Military Ties

Today one of my children is moving to Korea as part of a military assignment. This means that I have children in Colorado, Alaska, the Netherlands, DC, and Korea. For most people it is hard to understand being flung to every end of the earth. While we do not have phone calls every day and it is sometimes easy to let a few weeks go by, it in no way negates the closeness we share. It is in knowing that our time together is limited that we are united. Growing up, my children only had each other and Phil and I. Since I stayed at home so many years and we moved so often, my children grew up as friends. I love that they still lean on each other and that I have to find out from a brother or sister what is going on sometimes, but I think that is one of the many positive outcomes from growing up as a military brat. While I wish I could plan a normal family vacation with all of us, the reality is that it may be 2016 before we are all together again. That is a long time away, yet when we do get together it is as if we never left.

I think that my grief journey was harder in some ways for me, and perhaps easier for them because we did not have one another to lean on. We all grieved individually and have found our way back together in a patched up version of what we once were. Something –or rather, someone is missing. He will always be missing, but the memories and ties are unbreakable. Perhaps it was better that we did not live close to one another because none of us could stay stuck and dependent. I think I might have because it took me awhile to find my footing and to recognize that all five of my children and I were grieving in unique ways and on a personal timeline. Indeed, adaptability and flexibility are some of the strongest coping strategies military children develop because of the life in which they have no say so in. My journey was and is simply my own. Not all of my children understood or even supported the public nature of my grief, but this isn’t a right versus wrong way to grieve. I own my journey. My journey has brought me to a much greater appreciation of my life and for the unique nature of my family. I have my children who love me without reservation and they have me that has loved them the same way since before birth. I also have my military brothers and sisters who are my family. Like my children who do not call or visit daily, my military family lives all over the world. Traumatic loss has brought us closer and we understand a journey that few understand. Traumatic grief brought us together even though we live all over the world and we are all different ages and ranks. Like my children, we have all grieved differently, but now the friendships are forged in fire tested iron. No matter where we are, or how much time has elapsed between seeing one another, our ties exceed the normal friendships or family connections.

The military family is perhaps the most adaptable, flexible, and resilient unit I know.  We can move with very little notice and we readily accept newcomers into our community recognizing that we all share the same loyalty, passion, and commitment to our country and to the nomadic lifestyle of our choice to serve.  In the military family, faces echo one another as people move in and out of our lives, and as we move in and out of others.  What the world fails to see is that the invisible goassamer ties forge us together for life.   As I yearn for a family get together and laughter, I am thankful for moments we have and the memories we share. I am the proud mom who recognizes that the strength of our parenting and that the grace of God has given my children wings to fly, success, and a strong commitment to God and country. Godspeed and stay safe. Be happy and call when you can. It is all I can ask of my children and of my military brothers and sisters.

If Not Me, Then Whom Shall It Be?

If Not Me, Then Whom Shall It Be?.

If Not Me, Then Whom Shall It Be?

We all need a wingman sometimes. Many of us would never admit to it but we often plaster on a mask and show up at work with a smile on our face. We can fool many people with this pretended all is well face, but often those that take the time can tell that the laughter is a little too forced and the eyes shroud deeper feelings. Often we throw out the question, “How are you?” or the follow on answer, “Fine” without really stopping or wanting to know more. We rush from task to task caught up in a cycle that seems to value appointments and activities more than the people quietly hurting next to us because if we really took the time to listen not just with our ears, but with our hearts, we might have to do something. Doing something requires action, time, and investment into another person. It requires more than the surface touch. It involves showing up and being fully present.

One of department chairs at the United States Air Force Academy told my husband that he could teach anyone to teach, but he couldn’t teach relationships. Rules without a relationship do not work. Look at any teenager. They know which adults believe in them and who are genuine, thus they step up and are genuine and positive. If a teen knows that the adult assumes the worst or is fearful, they will often respond by behaving in the expected manner which reinforces the negativity.

Being a wingman isn’t always easy. When a person is suicidal, he may often get to a point where it looks like he is doing better. They may act like they are doing better. While being a wingman doesn’t mean that you are a counselor, it does mean knowing someone well enough to spend time with them and to really listen to the answer to questions. It is in speaking up to others who can guide the hurting person to help. Wingmanship is in following up, doing what is right for the good of the individual, and it is in recognizing we all need lifelines All relationships take time and effort. The effort comes so that when a person is hurting or needs a helping hand, they are comfortable talking to you. Additionally, relationships take action. Action isn’t always easy, but it is in knowing someone and caring enough to ask the tough questions and to do what is needed to keep the other person safe or from doing something they shouldn’t. Action means stepping up and not waiting for someone else to take action. People do assume that there are other people who are closer or better able to help, but in waiting, hurting people often break further. Being a wingman is looking beyond the mask and saying, “If not me, then whom shall it be?”

Celebrate Life

Celebrate Life.

Celebrate Life

Celebrate Life Month So often in life, people assume that there will always be another day to do the niceties we want to do for our loved ones. Often, people get consumed with the daily minutiae of survival and responsibilities. I was no different. Phil and I had spent our entire marriage being parents and by having five children, there was little time for anything else. Our time, energy, and resources went into being good parents and responsible adults. While there were many things I did well for Phil and vice versa, we were very guilty of thinking that we had many more tomorrows than we received. Phil never had a homecoming at the airport because dragging five children to the airport was neither of our idea of fun. I had planned to fly to Atlanta and surprise him at the gate when he returned. I wanted to do it well to make up for having missed so many. I could imagine the surprised delight on flooding his face as I walked by over and over until he realized it was me in the blue polka dotted dress. I figured we could talk someone into trading seats with me so I could sit next to my Phil. I wish he would have had that moment of surprised delight and I am sorry that he didn’t get it. Phil also never had a birthday party—ever. While he said that he didn’t want the fuss and attention, he would have reveled in just once having his life celebrated. I intended to throw him the surprise birthday bash for his 50th birthday. He never made it to that day. He was killed just after his 44th birthday. April is his birthday and the day he was received into Heaven. I cannot fix the things I wish I had done or the things he should have had and didn’t get, but I can change me. April is my celebrate life month. I simply look for ways to celebrate the life I have been given and for ways to honor the man who loved me well for 23 years. It isn’t easy. I have to face my fears to celebrate life. Last year made April even harder as terrorism sought to take one more facet of my life at the Boston Marathon. I decided then that I cannot let terrorism take any more from me. I cannot let people maim my spirit, my heart, or the love I carry. I must run on. I will run on with a sassy swish of my red sparkly polka dotted skirt. I will run painfully up Heartbreak Hill, but I will celebrate my life, my Phil, and I will find a way to celebrate his life because if I do not, I will have lost mine.

The Forgotten Faces of Military Conflicts/Wars

The Forgotten Faces of Military Conflicts/Wars.

The Forgotten Faces of Military Conflicts/Wars

The Forgotten Faces of Military Conflicts/Wars As a Gold Star widow of a man killed in action, I am afforded access to care, programs, and military bases as long as I do not remarry. I maintain the privilege and choice to go to any of the classes or programs offered by any base. While often these programs fall short for people in my position, they are non-existent for certain populations. Recently my paradigms shifted. I have been guilty of a sense of entitlement, but something caused me to take pause. There are the forgotten faces of conflict. As a mother of four children in the military. I am not entitled to anything. I am not privy to information unless my children give it, nor am I able to access these base sponsored programs that might help me to get through a deployment, an injury, Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD), or even the death of one of my military children. Military bases do have programs in place for the deployed spouses. Deployed spouses have the opportunity to participate in Hearts Apart, a network where they come together with base leadership for support. What of the mother and father living in a non-military community? Additionally, the civilian workers in combat areas are forgotten, yet they are there. The civilian worker is exposed to death, injury, and combat stress at the same level as their military counterpart, yet there is nothing in place while they are gone or when they return. Pretending that civilians and parents or other family members are able to cope without support is to be putting blinders on a Pollyanna future. When a person enters the military, they are no longer a child no matter what the age of entry. Parents are not offered base support or counseling even if the child is unmarried. Granted, cost is an issue. Does the impact of combat exposure not touch the lives of parents? What happens when the soldier comes home bearing the invisible wounds of having seen too much and lost even more? What then? These veterans often return home to a family ill-equipped to deal with their child’s brokenness. Loss of the soldier to suicide or combat death is even harder. The toll mounts as these family members buckle under the strain of coping or caregiver fatigue. Suicide attempts among family members of veteran suicides or killed in action is epidemic, thus we should be looking at what needs to change. While I understand that the military has limited resources, how can we use those resources and how can we further our reach? Last night, I had a defining moment. I attended a local military family support group. In that group, sat the parents of many soldiers who had served, one other Gold Star family, and many community members. This group was comprised mostly of people that do not have a right to any of the programs offered on base and they live in a state where few understand the military commitment, lifestyle, or cost. Many have veteran children who are not in the military, but who bear the invisible scars. Many of this eclectic group voiced time and time again how when they needed support, there was only one place they found it which is why they continued to be involved long after their children were out of the military. At this same event, we did have base representation. Because this group sees me as one of them, and indeed I am, they talked to me and e-mailed me after the event. The base talks of resources and programs, yet these programs are not accessible to families who do not have an id card on their own. Perhaps the time has come to consider how we can provide support in our communities in terms of military family support groups. These programs can operate largely like Hearts Apart, and can be run by the parents or community members once the program is established. The base can provide a support network in terms of bringing our people to them. Why not? We talk a big game and we are making forward progress, but is a deployment any less stressful for a mother than it is for a spouse? When I think of my own children serving, and when I think of one of my children’s struggles, I am at a loss. When I am able to meet with others going through the worries for their children and share my pride in what my children are doing for their country, I am buoyed and I feel more in control. Civilians and families are then provided a network that can be lifesaving because like the military wife, there is often a sense of being alone and feeling like nobody quite gets it. In looking at the forgotten faces of combat, I see pain echoing my own. How can we not step up to the plate and shift our paradigms of the reaching arms?

I Run On

I Run On.

I Run On

My commitment to running has lasted longer than I was married, longer than I was a mother, and longer than any job I have held.  Though at one time I was quite fast and I enjoyed some of the benefits I received by being a faster runner, running to me is life.  It is as simple as this.  If I can lace up my running shoes and pound the pavement even for a few minutes, a few steps, I know that all is well.  I intuitively know that no matter how dark I feel or life seems, running will bring a spark of hope and a spark of joy. 

 

Through the years, I have found myself with running.  I will never be the prettiest, the smartest, the thinnest, or even the fastest.  It doesn’t matter.  Through the miles and through the meditations of my  beating heart, I have discovered I am enough.  Enough for me.

 

When I was  37, I had a major health crisis that cost me every bit of talent I ever had.  I went from being able to whip out 6 minute miles in a marathon to running 9 minute miles in the course of three weeks.  I never got back the speed.  I tried at first.  I did smart running with no junk miles, but when the day came and I could only run a half mile before I could no longer run, I knew that my competitive days were over.  It was then that I discovered one simple tenet—if I could run even a few steps, I was alive and there was something to live for.  While it took me 15 years to regain my health, and though I must still deal with a non-functioning adrenal system, I can run.

 

I can run a lot.  I can’t race.  I can run and it is in the running that I find joy.  When Phil was assassinated, I never thought I would feel again.  I was numb and heart broken.  The first day I felt something, it was on a beautiful summer day in Colorado.  Somewhere in the miles, the mountain air infused my lungs and sparked the will to want to go on.  As I ran on, I processed  my broken heart, discovered who I was without my Phil, and I developed a fire that blazes still to make a difference  for military families every where.

 

I run even when others do not understand.  I invest in running because when I do, I invest in myself and in my future.  It is as simple as committing to races, lacing up those running shoes, and forcing myself out the door.  In that simplicity, tomorrow is found.  In tomorrow, I find my hope, my future, myself without my Phil.  I will run on until I no longer can.  I will run even when I am too slow, too heavy, too old, too anything.  I will run because running is me and I am running.  See you on the roads!

Widow’s Fog

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