As America, Israel and compassionate people around the world mourn the tragic loss of the seven crew members of the Space Shuttle Columbia, it's important to remember how precious the lives of our loved ones are.
When I was a freshman in college I returned to my high school for a Friday night football game. My intention was to surprise Lori, my high school sweetheart, with an impromptu visit. As I walked toward the field, I saw her as she descended the bleachers to meet up with some girlfriends. She was laughing and having a good time. Since I hadn't told her I'd be there -- and she hadn't seen me -- I decided on the spot that I didn't want to be the kind of boyfriend who would intrude on her time with her friends. So I left. I remember going home with the feeling that I did the right thing.
A day later I received a phone call. Lori had been killed in a car crash.
For several years I relived that moment at the high school over and over again in my head, wishing that I could have it back. I wanted the chance to say goodbye. I wanted the chance for one last kiss. I felt robbed and I was angry and bitter for a long, long time.
Imagine what the families of Col. Ilan Ramon, Dr. Kalpana Chawla, Cmdr. Dr. Laurel Clark, Lt. Col. Michael Anderson, Cmdr. Col. Rick Husband, Pilot Cmdr. Rick McCool, and Pilot Cmdr. David Brown must be going through this week. Will they ever have peace?
In preparation for a USO story I'm reporting for Fox Magazine -- which includes members of our armed services who are leaving the country and their families for active duty -- I interviewed Barry Spilchuk, co-author of the best-selling A Cup of Chicken Soup for the Soul and co-creator of the Let's Talk series. He says what we say before we say goodbye is more important than the act of saying goodbye itself.
"So many people get upset about the things they didn't say," says Spilchuk, who tells people they should sit down and have a heart to heart with their families before they leave on business, active duty or even a mission into outer space.
"They should make a list of the top four things they're thankful for," he says. "And they should talk about what they're afraid of, and depending on where they're going that could be, 'I'm afraid of not coming home,' or 'We're afraid of you not coming home."
Spilchuk also recommends playing or humming your absent loved ones' favorite music as a good way of keeping them close to you. "Imagine being in a foxhole and pulling out a laminated list of why your children or spouse love you. Or humming your son's favorite song and wondering if they might be listening to it at that exact moment," he says.
Dealing with the tragic loss of a loved one is a process that is different for everyone. But if you give yourself and the ones around you the chance to express love, hopes, fears and desires before leaving for an extended or potentially dangerous trip, it might just make it a little easier to find peace and understanding along the way.
As time goes by and life goes on it does become easier to deal with the loss of a loved one.
By reserving a small place for them in our hearts, their spirit lives on.
Mike Straka is the project manager for Fox News's Internet operations and contributes as a features reporter and producer on Fox Magazine (Sundays 11 p.m. on FNC) and as a reporter for Foxnews.com.