I thought I would share the way it can be....in the military sense...
Following the death of our son, an army recruit, the defence force sent to us, a social worker, employed by them through through the defence force community organisation, as well as her sidekick, an administrative army officer (who shall be known henceforth as the handsome J****) Together, they were a weird but wonderful team, there to support us amidst the devastation and to guide us through the necessary paperwork. They so very gently alerted us to the letters we would receive, well, the whole unfolding of the process...anticipating every possible sensitivity we may have to the many aspects of what we needed to do - organise, read, sign, plan etc.
We received a phone call a day before very meeting...." confirming' - 'Does this time still suit you?' and then before the meeting - 'Just letting you know that we will arrive in 1o minutes - is this ok?' On meeting the social worker, a conservatively dressed woman, whose clothes did not fit her personality ( I suspect she investigated and found out we were Catholic...obviously unaware we were the partying variety), I barely heard her words...in my mind, I was chanting, 'This is my sister, this is my sister' - looks, warmth, expression, soul. My sister passed away a month before our son. When I asked her name (remember, I did not hear words at our introduction)....it was my sister's name...not a common female name. I was kind of in love and all wobbly.
This lovely woman knew to speak slowly, rephrase, draw back, allow what had to be allowed, move on and so on....one of those souls who could see space and non-space. I still remember her gently framing the title 'suicide bereaved' as I struggled to name who we were now...and who others like us were....and I remember exactly that second the ownership of this cloak was plucked and accepted by me. I am glad I was with her at this point - she saw the dawning and knew to let it be in silence for as long as it took.
As she met with us on numerous occasions in the next few weeks, with J**** (flutter flutter), the funeral directors (non- flutter-flutter), her clothes began to appear more and more, um, hippie. I remember the day I asked if I could touch her velvet full length skirt! Lace shirt, whacky crocheted hat, laced boots etc...my sister and I rejoiced in her coming out! What the f*** was a hippie doing in the army?
The handsome J***** became a teasing distraction for my sister and I. Very army, very easily embarrassed, a good stick, a noble gent and a kind man - frankly, my sister and I harassed that poor man and I felt a cad later. Teasing him about his pyjamas (uniform)...but also hearing with our hearts of his partner and lovely young son... and plans for their future, as our conversation became natural. *The 'handsome' jokes between my sister and I were a little stress relief (both happily married and older...we are).
Well, the social worker approached us with the offer by the defence force to bring 7 of our recruitment mates 1000 miles to us, to meet us, and, for his funeral. She gently suggested what may be possible (the works, folks)...and tactfully drew a plan. Prior to their arrival, she sent us an email, letting us know the names of these lads, their relationship to our son, their status (father of one, from such and such), right down to details of where they slept in relation to each other at the base...also details of their accompanying, officer, chaplain, the base commander.
Well, the letters started. The Chief of Defence Force, the Commander of my son's army base....on and on, handwritten and signed....you cannot underestimate the affect of a handwritten letter....well, for my husband especially, who sobbed...maybe some kind of male-world thing...the thing that touches him. I experienced a kind of dual world at that point....they were just people to me (still are, I guess).
The Commander of my son's army base (where he was awaiting deployment for 2 weeks after transferring from his recruitment training base), spoke to both my husband and I on two occasions after our son died. All I did was receive this man's regret and concern for us and his son's fellow recruits...rarely do i encounter such balance in a person...all the time we spoke, my head was saying 'this man is not army - he doesn't belong'. He was kind and completely cognisant of our space...a very young and yet old soul...how those two co-exist peacefully (!) in army-land, I do not know. As I said, I am ignorant of the armed service life.
This man spoke to us at length. he offered to have us come and stay at the army base in catered accommodation, show us our son's space there, walk around the grounds...a place to resolve, really. I wrote back to him to thank him for his kind offer...I couldn't see us doing that in the near future. My husband is not a man of many words, but he spoke at length to this man - not a moment of hesitation to express himself...it was lovely to see my husband rise and rise to this soul...there have been few since then. I do not recall the words spoken by my husband...but I do recall an eloquence and peace.
Fast forward to the lads arriving. They could have flown them up, but instead,purposely, made it a minibus journey....time for them to spend with the Chaplain....time for reflection and anticipation, shared outside of the base. We managed (!) to provide a blank card with our son's photo on the front, and his note of farewell to them inside. They arrived, all crisp and incredibly nervous...really uptight. We had enough chairs set out on the verandah...and then it began. Presentation of the flag in a glass case (somewhere in a cupboard now...to be unfurled next time we win the American Cup, AGAIN). A bit of heel clicking (I'm soooo ignorant of army stuff) and then we were left to be together....a cup of tea...and can you believe that we actually had friends standing at the gate to turn away friends dropping in....to protect this sacred meeting (!) - social worker's suggestion (and needed as it turned out).
The Chaplain started the proceedings with a few words that grew into some hilarious recollections of recruit shenanigans. Every situation like this grows an initiator - this was me. You have never seen such desperate grabbing at those cards....the search - what for? Their name? An answer? Something that is part of them? Sigh.... I understand them now....I was ll 'me' then.
I kept looking at those boys sitting in an arc around me.....shaking, crying, stoic, blank...and all the things that can exist in-between...and I thought - these lads are going to war....one day they are going to war. ...children.
Anyway, one of he more decorated gents (so so bad with what colourful badges mean, sorry) brought a case of beer in, set it down in silent ceremony on the verandah, and the lads relaxed. We effectively lay down the bed of grief together, for the next day... our son's funeral.
Well, you know that space...the walk...up the aisle...weird. Some may lower their eyes, and that's what must be. But not me. It was really really slow...when I came to those lads....sitting alongside each other 'respectfully' back in the pews, something happened within me. I clasped my hands in prayer before my face and bowed to them....long and deep...not for my son, but for those boys. Deep, deep, a timeless pause. They were transfixed...and one lad struggled across the others, a yearning that could not be thwarted by a convention....or... and gave me a hug. That boy burns in my memory.
Well, the boys lined up for the procession of the hearse...and you now how your mind goes all over the place....I forgot them. If I could do one thing over, I would have shaken each hand and hugged them. But I was awash in ....awash stuff.
They came to the wake...I loved it....I loved my son's wake...and when they left, my son's girlfriend and I held each other as we watched them walk over a football field....and I always remember the lad on crutches....trailing behind...like teh boy who was left behind by the Pied Piper. I was in that zone where it represented everything about my son. The thing I do not like about time passing is those things, those visions, sound , smell, that speak to directly to our humanity....lost in the 'new normal'...the cost of time. Losing the grasp of levelling. The gift. The journey seems to me, to regain, to taste again, that unhindered love for all...and although there is an assumption that the cost is ego....methinks we tread on infererior peat there (you can have your ego and eat it too).
Our son's Commander (or should I say, our Son's commander...I think he would like that) has since written to us to updated us about the deployment of those lads, their injuries, their psychological backwater rests, etc.
...and since then, about the changes they have made....my cynicism lasts only a millisecond...the system is bigger than me...but he and those who are touched are no bigger than me too....but they are in the system. I simply trust what I see....and I see real straight these days - I know that you know....as others do not.
The social worker (can I add lovely, again?) , delivered a comprehensive document of local support services, and rang us 9 mths later as she departed her job there...to ensure that we were... flowing....and no doubt,to debrief her successor. She sat with us through the funeral director's meeting, came to the funeral...(and most importantly divulged the market where she purchased of her wild and woolly head wear).
The army paid for my son's funeral and plaque...I am not resentful nor grateful...I am just surviving in space of being-ness...where I have encountered plain old goodness, with one small exception, for whom I pray. If only could all have the flotation-tank-experience of humanity that we have had....but then, I believe that there IS growth without pain (but, of bloody course!!!)...bring on the age of Aquarius and whatnot.
As horrible as it has been, this last 12 months, I realise that post-vention, is a word with a whole lot of weight, a whole lot of healthy (in the long run) ripples ..it is real...I know that my son would not have died if he had not undergone recruitment training...but there simply nothing in me that will lay that first brick in the wall of life-inhibiting resentment - I want to live -and it isn't a choice - it is drive....just a flow i cannot resist. My odyssey is beyond those bounds... what is really amazing, is that my husband and surviving son, are on the same odyssey. Thank bloody God!
There are only good people...that's all I can come up with. It's so pathetically simple, it gets no space in this media driven world of ours except in our homes. Give me a person in a space starved of constructs and goodness can't help itself...it is life.
Though I may ache here and there , I truly feel like a babe.
If nothing else, give refuge to those in need.