[guestpost]22KillRingCroppedI recently purchased a 22Kill ring http://www.22kill.com/ from Honor Courage Commitment, Inc. It’s black and worn on the trigger finger. I wear it to honor our veterans and to bring attention to the sad and frightening reality that 22 veterans, from all wars, commit suicide every day. You read that right. Every day. 22. This has got to change! (Their website includes interesting information explaining the word “kill” in the name of the ring.)

I don’t only grieve these losses. I grieve the death of every military man and woman, whether they passed while training to secure freedom, providing support/humanitarian aid, or fighting the enemy in war. And, I grieve for family members who lost loved ones. I don’t think of Memorial Day as a day off, the start of summer, or an excuse for a large picnic. It’s a day to reflect upon and honor our men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom and peace.

If you’d like to better understand what it’s like to lose a hero, from the perspective of a mom, read this blog written by a new acquaintance of mine, Scoti Domeij. She’ll challenge you and I’m confident you’ll think differently about how much gratitude we should have for those who serve and the family who loses them.

I needed to read her blog. Perhaps it will be important for you, too,

Pass developmentally-appropriate truths on to your kids. The earlier they understand, the better. – Dr. Kathy[/guestpost]

Dreading Memorial Day – Originally published on The Havok Journal
May 9, 2015 by Scoti Domeij

My son’s body came home on Memorial Day in 2007, I hate Memorial Day, and I have to admit, it drives me nuts when people see it as the start of summer instead of what it is: a day to honor our fallen. My husband and I go to the local military cemetery and an honoring for all, then I go home and cry.” — Candie Glisson, Gold Star Mother of Sgt. Jason Schumann, KIA, May 19, 2007 in Ad Diwaniyah, Iraq

Rewinding the Memories

Sergeant Jason
Sergeant Jason Schumann, KIA 19 MAY 07

Before my son, Army Ranger Sgt. 1st Class Kristoffer Domeij was killed on his 14th deployment in Afghanistan, I never ‘dreaded’ Memorial Day. As a child and teenage Hoosier, I looked forward to the Indianapolis 500, the church picnic and the hilarity of the greased watermelon race. As a twenty-something wife, I worried about my Memorial Day bikini body exposed for all to critique at the beach with other California friends. As a thirty-something overwhelmed single mother, I looked forward to a free day home alone with my sons. Sleep in. No rushing. No demands. Let the little warriors play and squabble. Play referee or time-out captain. I never celebrated the ‘holiday’ with a barbecue, because firing up the BBQ seemed like just one more burden on my endless list of chores.

My only stress on Memorial Day? Knowing this brief breath of freedom ended tomorrow at sunrise — with a reality slap in the face by summer’s grind — juggling several jobs and securing summer childcare.

Playing the Memories

Once upon a time, I didn’t fully grasp the suffering, the struggle and the deeper meaning of Memorial Day. Six months after my son was killed, the devastation of my shattered heart declared the true meaning of Memorial Day — honoring the sacrifice of Our Fallen. I grappled with irritation toward others. Glib “Happy Memorial Day” comments on Facebook dug into a longing for others to understand what this day truly means. Don’t you get it? People died for you and for the freedoms you take for granted.

Every April, tension builds inside my heart anticipating the upcoming holidays. Mothers Day, May 10. Bam! A reminder that my precious 29-year-old firstborn is gone far too soon. Memorial Day, May 25. Whap! A reminder of how my beloved son was killed. Father’s Day, June 21. Bam! Another punch in the gut. July 4. Boom! Oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light, my son died for others’ freedom to fight or to do in their own eyes whatever is right. The first time I heard The Star Spangled Banner after Kristoffer was killed, like a piercing wail of death, our national anthem doubled me over in pain, enraging me to my core. Now when I hear the tune or the words, the mourning song of my heart streams liquid down my cheeks.

Long before my son was killed, I befriended a military widow whose husband died during a state-side training, so the significance of the day was not lost to me. Weeks and days leading up to Memorial Day, she shared about losing her husband. Even though I didn’t comprehend the depth of her loss, I sent her a card or acknowledged her loss each Memorial Day. After a number of years, and mainly because she was a major trauma-drama mama — 24/7 — I wondered, Why hasn’t she moved on? Assuming her husband must have been her one true love, at least I had the good sense not to say aloud, “Enough already,” or “Get over it.”

With a few Memorial Days now under my belt, I remind myself, “Scoti,  the emotional build up to Memorial Day is always more stressful than the day itself.” However, when I attempt to alleviate the stress, an invisible titanium wall rears up in my mind rejecting my attempts to rationalize this reality. When I feel undone, my subconscious memory disturbs my body —  my throat, shoulders and chest tighten from the pain emanating from my heart. At night, my hips and knees tense up and ache as unconscious thoughts invade my sleep. Can’t seem to do enough CrossFit or thrift store binge shopping to dull the hurt this time of year.

No one drafted-against-their-worst-fear into the Gold Star Family wants to re-live the harsh reality that Memorial Day represents. Trust me. I wouldn’t wish the mourning mayhem on anyone — not even my worst enemy. Well, except for maybe one truly evil person I know. Now I duel between attempts to enlighten or extend patience toward those who, for whatever their reasons, appear to give little or no thought to sacrifice or to appreciate the privileges and responsibilities of their freedom.

Pausing the Memories 

Each year I receive invitations to attend Memorial Day remembrances to honor our children’s sacrifices. I feel my brain’s attempts to block out the reality of his death and I think, If I don’t attend, maybe I’ll avoid triggering more pain. Or, will it lesson my pain if I ignore these activities to honor our fallen heroes?

My I’m-so-tired-of-hurting mechanism resists R.S.V.P.ing to invitations until the last possible minute. Good thing I’m adrenaline-deadline driven. Even then, my left brain can’t seem to pull up from my memory bank one important fact: Did I R.S.V.P. for sure — or not?

When I reply, pain breaches denial’s levee and floods my mind. Why am I emotionally re-crucifying myself by attending these events? I want all of this horrible reality to just go away. I want my life, my son, my family back before ‘the news’ delivered on my doorstep near midnight. I don’t want my son to be dead. I miss my son. I long to hug him and to hear his voice.

Then the chilly creep of the shadow of guilt and self-shaming infiltrates my thoughts. “After my son made the ultimate sacrifice, how can I even think about myself or entertain thoughts of not attending events honoring and remembering my son?” Ranger up. “My son is dead.” I don’t care if Kristoffer is in a better place. I know he’s at peace and feels no pain. So how do I deal with being left behind and the agony on Memorial Day? “Am I trying to forget him?” Never. Will my heart ever stop waging war with my new ‘normal’.

Memorial Day once again rips away the delicate shroud veiling my pain, laying bare my loss. This day of remembrance reinforces the demanding pain stalking my heart every day of my life. This can’t be my life, can it? As tears splash like heavy drops of mourning rain, I wonder about others held tight in my heart: What are my son’s buddies thinking and feeling? What are other Gold Star Families experiencing?

Fast Forwarding to Memories to Come

I’d like to believe that the angst and agony of Memorial Day will lessen. Some days seem lighter . . . easier, and then stealth’s cold fingers of death slither in and clamp down — hard — on my heart. On other days, suffering’s machine gun strafes my inner being — birthday, death day, Christmas, Thanksgiving, last day we spent together, last night we talked on the phone or Skyped, the last hug or “I love you”, the date he deployed, the date he was to return — alive. These grief bursts of remembrance that hit every month-or-so transport me back to the first gasp of disbelief, splintering my nerves, and rendering my once-nimble brain incapable of functioning or regulating the slightest stress. Memorial Day is just one more day to rake away the scab coating the heartache scorching my bosom.

A query posed to a Gold Star mom who lost her son fifty years ago in Vietnam failed to give me the hope I so desired: “Please tell me mourning the loss of my son will get easier.”

“The loss and pain never gets easier, just different. I don’t allow myself to think about it as much.” Not the answer I wanted to hear — just makes me confront this reality: I can’t change his story. However, I can choose to face the history of my future without my son and live a life filled with purpose and passion that honors my son.

I’m thankful for progress. From the impossible task to focus, to absorb information, or to multi-task, my re-calibrated brain can again function until another implosion from an unexpected spike of grief’s stress. I’m thankful the will to live again has returned. I’m thankful for the gift of memory, painful as it is, that allows my heart to hold close and remember my amazing firstborn, even though Kristoffer lives in the presence of El Elohiym Rachuwm, the Merciful God of Compassion.

Sergeant First Class Kris Domeij, KIA on his 14th deployment.
Sergeant First Class Kris Domeij, KIA on his 14th deployment.

Sometimes sobs well up from deep within and my soul cries out, “God, I want my son. I need my son. His two young daughters . . .” Then a whispered “Why?” glides past my lips, but I don’t let the question linger long or lodge in my heart. Years ago, I experienced my “Why, God? I hate you, Jesus.” period. Even though I never lost my faith in God, I wasted far too many years brooding over “Why?” — leaving an undesired, permanent reminder — anger’s ugly, aging trench between my eyebrows.

I realized the argumentative, unanswerable and crippling question “Why?” paralyzed me in a swirling dark, bottomless vortex. Even if I knew “Why?”, any answer will never ease the absence of my son or deliver comfort or peace. I don’t know “Why?” God’s mercy and compassion transported my warrior son to eternal life. I prefer to accept that I won’t know that answer until heaven.

When mourning sickness seems beyond healing and my heart falls distressed, a warm lump presses against my throat. Salty mourning gushes down my cheeks. The stranglehold of mourning’s knot unbinds its grip upon my heart. “When man is sore troubled, the Shechinah says, ‘How heavy is my head, how heavy is my arm.’ If God suffers so much for the blood of the wicked, how much more for the blood of the righteous.” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 6.5)

In my state of brokenness, I relate to our divine Parent who experienced the same agony of His first and only Son’s sacrifice of death, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13, NASB) And just as those who don’t or can’t appreciate the sacrifices of those who deserve honor and remembrance on Memorial Day, how often do I appreciate Jesus’ sacrifice to offer me the gift of spiritual freedom and the consolation of eternal hope?

Hope cannot eradicate the ever-present haunting of earth’s sorrow. However, the waiting game of hope eternal promises comfort, healing and reunion with my son — one day, someday, soon — through El Elohiym Rachuwm’s eternal covenant of mercy and compassion.

Reflection:  Missing those who gave the ultimate sacrifice? What plans have you made for Memorial Day to be with people who ‘get it’? Where, what or to whom do you turn for comfort and hope and how is that working for you?

In the midst of crushing devastation, brokenness became my shovel and the Bible my archeological dig to sift through the screens of man’s misconceptions about God to discover Who God says He is in the midst of heartache. In the ancient Hebraic culture, a name expressed or revealed a person’s character, attributes or reputation. El Elohiym Rachuwm, a Hebrew name of God, reveals His deep love, tender affection, mercy and compassion for us.

Because God does not change, the Hebrew names of God transcend the Old Testament. The New Testament reveals The Truth of God Himself through Rabbi Jesus’ teachings and life of compassion, and through the comfort of the Holy Spirit. As I stumble along in the valley of mourning, I long to know how El Elohiym Rachuwm works on my behalf. I hope you find hope and comfort in some of the verses below that reveal El Elohiym Rachuwm’s loving affection and deep love for you and for every living soul.

“Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear (to stand in awe of) Him.” (Psalm 103:13) “Therefore the LORD longs to be gracious to you, and therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you. For the LORD is a God of justice; How blessed are all those who long for Him.” (Isaiah 30:18) For He who has compassion on them will lead them and will guide them to springs of water.” (Isaiah 49:10) “For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake, but My lovingkindness will not be removed from you, and My covenant of peace will not be shaken,” says the LORD who has compassion on you.” (Isaiah 54:10)

Resources: 

Videos:

In Memory of Sgt. Jason A. Schumann

In Memory of Sgt. First Class Kristoffer DomeijKristoffer holds the ‘distinction’ of being the most deployed soldier in American history to be killed in action.

Shoulders

TAPSThe Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) offers compassionate care to all those grieving the death of a buddy or a loved one who served in our Armed Forces. TAPS provides comfort, hope, retreats and referrals to grief resources 24 hours a day, seven days a week through a national peer support network  — all at no cost to surviving families and buddies. If you ever need to speak to someone or need a listening ear, please feel free to contact TAPS at 1-800-959-8277.

[callout]Dreading Memorial Day – Originally published on The Havok Journal – May 9, 2015 by Scoti Domeij[/callout]