This post is published in The Blog of War: Front-Line Dispatches from Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan by Matthew C. Burden (Simon & Schuster, 2006).
Since the purpose of my blog is to share the experiences of a mother with a son at war, I thought I'd start with what these last 24 hours have been like... while we're all waiting for other news...
First, let me say that I have always believed in the power of prayer (especially before we need something) and now believe more than ever!! When they called yesterday, they said "serious spinal injury" and "in surgery in Iraq" and today no surgery, maybe some damage to some cervical vertebrae but maybe just substantial bruising and swelling?? It's prayer (and the Lord's good Grace upon us!) Thank you! Thank you! Thank You all so very much for your thoughts and prayers... Almost 4,000 people have visited this site in the last 20 hours, and more than 200 left best wishes and prayers... We know that they have made a difference and they mean a lot to us. I can not begin to convey how deeply touched we are by the outpouring of compassion, care and prayers for us. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts!
So here's how the tale begins:
DH and I were just about to sit down to dinner... and the phone rang... caller ID said the name of the Fort where my son is stationed when he's not in Iraq. (Note to self: If the caller ID says, "Fort Benning", do not answer phone -- IT'S BAD NEWS. Of course, I didn't have that thought... and the Rear Detachment (they're the guys that stay behind and make sure things are going good back home) and I have the following conversation (as best I remember but forever seared in my brain)
RD: Hello is this _________?
Me: Yes... (tentative)
RD: This is Sgt. F with the Rear Detachment.
Me: Yes... (still tentative)
RD: I'm calling about your son, Noah...
Me: Yes.... (quiver in voice)
RD: Your son has been injured in Iraq
Me: Yes (sob) (grabbing kitchen counter)
RD: He was injured by an IED...
Me: (gasp, sob, sob) (laying across counter)
RD: he has a serious spine injury...
Me: Oh no, no (gasp, sob, sob)
RD: and he's in surgery.
Me: OK... (fighting pure hysteria) Where is he? Germany?
RD: No, he's in Iraq.
Me: OK, so my son has been injured by an IED, he has a serious spinal injury and he's in surgery in Iraq.
DH: Oh, Noah!
RD: Yes, ma'am.
[I think it was in here I asked if I should make arrangements to go to Germany and he advised that it would be premature to make those plans, something about the Army discouraging family members from going to Germany before all the details are worked out... and I think my response might have been a guttural "uh, huh" and the RD saying something about when they called back they would discuss those arrangements... but I was really reeling at this point and fighting desperately to maintain some semblance of control...]
RD: I'm very sorry to have to call you to tell you this.
Me: When will you know something more (gulp, gulp, whimper, sob, gasp, sob)
RD: I don't know ma'am, but I'll call you as soon as we know anything.
Me: Yes (gulp), please call (sob) me as soon as you (sob, gulp) know anything.
RD: Again, I'm very sorry to have to call you with this news.
Me: Yes, thank you. Please call me.
At some point, DH thought I was about to "go down" and he had stepped close and put his arm around my shoulders, and I quickly flip around and dissolve into gasping sobs, all punctuated with "No! No! No! No!" All the words I wrote eight months ago in Every Parent's Nightmare
was upon us!
Almost immediately, I knew that there were things we needed to do, but couldn't get my brain to stop screaming long enough to know what they were. I knew that we needed to call Noah's two brothers and sister... we had to call his aunts and uncle... We made those calls... with healthy periods of wailing (on my part) during and between these calls. Our dogs were beside themselves because I was crying and began barking and had to be put in the garage so that we can hear ourselves think (but we're really not doing much thinking... more like a mental game of bumper pool -- lurching from task to task and bouncing from thought to thought.
I pull out a suitcase and begin packing clothes. I know we'll have to travel somewhere... but where? When? We talk about whether both DH and I should go to Germany at the same time or should I go and based on what's happening there, DH should come later? We decide that this will all depend on what the Army tells us when next they call. Who makes the travel arrangements? Do we do that? Does the Army do that? Questions not asked in the confusion that engulfed me during that call.
We answer calls on our cell phones from family and friends as word spreads and people offer their prayers and ask what can they do?? We don't know what to say because we don't know what we're supposed to be doing ourselves! My twin sister calls to say her bags are packed and passport is ready and she's going wherever I'm going no ifs, ands, or buts (none from this sis.)
I pull out our passports... I ask DH whether he thinks I'll need the power of attorney I have from our son. I get it out, too. I ponder for a moment whether I think I'll need the official Army record/file that Noah gave me before he deployed. I decide I'd rather not lose the file somewhere and if I need it, it can be overnighted. Although this seems like a logical string of actions, in reality they are herky-jerky tasks strung together by time and episodes of gasping sobs and crying... and praying to God to please, please let our son be OK. I'm not really praying, I'm begging God to please spare my son. I'm bartering... I'm badgering...
At some point, I decide that I have to let dear friends know and ask for their prayers, so I draft the 21 word email that became my last post and send it to the "Noah Network" of friends and family that have been devoted and loving since he left for Basic training almost 2 years ago. I decide I have to call his closest friends Mike and James and Nick and Mish and Veronika... they have all been friends since second grade... Inseparable whenever Noah is around and when he isn't -- well, he's mostly who they talk about -- especially since he went to Iraq.
Mike -- who was just here with Noah when he was home on R&R -- just about falls apart but promises to call the "kids" and let them know... none of the others answer their phones, but Mike knows how to find out where they are and locates them all... who then in turn, call us on our cell phones wailing and crying... some conversations taken over midway by weeping parents... This does not help me get control of my crying at all. I am wishing we hadn't retired and moved away from them all because these wonderful creatures are my physical link to my now injured son -- a link to the son who ran, played football, crewed (rowed), danced, bounded through the house.... and now had "a serious spinal injury." I told God it didn't matter to me -- just bring him back to me, we'd deal with everything later.
I was overcome on more than one occasion throughout the night by thoughts of my beautiful son being in pain and wondering if someone was there to comfort him and tell him it will be ok (which sends me into spasms of weeping). I know that there are nurses (angels in scrubs) and am truly comforted knowing that these angels will do whatever it takes to give our son comfort and care like no others. Oh, and did I mention that every 15 minutes or so after every episode of crying -- either collapsed in DH's arms, talking on the phone, seeing Noah's R&R suitcase still packed on the closet floor -- great waves of nausea would overtake me and I'd throw up? (Sorry for the visual.)
At some point (a detailed timeline is mental mush today) I decide that my Military Mom friends and Military Wife friends would want to know and I email them... They get to work and put out the call for prayers... they go all out soliciting God's love and mercy for my son. I putter on my desk... Michael's Mom Stacey
calls and she and I cry a little and she offers me love and encouragement... I unpack the suitcase... I repack the suitcase... I look at pictures of my son... I cry some more. I try to eat some toast (nope). My head is all stuffed up from crying, my eyes burn and my head is splitting... I figure more prayers can't hurt and the people I know that can mobilize the military "family" (those in it, near it or grateful for it) for prayers and good thoughts are Blackfive
and The Mudville Gazette
, so I email them with the same 21 word email as it's all I can manage before I dissolve back in tears. In the meantime, I'm answering instant messages from Noah's friends but have nothing more to tell them. I stare with looks that could kill trying to will
the telephone to ring with news.
I speak with Patti Bader (a true Saint on Earth!) from Soldiers Angels
who gave me more information and comfort in the span of a 10 minute telephone conversation than I have ever experienced. She has mobilized (along with Blackfive) the Soldiers Angels worldwide network and tells me things that will happen, things to do, what the Army will do and what we (they) will do to help... that a Soldiers Angel will be in Germany to meet our son, comfort him, bring him necessities and a message of love from his mom... and another Angel will be waiting if he comes to Walter Reed Army Medical... they'll do whatever they have to in order to bring comfort and aid to our soldier -- to ALL
our soldiers -- their motto is "May No Soldier Go Unloved." I tell you honestly that I could not have made it through last night without the assurance and calm of the Angels. (Go to their site
right now and GIVE! GIVE! GIVE! Money, time, services, miles, volunteer...)
As you can imagine, I was an ugly blubbering momma for a good part of last night... Many people urged us to try and get some sleep because it was unlikely we would hear anything for a number of hours, we would need to have all our wits about us and our strength for Noah. So about 11:00PM (yes, all this activity happened in 5 hours!) I swallowed a few sleep aids and laid down, but sleep was elusive.
I slept off and on but tossed and turned a lot. About 3:50AM, my cell phone rang... once. I try to redial the number and a voice announces that it was a prepaid service and could not be reached that way. Noah! It must be Noah! Now I'm actually talking out loud, "Please call back... please call back." 4:00AM "Hey, Ma!" and voila! Sunshine where before there was darkness. No two more beautiful words than, "Hey, Ma!" Except that he told me the details of the incident in which he was injured, the results of our conversation are in the update to my last post.
We believe he left Iraq about 3:00PM Pacific time (which is 1:00AM Iraq time) but are still waiting for someone to tell us officially that he has left (maybe there is no "official" in these cases?), when he'll arrive, the nature of his injuries, how long he'll be there and whether he'll be moved some place else or returned to duty. We will now have to wait to see what the doctors in Germany think... he could be sent to Washington, DC if they think he has an injury that requires treating OR they could hold him there in Germany and see if the swelling and tingling in his extemities (from being thrown into a wall by the force of the explosion) subsides on its own (and then go back to Iraq) OR who knows? That's the phone call we're waiting on...
We hate that he may go back... All of us with loved ones deployed can't help but occasionally think about getting the call... it's unavoidable especially when we see and hear and read about others who got the call and such thoughts evoke repulsion and sadness... but imagining last night's phone call can not begin to approach the actual horror of it -- and now that I have experienced that, I'd prefer to not experience it again (been there, done that!) I know the nightmares generated by that call will be a part of me for all of my days.
We are otherwise hanging in there... suitcase and passport at the ready to travel wherever they are sending or keeping him. Waiting, waiting...