The Patriot Way: Father turns grief into service
The rowdy and cheering crowd at Gillette Stadium rises and falls silent. The men remove their hats. All attention is on the American flag. The voice is different each time but words are the same.
“For the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
It happens every game, many of which Dana Bean attends, yet each time the anthem is belted out before the game or a member of the armed services is honored during a break in the action, Dana and his wife Cheryl are “overwhelmed” with emotion.
“It’s really … it’s not just a football game for us,” Dana said. “It’s more than that. It’s a whole day of patriotism.”
Those displays of patriotism have become a cornerstone in the Patriots game-day experience, and for Dana, it is a reassurance that those who have made the ultimate sacrifice have not been forgotten. It’s a reminder that soldiers, like his son Matthew, have and will always be remembered.
Matthew Bean was a practicing Christian and an outdoorsy guy — bouncing between skateboard, wakeboard, fishing pole and softball glove seamlessly. At 22, he was a private first class in the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, NY. He would often strum his black acoustic guitar to entertain members of his unit, something that continued when his unit was deployed to Lutifiyah, Iraq.
On May 19, 2007, after less than a year overseas, Matthew was shot by a sniper while searching for missing soldiers in his unit. He was transported to National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD, where he died from his wounds on May 31.
It took Matthew’s father and stepmother almost a year after his death to be able to step foot in his room. Nine years later, snapshots of Matthew remain untouched. His wakeboard is propped up against the wall. The black guitar eventually made its way back home but not before being passed from one soldier’s hand to another like an ever-burning torch. Photos hang just inside the door of Matthew kayaking, at his high school graduation and with his fiancé.
The letters from former President George W. Bush, the patchwork quilt made by the Marine Comfort Quilt Group and a poem Dana wrote serve as reminders of the support and love the family received during some of their darkest days.
This outpouring of comfort and love from every corner of the community struck Dana and Cheryl, particularly from the Pembroke Military Support Group and from within their church. They knew they only had one choice in how to move forward.
“You know, the term ‘pay it forward’ has never really occurred to me, but that’s exactly what it was,” Dana said. “It’s not really even like we feel obligated. It’s just there are people that did so much for us that we feel like we need to use our experience to help anybody going through the same thing.”
They joined the Pembroke Military Support Group and continue sending packages to men and women overseas, something they did for Matthew and members of his unit. Dana said he lost count around the 300th shipment, and he writes a thoughtful letter with each one.
They host an annual softball tournament in honor of Matthew and a classmate who passed away around the same time. The first fundraising tournament was hosted just months after Matthew’s death and have since given about $40,000 in scholarships.
Dana and Cheryl provide emotional support and gifts to local families who have a spouse, a mother, a father or child deployed. They sit in their church’s GriefShare program to show those suffering loss that they will be able to find the strength and to honor their loved ones every day.
For many Gold Star families, it is easy and understandable to become angry, Dana said, and despite the pain he has endured, he has been able to find peace.
“I think [helping others] is essential in the healing, at least for me. We’ve met other families that have gone through the same loss, and they seem really stuck and bitter, and I mean it’s a longtime, lifetime process but I can’t imagine not using the experience to help somebody else that’s in the same situation,” Dana said.
“I just think since day one I’ve felt like I needed to ask myself the question, ‘What does God want me to do with this experience?’ We’ve gone through this horrific tragedy. What do I do with this for the rest of my life? I think that when we are motivated to share our experience to help somebody else that’s going through something,” Dana said. “We understand that sending a package is appreciated whether you hear from the person or not because when we do hear from somebody we know how much it’s appreciated. We know it’s not thankless even if we’re never thanked.”
Dana doesn’t do it for the “thank yous” or the sympathy. He does it because he wants to provide comfort, he wants to be an example of strength. So Dana keeps his head down and gives.
That’s why when he received the Bank of America Fan of the Year 2015 Award at the Patriots game against the Titans, he was shocked.
“I guess it’s kind of silly, the whole thing, because I was thinking of it in the perspective of who is the most boisterous, outspoken guy with silver painted on my face,” Dana said.
But it was not the loudest fan in the stadium or the one with the Patriots logo emblazoned on his or her face. It was Dana’s selfless acts to comfort those in need that compelled Cheryl to nominate him.
“It’s just everything he does around town. He’s so involved in the church and supporting the military. He’s always welcoming soldiers here and attending funerals,” Cheryl said. “He is always taking the time to listen to anybody that wants to talk … and he’s a great Patriots fan.”
Seated in Section 119, Dana may not be screaming until he loses his voice, but the time he dedicates to his community in honor of Matthew is a true example of the Patriot Way.
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