For Dawn Dill, the toughest part was the waiting.
Even after she received the devastating news that her husband, Staff Sgt. Christopher W. Dill, had been killed in Iraq, the toughest part was waiting for him to come home.
"I wanted to see him," she said Thursday. "I wanted to touch him. I wanted to hold him. I wanted to kiss him."
Then late Tuesday, her husband's body returned home.
"After I got to see him on Tuesday night and hold him and talk to him, I was at ease and at peace," she said. "I felt, from my head to my toes, all my fears and my pain went out of me. He brought me a sense of peace. He was finally home. No longer could he feel pain. He's OK now."
Dawn Dill talked about her husband in their Town of Tonawanda home Thursday, one day before the community, including his fellow firefighters and soldiers, says goodbye to him, starting with a 10 a.m. Mass of Christian Burial today in St. Edmund's Catholic Church on Ellicott Creek Road.
"I am at peace with him now," Dawn Dill said in an hourlong interview punctuated by lots of laughs and a few tears. "I'm happy that he's home, and I'm very proud of him. I'm overwhelmed with pride."
The sadness over the last 11 days, since Dill was killed in an ambush while patrolling with Iraqi troops, has been mixed with that pride.
Especially on Tuesday, when the firefighter-soldier received a hero's welcome during a slow procession that passed by his firehouse, Engine 21 on Jefferson Avenue.
The former Dawn Derion says she never will forget the sight on the Kensington Expressway, when people lined up to salute him. People were blowing kisses as his flag-draped coffin passed. Some people got out of their cars and saluted. Young children stood silently, their hands over their hearts.
His wife laughed at Chris Dill's probable reaction to all the fuss.
"He'd be like, 'Are you kidding me? C'mon, guys, let's get this over with.' But he'd also be really proud."
Dawn Dill talked about the human touches of the man the community now knows as a Buffalo firefighter and Army Reserve staff sergeant.
Like the last time they were together, in an Indiana restaurant last October, when he ordered a little birthday cake for her, since he wouldn't be with her on her Dec. 30 birthday. Like the dozen roses he had waiting for her at home on her birthday, following a quick call to a local florist.
Like the way he played hide-and-seek with his nephew Ethan, and the way he always made sure to visit with his sisters' families in Columbus, Ohio. Like his love for his "Doogies," the couple's dogs Coal and Jagger.
"He was a firefighter and he was a soldier, but he was my day-to-day, goofy, caring husband, and he was everybody's best friend," she said. "He was Chris. He did what he wanted and said what he wanted, and he didn't care who it bothered."
Sure, she worried about him, especially after he was hurt when his fire truck was struck one day. Another time, a piece of burning roof material struck him and left a burn on his neck.
"He loved being a firefighter. He said, 'You're my wife, but these guys are my family. We all rely on each other.' The bond they all had together, he loved it. They were his brothers."
And there was no sense trying to talk the Persian Gulf War veteran out of going back to Iraq, when he could have been sent stateside, to Missouri, to train officers.
"He was a true soldier. He believed in why he was there, and he wanted to be there," she said. "He told me he wanted to go back and finish what he started so that our future children and everyone else's children wouldn't have to go there."
Chris and Dawn Dill had the Town of Tonawanda home and the picket fence. All they needed to complete the picture was children. They had talked about adopting a child, and in a recent letter, Chris said that it was time to adopt, kidding that he'd be happy as long as they could adopt "a somewhat Irish boy."
His wife always knew what a great father he'd be.
As she waited for the community to say goodbye to her husband, Dawn was consoled by the memory of what he told her on their wedding day, as they rode around in a limousine after the ceremony.
"I'm so happy that if I were to die tomorrow, I'd be the happiest man," he told her. "All my dreams have come true, and I have you by my side."