Monday, March 19, 2012

Gregory Hamilton, RIP

Last Thursday, Richard and I went to a wake/visitation for Gregory Hamilton.  Gregory was a member of the Montgomery County Veterans' Commission when we started the campaign to get the Rockville Public Library renamed "Rockville Memorial Library."  He immediately took our side in this and remained a supporter to the end.  He had a local cable access program and recorded interviews (he did the interviewing) with the families who were involved to help people understand why we wanted our children and husbands memorialized this way.  When Veterans' Plaza was dedicated, he made sure that Native American vets were not forgotten:  their welfare was, I think, his primary concern. In this photo, Greg is on the far right, wearing the POW/MIA symbol.  He organized much of the ceremonial part of the dedication that day.  It was lovely.

The wake was full of his friends and family.  Members of Rolling Thunder were standing watch, while others chatted.  There was music:  a drum and flute.  The casket was open and Greg was dressed in, I think, deerskin and moccasins.  The lining was patterned after Native American blankets.  It was beautiful.  His wife was seated in front, greeting those who had come to pay their respects--I found myself crying even though I hadn't known him very well.  All I can say is that I found him a joyous and welcoming presence every time we met.

As Richard and I left, we ran into two of the other Commission members who had supported the library name change, who reminded us that Greg had been a Vietnam vet:  the funeral home is next door to Our Lady of Vietnam Catholic church.  They also asked if coming to the wake was difficult because of Thomas.  The answer is no:  this reminded me more of other Vietnam vets that I know and left me a little sad for them. has many more pictures of the Veterans Plaza dedication.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Better or Worse?

Last fall, a young woman I know was facing a very bleak prenatal diagnosis for her son and she wrote to me ask for my thoughts on facing a loss:  would it have been easier if he'd been a baby? for instance, a question she acknowledged might be terribly insensitive but which I thought was appropriate under the circumstances.  Below is what I wrote back to her in part. (Challenges remain, but the baby is doing much better than anticipated.)

And OK, even with the pain of losing Thomas was it worth it to have him with us? Oh yes, oh yes. We are the richer for having had him in our lives, even though it was cut short. I'll go further and tell you that even with all of the pain, his death also has brought us some blessings we would never have looked for or missed if we hadn't had them but which we can recognize now. I will also say that of all of my children, he was the one who felt most like he was "on loan" to us: he had the most health problems as a kid (repeated ear infections with high fevers, and then anemia that they were never able to explain--one of my cousins died of leukemia which left the rest of us always wary of these things), and then a depression at age 11 that left us sleeping with our door open . . . but he recovered from all of this for a reason. And I must say, that just having had those experiences, I was grateful for every day we had him (even when I wanted to throttle him for failing to do his homework!).

Good memories do help but they don't balance out anything or erase the pain. Losing an infant is a different grief I think. There you grieve a future lost--with a young adult, he had already done a lot of things, made his personal mark on the world. I don't know that it would hurt worse, just differently.

One last thing: when I finally connected with another Gold Star Mother about six months after Thomas's death, both of us acknowledged one thing that made it bearable: with his death, the anxiety I'd felt for him disappeared. We'd both worried about our sons and now they were safe in the arms of our loving God.