Discretion is about to win out over valor. When I finally looked carefully at the Team River Runner website yesterday, I realized that the race is actually Sunday morning, not Saturday as I had carefully planned for. Though the scheduling conflict created by my inability to read was not insuperable, when I called Juli to point this out, she greeted me with the news of a week of not-great health. So be it. We are middle-aged women, and doing things like kayaking and running are kind of hard on us at the best of times, and this is not the best of times. So we are bowing out this time--I apologize to anyone who was looking forward to the spectacle! I encourage anyone who feels so inclined however to make donations to TRR or to one of the many other organizations helping our veterans return from this war.
Thursday afternoon was the wake. We had divided it into two parts though I am now forgetting the times. Three to five and seven to nine? Something like that. There was a two hour break so we could eat dinner and regroup. The neighbors were to order pizza for delivery for us. We all got dressed and went to the church.
Luckily, it was another beautiful day. I had no idea of what to do, but at least it wasn't raining. Anna had made three large collages of pictures of Thomas set up on tripods in the entrance of the church. The visitors' book was set up there as well, and the uniform jacket with medals and insignia was folded and set out on a table. Thomas's casket was in the front of the church, set up in front of the altar. It was open, not because we'd really asked for that but because we hadn't actually said anything about it all. Thomas was dressed in the civilian suit donated by a friend--he had outgrown the suit he bought before he entered the Army. The flag was folded and in the casket with him. Captain J. M., our casualty assistance officer, an ever-quiet presence, was there. Richard and I walked to the casket, and then turned and stood waiting for visitors.
There are several hundred signatures in the book. The first person through the door was actually a woman who had gone to college with me, D. I had not seen her in probably 15 years and did not realize that she was still in the area but she came and told me she would be at the funeral the next day, gave me a hug I think, regarded Thomas and turned to leave. She got as far as the door and came back to give me the pin she was wearing, an icon of the Blessed Mother. She is holding seven arrows, pulled from the bodies of wounded warriors is the story I think D. told me. Taking care of our sons. I keep it next to my bed now, but I wore it for the rest of that day, a promise of peace.
As the day and the evening went on, more and more people came and we were astounded by the number of those who cared. Some we knew well, some we worked with, some were friends or parishioners, or just people who had seen the notice in the paper and wanted to thank us for our son's service. The American Legion post sent representatives. The Governor of Maryland sent a representative with a state flag for us. Several congressmen and a senator made their way over from Capitol Hill, as friends and professional acquaintances of my husband's. PTA people came, and the counselors from Thomas's old middle school. Several Montgomery County police officers came, people who had worked with Maria the previous school year while she interned at their station. Thomas's friends came, most of them having had to come home from college to do so.
Through all of this, both sessions, my sister and her husband, and my cousin and her husband, sat in the pews quietly talking, watching everyone, just being support. Anna and her friends had stayed near the entrance of the church, Maria had to go home at some point because she was running a fever of 102, and Matthew came only for the first session I think, then stayed with his best friend, the other Matthew.
At the end of the evening, our pastor arrived to do a short service before we closed the casket. Everyone had come back as I recall (and exhaustion and grief make this hard to be sure of). We prayed and then everyone left us for a few minutes to say goodbye. I looked at my son's body and touched his hands--they were dry and showed signs of peeling a bit. He always had dry hands. But this was just his shell and I did not want to stay any long longer. We said goodbye and they closed the lid. Erik took him back to the sacristy and we went home.