"Mom, life is so good it's scary."
Chad Littlefield was in high spirits when he spoke those words on Feb. 1, 2013. When he stopped by his parents' Desoto home for lunch that Friday afternoon, he stayed a little longer than usual.
The younger of Don and Judy Littlefield's two boys, Chad spoke of his little girl and where he was spiritually. After about an hour, he hugged and kissed each of his parents and started down the sidewalk toward his truck.
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Upon reaching the curb, Chad sat down the package he was carrying then turned and walked back up the sidewalk to give them each another hug. It was a little unusual, but neither Don nor Judy paid it much thought as they resumed their busy afternoon.
"Little did I know that I would cherish that moment for the rest of my life," remembered Judy, smiling through tears as the couple sat on the sofa occasionally holding hands.
"That was orchestrated by God," confirmed Don, speaking with an instinctive cadence after 35 years of coaching. He spoke often of his faith, but never like a man searching. He spoke like a man tested.
The following day, Feb. 2, Chad Littlefield and his close friend, "American Sniper" Chris Kyle, lay dead on an Erath County gun range.
The long distance shooting range, designed by Kyle himself on the grounds of Rough Creek Lodge, was frequented by the pair for both professional training and Chris’s charitable foundation. Shot by a man they were attempting to help, the pair was found that afternoon by an employee of Rough Creek.
Having met as self-described "soccer dads," they became workout partners and fast friends. Chad involved himself in Chris’ foundation and volunteered installing workout equipment in the homes of disabled veterans.
Well before the success of Chris’s bestselling autobiography, the two committed themselves to veteran’s causes and helped them cope with their return to civilian life.
When the trial begins on Feb. 11, Don and Judy Littlefield will be listening to opening arguments on a day when they might have expected to be celebrating Chad’s 38th birthday.
It is a cruel irony, and it hasn’t escaped them.
To spend an afternoon sitting across from Don and Judy is to receive a lesson in resilience. They speak of their faith in a way that seems to transcend dogma, looking often at one another as it seamlessly enters the conversation. It is never uncomfortable or forced, never wielded as a shield or crutch. It is as much a part of their fabric as their family or career.
It becomes quickly evident that Chad inherited his peacemaker predisposition. Despite his imposing build, he was the first to insist that family and friends quickly sit down and work through conflict. He regarded it as less uncomfortable than senseless, insisting that they "talk things out" and waste little time on anger or resentment.
"We decided we could get bitter or better," explained Don as the pair spoke of the night of Feb. 2, 2013.
They had been called out of bed and sat at the home of Chris and Taya Kyle awaiting word of their son’s fate. It was some time before they knew, and on speaking of that moment Judy added simply:
"We chose better."
It is a difficult place, being asked to speculate about the feelings of their son. But when asked what Chad would miss most the answer was quick and decisive.
"He would miss not being there to see his daughter grow up - to celebrate her accomplishments," they agreed of the doting father.
Their granddaughter, now 9 years old, has remained a central part of their lives.
It is an answer that may seem obvious enough, but when looking into the eyes of a parent who has tragically lost a son, the question itself seems almost silly.
Don and Judy spoke easily and freely about Chad. They were quick to laugh when Judy remembered a day when she looked at Don and said, "You know, I can't think of one thing Chad ever did wrong."
"Let me refresh your memory," laughed Don with a more realistic recollection of their son’s childhood.
They sometimes spoke of Chad in the present tense, seemingly less a product of denial than the absence of resolution. Their close relationship with Chad was evident in the way they remembered him, speaking fondly of course, but more noticeably without guilt. Their position is one to be anguished over, and envied. And though the Littlefield's have a practical grasp of the fact that we’re all ultimately doomed to be forgotten, they’ve committed to honoring Chad in a way that says simply:
To get to know Don and Judy Littlefield is to become invested in justice. Perhaps it is their unshakable faith, or the striking presence of perspective and grace.
As a parent, maybe it is the startling reality that it could happen to any of us, at any time. Chad's story is a wakeup call to the peacemaker in all of us, to make amends, to walk back up that sidewalk for one more hug.
And to hear their story and be entrusted to tell it – to tell Chad's story – is to be forever changed.