I’m not sure what to do with this season.  I don’t really have to, but I wish I did know what to do.  I do admire other countries and cultures that have a collective way of annually or repeatedly responding to the losses of death. Dia de los Muertos, praying the Kaddish, lantern festivals…  

It was a year ago that Pete stopped e-mailing from Iraq.  Pete had been there for Dan when his Mom died, and Brian when his sister died, Andrew when his loved one died and me when Noël went.  It would have been awkward anyway to lose him.  Death, especially of someone who it seems hasn’t yet filled their years, is strange and awkward at its very least.  Here is this dear fellow who cared for so many of us in our losses and then we were having to gather over losing him, consoling (or at least being present with) his family in his absence.  

On the one hand it feels like such a rip off to lose him.  What a loss to each of us.  What a loss to the Iraqis he strove to communicate with and translate for and honor.  He was so surprising in his choice to go to Iraq.  He wanted to be part of reconciling and supporting the folks there, and he chose to do so in uniform.       

And on the other hand, I was amazed with every e-mail that I was still hearing from him, amazed that he had headaches from the blasts from IEDs that hadn’t hit him.  From his words and determination, I appreciated him in whole new ways.  I thanked God for Pete’s life persisting and for how he was able to care for Iraqi citizens by getting people to hospitals and helping facilitate the protection of people who desperately wanted to rebuild their country peacefully and across sectarian lines.  I grieved with him as he spoke of Iraqi friends losing family members to insurgent fire and as he spoke of those working for peace becoming targets.  I wondered at how he was doing as he no doubt lost his fellow soldiers.  I loved that he could speak to children in their own language and build connections of care in simple interactions.  Iraq became tangible in his words which incited me to pray again with fervor for what (I’m so sad to say) had become a drone in the news.  

When we all gathered finally in January for the memorial, the auditorium smelled like him and felt like him and the words spoken about him nearly made him physically present.  And yet we were all gathered to collectively acknowledge that he was not here anymore.  All of us that had grieved together before, with Pete, were now grieving over him, looking around so to speak to catch sight of him, sensing his absence so strongly.  Pete, the dedicated friend, the oh so dedicated friend was absent.  I had been trying to figure when I would catch him while he was home on leave in December, but now I was catching almost everybody but him and simultaneously feeling his nearness and the ache of him missing.  And I felt the ache accutely for those I had mourned with before.    

My prayers are with his family this month in particular.  In my experience, grief keeps its own calendar.  Feelings surface with or without conscious acknowledgment of their cause.  I’ve learned to keep my eyes out for it. Being caught unaware seems to only complicate matters.  Why am I so pissed off?  Why do I feel so dull?  What in the world could be setting me off when my immediate surroundings seem like they should only be as right as rain?  

I’m so thankful to have had Pete in my life, to have his threads in my fabric.  I’m so thankful for that first time we met bashing heads as we collided in a night game of hide and seek.  I’m thankful that he kept after me for games of poker and with his open hospitality.  I have only gratitude for his seeking me out again as he headed to Iraq.  And I am thankful for his connection with God.  What more could I want for a friend?

My prayers are with his family, that they would sense themselves being carried through this swell.