Wednesday, October 19, 2016

New Home, New Start

We finally sold our home in Silver Spring, Maryland at the end of August.  It was not without hiccups but we prevailed in the end.  The next biggest challenge turned out to be buying a new home in the Skagit Valley, near my sister in Washington state.   Houses in Mt. Vernon, our intended destination, proved elusive.  If I expressed an interest in one, it sold that day.  If we attempted to put a contract on one, someone else had a more attractive offer.  Many sellers did not want to bother with a contingency offer (which, considering our experience, was wise).  In the end, my nephew Brian found online a house in LaConner, a small, historic town on a saltwater channel.  Generally, houses in La Conner would be too expensive but this one was the right size and the right price, tucked away on a side street without a majestic view but definitely more scenic than our previous residence.  So here we are

If there is a downside to living in La Conner, it's that it is a tiny town in the middle of large fields devoted to agriculture of one sort or another:  crops, livestock, dairy cattle.  The town itself is  laid out along the channel and over a rocky hill that is essentially across the street from the water.  We are behind the hill.  It makes being a runner difficult because it is all pretty small or too well-traveled by logging trucks.  I've been driving to the southern end of the trail along Padilla Bay, the other end being near my sister's home in Bayview, and running along this stretch.  It's safer to be off the road and the ground is level.  And, Thomas walked there with us twelve years ago, just before he left for Iraq.  In fact, he ate lunch with the family, including cousins, in downtown La Conner on that weekend, in the La Conner tavern, a place we pass nearly every day while walking Kolbe.  I nod to the memories and go on.  It was a good time. 

This is a picture of the Padilla Bay trail this past Monday.  I was surrounded by birds, herons that led me along the trail in both directions, and an eagle that swooped by, maybe twenty feet away.  Memories kept me company.  Though this looks lonely, I was not alone by any means.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

July 6, 2016, another birthday in heaven

We are trying to sell our house.  It's been a more difficult process than we anticipated with two contracts falling through (one after we'd spent about a thousand dollars and several weeks complying with their wishes following inspection.  Oy!) but we think we may be winding to an actual close.  It seems odd to be leaving the house where Thomas from nine years of age to 18 and where he returned to visit during his time in the Army, but I am comforted by a dream a friend had a year or so ago, with Thomas, silent as always, leaning on the tree in the front yard and nodding approvingly as we carry things out of the house to a truck.

Today would have been Thomas's 32nd birthday.  Had he lived, maybe he would have finished college, been married, even had a child by now.  It is more than useless to speculate and I almost never let my mind go down these paths.  This is not what happened.  He's gone.  What did happen instead? Truthfully, I have been blessed by the events in this alternate universe.  I have made friends for life among the mothers and among the men, no longer so young, who served with Thomas.  I have found some purpose in nudging things toward the better for veterans, and for the bereaved.  It doesn't make up for his loss, but it helps me make sense of his loss.  I've learned to just be grateful for these friendships and for this different purpose in my life, despite the reason they came to me.

It's not a betrayal to be selling this house, but a moving forward.  My husband and I are planning to move to Washington state where I grew up and where Thomas lived the last year and a half of his life.  It is some comfort to me that he spent time wandering the waterfront in Olympia, a place I spent a lot of my childhood because my maternal grandmother lived there, along with, at various times, my aunts and uncles and my cousins.  Members of my mother's family were among the earliest settlers in Olympia--I am so glad my son got to spend time there.

This is a little disjointed--as I said, it's been a long day--but I wanted to observe Thomas's birthday. We got to the cemetery to place flowers and a couple of flags, but it was incredibly hot and we did not linger.  He's been on my mind all day, from my 2.26 miles in the humidity this morning to this very moment . . .

This afternoon at Gate of Heaven cemetery.

This morning, following my run.

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Friday, November 20, 2015

Beginning again

So, it has now been eleven years since Thomas was killed in Mosul, Iraq.  On the 11th anniversary, 11/11, the weather was perfect, as it had been here that day.  This is what we did:

Anna and I aimed to run 11 kilometers in honor of 11 years.  In the last year, a local meet-up of Wear Blue: Run to Remember has gotten very active in Columbia, Maryland.  They usually meet at Centennial Lake, a man-made lake in Centennial Park (go figure), because it is about 2 and a half miles around the lake on a paved path that is well-maintained.  These meet-ups usually happen on Saturday mornings but the leader, Chris, proposed a Veterans Day meetup in addition.  Much conversation ensued and we all settled on 7 a.m., with Grandpa Richard designated as child-minder and dog-walker, while Anna and worked our way around the lake three times.  Leah's other grandpa, Bob (an ultra-marathoner and a veteran) came to run too, and Jessica, one of the chairs of the Montgomery County Veterans Collaborative brought her baby in a stroller, and a number of the Wear Blue regulars came as well.  We held our Circle of Remembrance, and we all remembered Thomas (Army Specialist Thomas Doerflinger echoed around the circle) and then we ran in the gorgeous, breezy morning, realizing we had all done a very Thomas thing.  No one thought to set their various GPS devices or pedometers to metric measurements as opposed to miles.  So, in the end, we kind of guessed our way to the 11 kilometers and probably overshot a little.  It was wonderful.  Matthew is the best runner of us all, but he's been climbing rocks in Kentucky for the last few months so had to do his purposeful miles on his own.

Anna had to leave for work so we headed directly home from the run.  Maria arrived mid-morning and we set off for Columbia again to have lunch together!  (Food featured heavily in this day.)

Maria had to head back to southern Maryland late in the afternoon, but we did stop at the cemetery for a few minutes before she left.  Peaceful.

We had pizza and beer (and wine) and toasted Thomas with friends in the evening.  It was a nice evening, surrounded by friends and family as we observed this anniversary.

Beginning again though:  Today I realized that it has been 11 years since the day after the funeral.  This is really the day when we paused and began to think about how the future would look.  There was nothing left to plan, just the aftermath of a death.  Over the next few months we would have to replace the refrigerator and redo the bathroom (both taxed past their limits by intensive use during November), figure out how to claim Thomas's bank account, sort through some of his belongings and just close the door on others for a while, try to connect with his friends and continue to watch the accomplishments and trials of Deuce Four.  We had to figure out how to live with knowing we weren't going to see him again.  Still working on that.

So here we are.  The weather today has been beautiful, a little breezy again, a little cooler than it's been for a while.  Despite the autumnal feel to the air, it also feels hopeful.  Yesterday was grim and grey with rain and fog but overnight it cleared out, making way for blue sky and sunlight.  Kind of a metaphor really . . .
This picture is obviously not everyone who was with us that morning but it's who we caught before they left the parking lot, all sweaty!

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Monday, July 06, 2015

Veterans Day 2014

I left this as a draft until today but I think I want to share it even though it's over seven months old.  Lee Ann, 7-6-15

Ten years.  It seems surreal.  The last few days have just been just:  outside of time.  I don't know how to describe this.  We've been doing things we don't normally do in anticipation of this date, not just because of Thomas but because it is Veterans Day.  And Remembrance Day.  We are caught forever in that split personality of honoring the living while remembering our own fallen soldier.  Today the weather has been unusually warm and sunny for November.  As I type, the Concert for Valor is unfolding on the National Mall under cloudy but not rainy skies.  My kids are down there in the VIP area, courtesy of TAPS.  I'm watching HBO.  For the last couple of days I have been wearing my Gold Star banner pin, something I don't do often and worry about when I do.  This weekend I put it on and just let it be, mostly just not giving it another thought.  No one said anything--not sure if that makes me happy or sad.

On Saturday night, my husband and I, along with four other Gold Star Mothers and spouses went to a dinner held by the American Veterans Center, honoring veterans from World War II to the War on Terror.  It was an incredibly touching evening. 

Thomas's Birthday, 2015

Just a little musing today.  It's been a long time since I wrote anything but thoughts have continued to perk.  I just haven't had the energy to do anything about them.

Thomas would have turned 31 today.  We got to spend his last birthday on earth, his 20th, with him thanks to the 3 weeks of leave he had the summer before they left for Iraq.  I remember the day he was born, eight days after his due date, nearly a pound heavier than his sister had been.  I remember spending that 4th of July in Sears looking for an iron--I go through irons at an ungodly rate, maybe because I sew with a lot of cotton and always want them as hot as possible--and feeling enormous.  Three years later we were back in the same Sears, looking for Thomas who had latched on to a stuffed Thumper and hidden in a clothing rack.  We ended up owning Thumper.   I'm not sure where Thumper is now but he remained a favored stuffed animal for all of Thomas's little-kidhood and maybe a bit beyond . . .  This year, we ended up in the same Sears yet again, this time looking for gasoline additives for our newly-acquired secondhand lawnmower (my husband goes through lawnmowers at the same pace I go through irons).

Now, here's the thing:  Thomas hated mowing the lawn and may have only done it once or twice in his life.  He hated the lawnmower because it was so loud.  So how did he end up in the Army in a job that seems to have been noise personified?

We don't have a cake today, at least not yet.  Maybe I should go get a cupcake or something to mark the day.  Richard and I went to Mass this morning with my friend Debbie, and we went to the cemetery yesterday.  I will post a picture from yesterday but also from Memorial Day when we took our granddaughter Leah, Thomas's niece, to visit the grave.

I am done with my term as president of the Maryland Chapter of the American Gold Star Mothers, as of June 30th.  However, I am still in charge of this year's fundraiser, the annual Crab Feast!  How did losing my child lead to organizing an event featuring a creature I cannot eat??  Luckily, the menu is significantly larger than that.  Anyone interested in eating crabs on September 20th should contact me at

And now my pictures.  I'll try to do more writing--it's not just my blog that I've neglected recently!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fall Day Reflections

It was a gorgeous fall day today.  It's harder to love the fall now--it seems like a countdown to Thomas's anniversary every time.  A cruel trick that the weather is so lovely, the trees so golden, the air so crisp and fresh.  This morning as I walked Kolbe, a dog who was made for autumn weather, the wind kicked up.  We were walking under the trees, leaves rustling away and floating down singly from the incredibly blue sky, and remembering a day, maybe 20 years ago, when Thomas was playing soccer on an equally amazing day.  A field full of ten-year-olds who had won their game, unexpectedly maybe:  a breeze came up and shook leaves down like confetti.  A formation of jets flew over, not knowing that they'd joined the celebration.  Little boys who looked like they'd found their slice of heaven.
No jets today, but the sky was back.  Yes, it really was that blue, maybe even deeper.  A promise that  beauty has not left the world, even if it broke my heart.

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Friday, September 26, 2014

I tried to send this to the Washington Post but I was probably too late in the week when I sent it off.  Since I haven't heard from them, I'm feeling free to post:
By congressional joint resolution, “the last Sunday in September is Gold Star Mother’s Day.”  The law, first enacted in 1936, states: “The President is requested to issue a proclamation calling on United States Government officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings, and the people of the United States to display the flag and hold appropriate meetings at homes, churches, or other suitable places, on Gold Star Mother’s Day as a public expression of the love, sorrow, and reverence of the people for Gold Star Mothers” (36 US Code 111). From that year to this, Presidents of all parties and affiliations have issued these proclamations.


Yet so few people know about Gold Star Mothers that I was startled and touched recently when a regular customer at the store where I work approached me to say, “I did not know you are a Gold Star Mother.”  Purely by accident she had seen an old interview on our local cable channel, and heard me talking about my son, Army SPC Thomas Doerflinger, who was killed in Iraq in 2004.  My customer knew about Gold Star mothers, and she knew that the fact that Thomas had died in military service made me one.


Military survivors are Gold Star family members -- named for the service flag star which is blue when a family member is deployed abroad, and is changed to gold if that member dies.   The mothers have had a leading role since the end of World War I, when the American Gold Star Mothers organization was created and incorporated.  Grace Darling Seibold’s son was lost in Europe during that war.  She visited military hospitals hoping to find her son among the wounded, but instead found a calling to comfort the injured and their families.  Ultimately other mothers who had lost their children joined her in this mission, which continues today.


During these years there have been times when there were many Gold Star Mothers—the very first one I met was my uncle’s mother, who had lost a son in the Philippines early in World War II—and times when they are few.  The Vietnam era mothers are very old now, and many are gone.  People forgot what that Gold Star means because they did not need to know, and for that we can be grateful.  But now we have been at war since 2001.  In that time, over six thousand men and women have lost their lives while serving their country in the military.  Those soldiers, marines, airmen and sailors have left families behind: wives and children, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters. The mothers once again have seen a need and joined together to help others.


Not all Gold Star mothers join the formal organization, but all feel a kinship in our grief and sorrow.  We are proud of our children and their decision to serve their country.  And we are determined that our fallen will not be forgotten.  For that reason, you will find us this weekend at Arlington National Cemetery laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown, at the Vietnam Memorial, and at the National Cathedral, remembering.  Members of the American Gold Star Mothers wear white at official events so we are easily found in crowds.  This weekend, if you see one of the “ladies in white,” I hope you will greet her, offer your condolences, ask about her child.  And if you can’t visit a memorial, I hope you will read this year’s Presidential Proclamation and fly your American flag, while reflecting on the sacrifice that so many families have made and will make in the future.



Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Tomorrow it will 13 years since the world completely changed

It's hard to remember that September 11, 2001 is now 13 years in the past.  It's not disappearing in the rear-view mirror:  we still see effects.  Rebuilding continues, rethinking continues.  The entire world is now concentrated on the Middle East, horrified at the development of a group called (depending on the week and your news source) ISIS or ISIL or IS which roughly means the Islamic State in Iraq or the Levant (how many of us really know what constitutes the Levant?) or just the Islamic State.  Most Muslims seem to disavow the actions of this group which has posted videos of the beheading of two American journalists.  Have they grown out of the rebel movement in Syria or are they descendants of Al Qaeda in Iraq?  I may not live long enough to learn the answer--I'm not planning on going any time soon but it may be a very long time indeed before the truth of all this emerges.

I know Thomas was worried about the proximity of Mosul to Syria.  Mosul has been lost to ISIS (let us call them that for the sake of simplicity), at least for now.  I hope in the end he didn't die for only a temporary gain.  Though I guess the truth is, it's all temporary.  Even the current occupation of Mosul by this group will come to an end some day.