Wednesday, 11 November 2009

In Remembrance

Louise, bless her heart, has invited me to blog again on Remembrance Day, the anniversary of my son Thomas’s death. I’d like to talk a little about Thomas himself this time.

My own blog is titled “We Remember” which is a phrase that pops up everywhere once you start looking for it. Most of what I have remembered has to do with the way we have handled the time since Thomas’s death on November 11, 2004. It is hard for me to believe in some ways that it has already been five years since the day he died. It either feels like this has always been our reality, or like he was just here yesterday. He himself had a very sophisticated view of time, being the kind of kid who shut himself up in his room to secretly read St. Augustine’s Confessions. He understood Augustine’s concept of eternity as being all of time at once: hard for us mere humans to encompass. But it is a comfort to me in a way to think that in some sense at least he exists just as I remember him, as a chunky baby, as a thoughtful kindergartner, as a boy growing toward manhood.

People who did not know Thomas are always astounded to hear that he told us in July before he left for Iraq exactly what he wanted done if “anything happened.” (We could not bring ourselves to even say “If you don’t come back.”) He stood in the hallway while I clutched a basket of laundry and told me that he did not want to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, that he wanted to be buried in civilian clothes, and that he had decided to pay for the higher level of life insurance available to soldiers, figuring that it was only a few dollars per month. I argued about the clothes but ultimately told him I’d do what he wanted, just don’t make me do it please. It was a gift in a way: when they came to tell us that he was gone, we knew precisely what we had to do.

And his view about time was also a gift: a few months later, his high school English teacher, Tom Tobin, was interviewed by the Washington Post as part of a series about the aftermath of soldiers’ deaths. Tom recounted a conversation in which Thomas revealed just what a remarkable kid he really was, how he had explained Augustine and eternity to his fellow students and teacher. Tom was amazed and impressed and it was the beginning of a friendship that lasted to the end of Thomas’s life.
It may be hard to believe that a kid who could contemplate his own death with equanimity and discuss St. Augustine with ease could also be described as a good soldier. But there they were: his Purple Heart, his Bronze Star, and his Good Conduct Medal all witnessing to his life as a professional soldier.

He had volunteered for his final mission, no surprise, in the end, to anyone who knew him.


Marjorie said...

Lee Ann,

Thank you so much for sharing your son with us in your post and in the way that he gave his life for us all. I am so sorry for the sacrifice that you and your family have made and continue to make, but I am also grateful for it.

--Marjorie from Connecticut

Marjorie said...

And may I add that Lee Ann's blog is here:

And that I linked to it from my Facbook account today so that others might find it.


Bev Stephans said...

What a lovely tribute to your son. May you find a lighted path in your sorrow.


Beth said...

I thank you for this tribute to your son. Reading it is the perfect, proper way for me to begin Veteran's Day. Your family has given so much already; this essay, a letter to friends and strangers, is one more gift.

xxx Beth
in Oregon

Anonymous said...

Lee Ann - Thank you for sharing your son's story with us. Today, especially, we honor his service, dedication and supreme sacrifice. It takes a very special man to volunteer and that reflects on his family. I am very sorry for your loss.
- Daisy in Arizona (writing through my own tears)

Bobbie said...

Thank you so much for this reminder, to us all, of what we owe to these good soldiers who are so much more. Sharing these words, I am sure is very hard, but also may it help you a tiny bit to know that we do care. And we do appreciate it so very much.

Civilian salute. Then a bowed head. And a heart that carries love and respect for our soldiers, always, today and every day. WE REMEMBER.


Louise Penny Author said...

Dear Lee Ann,

It is a beautiful message. Thank you. What a beautiful boy and lovely man to carry in your heart.
I remember when we met and had a chance to look at the photos you'd brought of Thomas. Always smiling, it seems. At least, in my memory. And kidding around. Such a wonderful photo too of him with his best friend. How lucky he is to have a family who celebrates him. Feels the terrible loss, but doesn't hide from it. Or him. What a glorious presence Thomas is in your life. And now, at least reflected, in ours.

Thank you for giving us Thomas, Lee Ann.

bgpringle said...

Lee Ann,

We mourn the loss of Thomas and all the fallen soldiers on this Vetrans/Remembrance Day. Thank you for sharing Thomas with us.

Bev in Mississippi

London Kate said...

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Remembering your son, Lee Ann, and all of those who know and understand the principles of honour, service and sacrifice.

London, UK

lil Gluckstern said...

I also thank you for sharing your son with us. He was a remarkable young man. My heart goes out to you, and all the other parents who mourn. We remember and honor these, our children, not only today, but every day, for the price they paid, and the gallantry they brought to our lives.

Anonymous said...

Dear Lee Ann,
I join Louise in thanking you for sharing Thomas with us. Such a courageous young man, capable of facing his own mortality calmly and lightening your burden. I sorrow for your sorrow and for the sorrow of all those who have lost loved ones. Thank you for giving added meaning to me this Remembrance Day.

donna k wisconsin said...

Dear Lee Ann,

How wonderful to be able to reflect on what a remarkable man Thomas was and how he's helped our country. I hope that eases your pain and I hope that you can feel his presence. Thank you.

Donna K Wisconsin