I has been 6 years since my son lost his life in Iraq. What people may not realize is I have four children.. they all make me proud in their own ways and I love them all without exception.
On Feb. 24th 2008 my oldest son, Micheal, lost his life. And I know most people think my grief and pain is all about Micheal’s death but it’s also about the my son David and the look of shear loss and hurt on his face which haunts me. He lost his brother and best friend in one horrific moment. And my daughter Barbara whose cry of NO haunts me daily. The confusion of my son Anthony when we tried to explain why his big brother wouldn’t be coming home to take him to get an Icee was heartbreaking and still is to this day. It’s about the pain and anguish my husband lived that day and every day since.
We all miss and love Micheal. And that moment when those words were spoken, those ugly words “I regret to inform you…” Not only was a life lost but so many other lives were broken.
I rarely made promises to my children as they were growing up. I had had many promises made to me that were broken and I knew the feeling of disappointment. So I would say I would try, I will do my best, I hope, anything but I promise. So when I did made a promise to my kids they knew I would move heaven and earth to make it happen. I don’t like broken promises. I taught my kids that oaths and promises were to be honored.
Shortly before my son Micheal deployed him Instant messaged me “We are writing our wills today LOL” As a mom who knew her kids well I knew that this one act was a huge reality check for my son. If we had been speaking that LOL would have been a nervous laugh. The conversation continued with his questions of what he should do about his truck who should be his beneficiary if anything happened. What he wanted to happen with the insurance money if anything were to happen ( but it won’t Mother) To lighten the mood I told him I wanted him to promise me not to marry some gal in Iraq before I got to meet her. I didn’t have to approve but I had to meet her before he married her. He agreed and then hit me with “Mother… if something happens, It won’t but if it does, don’t be a Cindy Sheehan. Don’t behave like that.” And so I made the last promise I would ever make to my son. “I promise if anything happens to you, I will not behave badly.”
A few months after Micheal was killed I was emailing with a Sgt. in his company… “I am glad you are handling this so well” I didn’t respond to that statement till months later when I met him at Ft. Campbell. “I am not handling this well I am just not behaving badly” There is a difference.
I have tried to keep that promise. I think I have done well in keeping it. The men who served with him say I have. I will admit there are days its harder than others to not be a blubbering idiot. I admit there is anger in the death of my son but there is no one to direct it at so I put it in the back of my emotions. But in the end I made a promise to my son. I will not behave badly.
Last Friday on the way home from work a car pulled up to me at a red light waving and trying to get me to roll down my window… “What is a Gold Star Parent?” Obviously referring to my license plate. How does one answer that question at a 30 second red light?
My son was killed in action in Iraq and that made me a Gold Star Parent….but there is so much more to it than that.
It also means that now every man and woman in uniform is my family. Every veteran is my family…
It means late sleepless nights of tears and moments of being lost in the memories of him.
It means a black hole in my soul that is a daily battle to keep from being sucked into.
It means pride and sorrow…
It means hearing “sorry for your loss” for the rest of my life when I would much rather hear “Mother I’m home.”
It means I gave one of the most precious pieces of my life to this nation so please be grateful for what he gave you and live in a manner to insure it was not in vain.
Most holidays without Micheal make me kind of sad and depressed. But for some reason my memories of his last St. Patrick’s Day make me smile. I so often share about the pain of this grief I thought for a change I would share this smile…
It was about 9pm on St. Patrick’s day when I snapped a picture on my phone of my youngest and the dog sleeping together on the couch. Micheal adored his baby brother so I sent it to him. A short time later he called and left a voicemail (that I would give my right arm to have still. I saved it but when I lost that phone it was gone) Anyway the call went something like this:
“Hello Mother, (long pause) I would like to thank you (pause) for the picture (pause) of Anthony and and and the dog.”
He had obviously been trying to recall the dog we had had for 8 yrs name.
“It’s St. Patrick’s Day and I am drinking (pause) A LOT Cause I’m Irish.” Followed by giggling.
Now every St. Patrick’s Day I think of that call and know he was with friends having a wonderful silly time and I can smile because I know he experienced joy in this life with his friends.
Five years ago today they brought Micheal home to us. Standing in that hangar as they unloaded the flag draped casket he laid in was probably the worst moment of our lives. The hope of there being a mistake was gone and the full impact of his death hit us all in that moment. There is no words to describe the pain and anger of that moment. It still haunts me. The pain of it still tears at my very soul.
So today I went to work like every other day pushing to the back of my mind the memory of that moment. I sat in my car for a couple minutes before going in to put my “game face” on. So I walked in with my smile and let’s do this attitude. About half way my shift a gentleman in a “Retired Army” hat sat at one of my tables. I shook his hand and thanked him for his service as I do with all veterans I meet.
“You must be military, I only get thanked by military usually.” (sad commentary but wise man)
“No sir, I never served, I’m just an Army Mom.”
“Thank your son for me.”
” Yes Sir”
I went on to take the order and serve their food and chat with them as I do with all those I serve. But as he was leaving this man asked me if my son was home.
“They brought him home to me 5 yrs ago today sir.” I think I choked a little as I spoke the words but I smiled and wished him a nice afternoon… he took about 3 steps when my words hit him. He turned around and gave me a small half salute and nod. I smiled back, nodded and put my game face back in place.
It was not till I sat down for the evening that it has all hit me. And I am proud of myself because I did pretty well today at holding it together, all things considered.
Micheal it has been 5 yrs since you were taken from us. Every year gets a little harder because we have learned to anticipate the days that we are hardest hit by emotions and because we have marked more milestones of life that you are not here to share.
Yesterday marked 5 years since I missed your phone call and that feeling of something very bad coming began. Today I remember Conrad Alvarez, Albert Bitton and Micheal B. Matlock, Jr. We lost them 5 years ago today. They were your friends and you grieved for them but yet you were stoic and knew you had to put that grief aside till it would not affect the mission.
Tomorrow I will be at the blood drive that has become an annual event to honor and remember you. There is something very right about giving the gift of life to honor you. And Friday I will remember our finally phone call. Looking back I know now I was so blessed to have that hour talking to you. And I think we both knew something very bad was coming but neither of us would speak it out loud.
Sunday we will drink a beer to you. We will sit and remember the man you were and how many lives you touched and and still do.
I wish you were here to spoil your nephew. Oh how he would have wrapped you around his little finger is a matter of seconds. You would be so proud of the father your brother has become. I wish you were to tease your sister about dating a navy guy… even though I know you would completely approve of him and how he treats your sister. and well you would teach Anthony bad things that only an older brother can. And should. He still laughs about how you two got yelled at for running in the mall that day.
You are missed… you are loved.
Give me strength son.
People often tell me I am strong and they don’t understand how I “do it” How can I be weak when there are men like these being so strong? How can I allow the enemy to destroy my spirit if these men have not allowed theirs to be destroyed? These men are my son’s “combat brothers”. They all have one thing in common. Courage. I am damn proud to know men like those in this video. And to have at least one in this video call me “Momma Ang”. Take Luck!
Was speaking to a friend and was asked “Don’t you get any “me time”? And the truth is not really. Don’t get me wrong I love my family and the time I spend with them but there is something to be said for solitude and the balance you can find in it.
The problem is too much “me time” leads to over thinking things or walking down memory lane and that can lead to a painful place. At least for me. Not enough “me time” leads to being short in patience and distracts from the time I spend with my family. So the key is to find balance and something to fill that time with positive activities. Or am I selfish for wanting a couple hours a week or month to myself?
This is the great debate I am having with myself. I know that taking a couple hours on occasion for myself makes me less stressed and actually feel more stable. I don’t get to that dark place as often. Which is healthy not only for me but for my family. But then there is that my husband and I are currently working opposite shifts and that would mean for me to take a couple hours in the morning I am missing out on precious time with him and for me to take time in the evening I would be leaving my son alone. Which is not something I like to do.
So here I am.. writing an almost whiny blog about “me time” and knowing it is just not in the schedule. And I smile… because in the end I am grateful I have a family that needs me.