Wednesday, July 30, 2008

That summer of 2005 was also when I tried to start a sort of support network for the Maryland families who had lost a military member in Iraq or Afghanistan. After the Governor's reception in April where various staff members had given us their numbers and told us to contact them if we needed them. So, I did, telling them that I was interested in forming a sort of support network for the families of the fallen, with myself as contact person (though if someone else had volunteered that a structure was already in place, I'd have gone with that). The governor's office was encouraging, and asked me to write a letter detailing what I had in mind so they could run it past the attorneys. I had to do it this way because there was no readily accessible place to get the names and addresses of the other families, and concern for privacy and sensitivity to other issues played a part too. As it turned out, there was at least one family that did not want to be contacted by anyone. My proposal was that the governor's office would pass on a letter from me to the families which would protect everyone's privacy and give folks the option or not of responding.

I wanted to do this because there was no structure in place at least within the Army, to support us (there is a program now but I'm not that impressed so far). We were on the other side of the country from Fort Lewis and its community of survivors and the men that Thomas served with were still in Iraq and not really available for discussion either. The only people who could understand what we were going through were the other families. I had saved phone numbers from the reception in April, and used them, and I did now have Laurie and the others from the StrykerNews website, but I was sure that there were others out there feeling just as isolated as we had felt. We needed each other.

I will confess now that this project ended up taking more energy than I could muster up in the end. Other groups like TAPS and Gold Star Mothers began to emerge as more important. I did receive phone calls and e-mails from about eight families of the approximately 60 at the time that had lost a servicemember. Two of the women I've talked to I've stayed in touch with ever since, Linda and Elsie, who both lost sons in 2004. A couple, we just needed to tell our stories once and that was enough, including the woman who called saying she didn't know what she was going to say and then stayed on the phone with me for an hour and a half describing her son and what happened to him. But in the end, I just didn't have the energy to make more of this project and when Governor Ehrlich lost the next election, I did not take it up with the new governor (though I hear that he has continued holding receptions).

One last result of this was that I was asked to speak at the reception in August of 2005. They called only a few days before which was fortunate (less time to agonize) and I did write a decent speech I think. Anna and Richard came with me on the day. It was hard to deliver and I got hugs from a lot of people afterwards but I was really glad I did it. The text may be lost in the shuffle from computer to computer but I will try to find it.

I think by this time I was feeling less desolate and more resigned to the loss. It was still hard but, though this may sound awful, we were getting used to it. I was just trusting that this was normal reaction--you really cannot keep up that level of pain for very long without severe consequences--and I also kept remembering that the culture of earlier centuries gave you a year for deep mourning. It became clear that there was wisdom in that, and I relaxed a bit.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

I'm going to give this its own post. It has to do with other mothers. Sometimes I feel like a magnet for other bereaved mothers. On Friday the 11th, I worked at the store and found myself helping a woman maybe ten or fifteen years older than me who wants to hang a quilt her daughter had made and needed ideas about how to do it. Several people tried to describe our favorite method but then I just said let me show you and took her to our calico department where she told me that her daughter had died which was why she wanted to hang the quilt rather than use it. Her grandson, the daughter's son, was with her and my heart broke for both of them.

And the night before, a fellow employee who lost her own son on Thomas's 3rd anniversary, talked to me a bit about how hard the 11th of any month has been since he died. I know all too well what she means.

One knew my history, the other did not, and somehow we all ended up in the same place.

Sorry, I took off wandering through our more current situation. There is still quite a bit to say about 2005, the year of consolidation, as I think of it.


Richard and Matthew and I enjoyed our trip to Arizona. I kept thinking that Thomas would have loved it--he really loved the desert landscapes we had travelled through when he was younger--but then I would think, he spent the last few weeks of his life in a country that is mostly desert and he might not have felt quite so friendly toward it if he had returned. I still loved it, despite my speculations about Thomas's possibly ambivalent attitude.

Coming back to the DC area meant rejoining something like normal life. I have already told the story of my strange evening at the fabric store. We were deciding to go to Fort Lewis for the memorial dedication ceremony at the beginning of October, though it was going to be a logistical challenge to get Anna (who was working full-time) and Maria (who was taking classes at Catholic University) out there and back with minimal disruption. Matthew was worried about flying that far after our trip to Phoenix (the flight back had been a bit bumpy and then the lady in the seat behind him had a "cardiac event" which was a trifle alarming). I was scheduled for some minor surgery in September which was going to require a little healing time, and I was also supposed to be training for the Team River Runner biathlon with Juli, described earlier in this blog. Nonetheless, it seemed important for us to go and I spent a good deal of time making the arrangements, both flight and hotel, much to the dismay of the Army which had intended to do both. In the end, I waited too long to get rooms at the hotel where some of the other families were staying near Fort Lewis, and we ended up instead with a hotel in downtown Olympia, Washington. Since I grew up there and spent my summer vacations working for the state within a few blocks of this place, I knew exactly where we were going. It was going to feel a little odd--my family has a lot of history in that town--but I had no idea of how odd it was going to get.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

This would have been Thomas's 24th birthday. He was here for his 20th, his last birthday, but I cannot find any pictures which is frustrating and sad but not all that surprising. Since this is Sunday, we will go to Mass. It will not be for him, we did not ask for this day, but we will pray for him. I would like to go to the cemetery but we have a friend coming to stay this afternoon--I'll try to go anyway.

I woke up early this morning, remembering the day that Thomas was born. He got me up early that day too. He was born at 3:15 in the afternoon, and that is also the time he died.

Just some random thoughts. I wish he was here.