God Allows Adversity for the Greater Good | The Story of the Death of my Marine Brother Salem, and How it Changed my Life Forever | Part 1 of my Testimony as a Traditional Catholic

It was Holy Thursday, April 13, 2006.

I was 16, and my twin sister and I had just finished playing our instruments for the first time at Mass. We were on our way home when my mom got a call from my dad who was at home that night – there were two Marines on our doorstep and they refused to tell my dad anything until my mom came home.

We drove home furiously, rattling off as many Our Fathers and Hail Marys as we could.

We knew my brother had been deployed for the second time to Iraq since February and had emailed him several times since then.

But this was a night different than all the rest.

A script for the fallen

As soon as we got there, we saw the two Marines in their dress blues with a grim look on their faces.

When my mom was in the living room ready to receive the blow that was coming, one of the Marine’s began to read…”The commandant of the Marine Corps has entrusted me to express his deep regret that your son, Salem Bachar was killed in action in Al Anbar province, Iraq on April 13, 2006 by a mortar. The commandant extends his deepest sympathy to you and your family in your loss.”

My mother fell to the floor in total anguish, heartache and grief. My sister and I stood motionless as we heard the sobs of my mother, my father holding back tears the only way a man could.

“I don’t care about anything else, when do we get to see the body?”

“The body is in the care of his wife.”

“Wife??? He wasn’t married!!!”

“He was married in a private home ceremony two weeks prior to his deployment.”

“What??”

A double shock

Prior to his first deployment to Iraq, my older brother (4 years older) had been seeing a woman my parents did not approve of…she was not a Catholic. Due to this relationship, he left the Church and became a Protestant, attending her church’s services. Safe to say our family had a very tense relationship with him at that time.

My sister and I were barely starting to learn more about our faith, having just been confirmed the year prior. We had exchanged emails on general terms, but the resentment was still there.

My brother was so wounded by my parents’ denial of this relationship, but it only served to distance them more when he denied the faith he grew up with. I guess you could say there wasn’t much to expect from a nominal, Novus Ordo CCD religious education, because the truths of the faith were not imprinted on his soul.

But the mark of his baptism was.

No, it was a triple shock

We found out later that the mother of the woman, who had been good friends with my mom up until the point my brother starting dating her daughter, had the wedding in the backyard of her home two weeks before he deployed the second time in 2006.

My family was devastated. But despite this, we never recognized this “marriage”. He, as a baptized Catholic, could not marry a non-Catholic…there was no “sacrament”, just an illicit ceremony and apostasy from the faith on his part. He had no idea, just a young 20-year old following his heart.

Because of something my mother said to the woman, they did not allow us to see his body before it was buried, even after hours of talking and negotiating with her. For a mother not to be allowed to grieve over the dead body of her son…it was just too much to bear. Despite my mother’s failings (who is perfect except God?), I know she later forgave the woman.

My family was only able to have a memorial service (we were still Novus Ordo) with no body since their family decided to have the funeral at the exact same time we would.

We found out after my dad’s family did some investigating online that he was buried in a secular cemetery in Los Angeles close to where she lived. They sent us the grave information and we were ecstatic.

As soon as we found out his location, we took a road trip from San Diego to Los Angeles, took the winding road up the vast cemetery and traced his grave.

A resting place for our grief

Finally, we could see our brother…we were left with none of his belongings since he had joined the Marine Corps, not even his boots. Everything went to the woman.

We prayed a rosary, hugged his grave and talked to him as if he were still there. It was hard coming to grips with the fact that our 20-year-old brother had been killed, taken away from us, just like that.

We came home, hearts empty, yet hands wide open much like Job, ready to receive whatever it pleased God to send us: “…naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away: as it hath pleased the Lord so is it done: blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 1:21

The days and years went by, but I distinctly remember walking home from my high school graduation a year later and thinking “Hey, I should call Salem and see how he’s doing…oh wait…” my heart would sink when I remembered he was dead. I know many of our family and friends had similar experiences due to not being able to say goodbye. We tried to move on with our lives as best we could but it just wasn’t the same without him.

He was such a “legend” at my high school that when my sister and I entered the same high school they knew us as “Salem’s little sisters”. We were always so annoyed at that, and yet proud that, yes, we WERE his little sisters. People knew not to mess with us then!

After his death, our school made a little memorial in the front entrance for him…it was truly touching to see how many lives he had touched. The websites for fallen heroes were teeming with people from all walks of life that he had met and made an impression on…we had no idea how many had known and loved him.

“But prove all things; hold fast that which is good” 1 Thess 5:21 and our reversion to the faith

It could be said that in times of trial or sadness, one could pick two roads – one full of resentment towards God, leading away from Him, and the other leading towards Him, grasping onto the faith and finding meaning in the misery.

We chose the latter.

My sister and I flung ourselves headlong into the Catholic faith, trying and testing all the reasons why we should be Catholic (1 Thess 5:21). We began to learn apologetics – the study of how to defend the faith – and in the meantime we were learning the doctrines and catechesis we missed in our fragmented education of Catholicism.

Our faith was strengthened in that time of adversity, and after a few winding roads following that unfortunate evening of Holy Thursday all those years ago, we become traditional Catholics, clinging to the Latin Mass and the faith of our fathers (truly, for my grandmother had lived through the changes of Vatican II as a young mother).

If it weren’t for his death, I would never have woken up from my spiritual slumber. I would never have gone to music school. I would never have discovered traditional Catholicism. The Lord’s ways are truly mysterious…may His name be praised forever and ever! Amen.

Stay tuned for part 2 of my testimony and road to traditional Catholicism!

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