Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Memorial Day memories...

Memorial Day weekend is over and images I saw and shared brought up so many different thoughts.

I share a lot on Facebook with friends and coworkers and relatives, so on Memorial Day I posted a photo of my parents, whose anniversary had been May 29, and another of my Dad and brother in full Navy uniform as they prepared to attend my brother's retirement ceremony from the Naval Reserves. Others shared pictures of Memorial Day services they had attended, along with some shared images of National ceremonies and such. Through all the sharing, people who knew my Dad and Mom mentioned seeing their headstone as they paid visits to the resting places of their own loved ones at our local town cemetery. Our town had also erected a Veteran's Memorial and many residents bought bricks inscribed with names of their loved ones who served our country in the military. One of my Facebook friends put up some photos of the Memorial Day service held there this last weekend and we were posting comments about seeing each other's families' bricks and so forth.

I remembered how I had stood on my parents' bricks as I greeted the people who had attended Andrew's memorial service held there in the park just a year ago. I stood on those bricks and thought of my parents and Andrew and their special bond. I stood on those bricks and prayed for the kind of strength my parents had given us throughout our whole lives.

I went back through my photo albums and reviewed the photos my stepson had taken for me of my Dad's burial service at the cemetery when he died in 2008. We had arranged for a VFW Honor Guard and the Catholic Knights of Columbus Color Guard to serve at the ceremony as my Dad's casket, draped in an American flag, was escorted to the burial site by five of my brothers and a nephew. Words of praise were read, rifles were fired, and the flag was ceremoniously folded and presented to my eldest brother, along with the bullet shells tucked inside. I was filled with awe, admiration and humility for my father and the men who knew him as an officer and comrade. I think all of us (children and grandchildren) saw my Dad in a little different light that day. To us he was our father and a pretty ordinary man, but to his peers he was a hero. We saw my Dad as a good example, a respectable, loving, responsbile person, but I am not sure we saw his heroism. It gave me a new connection with Memorial Day and respect for our military.

Andrew was there at my father's burial with us that day: me, my husband and stepson, my daughters. I have pictures of Andrew with us at the cemetery. I was so glad he was there, because I knew it was difficult for him. He was doing his best to avoid family gatherings and rarely came to any functions anymore, but my Dad was really heroic to Andrew.

My Dad had reached out to Andrew when he was at his lowest and taken him along to some Knights of Columbus meetings, trying to show him the Catholic way of serving God. At that point, Andrew was attending church services and reading the Bible constantly, trying to find some comfort for his feelings and sort out his jumbled view of the world and the family. I wasn't sure if Andrew was really going to fully participate in the Knights' as a member, but I stepped back and hoped, prayed, that he would find some peace and guidance from my Dad. Andrew went to all the meetings with my Dad and drove Dad to some of the out-of-town functions for about 3 months. Then, during a local meeting, Andrew abruptly got up and left. He didn't want to be there anymore. One of the men in attendance was a school principal from Andrew's elementary school, and he made some negative association in his mind and just left and wasn't going back.

My Dad couldn't understand what had happened and tried several times to talk to Andrew, but Andrew just avoided him. I tried to explain to my Dad that Andrew was dealing with some kind of paranoia and he would just do stuff like that, but I think my Dad was really hurt and mystified by the turn of events. I shared all I had been studying about the symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia with Dad and hoped he would understand from a more clinical level, which was my Dad's normal way of looking a most things, being a Medical Labortory Technologist and Registered Nurse, but in this instance I think Dad felt more emotional about it. That was a rather ironic twist, I thought, getting an emotional response when a clinical one would have been more beneficial. Dad always gave us the clinical version of most everything in life.

Dad suffered a fall and declined in early 2008. He passed away on Memorial Day of that year. I had stopped by to visit Andrew while on my way up to the hospital to visit my Dad after his fall, and I invited Andrew to go with me. For some reason, he accepted. At this point, I never knew when Andrew would change his mind about something, so I sort of held my breath all the way from the house to the hospital. Andrew sat with Dad and chatted, quite normally, in the hospital for at least 30 minutes. I took a few pictures of the two of them sitting there. It bordered on miraculous, I was thinking, that this visit was even taking place. Thank God!

The insidious part of mental disease, in my opinon, is that judging from those pictures, you would never know Andrew had suffered a psychotic break and was teetering on the edge of something tragic. He looked healthy and wholesome and strong. His conversation was normal and personable.

Another visitor stopped by just then, a member of the Knight's of Columbus. He was a really nice, friendly man, and he recognized Andrew immediately. We exchanged polite greetings, but I could see Andrew was uncomfortable so we said our goodbyes to my Dad and left. By the time we had reached the parking lot, Andrew was in tears. He felt guilty, confused, sad...just a jumble of emotions he could no longer sort out or keep in perspective. He felt like he had dissappointed his grandfather by quitting the Knights', and that he was a failure as a grandson and as a person.

I wished I could have found the magic words to take away Andrew's pain and make everything right once more. I knew it would be his and Dad's last visit. I tried to let him know we loved him no matter what, but Andrew felt judged. Whatever his unseen demons were, they made him feel uncomfortable in his own skin and he just couldn't block it out or make it go away. Andrew knew we loved him, but he just didn't feel worthy of our love for some reason. That was the sadest part of all of it...

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