Saturday, May 28, 2011

Where Were You When....

That particular night, I was alternating between hysterical crying, gut wrenching pain, and anger. Earlier that day my oldest son had sent me a life altering email.  Now this may seem silly to a lot of you, but the email he sent was regarding Facebook, and our communication on such, that he was requesting to have ceased. It was one complete page of an email, because my son cannot say anything without complete detail.

By the time he was done, there was nothing left unsaid. No stone unturned. No doubt in my mind, how much our/my communication embarrassed him, and that it was to stop. Immediately. Josh and I have always been very, very close. Can and do talk about anything and everything. So that now, I was being told he was a professional adult, and my existence was an embarrassment to him, in his world, amongst his peers, was more than I could take. Every word was like a strike to my mid-section. I hadn't cried such a heart wrenching cry since I found out (without prior preparation) that my Daddy had to have open heart surgery. Joshua had already, the year before, moved away from home to go to Graduate school. Ripping my life and my heart apart. Now, I was being told, I could not communicate with him, because my "chitter chatter" was unworthy in his new world.

I gathered my humiliated pride and emailed him back. Advising that I completely understood his position on the matter and his request. And that his email and it's content were never to be discussed again. It would not be necessary. Because it would be a long time before his words would stop ringing in my head. You know, I had already heard other women, other parents talk about not being "friends" with their children on Facebook. I had even heard stories of them being deleted and blocked! How awful I had thought before. Now, I too, had been silenced.

At any rate, much later that same evening, everything began to fall apart again. It was close to midnight, or just after. I was still nursing my wounds by talking to anyone and everyone who was still skulking around on Facebook that Saturday night.  As a matter of fact, I distinctly remember talking to both Debbie Houston White and Charlotte Tomlinson Bolton back and forth for about an hour.  I admit I was feeling LARGELY sorry for myself. Wondering how I could have raised such an ungrateful and rude son. When suddenly, the pages of Facebook began to explode. Literally.

The next few minutes, would turn into several hours. I would learn that LCPL Daniel Gabriel "Gabe" Raney, the oldest son of long ago schoolmate, Penny Riley, had just been killed in combat. Or so everyone thought at the time. It would later, much later be known, he was killed during night drills. Which is another long story and is a large part of what drives her today.  But that night, all we knew, was she had just been notified of his Killed In Action status. Posts were flying everywhere. I could not read them fast enough. Comments coming from every direction. Pain seeping from the words that were being written. All of us girls, who had gone to school together, all those years ago, and many of us who had children somewhere around the same age, were sent reeling backward and our laptops burning up from the sudden commotion.

My anger and hurt turned into shock and disbelief. Gabe was my oldest sons age. He was the same age as my Joshua. My Joshua with whom I was so at odds with at that very minute.  I began to cry again. Hysterically again. I had left things between my son and myself so strained and angry.

My mind begin to whirl in every direction imaginable. What were the last words passed between Penny and Gabriel? When was the last time she spoke to him? Had it been days, weeks, or longer? Was she able to tell him how much she loved him? Was she able to have a real conversation, or was it a quick call in between his duties in Afghanistan.  Was it on a cell phone with bad reception, or could she hear him clearly enough to understand everything he said and hear every homesick word spoken?

In that few minutes, I knew I had to find my son. Call  him. And talk to him. And make whatever had been left wrong, or unsaid, right again. To let him know, I really didn't care anymore that he'd rather I didn't talk to him on Facebook where all his friends and peers could see. So what. I can do without that type of communication. How trivial all of that seemed now. Nothing was worth the words we passed or the anger and hurt it had caused. What if something happened before I could find him? Before I could talk to him again.

I frantically dialed his phone. My hands were shaking so hard I could barely push the buttons. It was late, but I knew he was out with friends. My fingers wouldn't work. I kept pushing the wrong numbers. The phone began to ring, and the voice mail message came on. I tried to compose myself enough to leave a message. I did not do a very good job. He called me right back. His own voice sounding scared and panicked from listening to my prior message. And when I heard his voice, I fell apart.

I was crying so hard, he thought something was wrong here. I was trying to tell him what had happened to my friends child, but the words would not come out of my mouth. I couldn't breath, and I couldn't stop crying long enough for him to understand. My son was alive, I was talking to him, but Penny could not. And would not, ever again. With every second that passed, I could feel her agonizing pain but could not imagine the depths.

What do you do, when that call comes, and your whole world falls apart? How do you talk? How do you make sense of the foreign sounding words coming out of your mouth? How do your ears stop exploding from the vile words that are going into your ear? And how, do you hang up the phone and move from the place you are standing when the call came in? How do you move your feet? And how do you go from one moment of peace, to the next of complete despair? And how, do you ever, get past, the death of your child?

I don't know the answers to any of those questions. I pray I never have to know. Penny Riley is one of the strongest women I will ever have the honor of knowing. I know the first few months were a life crumbling experience for her and her son Luke, Gabriel's younger brother. But she has picked herself up, and she has made it her life cause to hold, protect, and grieve with, family's of other war victims. War hero's who have not made it home alive.

The P.S. to this story is this.... that less than five months later, Penny was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. Radical treatment will be necessary. How this woman, has remained so strong and focused I will never know. She never stops. She never just sits down because she is tired or in pain. And she never forgets. She never lets us forget, what LCPL Gabriel Raney did for all of us. That he lived for all of us. That he died for all of us.

Rest in Peace, Gabe Raney. And may your mother's days of suffering soon pass. May she win this battle with Breast Cancer and be able to continue spreading the word of your sacrifices to anyone who will listen. Because you are a hero Gabriel Raney, and for all of us girls who went to school with her, and the family's of other fallen soldiers who are fortunate enough to know her, so is your Mama.

Let Freedom Ring.

copyright © 2011 Michelle Mount Mims


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