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"My World is Empty Without You Babe"...Losing Loved Ones - The Fellowship of the Devastated
Mary Wallace, 50, was born in Michigan spending most of her childhood in Virginia with her three siblings. She is currently employed as an operating room registered nurse. She married her husband, Keith, in 1977 and they have four children together: Jessica, Matthew, Abigail, and Micah. The have resided in Southern Maryland for the last 20 years. Matthew, 22, was injured on July 16, 2006 when a roadside IED exploded near his Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Despite surviving for five days after the explosion, Matthew succumbed to his injuries on July 21, 2006. In the year that has followed, Mary has coped by crafting editorials exploring her feelings and observations. She hopes these stories allow others a glimpse into the grieving process and help those in similar situations to not feel alone in their pain.
The Fellowship of the Devastated
It is easy to tell the difference. Some are there aimlessly walking, taking in the sites, seeing the National Treasures for perhaps the first time. As they meander enjoying the crowd, they chat and laugh. Some with cameras snap self-portraits and pictures of loved ones near scenes made famous in movies and documentaries. They are there out of love of country, appreciation, civic duty, and curiosity. They point out dates and ages shaking their heads in wonderment and compassion.
Then, there are those who wear the expressions of family members gathered outside an intensive care unit waiting for the inevitable news. They walk quietly as if on a stealth mission of their own. They carry flowers of various types and colors, some with balloons attached. They walk with dread knowing the emotions that will flood over them. They walk with anxious anticipation knowing the emotions that will come. "Will I cry this time? Can I help, but cry this time if not for myself, for others?" They enter from the road only to notice that it doesn't look the same since they were there last. There are more! "Oh, my God, there's a whole new row!! How is this possible? It just hasn't been that long". It's true though. The latest additions are still missing markers and sod. Yet, there they are. On their knees weeping, are the newest members of "The Fellowship of the Devastated."
As one surveys Section 60, one finds far more people than expected. Cowboy hats, group T-shirts with pictures, a Native American with black hair to his waist, suits, ties, jeans, and formal dress blues. It's all there, no distinction. Like a day at the park, some are gathered with family members on blankets. A church picnic gone wrong?
This is a small sampling of Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day 2007.
The grandmother one row back from our son has her folding chair, sun hat, and a box of tissues. She invites any child who will listen to hear about her Hero. Her grandson, the young marine lost to her forever. It's been two years for her, but on Memorial Day the doctor has just come out to the waiting room and delivered the news again.
The officers in dress uniform from various branches of the military walk slowly between the rows of headstones pausing to pay respects to young men and women who were perhaps under their charge in a land far away. Now, they honor them in the land of their birth, pledging never to forget.
The newly initiated elicit pity from somewhere in the human soul bypassing even one's own pain. They are still in the throws of shock, denial, and devastation. I hugged a mom still inside the six month timeframe since the loss of her son. She is relieved to find out six months into the grieving process, it is still normal to stare at your computer at work and be unable to remember what you were supposed to be doing. The universal question for all relative newbies is: "Will it ever get better?"
Without the official headstone, denial plays games in your heart only to collide with truth somewhere near your head. One thinks, "If only it weren't my child!" Then, guilt pokes its boney finger into the open wound to ask the question "If it's not your child, whose child is it?" Reality is waiting just around the corner with its cruel and harsh truth.
The Air Force officer with his wife and two small children brought home our nation's promise to never forget. As he passed by gravestones, his four year old dressed in cameos and combat boots would lay a red rose at the headstone of the Fallen. Then together, father and son would salute a long and heartfelt salute of gratitude. The officer said he was there to train his children to be grateful for those who made their freedom possible. As they laid the rose and saluted my son, the tears began to fall. In the gentle spirited nature of a well seasoned officer, he wiped my tear with his thumb and thanked me for my sacrifice for his children.
No, Memorial Day will never again be an extra day off to go to the beach. As we gather in Arlington's Section 60 to remember our babies, hold each other, and cry once more; it will mark the annual meeting of "The Fellowship of the Devastated."
Cpl. Matthew P. Wallace