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Sugar Cookies and a Nightmare

How My Daughter's Death Taught Me
The Meaning of Life

 

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CHAPTER TWELVE: MICHEL IN IRAQ

In Michel's case, the casualties that arrived could be Marines, Army, National Guard, Iraqi civilians caught in the crossfire, and even insurgents. They were triaged by the medical team, and Michel would either observe or assist with their care. How difficult it must have been for these teams who worked hard to save their lives. How painful it must have been when they tried everything, yet realized the wounds were such that the patients weren't meant to survive. Long a runner, Michel would take lengthy jogs around the base to relieve some of the tension of a war that seemed daily to spin out of control. Although he didn't share a lot of what he was doing, I could only imagine the horror he must have experienced. War is the worst act of humanity. It is an experience I never wanted Michel to have.

The three of us arrived at their apartment two days before Michel was due to arrive home, and we had a jubilant time turning the place into a yellow-themed, welcome-home haven. We filled the vases with flowers and got lots of yellow streamers and helium balloons. We decorated inside and out with more yellow and many welcome-home signs. We even hung the marked-off pages of our calendar. John and Suzie flew in the next night, and we all went to bed early in anticipation of the big day.

Michel's plane was scheduled to arrive so early in the morning that we headed for Cherry Point while it was still pitch black outside. The base was decorated exactly as the mother I met on the plane had described, with flags, banners, and Welcome Home signs. Coffee and doughnuts were served to the excited families while the Marine band played. And just as the sun broke through the darkness, we spotted the plane overhead. An announcement came through on the loudspeaker that when it landed, we were not to rush toward our family members as they disembarked and headed to the gate. I'll never forget spotting Michel in the ranks, grinning and looking strong and healthy. It was extremely difficult to wait, but we followed orders, and when, at the last second, they broke formation, Jenny went flying into his arms. One of my favorite pictures is of that moment. I took it as they held each other, Jenny in her yellow shirt and Michel with the most delirious smile ever on his face. It was in that moment that a feeling of relief washed over me. I felt I could breathe again.

My dream, to see my son set foot on U.S. soil and be able to hold him, had arrived. We were all ready to move on. I was ready to stop lighting candles for his safety, but I will never stop lighting them and saying prayers for the rest of our brave sons and daughters. I will continue until they too come home, with the band playing and flags and banners waving.

I liked to think of Kristen with Michel when he was away, doing whatever she could to keep him safe. I have no idea what happens when you die, but I do believe that the spirit lives on. Under the terrible circumstances of war, he needed her more than we did. Now as he was marching toward us in rank, I imagined Kristen holding his hand and skipping merrily beside him, while his arm bounced up and down with hers, as mine had once. Michel was safely returned to us. As we waited our turns to embrace him, I saw Kristen standing proudly by with a big sugar cookie grin on her sweet face.

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