Tell Me Why

    “I buried him on top of the mountain with Grandpa.  The funeral was…surreal.  I remember the grass was bright green and the rhododendrons were blooming.  It was a simple graveside service…a military funeral.  They played taps and fired a twenty-one gun salute.  One young Marine carried the flag from Ethan’s casket over to me and I remember taking it out of his hands.  He had on snow-white dress gloves.  I reached out and touched his hand to thank him and for just a moment, I could see scarlet red blood dripping from his fingers.  I know it wasn’t real but it seemed so real right then.  I remember thinking…whose blood is it?  His blood?  Ethan’s blood?  Everybody’s blood that’s died in this stupid, ugly war?  I watched the blood run down the fingers of his white gloves staining them a deep, dark crimson red and then he turned with military precision and marched back to his place in line and when he turned facing me, the blood vanished…just like that…it was gone, poof!”  She snaps her finger softy.  “But I knew it wasn’t really gone.  Somebody, somewhere…had blood on their hands and it didn’t matter to me any more if they were Christians or Muslims or Americans or Iraqis or whether they were young or old…right then I realized they all bled and died the same.”  She looks at Graham and tilts her head.  “You hear that all the time, but I never really understood it, until that very moment and then it was so clear…so crystal clear.  After that, all I wanted to know was the reason why.”

    She sighs and her tone turns cynical, “I waited a long time on that answer.  I went back to work just long enough to clear my case load then I closed shop and spent the next six months searching for answers…the details of his death.  The official word from the Decedents Division was that he was killed by an IED and that’s about all I could get out of them…other than condolences…they hand those out like business cards.  I received letters from commanding officers, generals, even from the President.  All of them were filled with eloquent phrases, words of sympathy, expressions of great sorrow…but buried in the sheer magnitude and proficiency of their words was the hidden truth that they had in fact perfected a flawless closing argument.  That’s the point they were making…your child died for a good cause!”  She replies with a sneer.  “They use their condolence form letters to wage a war against you, the parent…to minimize your reactions, to destroy your equilibrium…to convince you, that you are impotent!  That’s their true objective, and they are damn good at it,” she whispers, “but they should be…they’ve had plenty of practice.”  Graham watches her close her hands into fists and then spread her fingers in surrender as she continues, “They were always polite when I called, but still, they conveyed the attitude that the paperwork was done, Ethan was buried and it was time to move on.  They didn’t seem to grasp that I didn’t feel like moving on.  I didn’t even feel like he was buried.  I hadn’t seen his body or what was left of it and I refused to stop asking questions until I found out every single detail.  It didn’t matter how small, how insignificant or how painful.  The more questions I asked and the more records I demanded, the more reticent they became.  They suggested grief counseling when what I really needed was anger management because I was truly enraged.  I had been angry at the Marine Corps, at the War, at God, at everyone including myself from the moment that I found out he was dead.”

    “I tried to be polite when people offered their condolences but phrases like, “I’m so sorry to hear of your loss” would make me bite my tongue to keep from screaming, “I didn’t loose him.  He wasn’t a set of car keys or a wallet!  My God, he was my son!”  I would get sympathy cards in the mail that read, “He’s in a better place now” and “May He Rest in Peace”.  It got to where I would just stand over the trashcan and rip them to shreds without even reading them.  I would meet people in town and they just couldn’t refrain from giving advice…Remember, God has a reason for everything.  I just couldn’t stand those conciliatory, useless remarks any more and I eventually drove every person that I cared about from my life.  I didn’t want their sympathy, their pity or their advice.  They presumed to have all the answers because they had faith.”  She states with scorn, “I wonder how strong their faith would be if their child was killed, their world was shattered, their past, present and future erased!”  

    Rylan looks into Grahams eyes, searching for the pity she can't bear but instead all she sees reflected in his eyes is sorrow and a need to understand.  She swallows and turns her gaze to the window as she softly whispers, “I stopped attending any social events because it all just seemed pointless.  People don’t know what to say to you or they say the wrong thing and it triggers something inside of you…something broken.  Even phone conversations are stilted.  People try to ignore the tension, but it’s always there… a bitterness that invades your body…your soul."  She stops for a moment and rubs her temples.  “Finally, in December I got the last of the investigative reports.  It just came in a plain brown envelope.  Ethan’s remains weighed seventy-six pounds and four ounces.  There were no pictures.  I don’t know if that was a blessing or a curse because I spent days imagining what parts of his body made up that seventy-six pounds and four ounces…could it be his torso, two legs…maybe a leg and a arm…was his head in the casket or not?”  She shakes her head and watches Graham wince at her words.  “It sounds horrible, I know, but that’s all I could think about.  I wanted to know what parts of my child I buried and what parts were scattered across some piece of shit desert in Iraq!  I spent a week going through every book in his room, looking between the pages…looking for something.  I don’t know if I thought he would have left a note behind to explain all of it to me.   To tell me why he wasn’t there…why he wasn’t ever coming home.   I was just searching…looking for that one thing that would put my heart to rest.  And all the time that I spent filling out forms and making phone calls, I kept telling myself that I had to know…but the truth is, somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought if I could find out enough that I would find out why he had to die.”  She shakes her head, “but there was no reason why he had to die, just like there’s no reason for any of them dying.  All the romantic myths about war are just that, myths.  Because war isn’t romantic…nobody gets to be the hero or the villain.  There are just survivors and corpses and the people they’ve left behind.  When I figured that out…accepted that…I was completely defeated, they had won…and without my rage, I didn’t know who I was any more.  I was just numb.”


Michele   Michele wrote
on 2/24/2009 5:51:13 PM
Excellent--how deep do we have to dig for answers before we accept? I felt the same after my brother's suicide last year-----why? how? how long before they found him? who dropped the ball? was it me? asshole missed the superbowl and Christmas! And kt6550's stages: Well they're different for everybody. Mine are uncontrollable tears--nightmarish pictures in my mind--fewer uncontrollable tears--spooky dreams---anger and blame---uncontrollable tears during songs or movies or holidays, and sprinkled throughout are my orderly expressions of grief--my poems of course. Which will always make me cry when I read them. I give up on trying to understand and accept. I have to trust that time will scar my heart and fade the worst of the memories. And screw all the lists of stages of grief, better places, apologies for my 'loss', and the wisdom of God. Untimely death is barbaric and wasteful. Period.

vwhitlock   vwhitlock wrote
on 2/14/2009 3:33:19 PM
Hi! Thanks for the input but my son's military funeral was seven guns fired three times each for a total of 21 shots - the corps may do it differently than other branches.

kt6550   kt6550 wrote
on 2/13/2009 9:22:26 PM
A good example of the Anger stage. In case you are wondering, there are seven stages of Grieving. They are: Shock or Disbelief, Denial, Bargaining, Guilt, Anger, Depression, and finally, Acceptance and Hope. The first six must be passed, and can be passed in any order, before one reaches the last. This is a superb description of Anger. Oh, and only the President gets a twenty-one gun salute. And he or she can get it while they are still alive. A typical military funeral has between three and seven guns. I know; I'm a vet. :) Peace.

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A portion of a short story that I have been working on..input appreciated.