Monday, May 28, 2012

On This Memorial Day: Two Heartbreaking Iconic Images of Grief And Redemption

From Lily Burana, author of I Love a Man in Uniform: A Memoir of Love War and Other Battles (Weinstein Books). Her husband, a former soldier, is a veteran of Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Taken by the photographer Todd Heisler from his 2005 award-winning series for The Rocky Mountain News, “Jim Comes Home” — which documents the return and burial of Second Lt. Jim Cathey of the Marines, who lost his life in Iraq — the photo shows his pregnant widow, Katherine, lying on an air mattress in front of his coffin. She’s staring at her laptop, listening to songs that remind her of Jim. Her expression is vacant, her grief almost palpable. 

It is the one and only photo that makes me cry each time I see it. What brings the tears to my eyes is not just the bereaved young woman, but the Marine who stands behind her. In an earlier photo in the series, we see him building her a little nest of blankets on the air mattress. Sweet Lord, I cry just typing the words, the matter-of-fact tenderness is so overwhelming. So soldierly. But in this photo — the one that lives on and on online — he merely stands next to the coffin, watching over her. It is impossible to be unmoved by the juxtaposition of the eternal stone-faced warrior and the disheveled modern military wife-turned-widow, him rigid in his dress uniform, her on the floor in her blanket nest, wearing glasses and a baggy T-shirt, him nearly concealed by shadow while the pale blue light from the computer screen illuminates her like God’s own grace. 
This photo was taken at the funeral of Petty Officer 1st Class Jon Tumilson, killed in Afghanistan. The photo shows Tumilson’s loyal dog Hawkeye lying by the soldier’s casket where he refused to leave. On top of the casket sat a framed photo of Tumilson, posing with Hawkeye during happier times. The photo was taken by Tumilson’s cousin, Lisa Pembleton, who wrote that she “felt compelled to take one photo to share with family members that couldn’t make it or couldn’t see what I could from the aisle.”

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