When Krista, our daughter-in-law, asked me to write an essay on being a Gold Star mother, I admit I had to think about that for a while. You’d think such a loss would be in the forefront of my mind. I don’t mean by that that I forget my son, Michael, but that I find my identity in something larger than being a “mother who lost her son in battle”. Still, there is a lot of longing and even some joy in being a Gold Star mother that I carry with me.
Lean on your community
We live in a military city, San Antonio, TX. Fortunately, it is not hard to find people who honor the military and the job the men and women in the military do for their country. Even Goodwill gives a military discount! I am grateful that my city and my state honor our sacrifice as a family. Soon after Mike died we were honored in a ceremony in the capital, in the courts of our legislature, with a flag that had flown over the capitol building. It hangs on a wall in our home in a triangular box folded to show part of the star of Texas. People recognize the memory bracelet on my wrist and are saddened to know that I lost a son. They share my grief, and in some mysterious way lighten my load. It saddens me to know there are many wives and mothers who do not live in places that understand military people. They are faced with explaining themselves, even while they are grieving.
Our family has a faith community that has supported us from the very beginning of our journey as a Gold Star family – praying, comforting, understanding and honoring (us and our son). We identify with that family of Christians even more deeply than with the tragedy of losing Michael. This may seem strange to some. Have we abandoned the memory of our son for others? But we decided from the early days of our journey that we would find our comfort in the Lord and in his people and in the fact that we are beloved sons and daughters of a heavenly father who, for reasons that we may not know in this life, brought this tragedy to us. Of course, there is more to our journey than this but this is the bedrock of what sustains us.
Embrace the sorrow & joy that comes
The next thing that comes to my mind is mingled sorrow and joy. There is great sorrow for anyone who loses a son. The seeming waste of an untimely death of someone so young and on the threshold of a life of loving a wife and family, of having a satisfying and others-serving career, of living to old age and enjoying one’s grandchildren – The “normal” course of life.
There is the sorrow of the loss of a son that came from my own body, a person that in some ways I know better than anyone. Memories of his first words, his first steps, his first days in school, his later years on the high school soccer team, the summer he was a lifeguard, his college “experience” (that yielded a 0.7 grade point!), joining the Army Special Forces and finding he loved it, and of course marrying the love of his life. All these memories and so many more flood over me at times.
But there is also so much joy.
He was a fine young man to know. A man who gathered friends everywhere he went. He could tell us about walking around the block and have us in stitches. It was such a joy to see him with his young children, loving them gently and yet being the strong masculine voice telling that, yes, they must finish the food they were given by their mom. Where did he get that wonderful combination of joy and sternness, I wondered, as I remembered my mistakes as a mom who surely couldn’t have taught him such wise things?
He also was deadly serious about going to Afghanistan to fight against our country”s enemies. He was serious about going to the countries of our allies to help train soldiers. There are videos his friends showed us of him helping fellow soldiers in other countries learn to use weapons, or posing with them on deployment. It has been my great joy to know that Michael became such a fine person.
There is a longing that comes with being a Gold Star mother. One longing is the suddenly cut-off longing to see how my son was going to navigate life. His father and I so long to see him making wise decisions, or helping him through the results of some unwise ones. We long to relate to him as an adult, and find comfort in this relationship as we age. As children are born to our loved son, we long for their company and the joy of child-like wonder that perhaps we missed in all the hurry and work of raising our own children. I, fortunately, have that longing fulfilled. Mike and Krista have two of the most wonderful children in the world! But the other longings will only be fulfilled in heaven when I see Mike again – whole and full of joy, truly more alive than ever. I long for that time now.
Guest post written by Gold Star Mother Barbara Simpson.