The Mother’s Day Project

War is Personal

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For Some, Memorial Day is Everyday


It’s been a quiet morning at my house.  I’ve been listening to the radio, sipping coffee and nibbling from a bowl of strawberries.  Already, I’ve cried twice.

The first was while listening to an NPR story about placing the Memorial Day flags on the graves at Arlington Cemetery.  The story ended with the playing of taps, followed by Amazing Grace.  I had already been thinking about my father, a veteran of the Korean Conflict, and how it had been Memorial Day, 2003, when we buried his ashes in the small churchyard cemetery in rural Wisconsin.  We sang Amazing Grace at his funeral, and listened as his name was read for the first time during the Memorial Day church service roll call of local soldiers who had died.

The second time I cried was reading through my local newspaper’s tribute to those soldiers from my state who have died in Iraq or Afghanistan in the past year.  A parade of young, fresh faces of the dead, boys with sweet smiles, stories of parents awakened in the night by news of a son’s death, stories of husbands, wives, children and friends left to remember unfulfilled promises, unrealized dreams.

Today, all across this country, our political leaders will participate in remembering the military dead, the wounded, the maimed, the empty spaces that their loved ones will carry for the rest of their lives.  Some of them will reflect on their own military service, on the young friends and colleagues who did not return home with them.  But increasingly, there are fewer and fewer veterans making the decisions that send our young men and women into harm’s way.  These days, the road to political office is paved with money and privilege, good schools and friends in high places.  Military service is not an entree to the country club life of today’s powerful decision makers.

For those of us participating in The Mother’s Day Project, the remembering of Memorial Day will continue.  Our needles remind us that war is personal.  Each name has a story, a mother, a father.

During times of war, one day of remembering is not enough.



An earlier post – since deleted – referenced the death of Staff Sergeant Shannon Weaver as a female casualty. This is incorrect.

Staff Sergeant Weaver‘s name was mistakenly identified on the Iraq Coalition Casualty website.

My deepest apologies if the error caused any additional pain or distress to Staff Sergeant Weaver’s family or friends. While the scope of the “names” portion of The Mother’s Day Project restricts itself to female casualties, the larger goal is to personalize the losses of war. The loss of Staff Sergeant Shannon Weaver’s life is tragic.  I extend my sincere condolences to anyone whose life he touched in any way, large or small.

The Price of Duty

Many have written about the profound effect of personalizing the war in Iraq, and how this experience has been unexpectedly moving and emotional.


Recently, I have been thinking about the intellectual challenge that this personalization poses. I think it’s fair to say that most participants (certainly, not all) have been opposed to this war for a very long time. Yet, here we are attempting to more closely identify with soldiers who volunteered their futures and their very lives to serve our country with pride, patriotism and a sense of duty. Many of them, perhaps most, believed that the war in Iraq was necessary.


As many of you are discovering, the testimonials of friends and family left bereft by the loss of their loved ones reveal individual characteristics that are easy for us to identify with: a caring nature, a dedicated friend, an easy smile, a quick wit. And yet, we must often comes to terms with a divide, a belief on their part that serving their country in Iraq was a calling of the highest order, that the Iraq War was a just war.


For me, the issue becomes the essence of what it means to “support the troops.” No matter what differences I might have with a soldier serving in Iraq when it comes to the War itself, I admire their commitment, their courage, their pride and their unfailing sense of duty to their Commander-in-Chief.


George W. Bush. Commander-in-Chief. This man commands the devotion of honest men and women and can send them to be wounded, maimed, killed in the name of defending and protecting freedom and democracy. At a minimum, we have a right to expect that the reasons for exercising power of that scope be clear, that the decision making process be open, and that all avenues of diplomacy be exhausted before our young men and women – and their families – are asked to make the sacrifices required by war.


The truth about Iraq and the Bush Administration is slowly surfacing. There were no WMD’s. There were no links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden. This was a war that was fabricated on intelligence that was known to be false or highly suspect. And, worst of all, no one seems to have the slightest idea of how we extricate ourselves from a bloodbath that has already claimed the lives of 3,400 U.S. servicemen and women and somewhere between 64,000 and 69,850 Iraqis.


There isn’t a monument or a memorial large enough to inscribe that many names upon, but President Bush and the members of his administration who have supported and promoted this war under a veil of secrecy and lies, will carry the deep shame of those names with them forever.


Personal Condolences

This project is all about making war personal, but is there a limit to how personal we should make our involvement? Some of you have written asking if it would be alright to contact family members through personal websites or email.

After researching the lives of several women myself, I understand the impulse to express a personal message of sympathy. Doing so is not within the boundaries of this project, but if it feels right to you, if it’s a natural extension of your attempt to make a personal connection with one or more of the soldiers who have died in Iraq, I see no reason not to extend your heartfelt condolences.

But, just a word of caution. The way each of us handles, absorbs and comes to terms with the death of a loved is unique. Some family members may not want to be contacted, especially by strangers. Families, sometimes, wish to be left alone.

Because We Are All Daughters & Sons

The Mother’s Day Project is not – as the name would suggest – a cross-stitch sampler of aprons and biscuits and babies and other sentimental iconography associated with mothers and motherhood.  Truth is, The Mother’s Day Project is only marginally about mothers.


So, why the name?  Mostly, it evolved in the context of several on-going discussions and experiences from my own life, thinking about my years as a single-parent, blogging about the very real lack of support (both governmental and cultural) for working parents and their families, along with a healthy mix of stream-of-consciousness meandering of the sort that can only occur when one has time, quiet, sunlight and is just exhausted enough to allow the brain to meander and construct run-on sentences like this one.


It’s nice to discover that Julia Ward Howe envisioned the original Mother’s Day as a Peace Movement following her experiences during the American Civil War.  That fact certainly lends credibility to the name.  As human beings, the work of bringing peace to our personal relationships, our communities, our country and our world may be the most noble and necessary endeavor of our lifetime.  I am all in favor of returning Mother’s Day to its original purpose and I hope this small, grassroots project will advance a return to the genesis of the day.


The larger purpose of The Mother’s Day Project is to draw attention to the human cost of the Iraq War.  While the parameters of the Project focus on women who have lost their lives serving as part of the Coalition forces in Iraq, it is not meant to exclude recognition for others who have lost their lives due to this war.  Male soldiers, men, boys, girls, infants and Iraqi women have died in the thousands.  They are all worthy and deserving of our attention.  They were all part of the universal “us.”


This war, more than any other in my lifetime, has been removed from the collective psyche of our day-to-day lives. What we see, what we know and subsequently, what we feel is tightly controlled.  No flag-draped coffins.  Reporters are “embedded.”  Most days, the daily death toll from Iraq is buried in a sidebar of my local newspaper several pages inside.  And, when we do stop to think about the deaths we read about, we know they are only part of the story.  The real numbers coming out of Iraq reveal a level of violence and destruction that is, for most of us, too daunting, too numbing to comprehend.


The Mother’s Day Project, in making the losses of war personal, changes forever the sense of disengagement that the Bush Administration wishes us to feel.  Yeah, we can spend a couple of hours shopping at the mall as this administration wishes us to do, or, we can take an hour or two to forge a personal connection with someone who died in Iraq and, in doing so, never be able to look at those war statistics in the same detached way again.


That’s not a protest of the Iraq War.  It’s the birth of a revolution. 


Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

—from “Separation” by W.S. Merwin

Number 80

When I first imagined this project, there were 79 female fatalities listed as casualties in the Iraq War.  As much as I wanted that number to never change, I knew it would.  The eightieth fatality was confirmed by the Department of Defense a few days later.

Katie Soenksen, 19, died on May 2nd when an IED exploded near her vehicle in Baghdad.  Her funeral is taking place in Davenport, Iowa, probably as you’re reading this entry.

Like so many of you who have written or posted entries on your blogs about your experiences with The Mother’s Day Project, the connections we make posthumously – with strangers – can be unexpectedly powerful and moving.  As I was preparing the fabric swatch with Katie’s name, I felt that connection myself. 

While I was wondering how long the list of names could stay at 79, Katie was half a world away brushing her hair, thinking about her husband, laughing at a joke, dreaming in her sleep.  A few hours later, in my bright upstairs room on a beautiful Midwestern spring evening, Katie was a name on a piece of fabric.

She is not a statistic.  I am claiming Katie Soenksen’s name because, like this project, Katie claimed me.