There was nothing out of the ordinary about this one gravestone. When I go through my cemetery walks, I love looking at the names of as many people as I can, but this one was unusual. It made me catch my breath. “Killed in Action at Mons, November 11, 1918.”
My God, that poor boy!
And at 22 years old, I can only see him as a boy. He was a student at the very same university where I teach. A young man on the cusp of starting life. And there, mere hours before the end of the war, he was killed. How deeply, deeply devastated his parents must have been, knowing that if their son had managed to hang on just a little bit longer, he would have been safe at home with them. But instead, he is buried in a far-away cemetery, and his parents have added his name to their memorial.
I live in a military town, and there were Silver Cross moms in the mother’s group I attended when my sons first died. Being a small town, there wasn’t a separate baby loss group at the time, so all of us mothers met together and drew comfort and support from one another at such a horrendous time. We couldn’t begin to say who had it “worse”. The mothers who lost their children at war had the pain of a very public death. Their sons had their pictures on the news and in the papers. Other mothers lost a child to suicide, and suffered the agony of feeling that they should have known the signs. There were mothers who lost a child like mine, at birth or soon after, and felt the pain of not knowing who that child would have been. But we all knew we were hurting and we needed each other. We needed each other to understand that there was this gaping wound in our hearts and that we wanted to know there was someone who would just hold us tight while we cried those bitter tears.
I see that young man who was so close and yet so far from coming home much as I see my own sons. They were 36 weeks and 5 days gestation when they died. I was scheduled to be induced in just 2 more days. Why couldn’t they have held on just a few hours more? Why were they so close and yet so far? Like these other parents, I’ll never know why, and I’ll always be haunted by the difference just a day can make.
This post first appeared on Still Standing Magazine.