Russell Langham is getting used to his life again.
After 15 months in the Air Force, the Thomson native returned home last week to his wife, his mother and friends.
The coming weeks and months of his life will be filled with painting, renovating and rearranging the house he grew up in. It's now the house he'll start his family in, the house he'll write the next chapters of his life in.
It's heart-wrenching that in a community of 25,000 people, one soldier's life is adding chapters as another's comes to an end.
The news that Spc. James Kinlow had been killed in Iraq on Sunday first started rumbling after Monday's Kiwanis meeting.
It's the third time since November 2003 that our county has seen the impact of the fight in Iraq up close.
And, it's not something that ever will - nor ever should - get easier to bear.
Just ask McDuffie County Superintendent of Schools Mark Petersen. He's got a black metal bracelet - a Hero's Bracelet, as they are called - on his arm in memory of 1st Lt. Noah Harris. 1st Lt. Harris died in June after his Humvee was attacked.
Dr. Petersen had known 1st Lt. Harris since the young man was in first grade. He'd watched him grow up, become a state wrestling champion, high school football captain, Georgia's 1999 Georgia Scholar-Athlete of the Year and a University of Georgia cheerleader.
Dr. Petersen missed the memorial service in Ellijay, but thinks of the young soldier every time the bracelet slides on his arm.
It's personal. It's family.
Just like Spc. Kinlow.
Daphanie Kinlow has worked for the McDuffie County Board of Education for nine years. She was recently promoted to Payroll Manager after Elsie Meadows - a woman she called her "second mother" - retired.
Mrs. Kinlow was at work Monday when the Army representatives showed up with the news of her husband's death. Dr. Petersen has told her to come back when she's ready.
"These folks around here have known her for nine years," he said. "You know, that's family."
But family extends beyond the walls of homes and the cubicles of offices. It's everywhere in small communities, even on the football field.
Monday evening, as family and friends gathered at the family's Holt Street home, members of the Thomson Bulldogs began to trickle in. They were there to support a teammate - sophomore Chauncey Kinlow, who was told of his father's death after practice Monday morning.
But they were also there to shore up a weakened family.
"That's what makes Thomson Thomson," Dr. Petersen said. "I tell you what, I really choked up."
And that's OK. You are allowed to cry around family.