Thursday, November 11, 2010

Letters to the dead

I have had some old letters on my mind today.  For some reason,  I can't get them off my mind.  I discovered them years ago when I closed the estate of an aunt in Virginia.  Among the possessions were a number of daily spiritual readers.  Inside the front and back covers of the books were letters that she had written to her son who was killed in action in France on September 13, 1944.

Throughout the book are notes written in the margins.  I believe that these daily readers sustained her in the days and years after her son was killed.  She poured out her feelings and her sorrow and her faith on these pages.

I am not a fan of war.  I hope that there will not be any more wars.  I want to remember the brave people who fought for us, but also to remember the tragedies of history so as not to repeat them.  So I've copied down excerpts from her letters here to remind me of the sacrifice and the tragedy of war.

Dear Son,
It is April 28, 1945.  I am visiting in a place of beautiful lakes, stately oaks and glorious flowers of all kinds that bedeck the sidewalks and gardens. The gray moss waves in the branches of the trees and glistens like silver making a picture so real that I marvel at the power of nature and God's wisdom in creating a world so restful and artistic.  

I came here two months ago.  Like many other mothers the world over, I had received a message: "The War Department Regrets." This message changed the whole course of your life, and a world of happiness becomes sadness and grief.  How foolish to run from sorrow.  Your loss, dear son, is so much apart of me, there is no escape. 

It has been said "We die the death inherent in our lives." We get the kind of death that our nature's attract.  The brave die adventurously.  You knew no fear and loved adventure.  Your bravery was so fully proven in facing death.  

God help me to accept with uncomplaining grace my heart breaking sorrow, and to carry on until such time, when I am called to sleep the sleep from which we wake no more.  And I pray, I will be worthy of meeting you son, who did and gave so much that my remaining years be spent in a land of peace.  Until we meet my dear, rest in peace.  

Monday afternoon, October 22, 1945
Dear Son,
A lieutenant buddy of yours came to see me today.  He had just returned from France.  He was with you when you were wounded and spoke with you before you passed on. 

He said you gave your life that many men could be saved.  He pictured you as a hero, loved by all and a true friend to the end.  I was so glad that he came for it seemed like a message from the beyond saying "Mother, chin up. I won't be back, I'm just away."
God bless you, my child. 

Letter to my son May 13, 1945
A day to remember son.  It's Mother's Day.  A day of prayer of victory in Europe. Eight months ago today you gave your young life paving the way, making this victory come true. 

There will be no roses for me today.  No message resting in the scented box saying "I love you Mother" for the boy who never forgot to remember isn't here any more. 

But dear I feel you know that the memories of those days are so alive and real that I will relive them so completely, that when the sun rests tonight in the west, it will be almost as if you were here.  

April 28, 1946

Dear Son, 
Tonight it came over the radio that the war in the West was over.  You dear will never know what a battle I fought.  I have to be happy for other mothers more fortunate than I.  I went out and took a walk with the little dog.  

There came over me a peace in the thought that you when in a football game, never cared how you came out as long as your team won.  Well, your team is winning now.  You paid an awful price my dear, but knowing you as I do, I know you would not think that price too high for complete victory.  I feel you must know when your team will reach the goal line, and your spirit will be there when the score is read the world over. 
My love,

And in the overleaf of the book where she wrote these letters, here is her hope:
"If ever you are burdened down
By the loss of those you love.
Just take this book, and turn the page
Meditate and think.

The consolation you'll obtain will give you strength and peace again.
In helping others, we forget
The cross we have to bear.
And trusting God to guide our steps,
We enter heaven by prayer. "

Amen to that.


  1. man...sad to have but...

  2. I have been very aware that is is Veteran's Day all day. And should I have written something about that? Given some thanks to the men and women who have fought the wars?
    I struggle with this. I am so adamantly against war. I believe it is a vestigial thing, evolved before we achieved the consciousness to realize that killing never solves a damn thing.
    And yet, I have to give respect to those who didn't believe that. Those who sacrificed. I don't know, Syd. I don't know.

  3. Simple. Beautiful. Honorable. Thank you.

  4. I am, again, reminded of how the Universe weaves the threads through the generations so that the hope lives on. What a perfect tribute for today. I imagine your aunt was an amazing woman.


  5. Oh, Syd, I am so moved by this. It is incredibly intimate and heart breakingly universal. Thank you for posting this on Veteran's Day, 2010, and God bless all the men and women serving with their hearts and minds in Iraq and Afghanistan. As always, the war(s) in the world reflect the war(s) within ourselves. Let peace begin with me.


  6. The top one, in the photo, is poetic.

    I love veterans, I am the granddaughter of a WWII bomber pilot, and I am a free American.

    Thank you SO MUCH for sharing something so personal and private with us. I wish I could favorite blog posts, because this one would make the cut.

  7. I wish there were no more wars as well.this way parents do not have to bury a son or a daughter that died in one.

  8. This moved me to tears. What a remarkable and brave woman.

  9. Thanks for sharing your letters.
    Your Aunt must have felt a great loss
    in her life with the death of her son.
    War is not a pretty picture ..........

  10. Wow. Very meaningful. I don't even know what to say because there is so much I am feeling and thinking. This is a truly special post.

  11. I see her so clearly, walking with dignity in her grief.
    Such grief is not a feeling, they tell me. It is a journey of days and years as your spirit accommodates a changed life within you. You don't get through it; you don't get over it. It becomes, instead, your companion.

  12. Syd, your blog is one I read first each day, to start me off on a good footing.
    Your measured thoughtfulness is a window for me, into a place of calm and serenity.
    Thankyou for this beautiful post.

  13. Oh, dear Syd -- - - what a poetically beautiful legacy you have discovered in this mother's correspondence by way of personal journaling to a son lost in the war! I am still wiping away the tears of sorrow for this dear lady, and at the same time being ever so grateful for the memory of waiting with my parents and 2 siblings in the country where we lived when the war ended - - - for my uncle - - - who got off the bus and ran to hug us all - - - tearfully, with laughs, and simply overwhelming love for the family that he returned from the war to once again take his place. I was 7 years old at the time, but the memory is just as keen and exciting as it was waiting to see that bus turn the corner of the river road in Louisiana and deposit our hero. Over the years, I have a similar experience in waiting for my brother to return from Vietnam, and a few years later, joyfully meeting my son at the airport on his way home from Kosovo.

    Thank you for the wonderful journaling your aunt provided - - - I feel it is quite historic, poignant, and it certainly brought back some happy and some sad memories for me of wars and those who do and do not return from wars.

    Your aunt was a very courageous and faith-driven person, truly blessed. And, so are you, Syd, to share these tender words here in this blog.

    I sign with great respect for all those who have served our country, and with much gratitude that we are still a free nation, thanks to these people's sacrifices.

    Anonymous #1

  14. Thanks again, Syd, for your making Veteran's Day a time for me to also stop and reflect on its meaning to my own family.

    Universal. I think our country's healing will come into view when we give an appropriate tribute to Vietnam vets as we did to those that fought in WWII.

    That tribute will be different, as, just like our current war in Iraq, the basis of our involvement was based on misleading use of "intelligence".

  15. Syd, what a treasure you've discovered, and how selfless of you to share it. I love that she wrote How foolish to run from sorrow... and acknowledged that it was a part of who she had become. If we who struggle with addiction can learn that, it will go a long ways in sustaining us on this journey of recovery. Bless you. xoxo

  16. So moving, Syd.

    I cannot imagine losing a child. Like you, I believe your aunt held herself together through the therapy of writing. It's a wonderful thing, isn't it?

    Thanks for sharing these.


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