Friends buried a son today. He had completed two tours in Iraq.
Military men and women with whom he’d served drove hundreds of miles to attend the funeral. One spoke about the young man’s heroism, his courage, his loyalty. His brother spoke about their joyful childhood.
His mother wrote about his enthusiasm for life and new experiences—how holding onto him as he grew up was like trying to “hold back the wind.” He came home to a loving family.
He started college. He achieved a 3.9 GPA.
A twenty-four, he died by his own hand.
It is incomprehensible. Inconceivable. Unbelievable to all who knew and adored him.
My husband preached the funeral. He has done so many funerals, but this one was the hardest. He prayed for words that would comfort. He prayed that at the very least, he would do no more damage to this shattered family.
Words did come. Hopefully they helped a little. The crowd of loving people who came and surrounded the family helped a little. I’m fairly certain it would be infinitely more terrible to grieve a child and no one notice.
Before the funeral, in our hotel room, while my husband re-worked his funeral sermon, I honored the fallen soldier in my own way.
The white dress shirt I’d ironed back at home for my husband was pressed again—this time making certain every square inch was perfect. I ironed his tie, even though it didn’t need it. I discovered a stray fleck of glitter on his good suit, left over from a wedding the week before. This gave me something more to do with my hands—I welcomed it–I dampened a wash cloth and wiped down the entire suit. Then I pressed the suit for good measure. I shined his already shined shoes. And mine. I re-ironed my own outfit—even though it didn’t need it.
Absolutely nothing I did needed doing. Nothing I did made any earthly sense. I knew this even as my hands set up the ironing board.
As I look back, I realize I was trying to hold back the darkness of this evil day with perfectly ironed clothes. It’s a ridiculous image. Me wielding a damp washcloth and shoe polish while my husband prayed for wisdom. A middle-aged preacher’s wife waging spiritual warfare in a hotel bathroom with a borrowed Sunbeam iron. Me—also a mother for whom raising three sons has been like trying to “hold back the wind.”
Last night, back at home, I picked blueberries behind our log house. My heart was still breaking for the family of that fallen soldier. I hate this world in which bad things happen. I rail against the evil that befalls good people.
And yet—as the plump blueberries filled my pail, as the sun set behind the gorgeous forested hills of my home, as the birds sat on the nearby telephone wire and scolded me for stealing their snack—I felt cared for by a great God who gave me this small, healing, task.
There is emotional healing in the simple work our hands. I find it in ironing, weaving, folding sweet-smelling laundry, baking bread, braiding a granddaughter’s hair, putting up blueberry jam. These repetitious acts ground me and bond me with the endless line of women who have dealt with emotional bruising by continuing on with familiar tasks. It is our instinctual way of fighting back. Personal weapons of healing, given by God, in our constant war against Satan’s abuse.
I am only a bystander in this tragedy and yet still I struggle with sadness. I pray that the fallen soldier’s family can somehow, some day– maybe after this initial stage of wild grief passes–find some measure of daily, God-given respite.