by Terri Winder
“Mom, I’m frightened,” my 14-year-old daughter confessed.
I tilted my head toward her. “Why are you frightened?” I asked, studying her reaction.
“Because it’s almost June 26,” she reminded me, though I needed no reminding, “and I’m afraid something bad will happen again.”
“It’s okay,” I assured her, as I opened my arms and she moved into the comfort of my embrace. “It must be a normal reaction. I’ve been feeling the same way.”
For me it started when my husband, I, and two of our sons traveled to Ft. Bragg, NC, on Memorial Day, for a ceremony honoring the Special Operation soldiers who had died during the previous year.
Because our family was not allowed to see our son’s body before his Arlington burial, I had nurtured a fantasy that he was not really dead; he was simply on a top secret mission that required an elaborate cover-up. When we went to Ft. Bragg, I imagined, we would be told the truth.
We were told the truth. Our escort- who greeted us at the airport- was a friend, as well as a member of the ten-man Special Forces team of which our son had been a part. As we spent the next several days in our escort’s company, we were able to hear details of our son’s life and death in Iraq: details that we had never heard before, details that insisted on acceptance of the inescapable truth.
We were surrounded by families who had suffered the same kind of loss we had known. We met the family of Sergeant Major Conners, the other casualty on our son’s team. I greeted his three young children, his wife, his parents. His sister expressed how easy it was to believe that he was only out in the field or on a deployment, and that he would soon return to them. It was a strange comfort to learn that her thoughts mirrored my own.
I searched the faces of others: the 21-year-old widow who held an infant son in her arms; the young children who broke away from their mothers and ran across the training field where their fathers had prepared for combat; the teen-aged boys who, in their bereavement, alternately loved and hated the images of soldiers that flashed across the projection screen. I felt like I was back at square one in the grieving process, but now I felt as though I shared that burden with many other families.
Then began a series of anniversaries: the day of our son’s last email; Father’s Day; the day of his last phone call… each day brought us closer to The Day and, like my daughter, I was feeling apprehensive. I did not want to be in the same places this year that I had been then. I wanted to run away from the haunting memories.
Though we traveled hundreds of miles to escape it, The Day came. There was no getting around it, but with it came unexpected condolences. We received a “comfortghan” from Heartmade Blessings, an organization of crocheters throughout the USA and Canada who each contributed a square to the afghan. From a soldier, another of our son’s friends currently serving in Iraq, we received a flag that had been flown over the Headquarters of the Multi-National Corps - in our honor- during Memorial Day weekend.
We received in a note from a Korean-American from San Francisco who had been passing through Utah last year, and read about our son in the newspaper. He sent a letter then; now his card told us he had not forgotten. We received a call from the soldier who had been our escort at Ft. Bragg; on behalf of our son’s team he was relaying the message that their thoughts were with us.
Also with us were family members and friends, and because of all this support – almost to my surprise – we came through the day with good memories and grateful hearts.
As I went to put the new mementos away, for the first time I looked back through the cards and keepsakes from last year. I realized that rather than dreading this time of year, I could remember and focus on the outpouring of love and patriotism our family has been privileged to experience. The war in Iraq continues, but peace now fills my heart.