Wednesday, January 23, 2008

It has been interesting to see who has read my previous entry. Of course, I can't really tell who they are, but I can see where some people came from--and a lot of them came from a John Cusack fan site. I hope that they found what I had to say interesting and I am glad they found there way over here.

Here in the depths of January, it is kind of funny to be thinking about the spring of 2005, which was warm and sunny in my memory. The sun is shining today, but it's only about 40 degrees here and we are expecting snow tomorrow. The library saga has moved on: the county executive has made a definite decision to not name it for his predecessor, but he has not made a definite decision to name it anything else either. We've written a letter to the editor of the Washington Post, which carried the story: they've contacted us to verify its authenticity so it may be printed by the end of the week which means I can't put it here! [The letter has appeared in this morning's Washington Post (1/24/08), under the opinions tab--I find their site a little balky but apparently I can't just put a link here]

But that spring: Matthew had been going to school- 7th grade, and, as far as I could tell, the kids had been treating him very gently. Sometime in that spring, one boy started lobbing food at him in the cafeteria and Matthew threw it back. No adults saw this incident (that place was chaos at the best of times) but I took it as a sign that his fellow students were beginning to feel that Matthew was all right, healed enough to be teased a little. It never escalated, and the kid never bothered Matthew again: it just seemed that the other kids had put him back into the normal population, which was an excellent place to be.

As a result of Governor Ehrlich's reception, I realized that our isolation from the other families in Maryland had been a serious problem for us. Some of the other families had met because their sons were Marines (who seemed to be able to band together better), and some of course are buried near each other Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery. Those families have formed a community in the last year or so, but in 2005 that was still in the future. Since the Governor's staff had all offered any help they could give, I began to toy with the idea of asking whether they would help me contact the other families to form some sort of support group or network. This remained an idea-only for the next couple of months until I worked up the courage to call.

A couple of days after the reception, we had received a letter from Thomas's first sergeant, Michael Bordelon. It was a great letter, reassuring us that Thomas had not been forgotten, and giving us a few details about the action Thomas had seen during his time in Mosul. Richard began composing a reply. However, on the evening of May 10, I read the StrykerNews website and found that Michael had died as the result of injuries received on April 23rd. We were heartbroken. I posted a comment about the letter and the kind of man he was: it was picked up by one of the Washington (state) papers, which pleased me a lot (they pulled up a little information about Thomas to frame the quote). And, it resulted in an invitation to post on the Stryker forum (I could have joined earlier if I'd just realized but this was not a highly alert moment in my life). There I met Laurie Whitham, whose son Chase was lost in May of 2004. Laurie called me: we connected over our sons, but also over quilting and other things we had in common. Sometimes I think our sons in heaven must have conspired to bring us together. As far as I know, Thomas and Chase never met on this earth but in eternity, who knows?

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

We saw "Grace is Gone" last night. This event was hosted by TAPS and held at the National Press Club in their ballroom on the 13th floor (very rational of them to have a 13th floor!). When I tried to sign up for tickets on Monday morning, they informed me that we would have to go on a waiting list! All that agony for nothing probably, I thought, but by the afternoon we had gotten tickets. So, trying to brace myself for the event. I planned out what I would wear (mostly black which is definitely not my color but is hard to fault in this context). Planning our route downtown (North Capitol to Union Station to park, Metro to Metro Center, walk one block). Eating a light dinner first as this event did not involve a meal. You pay attention to this kind of detail when you are about to do something you think may be difficult. And then, actually doing it.

It was quite crowded and I did not see anyone that I knew. The reception had a lot of people talking to each other, everyone was wearing name tags, but except for the lady carrying dog tags, it was hard to know whether anyone else was a survivor or if all of these people were just there to give money to TAPS (I don't believe this was primarily a fund-raiser however). It was clarified a bit when the program started. Bonnie Caroll (spelling?), founder of TAPS, asked the survivors present to stand up. There were fewer than you might have expected and none of us were sitting in the front half of the room. Richard and I were in the foremost row that contained survivors--it was not just us--but this was certainly not planned. Anyway, it made it difficult for me to see anyone else as they were mostly behind us. Standing there made me sad, is the only way to put this. Then we sat down and heard the story of how this movie came to be the way it is--a widower with four children whose military wife had died of an illness and how he had handled this. He was a humorous speaker and I appreciated his story and, maybe more importantly, I appreciated his need to tell his story. He had ended up telling it to John Cusack over the phone over a period of several days, as Mr. Cusack tried to figure out how it would be to have lost your wife and still have children to raise. It was very moving. And, as someone who has also felt the need to tell anyone who will listen, I understood why he was telling us again the story of his wife's last days and the days that followed.

Then they showed a short film about the work of TAPS (some faces were familiar there) and then "Grace is Gone."

When Stanley opens the door to two men in uniform who say "May we come in?" : that is a true moment. He knows that Grace is gone, right there. They could go away and he'd still know. He won't let them in initially, he makes them tell him on the front porch, and then they come in. The last thing you see them doing is saying that the Casualty Assistance Officer will be by later in the afternoon with papers. The movie does not cover the next few hours (which in our experience involved gathering friends and informing everyone who we could think of). This portrayed an oddly lonely event and a lot was unexplained, but maybe it was just less complicated to do it that way. Or maybe it reflects someone else's experience, I don't know.

Time moves on, Stanley takes his girls on a trip without telling them about their mother. About half way through the movie, Stanley curls up and sobs when he's finally managed to make sure that everyone is out of his mother's house where he has paused on this trip. That is a true moment. His daughter's faces when he finally tells them: that is a true moment.

It was pretty draining and then we had to get back on the elevator to go home. With all of those people on the 13th floor, we all funneled down the hallway (fortunately wide) toward those doors, talking a bit about what we had seen. I don't know what I said to Richard, a woman standing next to me said "Did you lose someone?" and I said "Yes, my son was killed in Iraq in November of 2004" and at that point I burst into tears. She was very kind, she just held me against her shoulder (she was about 8 inches taller than I) and let me sob. I didn't cry for very long but managed to pull myself together enough to answer her questions (What was his name, where are you from?) and ask a couple of my own (what are you here this evening?). They were friends of one of the speakers (I think he may be a board member of TAPS, but they didn't give us a written program). As Richard and I got on the elevator, leaving this nice woman behind, she whispered "Love you". The doors closed.

So, a lot to digest. Still figuring it out, but I'm glad in the end that we went. John Cusack really is a remarkable actor, the two girls who played his daughters were incredible, and it may be that people who haven't thought much about the families left behind will gain some understanding about how it is when a loved one is killed in a war.


Thursday, January 03, 2008

I notice that I tend to repeat myself occasionally, especially events that were packed with meaning for me. It may be that I'm trying for the Rashomon effect (getting seven different points of view on the same situation)--I just don't want to overlook any detail that could possibly be important. And, maybe more relevantly, I tend to not read back over what I've written before! I really should go back to read the beginning because I think that I've come a long, long way since I started this blog.

One thing that is going on currently however is the release of the movie "Grace is Gone" ( We've received notice by e-mail that the families of the fallen are invited to a reception and screening at the National Press Club downtown next week: I wouldn't mind going to the reception but every time I think about seeing the movie I burst into tears. [I just watched the trailer when I looked for the URL--I can't watch this movie in public, I can't even watch the trailer in my own kitchen. Which I guess means that it has a good chance of authenticity.] The producers seem to have consulted with a surviving family in making this and the e-mail came by way of TAPS ( I don't know what to do.

In April of 2005, it became apparent that we were going to need another car. Maria was home and commuting to classes at regular intervals, Richard was back at work, and I had to take my mother-in-law Edith around (she had stopped driving several months earlier) to the store and the doctors and of course the shopping. We had enough money to do this easily: I had remembered several months after Thomas's death that Richard and I actually had codicils on our own life insurance policies that would pay about $3,000 apiece upon the death of one of our children. It was meant for burial but, that having been taken care of by the Army, I put the money on a used Jetta instead. It got great mileage but I'm afraid I was the only one who sort of liked it in the end (too low for my mother-in-law to get in and out easily, the doors were heavy, and I kept scraping the front bumper on the little parking barriers). Alas, like a pair of shoes that you gradually realize you should have not bought, I came to realize over the next year and a half that this car was Too Small and would have to go. That April, however, I was just relieved to have wheels I wouldn't have to fight over!

I have talked before about Governor Ehrlich's private reception for the families of the fallen. It was held April 20th in Annapolis, a beautiful spring day. We took Edith, which brought us to six people, a good representation we thought. Some families had only two there, one of them had enough to fill a couple of rows of chairs (their loss was only about six weeks earlier and I was just amazed that they had been able to get there at all). We have a picture of that day which I'm afraid makes us all look so solemn--it really was not that good a picture of anyone. As I think I said earlier, it was just such a relief to meet the other families, including the three other families who'd lost their sons the same week as Thomas, the whole thing was worth it. We did exchange contact information with those families and with the Faulstitch family (Raymond had been killed in August of 2004). Somewhere I have my program from that day with several phone numbers written down.

Again, I thank Governor Ehrlich for hosting those receptions, and for supporting the families. I asked a favor a few months later and his office and staff bent over backwards to help--but I think more on that will appear later.

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