December 6, 2011

Dear Anonymous,

This week I really wanted to write a post about the ghosts of Okinawa and my recent experiences with them. Nearly anyone you talk to who has lived here more than a few months will have a ghost story or an encounter to share with you. However that post and my excitement to write it will have to wait.

Tonight's post is very different from anything I have ever written. I am so angry I don't even know where to begin, and the anger is from years of biting my tongue and being "the bigger person". But I've come to believe that there is a point at which biting one's tongue and being the bigger person is detrimental to your own self preservation. There comes a point at which you can no longer remain silent. There comes a time when you must speak up for yourself.

Tonight what I write has little to do with being a military wife, and more to do with being just plain human. There are few things that have affected me so deeply as to change me and my beliefs forever. The first was marrying my husband, the second was the birth of my children, and the third was the death of my brother. Naturally as my uncle's life hangs in the balance, (and though he is doing well now, his situation is precarious enough that we could still lose him) I have spent a lot of time thinking about loss. Possibly losing him, losing my brother, and other losses that are much too close to home.

To be completely truthful, death and loss have been a constant reality in my life since I married my husband. I've come to peace with the reality of death. However there are others with whom I share blood lines who have not come so far. The lack of compassion for the losses and sacrifices made my parents and I is almost inhuman.

Today, a family member who shall remain nameless for the purposes of this blog, called my mother to discuss my uncle. My mom is 3rd in line to make decisions regarding his current situation and care. During the course of conversation, this person told my mother that she "wags my brother's death in their face." My mother was asked by this person why she isn't over it, and why she can't move on. . . my poor mom, so deeply hurt by these words called me to talk.

Upon hearing this, I decided that this is the moment where I can no longer be silent. This is where I must speak. I am stuck on Okinawa, desperately wishing I could be with my family right now, but there is nothing I can do. If only this person knew how lucky they are to have 5 living brothers and sisters as opposed to 1 dead oneerhaps they would not treat their siblings as such.

So I sat down and I wrote. And I wrote. And I wrote. I wrote in hopes that something I said could shock certain people into reality. I can only use this as my forum because if I actually sent the letter, the fall out would come down on my mom. Not on me. And, I'm pretty sure that the people whom this is about don't care enough to even know that my blog exists, or that I even live on Okinawa. But I'm so angry I just can't shut up. I just can't.

So here it is:

Dear (name removed for privacy),

My mom told me that the two of you spoke today. I was so happy to hear it. I know she was happy that you called as well. Until you said that she “wags Nick’s death in your face”. I know that it’s hard for you to hear, and talk about Nick. It’s difficult for all of us. But to say that she “wags” his death in your face is a terribly insensitive thing to say.

Let me tell you something about my brother’s death. My mom, dad, and I will NEVER be over it. EVER. It is something that has changed us all so deeply, so fundamentally that there is no way to fully recover and be what we once were. How can you not understand that? Nicholas (name removed for privacy), my brother, my mother’s and father’s only son, died violently and unexpectedly! At 21 years old!!

Tell me how long it would take you to get over seeing your son’s body smashed on the rocks. Seeing where his brains spilled out of ears because he hit headfirst. Seeing ridges where his skull was cracked and crushed through the skin on his forehead. Knowing that his organs were so badly damaged that they were practically mush. How long would it take you to get over having the sheriff and the coroner come to your front door? How long would it take you to get over having to drive down to the morgue to identify your son’s body? How long would it take you to get over seeing your boy laying naked and lifeless on the metal gurney? How long would it take you to get over having to call your pregnant daughter, knowing her husband is in the field and she is 1500 miles away to deliver the news? How long would it take you to get over the need to hold his ice cold hand for as long as you could before they closed the casket for the last time? How long would it take you to get over having your son’s body incinerated in the crematorium because the pain of putting him in a box in the ground was much worse.  How long would it take you to to get over knowing that you’ll never see, or hug, or hold your baby, your child, your only son ever again? How long would it take you to get over the fact that you’ll never celebrate another birthday, or Christmas with him? How long would it take you to get over knowing he’ll never get married and have children? You’ve never had to do it. My mother did! Nick's death will affect us for the rest of our lives!!!! Please get that through your head, and your heart.

There is not a need for you to discuss his death in detail. All it would take is a simple, “How are you doing today?” or even “I know the holidays are hard. Are you getting through alright?” Thats all!! If discussing Nick’s death is difficult for you, have you even considered how hard enduring it has been for us? Ignoring it completely, as though it didn’t happen is terribly painful and insulting. All it takes is a simple validation of how awful it has been for my parents and me. Not nasty comments about how we’re not over it yet, and why can’t we move on. My mother sent out a letter to you, (name removed), and (name removed), BEGING for compassion and help. She received very little in return. My husband’s family has shown more compassion and concern to my parents and me than you have in the last 5 years. 

Nick’s death is not about you, and you have no place judging how my parents and I mourn. We will mourn how we choose. For the first year or two, it was all we could do to live through each day with the sorrow. We didn't have the space in our souls to consider much else. Only God will judge us. Not you. My mother does not need snide comments about how long it takes her to get over it. SHAME ON YOU for saying such a thing. We will not tiptoe around Nick’s death because it’s uncomfortable for you. WE are the ones who have to live with it every single day. We miss him every single day. My children will never know my brother, their uncle. They will never have cousins from my side of the family. As my parents age, and eventually pass, I will not have my brother there with me as I should. And I’m supposed to just get over that?? 

If you ever took the time, perhaps you would see that our days are no longer consumed by grief as they once were. Perhaps you would see that with the help and support of those who truly care, we have crawled out of the black hole of sorrow, and are living as best as we can with the pain his loss that endures. Maybe you would see that it doesn’t hurt all day every day anymore, but when it does hurt, it is just as acute as though it happened yesterday. Perhaps you would understand that we go to work each day, we spend time with friends and family, and we carry on as normally as we can. Maybe you would see that finally there are more days where we can smile and laugh rather than cry. 

Any criticism of how my family chooses to mourn my brother’s death, or how we keep his memory alive is disrespectful to all of us, and it is unacceptable. You will not do it anymore. Period. Just because you don’t understand how we mourn does not mean that we are wrong. All we’ve asked of you is support and caring. Perceived or not, that is something we did not receive from you. Expecting a time limit for how long it takes to “get over it”, is not supportive or caring, and clearly shows your lack of an understanding of the mourning process.

You will no longer criticize how my mother mourns for her son. You will no longer ask her why she’s not “over it”, tell her it’s time to “move on”, or tell her she needs to consider YOUR feelings about it. You will validate the sorrow she feels about Nick’s death no matter how uncomfortable it is for you, because she is the one who lost her son. You did not. If you must say something regarding Nick or his death, it will be thoughtful and kind. Not wrought with criticism or judgment. You CAN be selfless enough to give that much.

I am not interested in a response from you. I am not interested in excuses, explanations, or any kind of justification you may have for your behavior. My mother, father, and I are allowed to mourn my brother. We will continue to mourn him, love him, miss him, and remember him forever. We have a right to do that without a set time limit from you or anyone else. We have a right to do that without expectations placed upon us for when we will be over it, because we never will be.

You can’t undo the pain of the past, but you can work to make the future better.


1 comment:

  1. Well said Stephanie. You can never stop or evade the ignorant and stupid comments of others.
    All you can do is tell yourself they have NO clue what they are talking about and try to avoid conversations with them in the future. There are alot of people, we've found, who do "get it" and do care that time spent with those who don't and never will is time wasted.