War Poet.ca - A CFAP Project by Suzanne Steele

on grief

one hundred. perfect. round. something to aspire to. work towards…one hundred dollars. one hundred years of age. one hundred of anything. nice. complete. discrete. enough of something to make a difference.

yet this one hundred is different. difficult. acknowledged even before it happened. dreaded. our 100th soldier. or more rightly, our 98th, 99th and 100th because, who in the hell is going to nit-pick as to which of the three gets the awful label…100?

Cpl. D, one of the Afghan vets who talks to me from time to time, told me that in the FOBs, before patrol, convoy, anything outside the wire, they’d take bets, start a pool… who was going to get it. VSA. (Vital Signs Absent is what he told me they call it). they’d laugh and joke about it. but nobody, thankfully, got to collect. his platoon came home intact. though not before Cpl. D had to shoulder a buddy’s coffin at a ramp ceremony at KAF.

it. that death thing. that thing that stings and stings and stings years, decades after the knock at the door, the telephone call, the witness.

and grief. that pebble dropped (or is it a rock the size of a mountain?) in the ocean of our lives. a tsunami at first, then high tides, some rogue waves (when least expected), then big ripples and maybe one day, or some days, smaller ripples, manageable… the surface of one’s life never to be quite as smooth again. always a before and an after.

we have no soldier in our family. we will never know what it is to see the car come down the street with the Padre, the CO, the Sgt. or WO, sitting in the back seat. we will never see all the curtains twitch up and down the street of the PMQs or hear the sigh of relief as the car passes by. we will never have to answer that terrible knock to the door.

but we do know grief. out-of-the-natural-order grief. fresh on our faces grief. the grief of a large, close family. the loss last year, of two of our precious young ones who we kissed and blessed out into the great world. our two young ones, 26 and 31, who went to conquer the world (or rather, the sea), and lost. gone not by war violence, but violence of a different kind (hurricane most probably but we’ll never know). one day, they were a voice on the telephone, a last email from port. and then nothing. disappeared. no traces. no sail. no shattered boat hull. no EPIRB signal. nothing…. gone. silent. forever.

and we grieve not just for the past, but for all that will never come. the wedding that was planned for last summer’s gorgeous blue, crystal August day, was a funeral. and the white lilies and lavender I arranged in green glass vases were thrown to the sea and not to laughing bridesmaids as they should have been… that day, a sorrowful death wedding. not as it should have been. should have been. (more grief words.)

then two weeks later, I attended the funeral of one of our soldiers killed in Afghanistan. so different from our family’s funeral, yet so much the same. someone sent that soldier out into the world with that curious mix of trepidation and blessing that we did with ours, knowing that to hold them back would have not been the right thing to do. or would it? (but this is always the question of grief) and like the soldier’s family, we have had the media phone and pester, though not the “murder of black coats, microphones, video cams… from across the road,” as I wrote in my poem, August Widow. no thankfully, the media had yawned at our story by the time of our funeral and so we were left to grieve alone.

and we grieve so hard for the young. they are taken out of turn.
and we ask ourselves how could these incredible people who had so much to give, be gone. and how is it that only the good die young? or, as I’ve asked before, are we all good at 26 and 31? or do we grieve so hard because of their very goodness. selfishly perhaps, because of all the good things we would have shared? that we could have depended upon as we grow old ourselves? but this is all grief.

but most of all, what I understand of the families and friends and colleagues who are just beginning their own left right left through the grief march that began yesterday with the terrible visit and the terrible calls that began in Afghanistan, is the enormity of it. the tsunami, the rogue waves that will visit them again and again and again. and the questions and the doubts and the guilt (why them? why didn’t I? why couldn’t I? why should it be? what did they do to deserve this…) and I just hope for their sake, that they can cling to one another, as a life raft, as our big family has done, to make it through these next terrible days, months, years. without them. yes, those terrible words. without them.

1 Comment (Closed)

Douglas Hill

Grief after death is a natural thing; yet, it belies Heaven. I know that even though the Muslims have a different take on it, they grieve too. Somehow, the promise of faith is not very powerful against the fact of death.

But it is strange that most religions speak of what comes after death as the most important thing about our existence, that Heaven is more than a happy place; it is the place of perfection, communion with the Deity—yet all religions have a formula to mourn for the dead.

Some contradiction.

In your position as the War Poet, you really are expected to write such a piece, and you have a thoughtful and insightful piece going here. It is quite a spot for a writer to be in. A few years ago, I was charged with giving a eulogy (one of the first permitted at a Catholic service), and I found it the toughest deadline I had ever faced. You really have to lay it on the line. But I suppose the difference between that kind of writing and any other is that we always have to lay it on the line; with a eulogy/elegy there is just more focus on the lay it on the line part, because it means more to the audience/reader.

Dec 06 2008 · 12:54

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The page you're reading contains a single diary entry entitled on grief. It was posted here on December 06, 2008.


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