Saturday, May 24, 2008

Here we are at Memorial Day weekend already! The first part of May has been filled up with PTA activities for me, but I think that there are actually no meetings left for the school year now. Whew! Thomas always tolerated my PTA involvement though he was a little disturbed by the way I kept meeting his friends' parents at these events so I would hear things . . . I'm still hearing things, occasionally, about him or the effects of his death. However, an entire generation of high schoolers has come and gone since he graduated in 2002 and very few people I run into now know about him. Sometimes I will mention him without mentioning his death which always seems a bit weird, but then sometimes it's not relevant. If I use his name, I will usually tell people what happened. I did wear a little pin with a gold star on it (it looks like the banner we had on our door) to the Wednesday night banquet, but the print of my dress was so busy that I don't think anyone saw it. I was all set to explain though . . .

This Memorial Day has just been difficult for a number of reasons, though it's hard to say what they are. Gene's death, I suppose. A serious illness that has cropped up in my extended family. Others in my circle who have encountered health problems in the last month. And then, this year it seems like newspapers are paying more attention to the meaning of Memorial Day. Both the Washington Post and the Gazette newspapers (local weeklies) have done stories on the local fallen, including Thomas. It's been sort of like trying to decommercialize Christmas except in this case, we have the White House Commission on Remembrance campaigning to get everyone to take a moment of silence to reflect at 3:00 pm local time on Monday the 26th. They have moved the Day of Remembrance event to September this year--I'm not sure how I feel about that.

We also received a letter this week from a man who had seen our letter to the Washington Post about naming the Rockville Library "Memorial". He was also concerned that his current county of residence was resisting naming local schools for the two soldiers from there who have died: I've talked to the parents of both soldiers (one is Linda Faulstich, whose son Raymond died in August of 2004). It is incomprehensible to me that there is so much resistance to memorializing our fallen. Even "politics" seems like an inadequate answer, though it is the standard answer here in the suburbs of our nation's capital.

In any case, we will go to the cemetery, Gate of Heaven, on Monday for Mass at 10 a.m. and then visit Thomas's grave and Gene's nearby. I am growing salvia in blue and white that I will cut to put on his grave. I have a small flag I bought at Fort McHenry to leave as well. It will be crowded, as it has been every year, but the weather should be clear and lovely.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Thomas, First Communion Day, also Mother's Day, 1992

It's May 11th, 2008. It has been exactly three years and six months since the day that Thomas was killed. It's also Mother's Day here in the U.S., a sort of irony for me. Thomas made me a Mother's Day card for the last one he spent here at home with us in 2002. For some reason, he had it opening the wrong way, as if he'd taken to a Hebrew form of writing. I keep it out on my dresser as it shows a simple drawing of a tall blonde boy hugging his mother. I think: he is still hugging me, every day.

At first, I would be aware the 11th of every month. It is actually a day already full of meaning for us: our wedding anniversary is June 11 and my father died on April 11. In the last few months though I've noticed that the 11th can slip by and I won't have particularly thought about the number of months since Thomas died. Maybe this is a a sign of healing. Maybe it's a sign of a busy life. I don't think I'm ready yet to let go of active grieving but it is beginning to shift: like going from an acute disease to a chronic one. We have Memorial Day at the end of the month, that will also be a milestone of sorts. And Laurie's son Chase's fourth anniversary was on this past Thursday, May 8th. My calendar is full of days that I am going to remember for the rest of my life.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Sometime later during the summer, I think during July, we received an invitation to come to Fort Lewis at the end of October for a dedication of a Memorial that would include Thomas's name and the redeployment ceremony for his unit. This caused a certain amount of turmoil in me and in the rest of my family, though there was never any question that we would go. After Thomas died, it really seemed to me that I might never set foot in the state of Washington again. However, most of my remaining family lives there, as well as several friends who've been part of my life since junior high and high school: obviously I was going to have to get over it and go home sometime and this seemed like the moment to do it. Still, I put off doing anything about it for many weeks, as we tried to figure out who could go and how long we could stay.

A more immediate challenge was getting ourselves to Arizona. Richard's office was holding its annual meeting in Phoenix at a resort (cheap rates in Arizona in August). It seemed that we really ought to go. They were planning a day tour to the Grand Canyon, and we could stay on and do some tourist things once the conference was over. The girls could not go (Anna was working, Maria was both working and taking a class) but we could take Matthew (who was not overly-enthusiastic but didn't have much choice in the matter). I like to travel and I had always wanted to see the desert southwest--this looked like a great opportunity to get away from our somewhat overwhelming situation and see something new.

Thinking back, I was still in a state of both wanting everyone I met to know that I had lost my son in Iraq, and not wanting to be noticeable at all. I was still prone to start crying at inopportune moments, frequently while I was driving, but sometimes when I was just talking about topics I would have considered emotionally neutral if anyone had asked. Going to Phoenix meant that we would be in a place where no one outside of the conference would know what had happened unless we told them. I could practice just not saying "my son died in Iraq." Three and a half years later, I still rehearse these words in my mind, trying to figure out under what circumstances I could say them without bursting into tears, or even just trying to condition myself to say them, not casually exactly, but matter-of-factly. It hasn't happened yet, though from time to time I get close. But in Phoenix I could just let this be a private matter without inflicting it on strangers.