Small is the number of people who see with their eyes and think with their minds.” ~ Albert Einstein

A Member of the Patriot Group Riders in Front of WBC Protestors

“Bigotry dwarfs the soul by shutting out the truth.” ~ Edwin Hubbel Chapin

So Kate Gosselin is having temper tantrums on “Dancing With the Stars.” Kim Kardashian is tweeting pictures of herself in a bikini. Madonna wants her daughter to wear more conservative clothing.  

WBC Protestors: Lunatics Laughing

Meanwhile, back in the real world, a 15-year-old New Jersey girl sold her 7-year-old stepsister to a group of men for sex. We’re seeing new allegations that then-Cardinal Ratzinger failed to defrock an American priest who allegedly molested 200 deaf boys in Wisconsin. And an appellate court ruled that Albert Snyder has to pay the legal fees for Westboro Baptist Church to the tune of over $16,000.  

I’m sorry. What? Westboro Baptist Church, that hate group that protests at fallen soldiers’ funerals? That group of lunatics who rejoiced in the deaths resulting from 9/11? That Westboro Baptist Church?  

Let me see if I have this correct:  

  • Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder was killed in Iraq, and his body was sent home for burial.
  • Members of Phelps’s group waved signs saying that “God Hates Fags” and “God Hates the USA” at Matthew Snyder’s funeral in 2006 because “military deaths are God’s punishment for America’s tolerance of homosexuality.”
  • According to a website created in Snyder’s honor, his relatives filed the civil lawsuit against the Westboro Baptist Church to “bring an end to the reign of terror and abuse that they inflicted” upon grieving families of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Albert Snyder sued Westboro and was awarded $11 million (later reduced to $5 million) in damages by a federal jury in Baltimore because the group “intentionally inflicted emotional distress on the family.” This award was overturned on appeal. The case is scheduled to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.
  •  Now, Snyder’s father, Albert has been ordered to pay $16,510 to Fred Phelps, leader of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas for legal costs.

Those are the most basic facts. What you have to infer, of course, is the magnitude of the most recent court ruling. Consider, Phelps and his band of haters make it their mission to protest at military funerals. They wave hate-filled placards at the mourners: “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” Really?  They sing songs of hate at the top of their voices all in the name of their god, who they say supports their actions.  

Now let me pause here. I am no Biblical scholar, but I have read many parts of the Bible. I do know that the god in the old testament is a more wrathful being than the loving god of the new testament. There is conflict there, and anyone who wants to find verses to support his or her claims can likely do so with enough searching. Still, I find it truly abhorrent that these nut cases are using god as their rallying cry for hate-inspired protests. However, the WBC contends that “God’s hatred is one of His holy attributes,” which in their small minds completely justifies their actions.   

“Too small is our world to allow discrimination, bigotry and intolerance to thrive in any corner of it, let alone in the United States of America.” ~ Eliot Engel

Shirley Phelps-RoperOkay. We’re back to that whole First Amendment thing, free speech for all no matter how nasty, racist, conservative, liberal, whatever. I get it. I really do. I support your right to protest. Hell, I even acknowledge that the Klan has the right to protest. But protest at a funeral? What happened to common decency?  

Have we become such a myopic society of us versus them that we no longer acknowledge even the barest niceties, you know, the right to have a funeral in peace? I mean, and this is a bit off subject but still on the subject of hate-filled protests, when we have been reduced to a society in which people see nothing wrong with spitting on members of Congress (and no, that wasn’t made up. I watched the video showing the spray of spit), what kind of society have we become?  

Of course members of Congress aren’t sanctified, nor are they above anyone else. Having said that, I don’t believe that it’s all right to spit on anyone. That’s the way that my parents raised me. Were these people raised in barns near donkeys?  

But back to my main point: Losing a family member to war, however that person died, is unbearably hard. Burying a child is beyond painful. Imagine, if you will, for one moment what it must have felt like for Mr. Snyder and his family and friends to have to be escorted into the service entrance of the church so that they didn’t have to see the protest signs. Imagine what it must feel like to kiss the coffin of your son, daughter, mother, father, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, while outside litanies of “God Hates Fags” are being screamed across the street.  

No one should have to imagine that.  

“Anger and intolerance are the twin enemies of correct understanding.” ~ Mahatma Ghandi

WBC Protestors: Stupidity Speaks for Itself

A little background on WBC for those of you who may not know a lot about this fringe group. Westboro Baptist Church is a small, homophobic, anti-Semitic hate group that stages protests all around the country. The group pickets any institutions or individuals who they believe are against god’s law, and they believe that their protests are a form of preaching to a country that is doomed.  

Since they are incorporated as a church, WBC is non-profit. It should be pointed out that WBC has no official affiliation with mainstream Baptist organizations and considers itself an “old school” or “primitive” Baptist church, i.e., belief in man’s total depravity and limited atonement for the elected.  

WBC targets include “schools the group deems to be accepting of homosexuality; Catholic, Lutheran, and other Christian denominations that WBC feels are heretical; and funerals for people murdered or killed in accidents like plane crashes and for American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.” WBC also protests at “dozens of Jewish institutions around the country, from Israeli consulates to synagogues to Jewish community centers, distributing anti-Semitic fliers to announce planned protests at these sites.”  

The only time that WBC has been convinced not to protest is when a local radio station in Pennsylvania offered the group airtime in exchange for not protesting at the funeral of the Amish schoolchildren who were gunned down in 2006 at the West Nickels Mine School.  

“Nothing dies so hard, or rallies so often, as intolerance.” ~ Henry Ward Beecher

Patriot Guard Riders Line the Street of Funeral Procession

Now I would be remiss in this post if I did not take a few lines to acknowledge the Patriot Group Riders as they have been instrumental in shielding grieving families from Phelps and his hate-mongers. I pulled the following from a letter of appreciation to the PGR from a Sergeant after learning of what the PGR does:  

“One thing we didn’t anticipate was the disrespect and hatred shown by the Phelps church group . . . protesting at our fallen brothers’ funerals, waving the banners and signs that they wave so ignorantly and so proud.  The first time I read about that in the ‘Stars and Stripes,’  I had to read it again, because I couldn’t imagine anyone being so hateful and disrespectful.  I just about cried after reading the article . . . Then, a few days later, there was an article about this group of bikers who were now putting themselves as a barrier between the protesters and the grieving families of our fallen soldiers.  I couldn’t believe that when I read it, either . . . the feeling we all felt that someone was actually doing something to counter the protesters was the best feeling I can’t even describe.  I was filled with pride to know that fellow Americans were giving up their time, honoring our fallen, regardless of whether they knew them or not, and providing a barrier from the protesters for the families grieving.”   

According to their website, the Patriot Group Riders have two objectives in their mission when attending funeral services of fallen American service men and women:  

  1. Show our sincere respect for our fallen heroes, their families, and their communities.
  2. Shield the mourning family and their friends from interruptions created by any protestor or group of protestors.

I have seen news footage of these awesome men and women and how they use their motorcycles and the American Flag to shield families from the likes of WBC. I am including a YouTube clip that I hope you take a few moments to watch. I know that watching the clip really helped to quell some of the intense rage that I was feeling immediately after reading about the injustice served up to Mr. Snyder by the courts.   

(If you are interested in making a donation to Mr. Snyder to offset the fine, please visit matthewsnyder.org. Since the announcement about the ruling, Snyder and his family have received thousands of e-mails and letters of support, as well as financial pledges to help pay the legal fees associated with filing a Supreme Court brief, as well as the outrageous fine.) 

  

I am also including a more tongue-in-cheek protest of WBC by Michael Moore . . . “Fred (knows) a lot about dog vomit.”  

  

 

“You do not see the river of mourning because it lacks one tear of your own.” ~ Antonio Porchia

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Hammarby Angel, Sweden

“Mourning is not forgetting . . . It is an undoing. Every minute tie has to be untied and something permanent and valuable recovered and assimilated from the dust.” ~ Margery Allingham

“Death lies on her like an untimely frost upon the sweetest flower of the field.” ~ William Shakespeare

yellow-minaiture-roses

Yellow Rose: Memory

I had an interesting conversation a few weeks ago that has stayed on my mind. A professional woman whose opinion I greatly respect told me that I am still grieving. Her comment momentarily took me aback for two reasons: I had not been talking about the loss of Caitlin. And secondly, it’s such an integral part of my life that I never stop to think about my grief.

But the truth of the matter is that yes, I am still grieving for Caitlin as well as for my father. I lost my baby girl many years ago. She was the second child that I carried, after Alexis, and the reality is that if we had not lost Caitlin, we may never have had the boys. But we did lose Caitlin. She was seven months and 16 days old when she died in my arms. Her death was a result of many things, the first being the malignant brain tumor. Everything else that came after only hastened her death.

The operation to remove the brain tumor was successful in that they were able to remove the entire tumor. I was told that it was the size of an orange. Imagine that girth in the skull of a seven-month-old baby . . . After the operation, Caitlin contracted a staff infection. After she had recovered from that, she began her chemotherapy. Essentially, I would have to say that the chemo probably was the real killer: it depressed her immune system so much that she ended up with pneumocystis, a particularly pernicious strain of pneumonia, the type that people suffering from AIDS can contract. The pneumonia led to her being put on a respirator. The respirator led to first one chest tube and then many chest tubes.

Ultimately, this string of events was too much for her small body. She died as she had spent most of her life: in my arms on a Monday afternoon at 2:42 on November 7.

To say that this day changed my life so completely does not even begin to describe the repercussions of losing my child. To say that I have grieved every day since may sound like hyperbole, but I do not think that it is.

“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.”  ~ William Shakespeare

grieving-angel-statue

Grieving Angel

For the first few years after her death, I visited the cemetery almost every day. Some days, I would sit there at her graveside and just keen until it felt as if my heart were completely empty. Other days, I would just sit and listen to the birds and enjoy the quiet communion. At times, I would imagine how I must appear to a casual observer, but then I realized that anyone who was in the cemetery with me, aside from the workers, was there for their own communions and cared little at all how I appeared.

Eventually, the grief became such an intrinsic part of my life that I believed that it no longer consumed me. Sometimes, the realization of her loss would come upon me unexpectedly, and I had no choice but to give in to the tidal wave of mourning. If these moments happened at home, I would take a shower to mask my tears and the ensuing moans that would escape my body so that Alexis and the boys, who were too young to really comprehend what was wrong, would not see or hear these unasked for echoes of my soul’s despair.

These moments assailed me less and less the more that time passed, but the truth is that they still have not completely disappeared. And now, if they come, they are sometimes a mixture of the loss of both my child and my father, and how completely helpless I felt at both of their deaths.

“When our children die, we drop them into the unknown, shuddering with fear. We know that they go out from us, and we stand, and pity, and wonder.” ~ Henry Ward Beecher

After Caitlin died, I went into therapy. It was that or be completely consumed by my grief. I learned a morbid fact in therapy: The loss of a child ranks as second or third on the list of the worst things that can happen to a person. Being a concentration camp survivor tops the list, followed by being a prisoner of war. Sometimes the first two are considered equal in how badly the effect of these events can crush the human psyche.

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Angel in Irish Cemetery

The usual platitude, of course, is that losing a child is unnatural in life’s grand scheme. One is not supposed to outlive a child. But I came to realize that life’s grand scheme was a sham, at least for me. My reasoning was thus: What grand scheme could possibly insert the loss of a child into the fabric of being? I’m not talking about religion or a loving deity here, just fate.

Fate truly is fickle. For how many of us actually have exactly the life that we imagined we would have? How many of us have suffered incredible losses that we could never anticipate? And then I had an epiphany: Fate will never be what you expect it to be. The ancient Greeks knew that, which is probably why they referred to fate in the plural: the Fates.

Fate, for me, was my enemy. It insinuated itself into my existence and wrapped itself around my heart like a tightly-fitting glove. And as a result, I found that my capacity for love was forever changed. Or at least that is how it felt for a while. Let me give you an example: After Caitlin died, I realized that I was holding back in my feelings for her surviving older sister—just at the time that she needed me the most.

It was not a deliberate act. Rather, it was an act of self-preservation; i.e., if I do not allow myself to love completely, then if I lose her, it won’t be as devastating.

This is how insidious the loss of a child can be. One begins to view life myopically. Everything is tinged by the loss, even the love that you still bear for those dearest to you.

“Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.” ~ From The Wonder Years

caitlin-and-me

Together With Caitlin In Normal Times

Fortunately, I was able to overcome my fear of loving my daughter. I realized that I could not let loss control my heart, no matter how much it tried to still my affection. I allowed myself to love completely again, and as a result, I had two more children, two boys. And in allowing myself to love again, I began to live again.

In the years that followed, I attempted to focus more on the time that we had with Caitlin, rather than the agonizing period in which we lost her. But again, as with most things, even this approach was faulty. The reverberations of a loss of such magnitude are farther reaching than most people realize, and to deny my memory the loss was to deny Caitlin’s entire life.

“By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, Remembering thee.” ~ Algernon Charles Swinburne

angel_statueI have found that people who have never suffered the loss of a child cannot possibly understand just how permanently it shapes your life. I once had someone ask me, in total seriousness, if it wasn’t time that I stopped grieving and moved on. What this person could not possibly comprehend was that I had moved on, but that the process of mourning is a never-ending process.

Like an ocean, mourning ebbs and flows, but it cannot be controlled completely. Time does heal, but simultaneously, time stamps forever in memory the life that was lost.

In the end, I suppose that how we grieve is a reflection of how we live. This was one of the things that ultimately drove an unmoving wedge between my former husband and me. There are those stages of grief that every grief counselor and therapist will tell the mourner about, and then they always add that individuals move through these stages differently. This is what happened to us; we moved through our grief differently, and eventually, separately, and few relationships can withstand such vast differences in functioning.

Which brings me full circle. The truth is that I still carry my grief with me. It is compartmentalized and for the most part governable. But it is omnipresent, and to deny that would be to deny my very existence. I fear forgetting, even though to do so is well nigh impossible because Caitlin will always be a part of who I am, of the face that I present to the rest of the world. And losing her does not negate my love for her.

I buried my beautiful, dark-haired daughter on a brisk November morning, but I did not bury myself with her, as much as I wanted to, tried to. I persisted and endured, and I am stronger for it, but my weakness will always be the loss of my baby girl. This is the pattern of life itself. This is a part of my tapestry, the one that I am still weaving. Perhaps, in some ways, it is the largest part, and it took an insightful remark to remind me of that. But while Caitlin colors every part of my life, she does not overshadow it. And this, more than anything, is probably the reason that I have survived.

There will be more later. Peace.