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.