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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I REMEMBER - writing about loss

With the recent losses of my niece, Emily, and my long-time friend, Marilyn, I'm focusing Red Pants for the World right now on the legacies of those who have gone and using writing to make meaning of these legacies.

My long-time friend, Peggy Bloczynski, is blogging today about her memories of her brother, the impact of his loss to her family and writing about that.

Do you remember when . . .

We were a typical family in the 50s – mother, father, older brother, little sister.  Dad went to work each day; mom stayed home.  We never had a lot of money, but we always had enough.  I remember little things from those years.  Long summers outside, riding bikes and playing.  My friend, Karen, and I kept a monopoly game going in her basement, a respite from the heat and humidity.  I think it was a happy time.  We were not a demonstrative family.  Love, for my parents, was in the doing.  We were cared for and valued. 

My brother, Harold, was six years older.  In those early years, the age difference mattered.  Maybe it always mattered.  Only fragments of memories come to me:   watching I Led Three Lives on the old black and white set;  playing badminton in the back yard; tattling when I saw him smoking.  We lived alongside each other.  Liked each other.  Barely knew one another.

I do.
I remember where.
I remember how.
I remember who.

By the early sixties, we had moved to the suburbs.  For the first time ever, I rode a bus to school and spent the day with kids I hadn’t known all my life.  My brother had been allowed to finish out his senior year at his high school in town.  He drove back and forth, his world very separate from mine.  I think now about the sacrifice my mom made, allowing him to take her car each day and leaving her at the house.  She did it without resentment, knowing, I think, how much greater his need was than hers.  They were bound in a way I did not understand.  I would see them talking at the kitchen table about his day, perhaps his plans and dreams.  Years later, I would see her sit with my own son in much the same way.  I saw the tenderness and love in her eye, the way she tilted her head, the softness in her voice; shadows of the child who first held her heart.

And the what - - Oh I remember the what.
It is somewhere always with me.
Some days beneath the every day;
Some days at the top.

Harold enlisted in the army after his high school graduation in 1964.  The war in Viet Nam was in its early years.  Young men were encouraged to enlist and apply for special training to avoid or delay combat assignments.  Harold was accepted in the Army Intelligence program and landed, after basic, in a training program in Texas.  It was during that time that I received the first and only gift I remember from him.  It was a gold, wind-up alarm clock.  It came, not in today’s shrink wrap, but in a sturdy box embossed with the manufacturer’s name.  A birthday gift.  I’m sure my mother had told him to send something, but that has never mattered.  I was touched and awed by his gesture.  Even now, when I take it carefully off the shelf, I know the wonder of that moment.

My mother would talk later about the car.
A stranger’s car.
Up and down the street, looking for just the right house.

We have a photograph of my brother sleeping in the backseat of the old Chevy.  He was home on leave before heading off to Viet Nam.  I must have known he was going, I must have known this was a scary thing – but all I remember of that visit is standing on the toes of his combat boots while he held me steady.  What did he think of me then?  What would he think of me now?  My mother told me much later that he sobbed the night before he left.  She comforted him, reassured him, urged him to put his trust in God. . . That memory tore at her later.  How could she have allowed him to go? 

My picture has two men coming to the door.
Very somber, very sorry.

I had never seen my father cry before.  It would be years later, as he approached his own death, that I would see him cry again.  The military had been a good option in my dad’s eyes.  A World War II veteran himself, he valued the sacrifice, honor, and service the uniform symbolized.  Like many men in those times, his role in child rearing had been limited.  As the youngest of 16 children in a poor, rural family, his relationship with his own father had been distant.  I suspect he had looked forward to knowing his adult son, the man who carried his name.  

My dad . . .
He never showed me the image he held.
Never talked about that night.

Harold’s death came early enough in the war that each dead soldier’s body was accompanied by an honor guard once it was returned to the States.  For days, our home was filled with friends, family, food, and phone calls.  My mother spent hours in bed, sedated.  My father welcomed people into our home.  I sat and watched.  People whispered about my bravery.  No tears from me.  Bad dreams, vomiting at night – but no tears.  Not then.  I did not know yet what I had lost.

My brother was dead.
Too young, too much to live for,
Too close to a war far away.

My mother refused to wear black.  She arrived at the funeral in a two-piece lime green suit, one of her favorites.  Years later, she said it was an action of faith.  She believed firmly in life after death.  She would not shroud herself, would not allow the death of this body to overtake her belief in eternity.  She never forgot, or forgave, those who criticized her in this matter.  I believe she faced a horrible loss and reached deep to find a way in which she could survive.  It was not until I had children of my own that I could begin to understand the strength and courage she must have summoned.  To bury a child . . .

The shells that took him took part of each of us.
My mother’s boy; her dear, sweet boy.
My father’s namesake, his footprint in the world.

I say, often, that my family changed then.  Especially my mother.  I say she was distant, not interested in me.  But I was 14 years old and, I suppose, not  particularly interested in her.  I had always been my daddy’s girl; Harold had always been my mother’s boy.  Where did that leave us?  My mother placed the responsibility for my brother’s death in my father’s lap.  If only he had been more supportive when my brother was young, more encouraging when he was a teen, more insistent on the safety of college instead of the obligation of the military.

Years of living with pain, beside pain
Mother’s tears.
Father’s silence.

It was easy for me to leave home for college in 1970.  Visits back brought pampering and spoiling from my mom.  I looked forward to those times.  After I married and settled in the Midwest, we established routines of visits and trips.  It was the birth of my first child, though, that allowed me to see what used-to-be.  My parents adored David.  They would coo and gaze at him.  I wondered, tried to remember – had it been like that with me?

The loss of a sibling, the shared memories.
A foothold.
No one who ‘remembers when . . .’ for me.

Questions.  Always questions.  Still questions.

This is war.
These are casualties.
Forty years gone,
But always near.

I look for lessons.  I look for reasons.  Is there only loss?  Surely, not.  I am pragmatic; I am realistic.  I survive.  I care deeply and feel deeply.  I laugh.  I am happy.

And sometimes . . . . sometimes, I cry.


About Me

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Residing Bloomington, Indiana for twenty years, my life is about all people living created lives. I am a four book contracted fiction writer, a thirty-five year graduate of the work of transformation with Landmark Education and est, and I love my life, my fantastic daughter, Rudi and my ex-husband, Keith.