War Widow Confronts Legacy of Loss and Reconciliation
(Reprinted with permission of Pauline Laurent)
For three decades Pauline Laurent avoided Prairie du Rocher and the painful memories associated with her hometown of 600 people, 50 miles southeast of St. Louis.
The small French community where she was living with her parents at the time of her husband's death in the Vietnam War recently invited her to attend a dedication ceremony honoring the men from the community who had made the ultimate sacrifice.
Pauline had mixed feelings about returning to the "scene of the crime" as she calls it. She had ventured back to Illinois to visit family over the years but this trip would be different. The war memorial to be dedicated was just down the street from the house on Henry Street where she was living when the green sedan bearing the words, "US Army" pulled up in front of her home and two men in uniform approached her with the message:
"We regret to inform you that your husband, Sgt. Howard E. Querry, was fatally wounded on the afternoon of May 10 by a penetrating missile wound to his right shoulder."
At the time, she submitted to the prevailing notion that tragedy was best quickly forgotten, especially any connected with the Vietnam War. Instead of working through the stages of grief, Laurent fled with her daughter, moving steadily further away from the Midwest. The running continued until 1990 when the breakup of a relationship and the end of a career triggered "one loss too many" which catapulted her into a major depressive episode. For 18 months, she vacillated between writing suicide notes and realizing that she couldn't destroy her daughter's life by taking her own. Laurent eventually sought counseling and began writing her story. Grief Denied: A Vietnam Widow's Story, Laurent's memoir, was 7 years in the making.
With the writing of her memoir, Laurent thought she had completed her grieving process and that the trip back to Illinois for the dedication would be anti-climatic. She found out otherwise.
On Saturday afternoon as Laurent read from her book at a bookstore in St. Louis, she noticed a Catholic priest in the audience who had buried his head in his hands and was sobbing. After the reading he informed her that he had taught her husband at St. Louis University in 1966.
I lost two students in that war, he told Laurent, your husband and another young man who went to Canada. Years later when he was granted amnesty, he returned to the states, but he's never been the same. He cracked up.
The dedication ceremony began with a parade that wound its way down Main Street past St. Joseph's Church were she and Howard were married on September 30, 1967. Eight months later on May 25, 1968 she followed his coffin draped with the US flag down the aisle. Thirty-two years later, she marched past St. Joseph's again on her way to the cemetery for a tribute to honor her husband's sacrifice.
At the cemetery, a Gold Star mother laid a wreath on her son's grave. The community of Prairie du Rocher welcomed home a war widow who had lived in silence and isolation for 25 years. In her speech at the dedication ceremony, Laurent spoke of the difficulty she experienced in coming to terms with the loss of her husband. It's hard to heal from the loss of a loved one when you can't view their body. Her husband's body had been returned marked: Non-viewable.
Laurent concluded with these comments, "Last year on July 4th, I hung an American flag in front of my house for the first time in 30 years -- I knew some sort of reconciliation had occurred. For many years, I was angry with my husband, my country and my God for my husband's death in the war. We can't change the past, but we can make peace with it.
Pauline Laurent, author of Grief Denied - A Vietnam Widow's Story, is available for interviews and speaking engagements. For more information go to www.griefdenied.com or call her at: 707-578-4226.
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