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.


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