Fighting For My Family

Fighting For My Family.

Fighting For My Family

Fighting For My Family

One of the biggest impacts of Phil’s death was on the tight knit family we once shared. Our five children came home often and brought friends with them. My family liked spending time together. After three and a half years, I am awakening to realize that those days are over in large part because of the fog of pain I was in. It isn’t easy to repair the ties when my children are flung in every corner of the world with the military. I feel like an afterthought because even the simple things like Mother’s Day or Christmas are forgotten. It isn’t like I need a gift—nor do I want one really—but to know that I am remembered with a phone call or a card would mean all to me.

If I had a do-over, I would hope for the strength to see beyond my own pain and to reach through the miles to keep my family intact. I would fight with every breath to be the soft place my children fell into. In my brokenness, I got it wrong and I am afraid that the damage is permanent.  I do not blame them, but rather myself.  I was the mom and I was the one who kissed the boo boos better, but this boo boo was not fixable for any of us.

I am not sure how I would have reached my children because we all grieved differently. I was focused on my own pain and I withdrew which created rifts that were not there. I just didn’t want to hurt my children more with my pain. That emotional severance led to anger in one, withdrawal in others, and a lackadaisical uninvolvement in others.   This is not slap on them, but rather on my own abilities to be the mom I should have been and the mom I want to be now when they all live so far away and the time has lapsed.

If my children were younger, it would be easier because we would still have shared experiences both good and bad. I would have put the whole family in therapy in the immediate aftermath of Phil’s death. I would have fought to stay fully present versus being mired in the darkness of all that would never be. I would have dealt with the anger and the withdrawal in them because they did and do matter more than anything to this girl.

Time has lapsed and the scary thing is wondering if this is all there is. As I awaken and realize that I do not want to be alone on every holiday, I am fighting for the family I had and wanted. As I spent Christmas alone and as the phone stayed largely quiet, I realized that unless I put the work into it, I am going to lose my family. I have to take charge. I started with telling each and every one of my children that I wanted Christmas together next year. It will be the first time in years that all of my children should be stateside and not deployed. I sent gifts and I am not asking for anything except for togetherness next year. I want that. I need that. I am not sure if it is possible at this point due to the time that has lapsed and the miles between us, but I am willing to put the work and effort into making it happen.

Often people get so mired in their own pain, they do not see the blows to those that stand next to them or to those on the same journey. I was one of those ignorant people. I just assumed my relationships with people would stay the same. Grief is not a solitary pursuit and the scars that are etched on all of us bear testimony to the trauma suffered. Sadly, I inflicted some of that trauma on my children, but today I am looking at the girl in the mirror and I am vowing to do what I can so that I can say, “We are family, indeed we are.”

It’s All About That Bass

It’s All About That Bass.

It’s All About That Bass

I’m All About That Bass

There is a song that states “It’s all about that bass, about that bass.” That song means something different to me than others, I am sure. When I hear that song, I immediately consider my attitude. It is all about that attitude. While I cannot deny that I still have pity parties and days that I break out in tears, I can say that each and every day I make a choice to be happy. How can I subtly shift my paradigms when the very person I built my past and my future on was unfairly taken from me? I fight for it.

Every day I get out of bed and I lace up my running shoes. That simple choice is one that I made from the start. I don’t always feel like it and it doesn’t always work, but in the early morning hours I find grounding. I am able to work through my fears, my tears, and a crushing grief that threatens to steal my life. When I am running, I can feel sparks of happiness, and I can see that if I press on one second at a time, one minute at a time, one hour at a time, one mile at a time, one marathon at a time, I can do it. There will be times that hurt and times when I am consumed with thinking that I cannot face what lies ahead, but if I press on through the ache, I will find my footing and I will find joy in the journey. Easy? Never, but the choice is to face the darkness and fight the will that sometimes is counter to what I should do.

Five days after Phil was buried, I made the choice to return to work. I didn’t have to, but I needed something to get up for in the morning. I needed to take my focus off of the crushing pain consuming me to finding a new normal. It would have been easier to hide and to isolate. It felt like nobody knew what I was going through and I had no roadmap to help me navigate. Work gave me connections and it showed me that even in my broken state I had worth and that there were people who valued me.

Work also gave me a platform to help others and then it gave me a platform to effect change in the military world. Because of how Phil died, and because of the way I have processed my grief through writing and speaking on military loss, the brotherhood, and the resiliency that defines my choices, I have grown as a person. I surely would choose to have the life I once had—a life where I lived in the shadows of my very successful family, but I cannot live my days wishing for what can never be. I cannot let anger, regret, or living in the past consume my actions and thoughts, for if I do, the assassin got me to. It is in that choice, I can make something positive come from the darkness.

Three and a half years later, I find meaning and purpose in helping others and in knowing that I am making a difference for those families coming after this girl. It isn’t easy and sometimes I want to be Linda and not “that girl”. On Phil’s angel anniversary, however, I have found that while my heart is bleeding, if I reach out and do random acts of kindness for other people, I feel better. It gets the focus off of me and those thoughts of what should have been….what I thought my life was going to be in my fifties.

One of the biggest shifts in my paradigms happened this fall. One day I realized that life isn’t always fair and that I had come to peace with the fact that I had prayed every day for Phil to come home to me. He didn’t and it rocked my assumptive world view. My shift was in realizing that bad things happen to good people,–children even—and that I had been blessed to have had a man who loved me well for 23 years. Many people want what we had and I am blessed that I had it for as long as I had it. I know what it is to love well, be loved well, and what a good marriage looks like. In the choice to embrace gratitude for the 23 years we shared, my focus shifted from the pity party of one when I am lonely. Do I still get lonely and cry? You bet, but I breathe through the storms and concentrate on the aspects of what I can control. On those days when darkness closes in, I embrace pink polka dots, bubbles, sparkles, and my friends. I know that soon the sun will rise again and I choose happiness because it is all about “that bass”—my attitude says it all.

Scars At Christmas

Scars At Christmas.

Scars At Christmas

Most people have scars from past injuries. Some are angry and red, while others are nearly invisible. Some marks are invisible to the naked eye, but can be seen on an x-ray whose picture is a silent testimony of past pain. Scars are a testimony of the body healing, however those welts are not the whole story. Initially a wound scabs and bleeds. It takes very little pressure or trauma to reopen the wound. As time goes by and the wound looks healed, it is easy to forget the pain of the initial trauma, yet sometimes the injured site aches or uncomfortably itches. My journey of loss has left many scars—some are visible to the naked eye, while other marks lurk far below the surface. In the days following Phil’s death, the wound was raw, deep, weeping, and red. No matter what I did, I could not staunch the flow of the bleeding of my heart. My body hurt more than it did in childbirth and nothing I did eased the agony. Even my breathing came in short gasps as I struggled to endure the seconds and minutes that slowly elapsed. I could see nothing except for darkness in front of me and all I wanted was for the pain end. People could see my pain in the unbroken sobs that filled the spaces and in the ravages of my face. My own mother pointed out the obvious when she told me that I had aged. Pain has indeed carved crevices in my face. My eyes belie wisdom and an understanding that comes through having been through something unspeakable. Time, however has softened the gaping wounds to an invisible scar that runs silent and deep. People can no longer see the ravages of the trauma, but far beneath the surface the scars can belie an invisible dull ache. Like a broken bone the pieces of my heart have knit into a stronger version of what once was, but the scars stands a testament of the agony endured. That scar can hurt for the smallest reasons and it can beat angry and red at other times. Some moments I can predict, others are like the sneaky intruder who enter unbidden. Christmas is one of those times that I can predict the dull ache. My Phil was due home on 24 Dec—Christmas Eve. Christmas was magical to him. He did not grow up with the family chaos of get togethers, the tree, intentional gift giving, merriment, gratitude, or faith, thus when as an adult he had a large family and a wife who loved the holidays, he was bewitched. He was like an overgrown child who wanted it all—most of all the family togetherness. He had moved on past his lonely childhood to a grown man-child who was giddy as the holidays approached. With his death, Christmas is a silent record of a life gone far too soon. I have to prepare my heart for the onslaught of pressure to the healing wounds. I know that from Thanksgiving (our anniversary) through Christmas, I will hurt. I will be bombarded with images of happy families, airport reunions, happy music, traditions that no longer mean anything, and bright decorations. I know that families come together for the holidays and the holidays just bear witness to loneliness and want. As a military family with four of my five children serving, I do not even have the children that flock home. My children live all over the world and it has been many years since we all came together. Three and a half years out, I still do not celebrate the holidays, but I am taking small steps because I am testing the scars of my heart. I am watching Chevy Chase’s Christmas vacation, listening to Christmas songs, and I even wrapped a few gifts this year because it is as simple as I do not want the ravages of my loss to define the days of my future. I do not want my children avoiding me during the holidays. I hope that one day, next year, I can create a semblance of what was once. Yes, like the mark the scar leaves, it will look different, feel different, and be different, but there will be good memories and good times. I can feel it even if I cannot see it.