Reflection of a mother of a soldier/veteran of Iraq/Afghanistan wars
“It is now some years later and most remember where they were that day and what they were doing. For me that day was more than a horrific event. That day changed my life forever, the aftermath and events to come weigh heavily on my soul, and will until judgment day. I lost a piece of myself that day and later a piece of my soul.” (From “The Crying of Souls” written by my son reflecting on 9/11)
Over 30 years ago I gave birth to a son. His arrival came in the middle of the night with great anticipation. The delivery team of doctor and nurses were wagering on whether I was having a boy or a girl. For me it didn’t matter – I wanted this life out of my body but more I wanted this life to be healthy. After my final push a healthy baby was placed in my arms and tears of joy flowed as I looked into the face of a beautiful gift of life.
My son became was one of those who I refer to as ‘squishy babies’ – he was just so cuddly and snuggly. To say he was cute isn’t just a mother’s statement – he was and it was this ‘cuteness’ that saved him many times from trouble or got him into it. I found this fifth child of mine to be one of my greatest challenges as a mother accompanied with many tears of frustration. He became a young man who would try anything with little fear and could respond to an emergency with level headedness and courage. As he grew into his teens the challenges were on every level. When he was around 21 he went to a recruiter and came home to tell me he joined the army. Later he told me that he made this decision because as he watched his friends go down a path of drugs and lives of no prospects and he wanted something different for himself and felt the military was where he could achieve his goals. I was facing mixed feelings of dread of having a child in the military and yet being proud of a son who saw two paths and chose one that could save him and my tears of pride outweighed my tears of fear.
We are not a military family and I have protested wars for most of my life but at that time when he joined, we were not in any particular war and my hopes was that maybe he could find himself, find a career – find a way to use his gifts and talents. He thrived in his life as a soldier – and when he came home from boot-camp walking down the airport ramp my heart burst with pride and tears of seeing my son now a young man, content within his choice. When I was in labor, my prayers were for a healthy baby and now my son seemed healthy and happy with his decision and I was okay with that.
Then 9/11 happened and life forever changed for military families. While the President at that time told the American people to ‘go back to normal life’ – ‘to go shopping’ – that he would take care of things, for those in the military life would never be normal again and spending time shopping wasn’t even an option. I found my days in constant state of tears knowing deep down that at some point my son was going to be sent somewhere into a war because of the attack. There were acquaintances who had no sons or daughters in the military tell me that I worry too much – that things will be fine. When I spoke out against the possibility of going to war in Iraq, and my tears of what our country was about to do, I was told by others that I was unpatriotic, that I was clueless about the horror of terrorism. No I was not clueless I knew what the cost of war was going to be first hand.
The day my son called to say good-bye as he was going to Iraq my heart broke and the tears flowed. My body was gripped in fear and I began to hold my breath as I did when he was a toddler running through the house – fearing he would fall or hit his head – or as he grew older and went out the door – holding my breath until he would return safely to our home. Now he was going to war –into a horror that I could not stop and could only hold my breath and pray that he would return – safe and healthy.
That day my son changed. He had three deployments – two in Iraq and the last in Afghanistan. It was in Afghanistan that my son experienced the horror of war at its peak. He almost died twice and he also experienced more the deep destruction of his soul as he killed others, as he watched children become pawns in a war of adults, and as he picked up body parts of his buddies and held a soldier as life seeped and exhaled out of his body. Along with all of this, his wife completely fell apart and he asked the family to have her come live near us until he came home. We had no idea of the extent of her breakdown and within a couple of months of moving near us, she took the children and ran away to meet with a man she met on-line. The youngest in our family were lost to us for 10 weeks and my son in warzone was thrown into the pit of despair, unable to come home to find his family. A young man, who took the oath to defend his country, was helpless in defending his family. My son was hurting and I lay helpless every night in tears unable to take away his pain as I did when he was little. Eventually we did find the children, and we were able to bring them back and keep them safe with us.
My son finished his time in Afghanistan and requested and received an honorable discharge. He came home to take care of his children. I was relieved that my son was home from the war and he could no longer be sent back into the throws of hell. Little did I realize that while my son left the war behind him, the war has not left him. When he first got home, he was his old self – crazy, funny and wanting so much to find normalcy in his life and being with his family again. His marriage had ended but he had his children and that seemed to be all that he needed. He got a good job and decided to go back to school to get a degree – looking into possibly EMT work or working at a VA center. However after awhile the dark remnants of the war started to immerge and he became argumentative, explosive, angry, and even hateful.
He no longer laughed or joked. Family gatherings became events for arguing and hateful rhetoric. He had rage against anyone he felt were whiners or complainers; commenting at times with phrases of ‘they think they have it tough, try looking into the fact of someone you killed.’ Or, ‘they think they have it tough, try holding a friend’s body together.’ He was angry at the world and rightly so but his anger became misdirected. He and I went to a social worker at the VA because the family kept telling my son that he has issues and he could not see what we were talking about. It was a good session as I talked about how it was like walking on egg shells around my son – never know what would trigger his outbursts. I cried as I stated how I missed ‘my son.’ Tears filled my son’s eyes when he listened.
I had hoped that was the beginning of healing for him but in actuality he has never sought help again because he deems himself ‘okay.’ How could any human being be okay after what he has experienced? The radio and talk show racist commentators who make their money spewing hate now feed into my son’s anger and it helps him justify such feelings and hate for everyone.
My son was raised Catholic, steeped in tradition of family life. Our family is very diverse and because my children’s father is full-blooded Lebanese, they themselves along with their father have had to deal with racism, profiling, and vile comments because they are of Mid-eastern culture. My son ignores what such hate does to his family and pursues his own racist, hateful comments of others. It rips at my heart because he is becoming the total antithesis of his upbringing. He was taught tolerance and acceptance now he has no compassion, does not care for anyone and cares little about others’ pain. He looks for ways to start arguments.
I find my tears flowing more and more as I watch my son ‘die’ while alive. I cannot imagine the horror my son, my child has experienced in war; no mother ever wants her child to experience desecration of life or decisions that war forces humans to make. So many mothers in our world scream into their pillows at night for the shear pain of losing a child to war. Their tears could fill rivers to over-flowing and the emptiness remains a lifetime. Because of the group Military Families Speak Out (MFSO), my family and I have found out we are not alone in any of this. There are also mothers like myself who watch their child’s spirits slowly die while trying to live. The child we gave life to now is a child in which life doesn’t exist.
When my son was in Iraq the first time, I actually had people tell me that this wasn’t as bad as wars in the past because there are not that many soldiers dying!! I didn’t know how to respond to such ignorance – I just sat and stared at them wondering how that would console a mother whose child just died. I have written and spoke out against congressmen who make callous remarks about soldiers’ lives being expendable and have met with representatives to talk about ending the wars.
War is wrong and I have yet to be convinced otherwise. I will continue to write and speak out for I want my grandchildren to read what I have written and spoken, so that maybe their generation will see war for what it is and search other ways to solve our world’s problems. I wish for them that war becomes just a word and peace a way of life. Mothers’ tears should only be shed for the pure joy of life not because of its destruction.
By Susan Handle Terbay