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Journal Entry November 10, 2013 – It’s been almost two weeks since I’ve had the time/energy to write anything, but again tonight I feel inspired to continue – both with a memory of a past Remembrance Day on my mind, as well as a chat with family on the phone, as they share they keep bumping into folks that are reading these blogs and finding encouragement in it. Though life and tasks can seem insignificant, maybe the significance comes from the sharing of the journey – for us all to feel like we’re not alone in it – in the joy, the struggles, the pain, and the rewarding moments.
I’m not quite ready to continue the story of those immediate days of loss, but with Remembrance Day this weekend, I am reminded of the first November 11th after Brandon’s passing…and that’s what I feel I am to share…
Friday November 11, 2011 – Interesting, the date was “11-11-11”. It was almost 8 weeks after Brandon had passed away. We went to a Remembrance Day Ceremony in our community – it was chilly, rainy, solemn. We sat outside in bleachers as the cadets, officers, children, and dignitaries performed a reverent tribute to those that had fallen in the Great War and all wars since. It has always been important to me to try to instill in our kids the seriousness of this occasion, to educate them, and ensure they don’t forget. Since they were little I’d try to make sure we’d at least watch a ceremony on tv, or in person, after marching with local legion members. Some years I didn’t manage to follow through, but this year, 2011, we were there, with any family that were able to join. In my mind I really was there for the soldiers and their families, trying to realize and fathom that immense sacrifice, loss, and gift of freedom to us. We can be so frivolous, as we whine about what we don’t have, and snivel about what we’re entitled to that we “deserve” – Really??! We are human, we get caught up, we get distracted, off-track, and petty. I knew my loss was big and tragic for me and my family, but also understood that this day was about so much more tragedy than we can fathom, so was not focused on myself, I had put it in perspective going in. At some point in the program however, they read the famous excerpt from the poem “For The Fallen” – I had probably heard this poem dozens of times before, but it hit me differently that day…
They shall grow not 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.
(It was written by Laurence Binyon, who celebrated his 70th birthday on 10 August 1939, and he said of writing it: “I can’t recall the exact date beyond that it was shortly after the retreat. I was set down, out of doors, on a cliff in Polzeath, Cornwall. The stanza “They Shall Grow Not Old” was written first and dictated the rhythmical movement of the whole poem.” © Robert Laurence Binyon. All rights reserved)
In a split second after hearing the first words, “They shall grow not old”…so many thoughts went flashing through my mind. Imagining those young soldiers, so full of life, vigor, determination and seeming invincibility – as is standard for young, brave guys. In the same moment thoughts of Brandon crept in, as his life and vitality became intertwined, instantly and lovingly woven by my mind, into a tapestry with the stories and lives of the many lost. Bitter tears suddenly welled up – tears unexpected, without permission – not just for those other boys, but for my own – for all of their lives cut so very short.
It was the first time I remember being upset, in the bitter sense, and it was in that moment. I honestly hadn’t been mad, or shaken my fist at God, or been upset about it being “unfair”, so far. At that moment though, there was a bitter sadness, and that was the day I did say “why” in my mind. I remember it was when I looked over and there, way off in the crowd, was another boy his age that I recognized. In that dreadful second my mind relayed “Why? Why was it my son and not him?” If this was just a fluke type of loss, how did it happen in our home? As soon as my mind “thought it out-loud” though I was mortified and retracted with “No, I couldn’t bear it to happen to that boy either!” I couldn’t put in on anyone else – saintly or sickly, not sure which – somehow I’d rather our family bear this tragedy since we were already here. Don’t get me wrong, I had been desperate to undo this tragedy and if I could have I would have. Being so helpless with no control was part of what was so hard…there was nothing I could do to force this to be “fixed” – even if I used by most stubborn, Type A, controlling, influencing, driven abilities. However, if undoing it for us would have resulted in this fate falling on someone else, that too was unthinkable.
As soon as I realized I was asking “Why” I felt the answer…it was “Why not”. How is it that this came upon Brandon and upon us? It always happens to someone else, right? But why should it be anyone else? Why do they deserve heartache more than we do? Is life really all about getting what we “deserving” anyhow? I don’t believe it is. There are things we do that have consequences – good and bad – that stuff we pretty much deserve. Then there are things that come to us because of others’ goodness and mistakes alike – most of which we certainly don’t deserve. There are also many things that come about as indirect effects of everyone’s freedom to choose, of our world, and of our fallible humanity – I call all that Life. Life happens. Life is not “fair”, so what do we do with it? We can get so hung up on false expectations of Life, and spend too much time bemoaning our short end of the stick, and waiting for things to turn around and go our way…permanently – we’d be happy with nothing less it seems.
It was all harsh, cold reasoning maybe – my mind was in preservation mode. Logic seemed to have been one of the things that had helped save my sanity so far in the journey of those weeks. Mind over matter – I guess that is putting your mind in charge of a matter, instead of your emotions. After our son passed away, my husband and I quickly determined we must NOT allow ourselves to be tortured by entertaining those popular but cruel friends…woulda, shoulda, coulda. We knew we would have to work hard to shove those haunting thoughts out, or they would eat us alive – the misplaced guilt, the blaming, the regrets – they were all luxuries we could not afford if our family was going to survive this.
In the following few seconds of that Remembrance Day ceremony the next words rang out to me “…As we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them…” Again a flood of emotion swept over me as I thought of all “our” precious boys lost, and that bitter-sweet beauty of them being frozen in time…never aging, never growing weary, never to face any more stress or pain or disappointment…protected forever from the trouble that is Life. We would never witness them winding down with time, giving up, becoming weak, frail or being a damp blanket on others by providing an unsolicited reality check. As much as we all wanted them to live on, there was a flicker of appreciation within me that they have all been preserved forever in our memories – intact, young, strong, muscular, handsome – with a vision for their future that was stronger than their fears, a faith that they would go on and do great things, and an unstoppable drive to succeed.
That day I cried, more than the simpler tears I may have shed on past Remembrance Days. It was a mix of bitter and sweet tears that flowed in those moments, as they do now – feeling the gravity of the loss, and yet the beauty of the look in our boys’ eyes…that spark of excitement, adventure and wonder that is the essence of…endless HOPE…