“Gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Today I was able to attend the Celebration of Life for Captain Tom Sitsch. It was good to be able to attend. I was able to meet his brother Mike and Sister Karen as well as many others who knew and loved Tom. These included men that I know from my time with EOD Group Two, some of whom have since retired from the military.
I was touched by the words that Mike and Karen spoke about Tom, as well as the remembrances of others. There were times during the service that I felt tears coming down my cheeks, and when I needed to wipe them from my eyes.
The pastor who spoke mentioned something that resonated with me. He noted that when he talked with Tom about God and faith, that Tom commented to him that “after all he had seen and experienced he didn’t know if he could believe in God.” That I can understand, there is something about the moral injury of war, not just the the physical injuries sustained or the clinical diagnosis of PTSD, or Traumatic Brain Injury that does terrible damage to the soul. A good number of people noted that they thought that he saw something, or experienced a loss in his last tour in Iraq that shook him beyond anything he had ever anticipated. That too I can understand.
It was good to be able to be invited to attend and for me it was a good chance to remember the life of a man who was there for me when I needed it. There was a slide show that depicted Tom’s life, his love for is family, his military career and the life that he attempted to life after his retirement. Between the stories, the shared memories and the pictures I gained an even greater appreciation for Tom Sitsch.
On a personal side it was just good to be there with people who knew and loved Tom. It was really good for me because for once I didn’t have any official role. I cannot remember the last time when I went to a memorial service where I was not involved in the planning, execution or participation in it, quite often as the primary speaker. For once I was able to grieve, remember and celebrate the man that I knew with others whose lives he touched.
It was just good to be with such good people, all of who loved and cared for Tom. There is something healing when people are able to grieve the loss of someone they love together. It is healing, even when tears are shed. Unfortunately, there is nothing any of us can do to bring Tom back. We all, his family, friends, and those that he served alongside all grieve, each in our own way, but we share a common grief, that of the loss of a man who touched our lives.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted about loss:
“There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so. One must simply hold out and endure it. At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort. For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled one remains connected to the other person through it. It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve — even in pain — the authentic relationship. Further more, the more beautiful and full the remembrances, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.”
The loss of Tom Sitsch left all of us with many beautiful remembrances, which as Bonhoeffer so correctly noted that his separation from us s “more difficult.”
But in the midst of the deep feelings of loss that all of us felt, there were questions. Many wondered what they could have done to change the tragic outcome. The question of “what if?” bothers all of us. Likewise, there was the realization that there are others, who like Tom who need help and are probably not getting it.
My prayers go put to all those who feel the loss of Tom Sitsch, especially his family, friends and those that served with him.
Tonight I heard from a Navy Chaplain that I had not talked to in a long time. It was really good to spend time on the phone with him. I had the honor of baptizing his children back in 2000 when he was my Religious Program specialist. He went on to become a chaplain and do well, serving in the thick of the fighting in Al Anbar Province with a Marine Corps infantry battalion, just missing getting blown up in a large IED blast after completing a service for Marines at a Combat Outpost. He will be retiring later this year, and I hope that he can get on with the Veterans Administration to continue to care for our veterans.
I do hope that in some little way that I can be of help to those who grieve, and those whose lives have been torn apart by the trauma of war. Hopefully, in my own small way, even though I am often filled with doubt, unbelief, and usually have more questions than I have answers, I can at least be there for people who struggle.
I go to bed tonight grateful for what Tom Sitsch did for me; for being invited to attend the service today, to be with others who grieve, and to reunite with an old friend. Those are some of the remarkable things about military life that I am thankful.
Well, that is all for tonight, except for a prayer:
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or
weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who
sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless
the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the
joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen. (From the Book of Common Prayer)