Monday, March 31, 2008

Death of a soldier

The other morning I happened to hear a very moving piece on National Public Radio. Chaplain Thomas Phillips gets a notification on his computer whenever someone in the US armed forces is killed in Iraq. You may listen here.

It was even more meaningful because our area very recently lost a young man. He was much loved, and will be sorely missed. The funeral today was in the local church which holds the most people. There were two floors full, and a tent outside. There were buses of military people. The governor of the state spoke. It was broadcast to military bases in the US, and in Iraq. I'm told there were a thousand people.

The other day I posted Thomas Lux' poem, It's The Little Towns I Like. Where I live, it's the little area I like. There are several small towns all within a few miles of one another, and we are all connected, through friends or family or work or shopping. This young man's death affects each of us. We all have our memories of him. Tom was his eighth grade teacher; our daughter was a friend. Even our close friends who have moved to another town are connected: their nephew is in the same company in Iraq as the man who was killed, and when they lived here, he lived across the street from them. This is the way of it in a small town, or a small area. No one is spared the grief when one of us dies. The other day I drove by two very modest houses with their flags at half-mast for him. I don't know who lives there, but I know they are affected by his death.

There is an online book of remembrance, and reading it is enough to break one's heart.

There was a religious service, followed by a military tribute. As his mother and his father were presented with the solemnly folded flag which draped his casket, I sat with my daughter's sweater hugged to my chest, and that very daughter in the row behind me. And I knew the truth. It could be any of us. As parents, our joy is held by a kite string. It can fly out of our hands in a second's time. Then it is over. All these parents have left are memories.

Seeing all those kids, his high school friends, now men and women, was so poignant. The music was not hymns, but Sarah McLachlan, Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's Over the Rainbow/What A Wonderful World, and then saddest of all, sadness heaped upon sadness, Rusted Root's Send Me On My Way. There wasn't another sound. It played so clearly throughout the building, and probably outside. Rusted Root was a huge part of all those kids' teen years.

The words in my heart today come from Ray Davies' song, Some Mother's Son:

While all the parents stand and wait
To meet their children coming home from school
Some mother's son is lying dead

They put his picture on the wall
They put flowers in the picture frame
Some mother's memory remains.


  1. Oh, Nan, how touching your comments are. Knowing how connected people are in our communities, I did assume you must have been acquainted with the soldier and his family.
    I suppose this is the reason we found flags flying at half staff this evening, when we returned to the Granite State.

  2. My heart breaks for you and your community. So sorrowful. I'm thinking of you. Much love.

  3. I would love to live in a small town. Our was small, and then everyone moved here, and now it just feels like a great big Center for Materialism and Superficiality.

    I noticed that four soldiers were killed in Iraq on Easter Sunday. I can't imagine how families sustain the pain; even when I'm reminded that Mary had to stand the death of her son.

    It's so wonderful that your town can honor his life, and that he touched so many people.

  4. Powerful and deeply moving post, Nan. My heart goes out to those parents and to you and your husband and daughter and whole community.

  5. This post is so difficult for me to respond to, but impossible for me not to respond to. I've sat in the pew, or on a chair, too many times this past fall (for other tragedies, not the war), clutching my emotions to my chest as you clutched your daughter's sweater. How heartbreaking these moments of loss are for everyone. A loss like this makes you see very clearly how interconnected we all are. I'm so sorry for everyone who knew the young man in your community. I'm sending you huge hugs of sympathy and understanding.

  6. Thank you all so much. And Aisling, I almost put this post to no comments because I didn't want anyone to feel they had to say anything. At the funeral, I saw three parents who have lost children in the past few years, one from a drug overdose and the other two in car accidents. Awful beyond words.

  7. A beautiful post, Nan. Like Aisling, I too struggle to write a comment. Such sadness for the family and friends of this young man. I know how deeply this has affected you and your family. Every single time I hear or read about a young person's death, I feel such overwhelming sadness for the parents. I know the days, months and years will be forever changed.

    I am so sorry.

    Love and hugs to you and yours.

  8. Nan - this is the first time I have read your blog. I have a son-in-law (USAF)and his wife, my daughter, stationed in Britian. He gets deployed to the war zone and our heart's beat differently during that time. What a sacrifice these young people make. We do live, no matter what our circumstance, a kite string away from such tragedy. My prayers are with this mother and father and all the mother's and father's who experience this loss. I pray that they find God's peace.

    Blessings from a mother close to Boston.

    Found you via Becca and Bella.

  9. What a touching, poignant, and thoughtful post. Thank you.



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