Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Grief of War

This photo from the front page of the New York Times last week hit me hard.  It’s a photo of Marina and Greg Buckley, Sr., clutching the memorial flags for the son Gregory, the 1,990th American to be killed in the war in Afghanistan.  He was just days past his 21rst birthday. 

I recently finished the newly-released book by Pat Tillman’swidow Marie – The Letter: My Journey through Love, Loss, and Life.  You may remember Pat Tillman – the young professional football player who left behind a multi-million dollar NFL contract to join the Army Rangers.  Pat and Marie met as children and were high school sweethearts, marrying just before Pat enlisted.  The Letter is the unfolding story of their relationship, which ended with Pat’s death in Afghanistan in 2004 at the age of 27. 

Marie, reserved and soft-hearted, describes the intense and slow process of coming back from such devastating loss.  Through the years of grief she took solace from the many stories of others who had faced the unthinkable; she hoped her own story might give courage to other widows, and to anyone facing profound tragedy. 

Pat Tillman’s story is incredibly compelling.  After Marie’s book sparked my interest, I was curious to learn more – partly because his family of non-conformist, irreverent, macho brothers were so interesting to read about.  And partly because the circumstances of Pat’s death by so-called “friendly fire” were so disturbing. 

 I recommend the critically-acclaimed  2010 documentary, The Tillman Story which was made with the cooperation of many family members, and includes footage from Pat’s career and his time in Iraq and Afghanistan.  It’s chilling to see the highly-suspicious circumstances of Tillman’s death and the evidence of what appears to be a cover-up by high officials.  The incredible battle to get this evidence released was undertaken by Pat’s mom and is recounted in her moving account, Boots on the Ground By Dusk: My Tribute to Pat Tillman.  And finally, one of Pat Tillman’s favorite authors, Jon Krakauer, wrote the bestseller Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman – a thorough accounting of Pat’s life and death. 

Marie Tillman says in her book that "grief is messy; grief is complicated; grief is in many ways unending."  At this time, when the war in Afghanistan  is largely absent from the front pages, stories like these remind us of its tragic reality…  

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