It happened only a few days after my column several weeks ago on milestones.

It happened only a few days after my column several weeks ago on milestones. Our son’s marriage — our last child to take the plunge — to his beautiful bride was one of the milestones of which I wrote. Their wedding in the foothills of the Shenandoah Mountains in Virginia overlooking a vineyard and apple orchard at 5 p.m. on a perfect Friday evening was memorable. It was a milestone both to celebrate and write about.

But less than a week after this happy event in northern Virginia, an unexpected and tragic milestone happened, also in northern Virginia. A fellow Marine’s son, he only a few years younger than our recently married son, took his own life. His funeral was just outside Quantico, Va., called “Crossroads of the Corps” because so many Marines cross through Quantico during their service in the Corps.

The young man who took his own life had apparently come to his own crossroads and decided he could travel no further on his earthly amble. Only 24 years old, he was also a Marine, having been honorably discharged only two months earlier.

The highs of a young marriage and the lows of a young death occurred all in the short span of a week. For most of us, those highs and lows define our lives on earth. Death a low? It’s inevitable, isn’t it?

Yes. But though inevitable, human death is tragic even when it occurs — expectedly — late in life and even if it’s the result of one’s actions or inactions. All human life has value. We dehumanize ourselves if we believe otherwise.  

But death is particularly tragic, I think, when such a young man as my friend’s 24-year-old son was depleted of all reason to live, that even 60 possible years of remaining life ahead of him was not enough time to solve the problems that troubled him.

Though his death was tragic, his life was not in vain. In 24 years, this young man packed a lot into his short life. In it was much service as an Eagle Scout and as a Marine. In it was much love as a son, brother, husband, comrade and friend.

Yet he leaves a grieving wife, a mother and father, a brother, and many friends and family behind. It is now for them — for us — to ponder the questions of why and what might have been.

It is these cycles of highs and lows — of milestones and crossroads — that define our lives.  And, frankly, make them worth living.

Barry Fetzer is a columnist for the Havelock News. He can be reached at