Saturday, December 23, 2006

I thought I had posted since the 14th and, since Blogspot is trying to get us all to switch to their new version, I thought for a moment that I had lost a post, but rereading the last one, yeah, I haven't posted since then. I compose posts in my mind all the time--luckily for everyone most of these musings never see the light of day--and I think I had just mentally hit the publish button!

Approaching Christmas is hard. Thomas was pretty enthusiastic about Christmas and got to spend all of his Christmases in the Army at home. 2004 would have been our first one without him anyway since he was supposed to be stuck in Iraq. Now whenever I think about that day, it's as if there is a long violin note (Smetana maybe? according to my husband) sounding in my ears. This note does not resolve--there is no relief at the end, just acceptance.

The custom in this area is food after the funeral. My PTA friends had taken this over early on. One of the women who had paralleled me through many years of kids in school is also a professional chef : she organized a sort of gigantic potluck involving folks who had never met before because they all came from different circles in our lives. We used the fellowship hall of a local Baptist church because my former next-door neighbor was a member there and the space was available. (I'd also attended several Bible studies there so I knew some of the other members as well. ) So, after the interment, around 200 people drove back down to New Hampshire Avenue to the Colesville Baptist Church for a luncheon. My friend Steve was once again taking pictures which really helps in remembering this--they are on film though and the scanner and I don't get along well. People who had never met before sat at tables and talked and ate, some came and sat with us and talked and ate. One of the pictures shows our casualty assistance officer sitting along the wall with her plate in her uniformed lap, happily eating (she is a Baptist) and finally relaxing a bit. I'm so glad we got to have that luncheon--here on the border of the South, it is known as a repast--it did allow us to say goodbye to a few of the people who had travelled so far to support us, including a number of Thomas's friends who were in college.

Finally, at about 2 or maybe 3 o'clock, we went home. We had asked the family members and some of our oldest friends to come to the house and there we sat and talked and finally let ourselves laugh a little.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Montgomery County Police Department had provided a motorcycle escort for the funeral procession. As we moved out of the church's driveway, they preceded us up New Hampshire, stopping traffic at intersections, letting us pass through in procession. The hearse moved slowly: it seemed to take forever to make progress up the street. Thomas went to Springbrook High School where he had earned an International Baccalaureate Diploma--Springbrook is not on New Hampshire, but the side street it is on ends at the driveway to St. John's parking lot, so we passed the route Thomas took to get to school most mornings. The principal and a number of his teachers were at the funeral, a simple walk for them. Then we kept moving north, past the place we often had bought Christmas trees and Halloween pumpkins, past the dry cleaner's where my suit had been altered, left on Randolph Road, past the grocery store we tend to regard as a second refrigerator and source of many late night snacks for my boy, and on down the street, eventually to Georgia Avenue, north again another couple of miles and into Gate of Heaven cemetery to the plot we had chosen for him.

The Army's Honor Guard was already there. We found our way to the grave site and the canopy, following the casket, and then sitting down in those chairs in the front row, where I became one of those mothers who has had to bury her son and be presented with the flag, folded into its precise triangle by serious young men in uniform. There was Taps, and a rifle volley as salute, then prayers and final goodbyes. I touched the casket in farewell as we stood to leave, but I could not cry openly for some reason. And then we walked back to the car, surrounded by our friends and our families. I remember one little girl, nine months old at the time, wearing a beautiful black dress, and so quiet but alert as her mother carried her away from Thomas's grave.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

I always watch the people taking Communion. That day we were kneeling in the front row and could see everyone who came to our side, including Tim who we had not seen in too long a time.

After Communion, three speakers talked about Thomas. Anna went first and talked about how her little brother had grown into a man away from our sight. Tom Tobin, Thomas's senior English teacher and advisor to the Catholic Club at his high school talked about the insights Thomas had into St. Augustine's concept of eternity and also about his faithful attendance of meetings and nursing home visits, as well as the friendship they had. Thomas was a part of Tom's family: babysitting when in high school, going over for dinner when he was home on leave from the Army. Thomas's friend Christina spoke last. They never officially dated, he just loved her. Christina knew more about who Thomas had grown to be than we did: he would talk to her on the phone and e-mail her far more often than he did us. He had told her that he just wanted to be an ordinary man: that when he came home from the Army he would go to college to become an English teacher, get married, have a family. It brought me some peace to know that he had not been as adrift as he sometimes appeared when he came home, that he had thought seriously and realistically about what he was going to do and how he was going to do it.

At last, there was a closing prayer and then it was time to go. The pallbearers we had asked (friends, a cousin) accompanied his casket out of the church. We stood up as a family and followed. Matthew's best friend, also named Matthew, had been sitting with us during the service but with perfect timing he returned to his own family at that point. I remember walking by all of those people and out the front of the church, where the military honor guard removed the white pall from the casket and replaced it with the American flag that had been folded and placed next to Thomas during the wake. Then the casket went into the hearse and we as a family climbed into the limousine for the trip to the cemetery. Several photographers were standing on the other side of the driveway watching us (the Archdiocesan public relations person was making sure that they were not getting too close): the Washington Post photographer got a picture of all of us standing on the steps looking stunned and sad and that is what appeared in the paper the next day.