From an Afghan Morgue

“So one day we get this 15 or 16 year old boy who had been hit by a truck and died in surgery in our hospital. We processed him like always and get the call that the family is ready to pick him up. … Turns out, that somewhere in the chain of the boy arriving at the hospital, going into surgery, dying, being sent to us, and getting taken to the gate, noone had actually informed his family that he was dead. … We pulled the ‘terp to the side, and explained that we were Mortuary Affairs and that everyone there was about to have a terrible day. He needed to tripple check that the name for the person they were picking up was correct. Then, if it was, he would have to inform this friendly guy that wanted to support his son on the walk home that his son does not have a broken leg. His son is dead. He is wrapped in white muslin in a black body bag in a wooden casket in the back of our big white box truck. In a minute I’m going to lower the ramp on the back, and I’m going to climb in the back of the truck with him and open the casket and the body bag, and I’m going to show him his dead son’s face to make sure that it is the right boy. The terp went completely pale as we explained this, but could tell immediately that we weren’t joking. The conversation was hard to watch; even though you can’t understand the words exactly, you know exactly when the news is delivered and can see the man’s world being crushed. I lowered the tailgate/ramp and could tell the moment the casket came into the guy’s view. I helped him up into the truck and tried not to notice how badly he was shaking. Opening the casket, I unzipped the HRP (Human Remains Pouch – Body Bag) and gestured if he wanted to loosen/remove the shroud. As a non-muslim I knew I wasn’t really supposed to handle the kafan, but I could only imagine how hard it would be for him to do it himself. He shook his head and asked me to do it. His hands covered his mouth as my hands moved to reveal his son’s face. In Afghan culture there isn’t the same machismo/stiff-upper-lip kind of upbringing the way there is in a lot of Western Countries. I’ve had to have men identify loved ones in the States, and while you can see how much it hurts, they also try to hold it in. To put on a brave front. Afghan men don’t generally do that. They are open about their grief, and cry to the heavens, often slapping themselves on the face or beating their chests as they take it in. It’s not uncommon for every pallbearer to be crying and screaming as they take the casket and load it into their car. The father didn’t do that. He just stopped completely still and said the boy’s name in a whisper. Tears sprang to his eyes and he looked at me. I couldn’t think of anything to say but ‘I’m sorry… Sharmanda.’ He hugged me harder than I’d ever been hugged before, sobbing into my shoulder. I let the kafan fall back over the boy’s face and wrapped my arm around him. I’m sorry to say it took me another few seconds to take my other hand off my rifle to really hug him back. This sort of thing happened three times on my deployment.

From a thread on Reddit






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