During the first fuzzy and surreal weeks home — when all was quieting down and everything began settling over me — one by one letters started showing up in my mailbox.
Important looking letters in formal envelopes imprinted with Army insignia up on the left hand side near the return. My name and address typed right there perfectly in the middle. Exactly where it was supposed to be.
All formal and impressive.
The first letter came from some Army officer. Some high and lifted up man who, I am sure, was respected by my Son. I will bet Michael would have been impressed. Honored somehow. Proud.
Inside was a sheet of paper headed with the same insignia. Words of condolence typed in neat paragraphs. Thanking me.
Telling me sorry for my loss.
Just now I can feel the tears welling up as I try to decipher all of the feelings that rushed over me when I read those words of condolence typed in those paragraphs.
I was washed over with pain. I am now washed over with fresh pain at the remembrance of it.
In my hands and in front of my eyes was a stiff and formal letter to a Momma telling her that her son was valued. He was important. The loss was felt.
I was proud. For sure, I was. I am.
But one of my first and immediate thoughts was this:
My son went off to war many times. I did not get a letter thanking me then.
I remember so well that the thought came to my mind that someone should create a Department of Letters. Yes. Someone should step up and take on the responsibility (and I would say great honor) to sit down and type up a letter to each and every Momma who’s son went off to war.
Thank them then.
Why wait until they die?
I folded it up neatly, placed it back into the envelope with the Army insignia, and put it in a box for safekeeping. A box that I’ve put things in over this past year. I have so much in that box. Not like in quantity, but definitely great quality. Someday I will write and tell you what is inside that box.
I don’t even know quite for sure what is in it exactly.
I have not been able to open it. If I have something to put inside of it, I simply lift the lid and shove it in. Shut the lid down tight again.
I tell myself that I should go through it. Yes. That would be so brave of me. Healing.
I just can’t yet.
A few days after that first letter, came another. From someone else high and lifted up in the Army. Saying pretty much the same.
Later on, another. And this time, I could see more than familiarity.
Each letter was the same. The exact same.
It was a form letter.
Now, each one of them was signed personally (maybe one was signature stamped). But I cried when I realized it. I didn’t have enough energy to be indignant or angry or even horribly disappointed.
I could only be sad. It all seemed so rote. So cold.
There was a day when a letter came that was different. My address was handwritten. The letter inside had words scribbled in ink by a human hand.
My son’s unit went off to Afghanistan a few days after Michael went into the hospital. His troop leaders came to visit us the night before they left. All of them so kind and attentive. Spending extra time getting to know me. Telling me about themselves and their families. About their work life with my son.
I especially liked the highest ranking official. And listen, I know I should know this and that title and rank and name….but I cannot for the life of me think of them now. I’ve stopped to wrack my brain, but the titles won’t come.
And I’ve thought to go open that box just to see…to give you more accurate information on these high and lifted up men in my son’s life.
Then I realize it would not matter. Oh, it might impress you. But in the end, it does not make a difference. Does it?
After all, they are only men. Just like any other.
The hand written letter was so much more detailed. The man who wrote it took time out. I could tell he thought it all over and poured out his heart.
Making me laugh at the sentences that pointed out how Type A Michael was and how they often bucked heads. But in the end, he had deep respect for my son and would miss him terribly.
This letter meant everything to me and it melted some of the ice frozen around the previous form letters.
After I read this letter, I suddenly remembered something that I found just a few short weeks before I got the dreaded call.
A panic flooded me as the image came to my mind.
I was cleaning out my basement, going through memorabilia and trying to decide what to keep and what to throw away. I was on a purge and I was going to clean it all out.
(How hard that is to do. For a Momma to go through years and years worth of handmade or seemingly insignificant things and make the decision as to what stays and what goes.)
As I was sifting through, I found a letter written to me by my son when he was barely eighteen. And you’ve got to realize that my son was not one to write letters. He was always so contained and private. In fact, this was the only letter I ever received from him while he was in the Army. Soon came the days of email and Skype. Even those were rare.
He was just finishing up boot camp when he wrote it.
Tucked into a small, ordinary, everyday basic envelope was a one page note. Filled from top to bottom with my son’s small but precise handwriting. In it, he described some of what he was going through. How he was so proud of himself because he was the youngest one there. He was going to prove to them all that he was tough and resilient.
He was going to do great things in the Army.
As I was folding up that less formal and touching letter from his commander, I remembered that letter from Michael. All those years back.
And I was struck with a panic.
Where did I put it?
I looked here. There. Places I thought it would be.
I could not find it.
I could hardly catch my breath.
I remember starting to cry. Hard. I ran about in a growing hysteria. Frightened, so frightened that I could not find that letter. A letter that now was more than a simple letter to a Momma filling her in and keeping in touch.
It was now to me like a sacred scroll.
Had I lost it? Misplaced it? Horror still, did I possibly by accident throw it away? While I was doing all of that needful purging, what did I do with that letter?
In a full fledged panic I started tearing open drawers, going through boxes, and pulling things off of shelves.
I could not find it.
And let me tell you…I was like a crazed animal. My husband and son watched, helpless as I paced and wailed and tried to calm myself to stop and think.
At one point, I had several boxes all strewed out on the basement floor. There was only one more to go through. I would have to think harder after this one or go through them all again.
But there it was. In that very last box. Sitting right on top.
In fact, it was all laid open. I remember reading it a few times those weeks ago. I must have read it more than a few times and laid it there on top. It was still open, not tucked into the envelope.
Right there on top at the beginning. The sacred salutation for me to read:
I sat on the floor to read it yet again.
So sweet. So young. Trying to be so grown up.
As I read through and down to the closing. There it was. Yes, I remember it so well.
Tell everyone I miss them. I miss you.
Mom, there is no place like home.
You never know how important something will become. When you first receive it and it does have meaning, but not like you would ever, ever think.
These letters are all nestled together now. All of them in a neat stack inside my sacred box.
It is not lost on me. These letters.
Like chapters in a memoir of sorts. The life of an Army boy.
Not just any Army boy. Mine.
From beginning to end.