Grief with a Backstory


Every day she held the color photo

To her chest

Waiting for him

To come home,

That’s what she said.

I was there to borrow

The badly wrinkled Marine

For tomorrow’s front page.

I extended my hand,

And she asked,

Has the cat been fed?

Has the cat been fed

Was all she said

Now that

Her son was dead.


The Backstory: In December 1968 a newspaper editor told me to interview a mother who had just found out her son had been killed in Vietnam. I was urged to get a photo of this fallen Marine. I was new on the job as a newspaper reporter with a draft classification of 1-A for a New Jersey daily. Not long after the article and photo were published, I was drafted into the Army. When I completed basic training, I had an official military photo taken in color. I wondered, briefly, if the photo would end up as a wrinkled reminder of a life wasted in a war.  But, I survived, although I have never forgotten that when I asked this grieving mother for the photo of her son, she had a blank stare and said, “Has the cat been fed?”

Today, when I read about all those who have died over Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, I think of the broken mothers (and fathers) who have lost a son or daughter in battle and that brings me back to the kitchen where I sat with the mother who had just found out her son had been killed in Vietnam. That was 55 years ago but it was also…now.

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