Thursday, June 14, 2007

I had started a new post last week, or maybe even longer ago, when we received word that one of Thomas's Army friends had been critically injured, apparently in a training accident. A week and a half later, he passed away. It is hard to know that. This particular boy we had met and talked with, fed several times, put up and guided around Washington. He had become our friend too. I'm not sure what has been released to the public yet so I'll stop.

I'm still thinking about December of 2004. We were still getting incredible volumes of mail though it was beginning to slow down. Richard had gone back to work after Thanksgiving, but he had decided to burn off some vacation time (he has trouble taking time off) and stay home for the rest of December and into the new year. Matthew was back in school, Maria was trying to straighten out her status with the Army. She had decided after talking with family friends who were military and others that she would take an entry level separation. My own reading was that she was not entirely happy about this but that she was wisely looking at her reactions to the situation and deciding that she needed some distance. To this day, she remains proud of her Army experience and draws upon it. She was able to come home for Christmas as part of the usual Christas Exodus from basic training--it took until late January for her separation to become effective. We were just happy to have her home.

I don't remember much about Christmas except for dithering about what to do with Thomas's stocking. I made each child a stocking as he or she approached the first (or maybe 2nd!) Christmas. We did our best to have a good time. Matthew got an MP3 player which he still enjoys but that's about what I remember.

I went back to work a couple of days after Christmas. It might seem odd to do this with everyone else at home, but I knew it would be a quiet time at the store and I'd be able to get back into the routine without upsetting too many people. It was a good time to figure out whether I could be out in public without wanting to run screaming into the night. My colleagues in the store were incredibly helpful, very willing to talk if I needed it, or move on if I needed that. The store's owner came by on the second day I think and asked how I was doing. For months whenever he saw me he would grip my forearm and ask how I was doing. That night I told him I didn't think I'd been too productive: he told me not to worry about it. A former employee came in too, a woman who had lived in Israel during the 70's. She did not know what had happened and was chatting about her new grandchild to a small group of us who were having a quiet moment. I finally could not deal with this and excused myself to eat lunch. She came into the lunchroom a few minutes later and said "I am so sorry." We talked for a few minutes about Thomas and his death and I could not muster up a smile. I really like her--we hadn't been close but she was funny and very smart (and could speak several languages very conveniently) and I had missed her when she left.

I think also during the course of those days, one of the store managers, Pat, told me that she too had lost a son. Kevin died of a form of leukemia the week that Thomas turned one year old. He is buried at Gate of Heaven cemetery too. This was the beginning of a long series of conversations about the feelings that come with losing a child, no matter the cause. Kevin was 23 when he died in the hospital at NIH after a failed bone marrow transplant. This story came up a number of times (it was not repetitious) and was the beginning of my conviction that telling our children's stories was one of the ways that we begin to heal. It is one of the reasons that I'm continuing to write, even though some days it seems pretty futile. But here we are.

Next time, I want to talk a little about Christina. And I need to talk a little about Thomas's personal effects. Not tonight.



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