Friday, March 28, 2008

Gene, Thomas at age 14, Bishop Lori and Fr. Kazista at Thomas's Confirmation, 1998

My brother-in-law Eugene died last Saturday night, Holy Saturday. Eugene was injured in a car accident in March of 1967 and spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair, functionally quadriplegic and with short-term memory problems and other cognitive issues. But he could think, he could respond in church, he knew the words to all of the songs we used. He just never understood the significance of September 11th because the World Trade Center was finished several years after his accident: it was not part of his life or memories. He did, however, understand when Thomas was killed. At the funeral, he turned his wheelchair so that he could see the casket (he could not really turn his head by then). It deeply affected him for a week or so, and then we never mentioned it again. This may seem odd for someone like me who is adamant that her child not be forgotten, but Gene's state of mind was so fragile that I could not make him revisit that grief. Thomas had helped bring Gene to church on Sundays, and had asked Gene to be his Confirmation sponsor and I think that his death may have been the beginning of Gene's decline.

Gene's grave is only a few feet from Thomas's.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Today is the 5th anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq. I do remember watching the television, seeing Baghdad before the bombing started, talk of shock and awe, and then--it began. I remember the first casualty, a Marine helicopter pilot named Jay Aubin (I saw his name this past year on the electronic crawl at the Day of Remembrance and thought of this). Tom Brokaw and three other men, military experts, interviewed CPT Auboin's mother by phone a day or two later. I saw this entirely by accident, it was on in the middle of the day and I had turned on the TV just to check on things (knowing by then that Thomas would probably be going to Iraq). Listening to that very brave woman, watching three of those men choke up to the point of not being able to continue the interview because she asked them to remember that there were real people behind the new technologies, I remember praying that I would be that brave if ever I were in that position. Not sure I got there, but I tried.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

There have been some news stories in the last day or two saying that people are beginning forget that we are in Iraq, that nearly 4,000 servicemembers have lost their lives there. I would be completely flattened by this, but I know it's not universally true. Matthew's high school (which was also Maria's) has a Social Justice Club which is organizing a drive to send personal items to soldiers in northern Iraq. I don't know why they chose this particular location, or what brought this up at this time, but I am glad. Matthew has agreed to drop our donated items off in the main office in the morning. I took a little trip to Target (known as Tarzhay) this morning and we have about three bags to send along. I actually picked normal sizes of things like shampoo and toothpaste because the travel sizes run out so quickly and the truth is, if they are in the Army, they are going to be there for a year. Or maybe a bit more.

I felt a little shaky buying these things. Luckily, no one asked what I was doing, or I probably would have ended up crying, right there. The tears do seem to be right beneath the surface lately. Oh well. I've been looking more on the internet for references to him--interestingly, there are a couple of Thomas Doerflingers who get thousands of mentions in Google. I have skipped over the stories about the economist and others. Anyway, we'll send the items along and hope that they do some good.

The Chaldean Catholic bishop in Mosul was murdered--his body was found today. Martyred for his beliefs, he may one day be added to the calendar of saints I imagine . . .

Sunday, March 09, 2008

There's a story on the internet tonight about moving the staircase that survivors of the World Trade Center used to escape on 9/11. The original plan had been to tear it down to make way for new construction, just preserving a couple of slabs, but fortunately wiser heads prevailed and the staircase was moved out of the way by just a couple of hundred feet. The trick is to figure out what needs to be saved for posterity. I think we still don't know exactly what the lessons of 9/11 will be--right now I think we need to save everything until we understand what happened and why (not just the terrorism aspect but the reaction to the immediate event). Ultimately, much of the debris may just be debris but it's too soon to make that determination.

On a smaller scale, that is what I am doing with Thomas's things, and the letters and other memorabilia that people send us. I don't want to throw away anything that may tell us a little bit more about what happened the day he died or his life up to that point, or what people thought about him. We've been trying to store these things in an orderly fashion but in a houseful of people who apparently are suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder, this has been a challenge. Actually, I think it's been a challenge that Thomas himself would have understood. He didn't really throw things away, but he didn't put them away either. His bedroom floor served as a chest of drawers for his clean clothes (he had an actual chest of drawers but declined to use it much). He did save things though, random as his system might have been. That is why we found a shoebox in the basement with his ticket stub from "We Were Soldiers" (which he saw in May before he left for basic training) and other random souvenirs after he died. Certainly that was for us an enlightening discovery, and one we would not fully have understood any earlier.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Three unknown strangers to the left, then me, Paul, the Statue of Liberty, Rick, Anne is seated in front.
I seem to have lost my 2005 calendar so this is all recollection at this point. Some of it is engraved on my brain, some of it seems to have just slipped away. I need to speed up the writing before more of it goes!

When I found this picture, I saw the rest of the album which had included a visit in mid-June from my old college roommate Suzanne and her son Nate. We were able to meet for a good part of one day while they were on their way to meet the rest of her family in New Jersey maybe (her older son Jesse was at school in Massachusetts, so it may have been further north!). Sue had asked to visit Thomas's grave so I picked her up from the Metro I believe, which is just a couple of miles south of the cemetery and we drove up Georgia Avenue to Gate of Heaven. She said a prayer and paused for a few minutes to just spend a little time. Sue and her boys had seen Thomas just before he left for basic training so this grave was not an abstraction, but the resting place of someone she had known a little when he was an adult.

In June, Anne decided to return to the east coast for a vacation with her husband and her son Paul (who is a year older than Matthew). The plan was for me to join them with Matthew in New York City, though in the end Matthew felt too shy to go, and then have Anne and Paul come here for a few days. I felt a bit odd and adventurous getting on the train by myself and heading for Penn Station on a summer day, but found the hotel with no problem (it really is hard for me to navigate in strange places but the grid system of NYC is a great help to the directionally dyslexic).

We did a lot of walking around and touring and all was pretty well until we did a harbor tour past the Statue of Liberty and looking back at the oddly bereft skyline. One of the guides talked about the firehouse that had suffered the greatest losses on 9/11 and their little gift shop--I think to support the surviving families but I wasn't taking notes--and I burst into tears. Poor Anne just wrapped her arm around my shoulders and let me weep until I stopped. Something about being aware of the timeline and sequence of events from September 11, 2001 to November 11, 2004 overwhelmed me for those few moments.

But this may be one of the first times that I remember noticing that, once I had stopped crying, the episode was over and I could go on with the rest of the day not as if nothing had happened, but just not weighed down by that storm of grief. I've started thinking of it like rain bands surrounding hurricanes--they sweep in and they sweep out, leaving puddles but not always lingering floods.

No one seemed to have noticed me crying.

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