Monday, November 26, 2007

Letter to my Son

Dearest Jeremy,

Tomorrow would have been your 26th birthday. As I sit here and think about you, I wonder what your life would have been like had you lived, had you not been killed in that damn car accident before you were supposed to go to Iraq. I wonder how you would have been when you came home and I wonder what you'd be like now. I just wonder.

I wonder if you would have married by now and had a baby or two for me to bounce on my knee, cuddle with and read stories to. I wonder where you'd be living and what you'd be doing with your life by now. There are so many "I wonders"... I could go on all day.

When you were born, I never, ever, in my wildest dreams, expected this -- for our family to be so torn apart and torn up over your death at such a young age.

We miss you, Jeremy, every single day. I wish you were here, and sometimes I feel as though you are here, watching over your family. You sisters have told me of dreams of you where you are just there, sitting in a corner or in a chair watching, not participating. And it gives them comfort to know you are still there in some way.

I miss you with every beat of my heart. I miss your laugh, your smile, you sense of humor and your hugs. I miss your sense of needing to protect me and your sisters. I miss your bumming cigarettes from me and being annoying just to get my attention. I wish you were here to fix my computer know how computer illiterate I am!

I wish you were here to see and play with your nephew, Aiden. You would adore him just the way all the rest of us do. He'd really love his Uncle Jeremy, too.

We're all doing okay, really. The holidays are hard, especially Thanksgiving. At the end of the week Jaime and Aiden will be living back in Houston with us, so all of us will be close together again, which will be REALLY nice. Maxx is doing good. We've both been sick a lot this year and are now having a bout with the flu.

I know you're still out there in some form, somewhere... I feel your love and sometimes your touch. I hear your voice in my heart from time to time and I can definitely hear you say "Mother" in that way you said it when I do something really goofed up!

Know that I will love you, always and forever, until the day I die and join you wherever you are...

Love always,

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving Memories

Well, we made it again, another year through Thanksgiving. On some of the online political groups I a part of, there has been much discussion about NOT celebrating Thanksgiving for one reason or another. One reason is because it has become a somewhat secular holiday. Another reason is because people think it is terrible to feast on meat or to participate in the overeating that comes with the day. Still other people feel guilty to indulge in so much when there are others who have so little.

I guess people can see what they want in any event or holiday. We each take away from our participation or lack of participation different things, depending on where we are coming from emotionally, mentally and physically.

My family has continued our tradition of cooking the turkey and stuffing ourselves with all the good foods we don't eat at any other time of the year. This year my daughters, Jaime and Dani, along with Aiden, joined Maxx and I as we journeyed to the home of Maxx's parents where we were joined by his brother and wife and their two children. It was a house full of people, to say the least. They are religious people, but they do not force it upon others and they are considerate of me and the feelings of my daughters and Maxx on this day, in particular. I deeply appreciated the moment they took to remember my son and to add that they knew it was a difficult day for us.

We made it through the day and I actually did pretty good until after the late feast, at which time I took the time out to step outside, smoke a cigarette by myself in the cold night air and remember the one who wasn't there with us anymore, my son, Jeremy. It was 26 years ago on Thanksgiving night, after all of the Thanksgiving feast had been finished, that my water broke and I went into active labor with my son. Eight hours later, in the early morning hours on the day after Thanksgiving, my beautiful son was born.

It doesn't matter what day of the month Jeremy's birthday falls on. For me, it is Thanksgiving and the day after that will be forever impressed on my memory.

Jeremy's last Thanksgiving home was also his 22nd birthday. He had planned to feast with his father, who had come down to see him off as Jeremy had to report for active duty in the Army the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Maxx and I had not planned any great Thanksgiving feast that year as I had to work and our daughters were both living in other cities. But Jeremy called and wanted to come to our house and stay after an argument with his father. Later that day, our Thanksgiving feast and Jeremy's birthday dinner consisted of spam and taters with gravy. Jeremy ate the dinner with us, however wary he might have been. He did not complain or make any faces or smart remarks. He just seemed to be happy to be with us.

We did not know, we could not have known, that it was his last Thanksgiving and birthday with us.

Two days later Maxx and I drove Jeremy to report for active duty in the Army Reserves, where he would receive training for the next two months before his unit left to go to Iraq.

Now Thanksgiving has a different meaning and importance for me. I will not feel guilty for participating in the feast nor for feeling grateful for those people in my life and things that I treasure so very dearly.

I have been homeless -- therefore I am grateful to have a home to live in.

I have been jobless -- I am grateful for the job I have.

I have spent many holidays without friend or family other than my kids -- I am grateful for the family that I am a part of and that they still put up with me!

I am very grateful to the Gods or whatever it is that is Divine that has seen fit to bless my life with two wonderful daughters and a stepdaughter. I am grateful to be blessed with three beautiful grandchildren and an incredibly patient son-in-law. I am blessed and thankful for a family of in-laws who are patient and kind even though I'm not sure they understand me. My in-laws are accepting of my crazy daughters and that means a great deal to me.

I am grateful from the depths of my heart for my delightful, kind, loving and amazing husband, Maxx, who still makes me laugh.

Yes, I mourn the one who isn't here among us anymore, I still miss him with all of my heart. I will miss him every single day of my life as long as I live. I am grateful to have been blessed to be Jeremy's mother. Thanksgiving Day, more than any other, symbolizes to me what was and what is the reality in my life.

In peace,

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Memories and Thoughts

Yesterday, as I watched the news of the wildfires in California and FEMA coming to the rescue, I was reminded of my own experience with FEMA about five years or so ago. At the time my husband and I had just moved to a place called Canyon Lake, Texas, nestled in the Hill Country north of San Antonio and south of Austin. It's a nice place, really, where people go to retire or have summer vacation homes to escape city life. It's a tourist place without all the usual trappings of a tourist town and, at least when we lived there, there were very few chain restaurants or businesses. A traffic jam was more than three cars waiting at one of the few lights around the lake.

It's the kind of place where, if you are driving down the road and come up on someone who is going slower than you, the slower driver will pull over onto the shoulder and let you pass, waving as you go by. Life is different there. In the summer time the tourists come out to camp along the Guadalupe River downstream from the dam, rent inner tubes, and float down the river all day long. Young and old alike do this and enjoy the heck out of themselves. People come out to the lake with their boats and swim, fish and just relax.

Maxx and I moved there to escape the city life and to open a business of our own building custom cabinetry, hoping to get in on all the new home construction and some of the remodeling of the older homes in the area. There was a whole lot of that going on, though you wouldn't see it just on a drive through of the area. You really have to get off the main roads to find the new home construction or homes of any kind. We had opened the doors to our business in May and were having some success, though it was slow. We had expected that much and were prepared for it.

Then in July it started raining. It rained for days on end dumping at least three feet of rain in the region, most of it upstream from the dam, which could not hold the water. The water eventually went over the spillway creating a whole new gorge, destroyed hundreds of homes, and flooded the Guadalupe River downstream. On CNN we watched houses floating down the river as they were torn from their foundations. Almost all of the roads going in and out of Canyone Lake were flooded and the bridges were washed out.

Thank goodness we were safe, though it was close. We had flood water within one hundred feet of our shop, located on River Road near the river and just a mile from the canyon. The day the water went over the spillway, the volunteer emergency crews evacuated their little building in Sattler, which is the nearest town to the dam, saying they knew the water was going to go over the spillway and did not have any idea if it would flood the town or not, so they were getting out. That was pretty scary.

Everything we had was in that business we had opened. All of Maxx's equipment was in our little shop right there by the river. We had invested everything in this business and now it was in danger. We spent all day on the 4th of July, with the help of some good friends who lived nearby, moving anything and everything we could find and lift up into the rafters and on top of the office and bathroom in that shop, trying to get it out of the way of the expected flood waters. Then we sat and waited and watched.

Like I said, we did not get flooded, thank goodness. We did not loose anything directly to the flood. But it was the beginning of a nightmare that would last a good long time.

After the flood, FEMA showed up. They were really good about some things. They handed out water and food and blankets to the families left homeless out there. They were excellent at finding the news camera crews and reporters to let them know they were on the scene. The National Guard came out as well, to keep people out of the most severely flooded neighborhoods until the water resided.

After the emergency was over and the water started to recede, they told the business owners in the area that we could apply for loans and grants to help maintain our businesses and keep them going. We applied for a loan and grants to help us and were turned down because we did not have any money sitting in the bank as collateral, as were many, many other business owners out there who eventually just closed up shop, like us, and moved on.

Now you would think that with all those flooded homes there would have been many opportunities for us to get work and help out. But that was not the case. FEMA had a list of "approved" contractors -- most of whom did not even come from the area or even Texas at all -- for people to use. We were not among their "approved" contractors and they would not give information as to how to be added to that list. Also, many of the homes there were underinsured, but that didn't matter, either. As long as the homeowners had some kind of insurance, no matter how much or how little, they were not helped. That means that many homeowners did not have the money to rebuild or to restore their homes. The work was just not available.

The tourist season was gone for that year because of the severe flooding along the river, and that is the mainstay for the local economy out there. No tourists, no money and no economy. The roads and bridges that were flooded out had to be rebuilt and repaired. For many months afterwards, on drives around the area where the flooding had occurred, we saw strange things high up in the trees, like the pink hot tub hanging from one tree about 30 feet up in the air. There were clothes and ironing boards, dog houses and whole sections of fencing hanging from the trees. It was all very surreal.

We eventually lost our apartment, sold what we could in garage sales just to get money for food, and moved into our little shop. There was no hot water, no shower, no kitchen. We did have a sink and a toilet with running water. We used the water hose out back to wash our hair in the summer. The work trickled in, slowly, but there wasn't much. Jobs were scarce unless we wanted and could make the 40 mile drive one way into town, which was not feasible. We lost one of our vehicles, so we were down to only the work truck.

There was no money and we went bankrupt. For entertainment, we would sit in folding chairs in front of our shop at night and watch the bats flying around in the sky. The skies were gorgeous!

And, after a year and a half in Canyon Lake, we closed up shop and moved back to Houston using the money from a tax return and a job I was finally able to get that paid $7.50 an hour.

I hope FEMA is doing a better job and is helping people better now. I don't have much faith in that, though, after watching their response to Katrina. But I don't know... I have not had any contact with them since we left Canyon Lake, thank goodness.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

How Do I....?

Usually I don't like to air my dirty family laundry publically. But today I am posting this because I know that some members of my family read this blog from time to time. And it is the ONLY means of communication I have with them. Please know I love you. I have always loved you. All I have ever wanted is to know that you loved me, too.

Your sister, your daughter, your niece,

Last night I received the news. My mother has Lou Gehrig’s disease. Apparently she has been bedridden for quite some time and now there is talk of inserting some kind of a tube. Her body has wasted away to almost nothing. The real clincher of this hideous disease is that, while the muscles of the body eventually become paralyzed, the patient’s brain continues to work and function normally, so the patient is very much aware of what is happening to him or her.

In any event, a family member called me last night to tell me – apparently against the wishes of the rest of my family from whom I have been estranged for over three years now, since my mother ran out on me just days before my son’s funeral and the day before the Army returned his body to me. Upon her return home to Idaho, she told the family some story – I do not know what – that caused both of my brothers and my step dad to refuse to talk to me or to return phone calls. Within a very short period of time, I lost not only my son but also half of my family.

It wasn’t the first time she ran out on me. It was just the last time I was willing to let her hurt me like that.

Now this family member thinks I should call my mom while there is still a chance to reconcile and make peace with each other.

I sat up most of the night thinking, crying, and talking with Maxx about this. Mom has known about this disease for awhile now and she has known how to get in touch with me to reconcile if she wanted to, yet she chose not to. My brothers could have gotten in touch with me if that had wanted to, yet they chose not to. And apparently the rest of the family felt that I shouldn’t be told about mom’s illness.

How do I reconcile all of this in my mind and in my heart? Right now I feel so damn hurt and so damn angry with mom, my brothers and my step dad. What the hell did I ever do to deserve them turning their backs on me? I have never known why mom left in the midst of planning Jeremy’s funeral. I have never been told what it was that mom said that, in fact, turned my whole family against me.

All I ever heard was from my brothers: “You can’t treat my mother like this. I won’t stand for it.” What the hell did I do? I was trying to plan a funeral for my son. I was trying to get through the worst hell I have ever experienced in my life the best that I could. It would have been nice to have a little understanding and kindness from my own mother, my brothers, and my step dad for a little while. But they couldn’t give that to me. So I had to mourn not only the death of my son but also the loss of the rest of my family, too.

The last time I saw my mom was when we went out to dinner on our way home from the funeral home where we had been making arrangements and met with my ex-husband and my daughters. Everything was fine at dinner, or at least as fine as they could be under the circumstances. When we got home, Maxx and I went into our bedroom to change our clothes and we got into a heated discussion, something that will happen to couples during times like that. And when we came out of the bedroom, Mom was gone. I assumed she had gone to her hotel room down the street from our house, and would call when she was ready. She never said goodbye. She never said she was leaving. She just left.

A couple of hours later I got a phone call from my brother, Andy, cussing me out because “his” mother was in a hotel room in a strange city all by herself and I shouldn’t be treating her that way. Mom was in a hotel room because we had asked her to go to one. We lived in a 900 square foot apartment and had nowhere to put mom other than on the couch in the living room. Under the circumstances we were in, Maxx and I weren’t sleeping and found ourselves up roaming around all night long. We felt mom would be more comfortable in a space of her own.

And then there was the drinking. She started drinking the night she came into town and got real ugly when she did. If she wanted to drink, that was fine, but I couldn’t tolerate it right then. I needed some kind of peace and it wasn’t happening with mom sitting in my living room drinking all night long and cussing, and waiting for me to leave the room so she could tell anyone within earshot what a terrible person I was.

We finally got hold of her on the phone and she said she was leaving the next morning. She had been drinking again. So we went over to the hotel and confiscated our car from the parking lot and took it home without telling her. We didn’t know what she was going to do. She had said she wanted one of us to take her to the airport the next morning. We told her we couldn’t because we had to be at the funeral home the next morning to wait for the arrival of Jeremy’s body from the Army.

This was later followed by a rather nasty email from my brother, George, on my birthday a couple of weeks later. It just also happened to be the day I was sitting at home waiting for the delivery of my son’s personal effects from the Army.

We haven’t talked in over three years. I couldn’t let this woman who had given birth to me hurt me any longer. She was my mother, for God’s sake, yet she couldn’t be kind to me, she couldn’t help me, she wouldn’t be there for my son’s funeral – her grandson.

And now, a well-intentioned family member wants me to reconcile with my mother before she dies. Why didn’t my mother make the attempt to reconcile with me? Why didn’t she call me when she could and just say, “I’m sorry. I love you, Sis”?

Why should I?

How do I?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Three Years II

Three years ago this morning my beautiful son's life ended just when he was beginning to get it together for the first time ever. Three years ago today I was home sick, listening to the local news and heard it was snowing in the Hill Country around Ft. Hood and thinking that Jeremy would be enjoying that, not knowing that the snow started about the same time he died.

Three years ago tonight the messenger of death knocked on my door to give me the devastating news that turned my life upside down, inside out.

A lot can happen in three years.

I love you, Bud. And I miss you today more than most...


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Three Years

Three years ago today Jeremy was home with us, alive and well, on his last leave of absence before heading to Iraq. Three years ago we were at the Museum of Natural History looking at exhibits and laughing at stupid stuff. We went to the movies and on his last night home, fixed his favorite dinner, steak and baked potatoes.

Three years ago there were only about 500 soldiers dead from this war.

Three years ago most of the country still believed the lies President Bush & Co. told us about this war. We, as a country, were living in in the grip of Fear and dared not question our President.

Three years doesn't seem like much time, and in some ways it isn't. For me, it feels like a whole lifetime ago. Sometimes it's hard to remember Jeremy's voice, what he looked like, what he smelled like.

Three years ago more than 2500 other soldiers were still alive, their families still intact.

Are we really going to give this war another one year? Two years? Three years? How many more lives will be destroyed, families shattered while those on the Hill take their time playing the game of politics? We are people, our children are not pawns in some elaborate chess game.

Good God, I wish they'd wake up and listen to us! I wish they would find a backbone and some courage to do the right thing!


Friday, January 26, 2007

Honor. Duty. Country


These three words may be only words to you and to me, ordinary citizens of the United States of America. To our Servicemen and women, however, they are a code to live by as they serve our country. They live with honor. They do their duty and they serve their country.

These words are the words I had inscribed on my son’s headstone three years ago next month. They are the code he lived by, the words that helped to make him the fine young man he had become.

Honor. Duty. Country. They are the words, the code of honor and ethics they every person who serves this country, whether in the military or as elected representatives, should live by.

Today I am here to call upon the elected representatives of the United States of America to listen to the American people. We want the war in Iraq to end. We want our soldiers to come home. The American people have spoken, and we have told you loud and clear that we do not support this ill-begotten war. We do not trust our Commander in Chief any longer.

I realize that many of our elected officials, present company excepted, are riding the fence on this issue. Some, such as John Cornyn and Kay Bailey-Hutchison, are still firmly behind the President and support him for reasons I cannot understand. Maybe they are fearful of losing their jobs, of backing away from a fellow Texan, of cutting rank.

It is to these people that I speak. I tell you that it is time to muster up what courage you can find – and believe me, you can do it when you have to -- and take a stand against this war. You must take a stand and say that it is wrong. You must end this hideous nightmare and bring our troops home.

Let me tell you about courage. In doing so, I hope you will find even half the courage I tell you about.

All over this country tonight there are mothers and fathers who have kissed and hugged their beloved sons and daughters goodbye, wiped away their tears, and sent them off to battle. One of these mothers that I am friends with does not want to leave her home because she is afraid she will miss a phone call from her son who has been gone so long from his loving family. Another friend, when asked how her son was doing in Iraq had to answer, “I don’t know. I don’t know whether he is dead or alive”. This past week I received an email, forwarded from a colleague, from the wife of a helicopter pilot who was in the same unit as the helicopter that was shot down last weekend. She didn’t know if her husband was dead or alive and was terrified. It took days before she finally learned that he is alive. Many others were not so lucky. This takes a tremendous amount of courage. If the families of the soldiers you have sent into battle can live through sending their loved ones off into harm’s way, fearful every moment for their safety, you can find the courage to stand up against this war.

Let’s talk about the soldiers who do not know, sometimes, who the enemy is. Yet day after day, they put on the gear and go out onto the streets of Baghdad, Sadr City, and other parts of Iraq. They are doing the bidding of their Country, of their Commander in Chief who knows nothing of courage, honor, duty or integrity. These fine men and women in our military serve our country and do their duty in spite of everything. I know they are afraid. They are tired and battle weary. Yet they continue to do their duty day after day under circumstances which you can only have nightmares about. If the soldiers can courageously put their lives on the line every single moment of every single day for months, and in some cases, years, then you can and must find the courage to bring them home.

We can talk about the vets who return home from Iraq, only to be called upon to return time after time, again putting their lives on hold, their families and careers on the backburner. Many of them do not want to go, yet they go because duty calls. Or because their buddies are there. They go because they are people of honor and integrity the likes of which most of us will never again see in our lifetimes.

Let’s talk about the courage it takes to live the rest of your life after you have buried your only son who died so needlessly in this fool’s war. At first you do not believe that the person you spent the majority of your adult life rearing is dead. But you have to pick out the casket. You have to find a funeral home and a cemetery and make funeral arrangements. You have to write an obituary and make terrible phone calls that you know will crush the person on the other end of the line. And then you have to figure out how in the hell to make sense out of something that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

The President has asked us to give his plan a chance. I say he has run out of chances. The President thinks we should trust him. His trust ran out a long time ago.

The Bush Administration told us that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Turns out they had none.

The Bush Administration told us that Hussein had ties to Bin Laden and al Qaeda. Turns out that was a bold-faced lie.

The Bush Administration told us that we were going to Iraq to help the Iraqi people and bring about “regime change”. Saddam is now dead.

The Bush Administration told us that we needed to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq. They have had their elections. However, Iraq is in much worse shape now that it was before we, the American military and private civilian contractors, arrived.

We have accomplished the things that the President, his administration and the Republican controlled government said we should do. Now, it’s time for all of you to listen to We, the People of the United States of America, to end this war and to bring our soldiers home. You can find the courage and the strength to do this. It is your responsibility and your duty to listen to us and do the right thing by our brave men and women. Cut off funding for the war. Leave enough money for the speedy withdrawal of our troops and bring our sons and daughters home. They have done their duty for you. Now it’s time you did your duty for them.

HONOR…DUTY…COUNTRY… Three words to live by.

Saturday, January 20, 2007



Why is my son dead? From an insurgent’s bullet to his sweet head.

Why do I have to go on? Lying awake from dusk to dawn.Why does the pain never go away? Living with it everyday.

Why does the sun continue to shine? When darkness is only mine.

Why are we born just to die? Religion is the biggest lie.

Why, why, why?

Questions ever asked, answers never received.

Why do I feel so deceived?
By Cindy Sheehan, Gold Star Families for Peace

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Mourning and Anger

Next month it will be three years since my handsome, crazy, smart, stubborn and amazing son died. As the anniversary of Jeremy's death approaches, I have done a lot of soul searching in a way that I have not been able to do before now. I guess as time goes by, the pure, raw emotion of burying my only son, the first-born of my womb has started to heal in some small way and I am able to look at the events surrounding Jeremy's death in a more rational way -- if that is at all possible.

That is not to say that the raw emotions are not there. They most certainly are. They are there, waiting to bubble up to the surface at any given moment, tripped off by a particularly touching commercial, the story of another human being who has gone through tough times, the death of another soldier. The circumstances don't matter so much as does the fact that I am still an injured and broken person in some way and probably will be for the rest of my natural life.

For some time I have been going to therapy to try and heal myself and become a more whole person again. One of the things I have learned about myself is that my personality type is of the kind that has a tendency to bury my emotions and to try and keep them buried as deep as possible. This is a protection mechanism, one that I am trying to learn to overcome as it is also a destructive pattern for me.

My therapist believes that I am repressing anger. For me, anger is something that I have not ever been allowed to feel in my life by those around me. At this time I have a partner who is not threatened by my feelings of anger and I am deeply grateful that he allows me the opportunity to take this emotion out, feel it, look at it, experience it. This process has been truly frightening for me to do, but I am doing it in the hope that someday I will be a more healthy person.

I am writing this entry today to tell you why I am angry. I hope that it will help others, specifically other Gold Star families, learn to deal with their anger and to know that it's okay. It's truly okay to be angry.

So, one might ask, what am I angry about? Well here goes.

I am angry that Jeremy is dead. I am angry at Jeremy for being dead. I am angry at the system of government that pulled Jeremy from his life of college and his family to serve in the military full time when he was a Reservist. If they had not done this, Jeremy would probably still be alive today. I am mad as hell at the man who calls himself President of this country and the so-called leaders of this country who have allowed him to do so for so long.

Most of all, though, I am angry as hell at my son. He did not listen to me when I told him to be careful and be safe the last time I saw him and hugged him goodbye. Five days later, he died in a car accident by his own hand because he was driving wrecklessly. He was injured so badly that we could not view or see his body when it was finally brought back to us by the Army.

I'm angry at Jeremy for being so wreckless and bringing about the greatest grief our family has ever known or will probably ever know for the rest of our lives. I am angry at him for creating this huge abyss in my heart that I fear ill never heal.

For all that I am angry, though, I would forgive Jeremy in a heartbeat and I would give up everything that I have to hug him one more tme, to touch his face, to hear his voice, to spend just one more moment with my precious son.

So, there you have it, the confession of the mother of a dead son. Love never dies, even when those we love leave this world. I have cried and cussed at Jeremy more than once, then begged him to forgive me and to just come back all in the same breath. I guess this means that I am human. And I am, hopefully, coming to a full healthy grip on the reality that is my life.