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Grieving Sister Finds Hope And Healing On Memorial Day: “Honoring Others Truly Brings Joy To My Heart!”

After Ami Neiberger’s younger brother was killed in Iraq, she found a special way to remember him on Memorial Day

Normally, on Memorial Day, Ami Neiberger would attend a holiday barbecue with family and friends. But in 2008, the Virginia resident made her way to Arlington National Cemetery, her heart heavy with grief. Nine months earlier — just three days after his 22nd birthday — her beloved brother, U.S. Army Specialist Christopher Neiberger, had been out on patrol in Baghdad when the Humvee he was riding in hit an IED and blew up, killing him.

Ami spends every Memorial Day at her brother’s grave, sharing love and memories
mi spends every Memorial Day at her brother’s grave, sharing love and memoriesAmi Neiberger

Since he was a young boy, Christopher had been patriotic, an Eagle Scout who always admired military service. After two years at Florida State University, he enlisted in the Army, a desire fueled by the 9/11 terror attacks. Serving his country meant everything to Christopher.
So, spending Memorial Day with him seemed the best way to honor her brother.

Ami walked down a hill to Christopher’s grave in Section 60, where many other service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are also buried. She spread out a blanket next to Christopher’s white marble gravestone and lay down next to him. “We all miss you and are so proud,” she told him through tears.

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Then Ami sat up and placed a line of pebbles along the top edge of his headstone, one for each family member who sorely missed him. Although not Jewish, Ami loved this traditional Jewish custom of reminding a loved one that they are cared for and are remembered.

Healing bonds

Ami spent 7 hours at the cemetery that day with other bereaved Gold Star family members. At 3 pm, the National Moment of Remembrance, they all joined hands and made a circle. Each spoke about why they were there. It meant so much to Ami to be with other families who had experienced a similar loss — listening to their heartfelt words, sharing tears and hugs. I feel so much less alone, she thought.

As the years passed, the bond between the families in Section 60 continued to grow as they reunited each Memorial Day. They would revisit memories and catch up on one another’s lives. And Ami would share milestone moments in her life with Christopher. One year, she brought the birth announcement of her daughter. I need to share this with him, she felt.

On Memorial Day 2014, Ami was touched when a volunteer with The Memorial Day Flowers Foundation, a nonprofit that each year honors those who’ve lost their lives in service to our country by placing a flower on their graves, gave her a flower for Christopher. That simple gesture meant so much to Ami and she decided to volunteer with the group.

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Every single hero is honored
Every single hero is honoredAmi Neiberger

Ami found giving flowers to Gold Star families, many who have traveled a far distance to Arlington, as deeply moving as receiving the one for Christopher, and it became an annual tradition.

Most of the flowers are donated
Most of the flowers are donatedAmi Neiberger

A beautiful tribute

Once again this year, starting the Sunday before Memorial Day, Ami, now 53, will be at Arlington National Cemetery to help distribute some 300,000 flowers, most donated, to a cadre of over 5,000 volunteers — many of whom have no personal connection to the heroes buried there — to place on service members’ graves and on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Genevieve Kynaston, 3, carries roses through Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day, May 25, 2015, in Arlington, Va. ANC will receive around 150,000 visitors over the Memorial Day weekend.
Volunteers of all ages lay flowers at graves—like Genevieve Kynaston, 3, carries roses through Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day, May 25, 2015U.S. Army photo by Rachel Larue/Released

Despite the grief that inevitably bubbles up, being part of this amazing tribute of love warms Ami’s heart. She knows her parents will be bereaved parents for the rest of their lives and that she will be a bereaved sister all of hers. But she takes comfort in the fact that Christopher loved his country, he loved the people he served with, and he very much loved being a soldier.

Every year, about 300,000 are distributed
Every year, about 300,000 are distributedAmi Neiberger

“To have other people recognize him and the other fallen heroes means so much to me,” says Ami. “It shows that America cares, that it honors the service and sacrifice that the military makes. To know someone who probably doesn’t know that person will pay a visit with something as simple as a flower is so incredibly moving. It truly brings joy to my heart.”

Thousands of fallen soldiers are remembered every year
Thousands of fallen soldiers are remembered every yearAmi Neiberger

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