Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Today it is has been two years since I said goodby to Thomas in the parking lot of the Taco Bell outside of the gates of Fort Lewis. He was a major fast food fan and never gained an ounce from it, so this was a natural place to go for our last meal together before he left for Iraq. He kissed us goodby, promised he would be back, and got into the cab that he insisted would be easier than having us drive him on post. He did not look back.

I wear a pin on my name tag at work which says "Honor the Fallen". Yesterday, one of the newer managers, someone who came after Thomas died, asked me about it and I told him I wear it because my son was killed in Iraq almost two years ago. I have become used to this reality, and so have many of my coworkers: it just never occurred to me that this statement still has the power to shock. But this poor young man was clearly horrified and was speechless for several minutes. Customers appeared and we went back to our jobs, but a bit later he asked me if I was all right. I reassured him, and our day went on . . .

The trip to the cemetery and to the funeral home had included our Casualty Assistance Officer who took notes and advised us on the Army's role in various things. We had already decided that visitation would be in our parish church--for a young person, under these circumstances, the funeral home did not feel that there would be enough room or parking space in their facility. And I sort of liked the idea that Thomas's body would be in the church for all of those last hours.

Captain J. M. left us to plan the funeral, which was a Catholic Mass, with our pastor. We picked out songs and readings that seemed appropriate (mostly drawn from other funerals and memorial services we had attended), clip art for the cover of the program, people to do the readings and remembrances. The burial was to be with full military honors so we left that to them. The funeral procession was to be accompanied by a motor cycle escort from the traffic division of the local police department. In some ways, I couldn't help but think that this was like planning a wedding in the space of a day, with just as many details and only one chance to do it right.