Read Brenden Allen's post about the 'normal' period for grieving. It's a good read. He's articulate and thoughtful. Naturally reading it propelled me down a dark, overgrown garden path where the stones are moldy. Unsurprising, I ran into Ed.
Ed is not dead although I'm dead to him. Neither of us grieved abnormally but he suffered survivor guilt. This is more about regret.
The same age as me, Ed and were stationed together in a flying unit in Germany. He was a captain and a navigator for our C130s. I was an E6. I made master and he made major and we hung around together a lot. We shared attitudes about laughing at things, working hard and having a good time. We took mission and duty seriously.
Germany's reunification meant our mission was ending. At the same time, Desert Storm began. I volunteered to go in country and was turned down as being mission critical even though we were drawing down. Ed volunteered and was released for a new duty assignment, his dream of being part of gunships.
C130 crews love gunships. What's not to love about an aircraft firing cannons and mini-guns out of its doors and windows? Ed was thrilled and excited, and we kept in touch as he went off to his new duty assignment while I stayed in Germany, awaiting transfer.
Ed was married with a young daughter and his wife was pregnant with a second. She gave birth in November but the newborn had heart problems. They weren't sure if she would live. Ed and I lost touch briefly as the nation ramped up Iraqi/Kuwait operations. The firing war began. I clearly remember walking through the base exchange past a television tuned to CNN and hearing that a C130 went down. I froze and listened, wondering if friends were aboard it. When they told the entire crew was killed and how many that was, I knew it was a gunship.
Days passed. I watched for the names of the dead. When the list came out, I recognized a couple friends but Ed wasn't there.
Combat losses are strange beasts. We were all professional, careeer people. First termers were not part of our missions. Being killed is part of the profession. While I missed my friends killed and grieved, I accepted.
I later heard Ed's story. That was his aircraft that went down, his crew killed. He'd been about to board when his commander drove up and told him he was being sent home on humanitarian leave. His newborn needed open heart surgery.
I rotated back to America and Ed contacted me, confirming the story: "I literally had my foot on the first step and was reaching for the rail when my commander drove up and told me I had to go home. I was so disappointed. I argued with him but he was firm. My wife needed me. My family needed me."
They put him on a C141 heading stateside. When it landed in Torrejon, Spain, to refuel, he heard the news of his crew's death. It devastated him, tore him apart as time went on. He used the words, "I should have been on there. I should have died, too." He began calling me every night, usually around midnight, drunk. I did a lot of listening and then began urging him to get help. He started talking about suicide. I finally called his commander and told him, Ed needs help.
Ed was furious and told me, "You have no right. You ruined my career. You're dead to me."
A week later, Ed's commander called and gave me a brief update about an intervention they conducted. Ed went through drug and alcohol rehab, became a light colonel and retired after a long career. He never spoke to me again. I've called him. He hasn't returned my calls.
So thinking about all of this, I thought, what if I had a time machine and could go back and change one thing? Would I go back and do it differently with Ed? But what could I do differently? Handle it differently, change it so he got on the C130, or changed it so he never went on the assignment? Stop the war?
But if there was a time machine invented and a program set up where you could go back and change one thing, would it be Ed?
I don't think so. Narrowing it down from the great social events, the assassinations and so on, and just settling on my own life, friends and family, there are other matters I would consider more strongly. The people revisted in the graveyard included a friend who murdered his girlfriend, beheaded her and set her on fire beside the autobahn. A friend dead of a drug overdose and another severely beaten by her boyfriend. A cousin killed while joyriding just after graduating high school. A cousin and close friend who died of a heart attack when he was forty while he was paying for a pizza being delivered. A childhood friend who stepped on a downed live powerline and was electrocuted. A three year old step-brother killed when his mother ran over him while backing her car.
It's a tough list. Everyone probably has a similar list. I think, though, as worthy as all of those are, I would probably go back and save the little brother whose death caused my mother so much grief. The memory of her sobbing at the sink is seared into me. I want that moment to never be.
Causes Michael Seidel Supports
Kiva, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Propublica.org, Doctors Without Borders, GreaterGood.com