Wednesday, August 02, 2006

When Thomas died, I felt as if I had lost my own identity. All of his life, I had been Thomas's mom, then I was mom to a soldier in Iraq, and suddenly I was the mom of a fallen soldier. For days and weeks I felt disoriented, not really accepting that final identity even though I knew I could not escape it. Moreover, I felt very alone in that identity. I did not know any other mothers, Thomas was the first of his unit to be killed so there was no one to contact there and all of the soldiers were in Iraq anyway, and at the time the Gold Star Mothers organization had some membership requirements that made me cringe (they did not apply to me, but I just couldn't do it. They have since changed).

So for some months, I felt adrift. And then two things happened: first the governor of my state held a reception in April of 2005 for the families of the fallen of Maryland. This was a private event at the State House (he continues holding them twice a year). It was sad but true that I felt better seeing other families because for so long I felt that Thomas's death might have been the result of some carelessness on my part: we kept speaking of having "lost" him which made it sound as if he'd just been mislaid somehow. I felt . . . foolish. But seeing these other families reminded me that we were not alone in our grief--that other peoples' children had also laid down their lives--and that our children had served their country with honor.

The second came several weeks later: Thomas's first sergeant died of burns he'd received in an IED explosion and I posted a comment on the Stryker Brigade News site. Michael had written to us just a week before he was injured, a wonderful note that gave us some idea of Thomas's activities in his last days. I wanted people to know that this had been a good man, and in fact my comment was picked up by a local newspaper as an illustration of the duties that fall to a sergeant. It also led to an invitation to a private bulletin board for the families of the fallen from the Stryker Brigades, and there I made a friend. Though I would like to say more about her, I haven't yet asked for her permission to talk about her and her son and family so that will have to wait. But let me say that we talk by phone and e-mail, have interests in common, and have found the knowledge that someone else understands immensely comforting.

And it was those experiences that led me to accompany another of the Maryland mothers, Linda, to the funeral of a young soldier last week. Linda's son Ray was killed in Najaf in August of 2004. We had met at the State House reception, and then at a Memorial Day ceremony and have talked two or three times a month ever since. When this latest young man died, the funeral was being held in Linda's community and we both felt that we wanted to be there for the parents. So we went, and that is where I realized finally that Thomas did give me one final gift: I am the mother of a fallen soldier, that is who I am now, but my soldier died in hope. As I listened to the prayers and eulogies given for this most recent of the fallen and recognized that so many of the characteristics in this boy were also in mine, including faith, I found some peace. I will always grieve, as this soldier's parents will, but I intend to use that grief and I intend to live in hope as I think this boy's parents will also. I will honor my son and live for the future that we have been given.


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