Sunday, August 14, 2005

Forgive the Mother, But Don't Forget the Son

Twenty-two years ago, my friend J lost her only son shortly before his third birthday and her grief is so unbearable that she still cannot visit his gravesite.

Last year Cindy Sheehan lost her son, who was 24, and her grief is front-page news.

Both deaths were premature and likely avoidable.

How did J’s son die? The doctor who months earlier performed the most delicate surgery on her son’s brain later accidentally caused a stroke, which led to the pneumonia that took his life.

How did Cindy’s son die? Army Specialist Casey Sheehan chose to enlist in 2000 and was serving in Iraq as a mechanic. According to Time Magazine, he "had gone out on a voluntary mission to rescue injured soldiers when his unit was ambushed. Six other soldiers died with him.”

My friend J moved more than halfway across the United States in part to distance herself from the circumstances of her great loss. I know she felt anger and despair to a degree I have never experienced. Yet she somehow forgave her son’s doctor and never sought punishment. Recently J's mother passed away from a progressively debilitating illness, leaving J's maternal grandmother as a survivor. We discussed how painful it is to lose a child at any age.

I have lost grandparents, beloved parents, a sister, aunts, uncles and other loved ones. I have been close to dear friends stricken by their own grief. I have concluded that grieving is the most deeply personal act, and each of us mourns in a manner true to and revealing of our own character.

Cindy Sheehan has personalized her grief in the most politically punitive way. She is using her grief in a calculated effort to take down the Commander-in-Chief, without any apparent regard for the effects of her increasingly inflammatory rhetoric on the sons and daughters of America still serving in Iraq. During the 2004 presidential campaign, Mrs. Sheehan made a tearful anti-war commercial against President Bush. Recently she changed her version of the meeting she had with the President last year.

I have seen a mother's grief at close range, but I cannot testify to it. I cannot and will not second-guess Cindy Sheehan’s grief, which is compounded by the sudden loss of her son at a great distance away and in a cause with which she passionately disagreed even before his tragic death. But I do not accept that every political action she consciously decides to take springs naturally and purely from her grief.

At his press conference last week in Crawford, Texas, where Mrs. Sheehan has set up a moveable shrine to the anti-Bush movement as much as to her son, the President reaffirmed her right to speak her mind, which I have not heard anyone contest. I think those of us who disagree with Cindy Sheehan can respect her grief and still question her right to be the sole public spokesperson for her son. We have no evidence that she is a symbol representative of anyone but herself and those who subscribe to her anti-American and, if the Drudge Report is accurate today, anti-Israeli politics.

As Mohammed, one of the two Baghdad brothers who blog at Iraq the Model, wrote so eloquently in his open letter to her, Mrs. Sheehan is one of thousands of mothers who lost innocent children in Iraq. I encourage you to read his letter as a reminder why we must honor and thank Army Specialist Casey Sheehan.

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