Every now and then, Pam Birdwell has a moment — a trigger as she calls it — that brings her to tears.
Sometimes it’s the memory of her son growing up in Windsor, playing outside, being adventurous or dreaming of the mountains. Other times — and often — it’s a specific memory from Easter, 2012, when she was talking to Chris on the phone while he was on deployment overseas.
Every time since Army Sgt. Christopher Birdwell, 25, was killed on Aug. 27, 2012 in Afghanistan, she finds a way to recover from the voice that resonates in her brain. But since she got that call at work one year ago and learned that her son would not be returning from deployment, she has relied in part on the Windsor community that has rallied behind her.
And that’s what keeps her from having entire days like Tuesday’s one-year anniversary of his death from being clouded simply with sorrow.
“It really just depends,” she says, dabbing away tears. “It varies. I wouldn’t say the whole day is gone because we do stay busy. That helps. But there’s a lot of really good memories to think about with Chris. A lot of times it feels like he’s still deployed.”
The support has come from every facet of the community. Nordy’s Bar-B-Que & Grill on Tuesday contributed a portion of sales to the Christopher Birdwell Memorial Fund. CrossFit Endure of Windsor created a workout in honor of Chris, which organizers will submit to the parent organization and establish potentially as a common workout of the day. The Colorado Legislature earlier this year voted to designated a stretch of U.S. 34 near Windsor the “SSG. Christopher J. Birdwell Memorial Highway” in honor of the 2005 Windsor High School graduate. And the family is working with the town to install a park bench and plant a tree along the Poudre Trail in Windsor.
The list goes on — it’s endless really — of friends and strangers who have done everything from deliver photos, caring thoughts and even handmade quilts to the Birdwells, offering to help in any way they can. That’s the Windsor community, Pam says. She wouldn’t expect anything less.
But that didn’t make Tuesday easy by any means.
“It was a busy day,” she says, adding that it was spent visiting with family, friends and fellow soldiers. “It worked well to keep a positive focus on Chris and to celebrate his life and his sacrifice. That was nice. It was good just to remember our son.”
Photos flash across her computer screen, and framed portraits line the walls near her corner desk at American Air Heating and Air Conditioning in Windsor. Some of the photos came to her by chance — a photographer from the New York Times captured training images for a separate story of Chris relaxed while dressed in full combat gear while on a training operation. Others are the classics that made the rounds in newspapers and obituaries in the days and weeks that followed. All show a stoic, fun-loving man that made a splash in the Windsor community from the day the Birdwells moved to Windsor in August, 2002.
All highlight memories.
Pam wears two dog tags around her neck — one for her son and another for Spc. Mabry Anders, 21, of Baker City, Ore., who was killed alongside Chris by small arms fire in Kalagush, Afghanistan. She clutches them often.
She remembers her son always.
“I’m glad the boys are together. They’re probably causing trouble,” she laughed, pointing to the similarities she’s learned the two had after talking to other family and friends. “They had a real knack for picking people up and making them smile.”