Wednesday, March 28, 2007

By Thanksgiving weekend, I had learned a few things about grief. One of them was that, even though this was the worst thing that had ever happened to me, my body was not going to let me succumb to sorrow. Food became appetizing again. A certain amount of wine went down easily. And I was sleeping very soundly: by 11 or so at night, I would lay down, close my eyes, and be out like a light until 7 or so the next morning. There were very few dreams, and none of Thomas during that time. Sometime during that weekend I was overcome with a desire to speak of something else, anything normal that had been important or at least fun before we lost Thomas. My friend Debbie was in New York visiting her mother: I dialed her cell phone and begged her to talk about quilting or books or anything that did not have to do with death. Debbie is capable of discoursing on any number of subjects on the least promising of occasions: I think we did end up talking about quilting (The City Quilter is a great shop in NYC, always good for at least a half hour of discussion of classes and new fabrics, not to mention the great samples on the walls) and we talked about Debbie's mom, whose health was a concern but who also was still very fun to be with in many ways. I don't remember the conversation clearly but it was immensely comforting to know that I was still capable of talking about other things.

I also learned was that I was going to need to let time pass at its own rate. Part of me really wanted it to go faster so that I could stop feeling so desolate sooner but patience was required. There were moments during the days when I felt less awful, and for now I was just going to have to live on the contrast, feeling good by comparison to how I felt ten minutes ago for example. And I learned that tears are very healing. Every time I cried I would think, this is one more step toward healing, and it would turn out to be true even if I didn't actually feel better when I stopped crying.

The weekend ended and everyone went back to their first full week of school or work. A neighbor called and encouraged me to go running with her, I think it was that week. It was the beginning of what I can see now was a time of transition.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I didn't end up going downtown on Saturday: the weather was awful and what was I going to do anyway? I did get a call Monday from a local television station asking about an interview but in the end time was too tight for them to get out to my house and what I had to say wasn't all that interesting. I did have a friendly chat with the reporter on his cell phone: he finally told me he was losing me, but I wouldn't blame him a bit if he just wanted to get this woman off the phone!

Thanksgiving was the week after the funeral. Matthew had returned to school (for three whole days) where we discovered our first glitch: apparently, the counselor in charge of his piece of the alphabet had merely sent around an e-mail with the subject line "Thomas Doerflinger" on it to inform the teachers of what had happened. One of Matthew's teachers had changed just the week before the 11th and didn't know the names well so didn't connect Matthew with this Thomas Doerflinger, and he deleted the message. And Thomas's death, equally apparently, did not merit mention in the teachers' lounge which meant that this guy never heard anything about it. So when the teacher asked Matthew why he didn't have the project assigned on November 10th done, Matthew burst into tears. Then one of his classmates, someone who had been with him since elementary school, said "His brother was killed in Iraq" and the teacher also burst into tears. It must have been quite a scene. God bless Courtney though, for speaking up. In general, Matthew's classmates were protective for the next few months, proving once again that children will rise to the occasion.

The teacher called me to apologize--I felt sorry for him, but I also felt that the school could have done a bit more to deal with this--it was not all his fault.

Thanksgiving. Maria had gone back to Ft. Leonard Wood. Anna came down with the virus that Maria had the previous week. No one felt like going to the grocery store, much less like cooking, and the whole concept of being thankful was well beyond our grasp anyway. My mother-in-law was at loose ends too so the four of us, Richard, Matthew, Edith and I, went to a local Italian restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner. I have no idea of what we ate, though I remember that it was served family style and that the place was packed. I remember that the people at the next table were talking about the war in Iraq, the first of many such incidents. I didn't exactly feel like screaming, but I couldn't wrap my mind around the idea that for everyone else, nothing had changed. They could still discuss the war as an abstraction. It was, without doubt, the worst Thanksgiving I have ever experienced.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Random things today. The days immediately following the funeral are a bit of a blur, not surprisingly, and a lot has been happening in the world at large.

It's tax season. I have been not-so-diligently using TurboTax to fill out our forms: I always worry that when I actually file, we'll be heading off to jail. Or to big fines. Or something. This stuff is opaque to me but I fill out the forms as honestly as possible. Thomas only filed taxes for two years 2002 and 2003 since he never worked in high school (you can take that a couple of ways). Actually, when we got his papers, we discovered that in fact he'd never gotten around to filing for 2003--it was all filled out, he owed a tiny bit but didn't have checks even though he had a checking account, so he never sent it in! That was my boy. We did get all of that straightened out with both the feds and the state of Maryland when we filed his 2004 return but it was the one and only time my husband has ever tried to figure out tax forms. I just couldn't face the bureaucracy. Richard is excellent at facing bureaucracy and achieving his goals. Anyway, with luck I'll be done with the whole 2006 challenge by the end of the week. It is weird to have investment earnings to report, and it's all because of Thomas's decisions to join the Army, to take the highest level of life insurance . . . I have very mixed feelings about using the money but I know that's what he wanted us to do if it ever came to it.

And in the news is the story of a peace march in Washington on Saturday. Who chooses St. Patrick's Day for a peace march? (This mystery is solved--and it was probably not a mystery to anyone but me--the war in Iraq started on March 17. You would think I would remember this.) Regardless, a counter-march in support of the troops has been planned. I have no intention of going to either one but The Washington Times did have a poignant paragraph about the mother of a fallen airman: she has been traveling across the country with military families and thinks the trip is beneficial because of "the opportunity it provides to bond with other military family members who have lost loved ones in the war. 'It's a trip I've really wanted to go on,' she said."

Why should we have to search for each other? It took me a few months to realize how important it was for the families to talk with each other and no one seems to be making an organized effort to put the families in touch. (There are organizations like TAPS which does come close and the Gold Star Mothers which you have to contact yourself.) I talk with two Maryland moms frequently, a couple of others occasionally, and e-mail Laurie in Oregon in flurries. They've been keeping me sane. Maybe I've helped keep them sane. We need each other, we can help each other, we are our own best resource. It would be really nice if the military could recognize that.

Maybe I'll have to go after all. Drat.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

I have the radio on to our local NPR station, yes, the one I was listening to the day Thomas was killed. Terry Gross is interviewing a doctor who was in the battlefield at Fallujah, saving lives there. Thomas's death occurred that week in Mosul but it would not have mattered if this man had been standing next to him when it happened--having a shot come through your helmet is likely to be fatal no matter what. But listening to this doctor, who has just described a death that he learned how to prevent a few minutes later, I am going cold. I feel as if I'm hyperventilating a bit. I wonder if the people who do these programs can (or should) understand that there may be people listening who have been directly affected by these events.

Monday, March 05, 2007

On Sunday, my brother-in-law returned home. He had taken a week off of his construction business which was both unusual and a measure of how important this had been to him. My sister decided to return home the following day. Maria needed to return to Ft. Leonard Wood, where they were beginning to think she was going AWOL. This was a serious issue which arose because we had misunderstood the length and nature of the leave she had been given. I do not remember all of the ins and outs now, but she did return during the week in time to avoid being thrown into jail. She had to decide whether to stay in the Army or take an entry level separation, and her best course of action was by no means obvious to her or anyone else. Matthew returned to school on Monday: since it was Thanksgiving week, it would only be for three days.

Maybe not so oddly, I don't remember what either Richard or I did for those three days. I do remember having to go the grocery store and dreading it. I really did not want to run into anyone who had not heard and have to break this news in the aisles of GiantFood. I did not want anyone to see my name on the bonuscard and pause while trying to remember where they'd heard it recently--a name like Doerflinger tends to stand out. I did not feel like a real person in some ways, I felt attenuated, stretched so thin I might be nearly invisible. But no one noticed any of this. The only clerk who has ever said anything to me there went to school with Anna and I think she knew Thomas slightly. She may even have been at the funeral. For the rest, everyone behaved as if nothing had happened, which I guess for them was true.