I was asked to write an article on how to interact with Gold Star families. My first thought was just talk to them! So often people are so afraid to say the wrong thing or have no idea what to say they say nothing at all. That hurts worse than the poorly worded phrases we have heard repeatedly.
In the Beginning:
When Micheal was killed one thing I heard too much of was how strong I was. In that moment I was so numb that I could not respond to anything. It truly wasn't strength but numbness. later knowing I was expected to be strong made it very hard for me to take my moment in time to openly and truly grieve for Micheal. my younger children were told to be strong for us. Which was unfair to them. they had lost their hero and big brother. they did not need to be strong they needed to grieve and hurt too.
It was like being in a foreign country in a fog with no map or language dictionary. I had no idea how to do it so I did the best I could. I was given advice on how to deal with loosing Micheal but for each of it is different there are no rules are right way to grieve. for that matter there is no real wrong way to do it either
Something one of the guys said to me probably bugged me more than anything else said. i have heard it from others to. "You are taking this so well." Or "I'm glad you are recovering so well." Fact is I am not taking the death of my son well. I am just not behaving badly. When you loose your child or anyone you love for that matter you don't recover or get over it. It's not a cold or the flu. You don't recover. This pain is now a part of who I am. I have learned to cope with this "new normal" and live again but I will never accept my son's death. I understand it. I know he is gone but I do not and will not accept it.
Most of the people we knew before Micheal's death are no longer a part of our lives. By their choice. Not sure if it was guilt or fear that made them walk away but most did. Only one civilian friend remained. the rest that stayed were military. That hurt a great deal. Back to the saying anything is less hurtful than saying nothing at all.
When new people meet us now and find out Micheal was killed in action they are not quite sure how to respond. Condolences are of course given but beyond that they stammer away. Congressmen Charlie Dent of PA responded best of all the people who were told about Micheal. He sat down next to me and said.. tell me about Micheal. And I did. Fact is I like to talk about Micheal. I also like hearing other peoples stories about him. And I honestly do not want to hear how someone is against the war. I still support the troops and their mission. By tell me how it was wrong to be in Iraq and we just went for oil, you are telling me my son died for nothing and in vain. Well I don't believe that nor do the Iraqi people who are grateful to our troops for their new found freedom.
It really comes down to I am still me. I still love coffee so ask me to go for some. I still love books so recommend one. And I still love my son so talk or ask about him. Don't ask me about his injuries or how he died.. ask me how he lived! As much as I miss him. as much as it hurts to know he is gone, as empty as that place in my heart is... I am that PROUD of my son too. He inspires me. And of the other gold star families i have met I know their fallen loved one inspires them too. Let us tell you their stories and be inspired by these men and women. If hearing the story of our loved one is too much... then ask us about something else. Our grief is not contagious but our inspiration just might be.