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.



At January 12, 2008 at 4:09:00 PM PST , Anonymous Laurie, Chase's mom said...

Thank you Lee Ann. I am glad that it was TAPS that handled the showing. I know that a lot of people do support TAPS so they may have made up the number of people in the audience. At the Ft. Lewis TAPS seminar, maybe more than half the people were caretakers of some form, from Madigan Hospital on the base. There to glean tips on helping grieving individuals. Bonnie Carroll is the founder of TAPS, she herself a widow of a military serviceman (before Iraq 2003).
I am glad there was one angel to comfort you.


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