Fifty years ago this week, on Dec. 7, 1967, Bobby Tewksbury of South Portland was killed in Vietnam, earning a Silver Star for bravery. In that instant, my mother, Carla Seymour, became an only child and a Gold Star sister.

But unlike a Silver Star or Purple Heart, which may be earned in a moment of monumental bravery, a Gold Star is only fully realized through decades of absence and broken hearts. For the Gold Star family, tragedy strikes in an instant with a knock on the door, but the true calamity of their loss stretches across time, like rings spreading across a lake.

The Tewksbury family was forever changed by my uncle’s death. Yet my mother sustained her parents and breathed new life into her shaken family. She gave her parents four beloved grandchildren, naming her first “Roberta” in honor of her brother. And when the time came, she cared for her parents, Carl and Hazel, as an only child, while she herself served as a military spouse for over 20 years.

I can still remember weekly trips from Massachusetts to the Scarborough Veterans Home, where my grandparents were treated for severe Alzheimer’s. There, my sisters and I could only watch as our mother explained to them that Bobby was gone, when they asked for him again and again. Through all this, the Tewksbury family carried on as all Gold Star families must.

When I was little, I knew my uncle was a hero. I now realize, though, that some heroes are made over the course of decades, by quietly doing their duty in the face of great sorrow. My mother has earned the title of Gold Star sister every day for the last 50 years, all while keeping her brother’s spirit alive. For that, she is our family’s greatest hero.

Bill Seymour

Norwell, Mass.