Monday, January 29, 2007

Another little pause. This narrative is going to take forever.

No one told me that one of the hardest parts of being a mother would be having to comfort my fourteen-year old son because his brother died two years ago on a dusty street half a world away. Matthew was with me when they came to tell us Thomas had been killed. Like me, he cannot forget that day or those men. Most of the time he keeps his grief well hidden, but sometimes it comes to the surface and then we mourn together.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

A lot has been going on for me, and for some of the other families recently. I'm just going to try to catch up with the recent stuff today.


My visit with Laurie Whitham was planned spontaneously. I had meant to just rent a car and drive out to her home near the Oregon coast when I went to the Pacific Northwest to visit my family. Instead, she wrote me back, offering to pick me up at the airport, take me to her home for a visit, drive down to Salem the next day to view Oregon's memorial to those lost in the War on Terror, Chase's spot, my aunt and cousins in Eugene, then back to Vancouver WA where I was to stay with an old friend. This is a lot of driving, let me tell you, though a good chunk of it is through absolutely gorgeous scenery. A tentative "are you sure you want to do this?" brought back an "of course!" so that is what we did.

Despite never having met in the flesh before, we had no trouble identifying each other in baggage claim at Portland's airport. Laurie had made a sign but I never even noticed it until we had moved past greetings to the task of retrieving my suitcase. And then we started talking. We talked about my flight, about what I'd be doing after I left her, and most of all about our sons and what their loss meant to us and to our families. I could not tell you how long the trip was and I would be in deep trouble if asked to retrace my steps. We stopped at a quilt store Laurie frequents because it turns out that this is one of the many things we have in common--if we had crossed each other's paths under other circumstances we still would have ended up friends.

Laurie and her husband Mark cooked a great dinner that evening. Food is a big deal in their house (Mark is a food scientist) and fish is a bigger deal--unfortunately I am allergic to fish. They had very graciously (and deliciously) adjusted their menu for my peculiar requirements.

Despite my jet lag, we also looked at the mementos that seem to accumulate following the death of a young soldier. A common theme in all of the families I've talked with has been the desire to not create a shrine to their lost child, but on the other hand to maintain a visible spot for that child's memory. Moreover, we all have boxes and boxes (or bags) of cards and letters that we received in the weeks following our children's loss: no one can figure out what to do with them since sheer volume has precluded responding to all of them but we are not going to dispose of them either. If anyone wonders why I never wrote back, there's your answer.

The following morning, we viewed the DVD the Whithams had made of pictures and videos they had of Chase growing up. We don't have video of Thomas, just a couple of things that were done in high school, but I've been trying to put together a scrapbook of the pictures Anna used to make the three collages we displayed at his wake and funeral. It is a way to share our sons with those who never met them. I loved what the Whithams did: not only did it give me a little idea of what Chase had been like, but it also showed the healing grace inherent in storytelling.

Eventually we set out for Salem and the memorial.

I guess I'll have to continue later--this is taking a while, as does everything connected with Thomas's death.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

I've been away, visiting another Stryker mom who lost her son in Iraq as well as various relatives. My family has all been home since I got back on Tuesday night so it's been hard to find time alone to post and, since I'm expecting them back any minute, I'm not going to try right now either! Just a note here to say that I will be back to talk at length about my visit with Laurie Whitham (Chase died on May 8, 2004 in a swimming pool accident--a number of noncombat-related deaths have occurred as the result of deteriorating infrastructure and this was one of them. Iraq is a very dangerous place to be) as well as a few other thoughts when Matthew returns to school next Tuesday.

Monday, January 01, 2007

It's been odd watching the various ceremonies surrounding President Ford's death for the last few days, seeing his coffin draped in a flag loaded on to an Air Force jet to be brought to Andrews AFB and thinking that Thomas took a similar journey without the pomp and without the family in attendance as he was sent to Dover. And yet, I think that Thomas and his fellow casualties of that terrible week were treated with the same respect and reverence as this former president. It was quieter and less public but the honor was the same.

Though I think this will show up as being posted on the 1st, this is now the 3rd. I saw the last of the funeral ceremonies before interment, with flag folding and Taps and I cried, though not, I am afraid, for President Ford.