Sunday, February 08, 2009

I Love You -- Part II

I was home alone that night. Maxx and I had been sick all week long, and that was the first time all week, since leaving Jeremy at Ft. Hood, that either of us had been able to leave the house. Maxx had gone to pick up some much-needed groceries and had only been gone five minutes.

“Ma’am, the Army regrets to inform you…” The words hung in the air as the Sergeant stood in my living room.

My legs gave out and my body slid onto the couch.

“There has been an accident” he said.

I wasn’t hearing, although my heart knew, what this man was telling me. “Is Jeremy okay?” I asked.

“No, Ma’am. Your son as passed away,” was his response.

I called Maxx and told him only to come home now. He was back faster than the speed of light, hearing my shaky voice on the phone. The Sergeant stayed with me and repeated to Maxx what he had said to me.

I knew Jeremy would not come back home alive. I just thought he would die in Iraq, not in a car accident. What the hell was he doing in that car? Where did he get the car? Did he suffer? Was anyone else hurt? All of this flew through my mind in an instant. The Sergeant had no answers.
My heart cried with pain and grief the likes of which I had never known. It was a very physical ache in my heart that set in that night and did not go away for many, many months. At the same time, a strange sense of emotional numbness set in that also stayed for a long time. This and only this is what enabled me to get through the next tasks that I had to perform.

The military always assigns an officer to help the families of those who have died while on active duty to get through the paper work and arrangements that have to be made. The next day, our Officer came to see us in the midst of a house full of friends and family. I had to decide on what kind of casket would be my son’s last bed. Maxx helped me find a funeral home and made an appointment for us to go there the following Monday. I had made all the phone calls the night before that changed the lives of every single member of my family.

Jeremy’s injuries were so severe that we were cautioned by the Army and, later, by the Funeral Director, that we did not want to see his body. I elected to take their advice and remember my son the way he was the last time I saw him rather than broken and torn. Sometimes, now, I wish I had asked to see the tattoo on his arm just to verify for myself that it was, truly, my son in that box.

I was consumed with making sure every single detail of Jeremy’s funeral was perfect. It was my last responsibility to him as his mother.

At the funeral, Jeremy’s paternal grandfather was giving a eulogy, talking about how virtuous Jeremy was. I started giggling. I was reliving the moments when we had picked Jeremy up for his last trip home. The three of us, Maxx, Jeremy and me, were sitting in the cab of the truck, driving down Interstate 45 and Jeremy asked me if he could use my washing machine when we got home to wash some clothes. I told him of course he could. He then proceeded to tell me that he had got lipstick on some of his clothes a couple nights before while visiting a “titty bar”. I guess if you can call loving women virtuous, then Jeremy was virtuous!

Later, while sitting on a bench at the cemetery, when the funeral was over and I had been presented with the flag that covered Jeremy’s casket, I broke down. I realized I had completed my last earthly responsibilities to my son. My life as Jeremy’s mother was finished and I had to learn how to continue on with my life without him. As I tried to stand, I could not get up. My legs defied me even as the tears rolled down my face once again. I sobbed as I had not done all week. My friends, my sister-friends gathered around me, each taking a turn touching me and holding me, giving me their strength.

Memories of Jeremy flooded my head and heart. I could see him as my baby, remembered exactly how he smelled when he was tiny and I would sit and cuddle with him in the wee hours of the morning. I remembered how, when he did something he shouldn’t do, he would come to me and tattle on himself before his younger sister had the chance. I remembered how proud he was the year he played Little League Baseball and how much he loved his cat, Cuddles. So many memories about a life cut short too soon.

It’s been three years now since Jeremy died. Now, when people ask me how many children I have, I have to stop and think about the answer. I gave birth to three beautiful, amazing children. Only two are living now. But I am still and always will be Jeremy’s mom. I still search for his face in crowds and wait for his footsteps in my driveway. All that I have, all that I am, I would give up just to touch his face one last time, to hear his voice, to see his face. Sometimes I am angry at Jeremy for being so careless in a car, for dying, for causing so much pain. I get angry because parents are not supposed to bury their children. They should not die before we do. It’s just not the natural order of things.

I don’t think the pain ever goes away. You just learn to live with it.

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