Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Thoughts from an awkward mourner...

Let me preface this by saying that I am a very… awkward mourner. For someone who takes to the spoken and written word pretty easily, I can never find the right thing to say at the time I want to say it. And I never know what to say to those closest to the deceased. “I’m sorry,” of course, but beyond that… I’m more of a do-er than a speaker or pray-er. Please, give me something to DO that will help make your life easier in this difficult time. What activity can I accomplish so that you don’t have to do it? How can I show you how sorry I am and how much I want to help?

This works when you are relationship-wise or geographically close to someone. You can do the dishes, cook a meal or just sit silently with the person so they don’t feel quite so alone. But if you aren’t both of those things, there isn’t much an awkward mourner like me can do.

Now, please do not think that the bulk of this post is about me. It certainly is not. I just wanted to explain myself so that readers might cut me a break… if anything in this post sounds less than eloquent or odd, it’s because I am an awkward mourner, and not because of anything else. I have the utmost respect for the family who lost its loved one and would never want to intrude upon their privacy. However, nothing here, other than my personal thoughts, is private information. Everything can be found online, and I will provide the links.

I think this blog post is also important because I have come to realize that people who have never lived in small communities just don’t “get” it. My spouse was raised in a small, rural community in Illinois, but I have had to learn about it during our marriage, with encounters with his small community, and then here in Iwakuni. If you are moving to Iwakuni from another duty station, one that was probably larger than this one, this is something you will need to learn. Do not air your dirty laundry on the Iwakuni Classifieds, do not wear yoga pants to the Exchange unless you want to start an uncivil war, and learn the balance between privacy and expressing genuine concern in an appropriate way. I struggle with that last point. Couple that with my awkward mourner tendencies and this blog is what you get. This is my attempt to DO something as I mourn, because while I live in the same 5,000-member community, I, admittedly, am not close to the family who lost its loved one. But, for some reason that is foreign to me, I still felt loss. I can only assume it comes from the proximity of living in a small community.

Last week the MCAS Iwakuni community was struck with terrible news: Capt. Reid Nannen, a fighter pilot stationed in Iwakuni, and 10-year Marine Corps veteran, crashed during a training exercise in Nevada and did not survive. His wife, Sarah, and four children, were at home in Iwakuni awaiting the completion of his training, one of the children a baby girl born just 6 weeks ago and had yet to meet her father in person.

While I met Reid only once in passing, I know Sarah better, professionally. She is a talented photographer with a passion for empowering women during pregnancy, natural childbirth and motherhood. She is a doula, as well as a maternity and newborn portrait photographer. We were part of the same small photographer community aboard MCAS Iwakuni and my encounters with her were always positive. She was quick to encourage me to "dust off" my photography degree and put it to work as a photographer here. She is a strong, driven woman who knew what her passions were and wasn’t afraid to reach for and achieve her goals – including going to extremes to have the childbirth experience she wanted for her fourth child. Click on the link and you'll see exactly what I am talking about.

I could relate to her… I, too, am driven about what I am passionate about. Of course, we are not passionate about all of the same things… I like epidurals and can barely maintain my sanity with two children. But we both appreciated the stories that great photos tell, as fellow photographers. Whenever I met up with her she was positive, funny and eager to share information. She seemed to know what would make her happy and went for that, yet wasn’t afraid to say “no” so she could focus on the things she really wanted to do. She took beautiful portraits of many infants on base, and assisted women to bring their babies in to the world in a country and medical system that was completely foreign to them. She organized get-togethers for expectant and new moms to help them in their new roles. Sarah was ingrained in the Iwakuni community and made a difference everywhere she went.

I know that a woman like this, especially with four children, needs to also have a strong and supportive husband whose focus was not only on being a Marine, but also made his family a top priority. A man who did everything he could to master the work/home balance despite the never-9-to-5 needs of the Marine Corps. I know, because I am fortunate enough to have a husband like that. So, while I did not know Reid, I could see who he was through Sarah, her happiness, and her approach to life. And I liked him very much.

It broke my heart to watch the news of Reid's death play out over the past week. I never did go to see Sarah. I heard she had plenty of help and, like I said, I did not know her well. The do-er in me wanted to do something for her, but I think the best thing I could have done was stay out of the way. Too much help from virtual strangers is probably the last thing someone needs when her husband has died.

So, this blog post is me do-ing. On her Facebook page, Sarah asked that people tell her birth story to help her family celebrate Reid’s life. So… I’m sharing. And I hope you will, too. Feel free to share the link to this blog post, or to any of the pages I've embedded links to in this post. Do what you can to honor Reid and his family.

If you would like to help the Nannen children, a memorial fund has been set up for them in Reid's name. You can access it here.

Sarah, if you happen to read this, I wish nothing but the best for you and your young family. I admire your strength and courage and am deeply sorry for your loss. If there is ever anything I can do for you, please do not hesitate to ask. It’s the least I can do to repay you for the impact you have made on me, and the Iwakuni community.

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