War really is hell. And hell has many dimensions. There is the hell of the battlefield, of course, but there is another hell that only those who enter it can know, that is, the hell that the parents and families enter when they receive the crushing word that their son or daughter has fallen on the battlefield. When this happens they earn a title that none would ever have wanted or imagined: Gold Star Mothers/Families.
Each year there is a unique event that is held in a historic hotel in San Francisco, the Marines’ Memorial Hotel and Club. The event brings together Gold Star families of the post 9/11 wars and gives them an opportunity to support one another, to share their struggles, and to continue the never ending process of healing and closure. It was started by a group of Blue Star Mothers (those who have sons or daughters currently serving in the military) who, though they could not know what the Gold Star mothers were going through, felt the need to do something for them. Each year new Gold Star mothers and families come to the event, tentative and unsure of whether it will only serve to reinforce their suffering, or if it will be the beginning of their own journey out of hell.
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Mike Anderson lost his son in 2004 when he fell in the battle of Fallujah in Iraq. He thinks of his son, Mike Jr., every day. Mike Jr. was his only son. The pain never goes away for him, but time has rounded off the edges of it a bit and he now comes to the Gold Star Families event every year and acts as one of the ambassadors who welcome the new families who are still raw with their grief.
Over the years he has given much thought to his son’s sacrifice, and he said he has come to a conclusion:
“My son went abroad to help people that he’d never met, that he would probably never see again… It’s just that, in some ways, it’s human nature to want to help others.”
Going to the annual event and serving other families in their grief, Anderson is doing what his son did; he is leaning into that same natural human tendency to help others. It seems that, though the pain of his immeasurable loss remains, he is finding meaning in it and gaining some sense of healing in helping others who come to this event.
The truth is that most of us cannot imagine the emotional hurricane that suddenly overwhelms a parent’s mind and heart at the moment that they are told that their child has been killed in action. The confusion, the horror of the reality, the natural instinct of denial, the surge of anger… The first dark weightiness of depression that rushes suddenly into one’s consciousness with a terrifying, undeniable force makes the world seem alien, off-balance, and unreal. But the truth cannot be denied. The courage that it takes to meet this storm, to begin to walk in it, is unimaginable.
believes that those who have fallen in defense of the nation and freedom, and their families must be honored and remembered. These families must not suffer in isolation. As a nation, and as their neighbors, we must let them know that we love them. We are thankful that the Blue Star Mothers have created this annual event for our Gold Star families in San Francisco.