ said Bonnie Carroll, founder and president of Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. The 56 families are all featured in a book compiled by TAPS.
Each of those 56 families is holding an American flag that was displayed on the national mall during the inauguration. White House officials asked TAPS to accept a gift of some of the flags that were displayed, Carroll said. â€œWe were so honored to be a part of this, and to accept something thatâ€™s so much a part of history. For our families and TAPS, we have a very special connection to the American flag. It was the flag that draped our loved oneâ€™s casket, it is the flag that was folded and which we received in honor of their service to this country. And thatâ€™s regardless of how or where our loved one died. They were honored by this country for their service, for their selfless service.â€
When TAPS received the flags, she said, â€œwe wanted to do something really special, and acknowledge that the sacrifices made by our military are in every community in this country, and in the far reaches of the states and the territories of America.â€
In sending the flags to the families, Carroll said, â€œWe just simply said to take the flag and take a photograph of a location that has special meaning. Some did their photo at the spot where they met their loved one, or where they were proposed to, or a place that was very personal. For Mikki Frison, that meant taking Christopher to the cemetery where his father is buried and photographing him with the flag.
â€œThe photos we received were absolutely so moving, and families put so much love and care into them. We wanted to create this album that paints a visual, artistic expression of the service and sacrifice of our nation, to symbolically show itâ€™s every state, every territory, every circumstance and relationship. Weâ€™re all united under one flag, with one heart of love and pride.â€
TAPS presented copies of the albums to President Biden, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley, and the Secretary of Veteran Affairs Denis McDonough on Memorial Day.
This week, those photos are being featured on the First Ladyâ€™s social media. Through the Joining Forces initiative, the First Lady has focused on issues important to military families.
Gold Star Families Remembrance Week was first observed in 2018.
â€œWe have Memorial Day, which focuses on the sacrifices of those who died serving their country. This focuses on the sacrifices of military families who have lost a loved one,â€ Carroll said. â€œAt TAPS, we think itâ€™s important to love and honor all those the service member left behind.â€
Mikki Frison said it has been an honor for her, Christopher and Demetrius to be featured in the book, and in the First Ladyâ€™s highlights.
â€œI love being able to share Demetrius and share our story,â€ she said. â€œFor as many times as I can say his name and say our story, I feel like Iâ€™m also keeping him alive and keeping his sacrifice acknowledged.â€
The flag is special to her, and she appreciates that the Biden administration thought of Gold Star families in providing the gifts and in highlighting the families this week.
TAPS has been important to her and Christopher far beyond this album, she said. Christopher has participated in the Good Grief camp for kids for years, forming bonds with other children who have suffered losses.
â€œIt doesnâ€™t matter their dads died in different ways,â€ she said. â€œThey just all lost their dad â€¦ the fact that my kid has all these bonds with these kids. â€¦ Iâ€™m grateful for that.
â€œI appreciate TAPS through all of this. Just being there and loving us, and facilitating the love. â€¦ I donâ€™t know where Iâ€™d be in some of this without TAPS. They can divert the pain and cause smiles.â€
Gold Star families want their loved ones to be remembered every day of the year, but having a week to acknowledge families is important to families as well as to the general public, Frison said.
â€œSome people donâ€™t even know what a Gold Star family is,â€ she said.
She recalls being astonished when an Army chaplain once asked her what a Gold Star family meant.
â€œWe didnâ€™t serve, we didnâ€™t wear the uniform, but we did give up so much,â€ Frison said. â€œItâ€™s very special and very important thatâ€™s itâ€™s acknowledged, so that other people can start to understand the hero existed, and lived, and was loved by family who is now without their hero. â€¦ Just to know weâ€™re thought of and remembered.â€