Sunday, November 25, 2007

We met Julie's friend Chris last night. Chris was in Iraq at the same time Thomas was: though he was not in Mosul when Thomas was killed, he had spent a short time there a couple of months earlier, and was in what is generally described by the press as the northern part of Iraq when it happened. As an Army nurse, he knew the people who would have taken care of my son and, I expect, those who would have pronounced him dead. It was perhaps a private sort of visit, and I won't share too much of it here, but I believe it was healing for all of us.


April was a turning point for us. We received an invitation to a private reception held by the governor of Maryland, Robert Ehrlich, at the State House in Annapolis. It took us several weeks to decide that we would go but, on April 20th, we gathered ourselves up, Richard, Anna, Maria, Matthew, Richard's mom, and I and went to the reception. It was not on the governor's public schedule, there was no press. There were a couple of speakers, including the man who had the original idea for these receptions which he had shared with the governors of all 50 states and the territories--when I asked him if he had contacted the governor of American Samoa he said no because he thought they had not had any casualties. But I knew that two Samoan men from Thomas's Stryker brigade had been killed by then--and when I told him that, he resolved to contact their governor too.

The most important part of that reception though was that the families finally met each other. Up to that point, we had met no other families of the fallen and had felt very isolated. Now, we met the families of the other three men who had been killed the week we lost Thomas, we met families who had lost their sons or husbands during the previous six months (these receptions were held about ever six months during Gov. Ehrlich's term). We exchanged phone numbers and e-mails, we cried together, we talked about how it had been and how it was. It was an amazing relief and I will be grateful to Gov. Ehrlich for the rest of my days for having made this possible.

Several days after the reception, we received a letter from Thomas's First Sergeant, Michael Bordelon. The letter talked about patrolling Mosul while mortars fell around them, with Thomas responding "Roger that, first sergeant" in response to a remark Bordelon had made. We had to laugh--the thought of Thomas ever saying "Roger that" seriously was just too funny. Michael assured us that Thomas would never be forgotten, especially on Memorial Day which was coming up in a month. Sadly, Michael himself was gone before we got to Memorial Day.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

We passed the third anniversary last Sunday. It's Saturday now--you'd think I would have found time to write, but it's been a rather fragmented week for me and it's been hard to settle down. There's a quiet moment now so I'm taking advantage of it!

Sunday was actually a beautiful day. Richard, my mother-in-law and I had already planned to go to the cemetery before church, and in the event were joined by Pat D (who has known us since 1978 and accompanied us when we saw Thomas's body for the first time) and her cousin Sophie. When we arrived, we found a bouquet of reddish-orange miniature carnations already in the vase, complete with water. They were still bound together with rubber bands so we concluded that this perhaps had been the gift of a young man, and took them apart to add them to the bouquet we brought. They fit in beautifully. We stood and prayed for a few minutes, I took the two pictures here with my cell phone, and then went on to church.
The 10:30 Mass in the hall was for Thomas and Richard asked the priest celebrating to note that I think, in addition to the mention during the Prayers of the Faithful. In any event, Fr. D'Souza did start by acknowledging the anniversary and pointing us out in the congregation: a tricky moment, but it did help strangers make sense of what he was saying. We are highly visible every Sunday because my brother-in-law is in a wheelchair and we sit in the front of the room. The Old Testament reading was from Maccabees and related the story of seven brothers who die for their principles in front of their mother, and then she dies too. I think this was the reading three years ago too . . . The singing group finished with "Soon and Very Soon" which I still find impossible to sing without tears, though I did manage this time to stop crying long enough to get through a couple of verses.
There are two Masses at 10:30 in our parish. The one in the sanctuary was celebrated by Msgr Jordan who had announced Thomas's death at Mass three years ago. I saw him before we started and reminded him of that--he's not resident in the parish so I don't see him often--he was actually very comforting as we stood there in the hallway.
So much of the quality of our survival has depended on the people who surround us. Many people had remembered Thomas and sat near us in church, some of my internet friends had come, friends who had known us forever it seemed came or called or wrote. After church, we asked whoever was in range to come over to our house for a light lunch, and many did. It was bittersweet I guess--I loved having them there but the reason for having them there was always there, underlying the conversations. But, it was good.
Thomas's siblings handled the day each in their own way: Anna came to lunch, Matthew tried to go skateboarding and then realized he really did not want to be around people after all (and stayed home from school the next day for the same reason), Maria called to tell me that she was desperate to be around people, maybe because she had been alone when she heard about Thomas. They are all so different.


Saturday, November 10, 2007

I'm just going to paste in the letter I wrote to our county executive this week re the naming of the library:

The Honorable Isiah Leggett
County Executive
Montgomery County Maryland

Dear Mr. Leggett:

As we approach Veterans’ Day of 2007, the issue of the naming of the Rockville public library remains unresolved.

Communities all over the world honor their dead in monuments and plaques devoted specifically to particular wars. The global war on terror, sadly, is likely to last for a very long time; we here in Montgomery County may suffer more losses as this conflict continues. By naming the library “Memorial” we would be able to acknowledge those deaths, remembering the loved ones already lost as well as those to come.

This Veteran’s Day will be the third anniversary of our son Thomas’s death in combat in Mosul, Iraq. He loved reading and books, and planned to become an English teacher when he got out of the Army. He was very modest and reserved, but we think that he would have liked knowing that his name would be associated with a memorial of this type. We can think of no more appropriate day to announce the name “Rockville Memorial Library” than Veterans’ Day. We hope you will consider resolving the issue the library’s name by announcing this decision on that day.


Richard and Lee Ann DoerflingerParents of Army SPC Thomas K. Doerflinger, KIA 11/11/2004, Mosul, Iraq

Cc: Irwin Cohen
[another Gold Star family]


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

I'm trying to remember February of 2005. A number of things came up: my mother-in-law needed to change residences and I found a place a couple of miles from us for her, there was a Mardi Gras party, there was the feeling that I was losing count. One of the things I did (that I found out from one of those books that people gave us was not that unusual): I had been counting the weeks since Thomas died. Sometime in February, I let it go. Initially of course it had been hours, then days, then once I got past the first two weeks, it went to just weeks. Now I count months, not fanatically. On Sunday it will be three years.

I just don't remember much. Maria was home, going to Montgomery College. Anna was home, still working. Matthew was in school, I was trying to run the PTA (not well, I'm afraid though after the January meeting, several members came up to me to tell me how much better I looked in January than I had in December). I was finding that most conversations circled back to Thomas and his story.

Well, maybe more will come back to me. Let's move on to March which is also kind of a blur. We moved my mother-in-law to the apartment near us. I turned 50, Richard turned 52 but I don't remember doing much of anything special. I was beginning to feel less like I was in shock every day and more like a functioning human being. Except that I would cry pretty often when I got in the car. I'd be driving down the road near our house, sobbing, not the safest practice because that road is actually a killer even under the best of conditions. Crying is not the best of conditions.

One thing we did in March was to establish legally that Richard and I were in charge of Thomas's estate, which was actually more substantial than you might think since he never bought a car and apparently only spent money on clothes, the television, and maybe some video games. He must have eaten too. Maybe not enough. So he had about $11,000 in his bank account. This had involved going to the Clerk of the Court in Montgomery County, putting a notice in the Burtonsville Gazette, and it seems to me a few other hoops. Anyway, this was basically a formality, just one more thing to get out of the way. We took my mother-in-law on this trip for some reason, I think because the Social Security Office she needed was also in Rockville, near the Courthouse. She was a little overwhelmed by the security she had to go through at the front door of the Courthouse.

Recounting this, it all seems pretty surreal. You are trying to adjust to a life that will never include Thomas as a physical presence, and at the same time you are trying to tie up the loose ends of his life on earth. I miss him.

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

This is just a pause. Thomas's anniversary is a week from tomorrow and our parish in Silver Spring, Maryland has a Mass for his intention (his name will be in the prayers of the Faithful, is all) that day. We are having a little lunch afterwards--if anyone who reads this is interested in coming, please e-mail me at for the details.

Lee Ann
Thomas's mom