Sunday, November 27, 2011
Ugh. Days like today...they are so hard. I have gotten good at holding it together for Gabriel. I have gotten good at smiling for him, playing with him, laughing with him, kissing and hugging him. And it is never fake. It is always real. I am good at "him".
But, then he goes to bed. I look around my house. I have laundry to do, dishes to wash, toys to pick up, work to do, my dog to pet. Oh my goodness. I would love to just cuddle with Lily after Gabe goes to bed. I seriously feel like she is depressed lately. She seems so needy lately, but really, she just wants some attention, and I just can't give it to her like I want to, like I used to.
Some days, I feel so strong, so motivated, so peaceful. But then, nights like tonight, I feel so confused, so sad, so anxious, so lonely. And I so much need a hug from him. I just need him to come home. I need him to come to our home.
At least these days don't happen all the time anymore.
When we were planning our wedding, and on our wedding day, my mom teases me about my Bridezilla Moments, which were mainly that I did NOT want to make any more decisions. I didn't. I just wanted everyone else to make decisions, because I wanted everyone else to be happy, and I knew that I couldn't do that. And I really had no preference, and I didn't like to be the decision maker, and I don't like to be the decision maker, unless it is a cut and dry, right or wrong decision. Right now, I don't want to make any more decisions. I want him to make decisions. I have left lots up to him. I have talked to him at his gravesite, and I have told him to just "fix it". I never have yelled at him, we never fought, I have never had so much as a cross word with him. But, to his gravestone, yes. I have yelled at him. I have told him that he has left me in this mess, and he has to fix it. And I feel guilty for that sometimes, but I do not want to make the decisions.
He said that he would always be there for me; that he would always be watching me. I so hope that is true. Death is so final- for the living. I have tried and tried to make it not be final for us. It can't be final for us. I am not ready for it to be final for us. I. Still. Need. Him!!
Today, and tonight, it rained. And rained. And rained. Rainy days make me more emotional. I suppose it is because it suppresses my activity, and it is gloomy. But, tonight, I felt like he was here with me, and that he was crying with me. Or for me? I don't know. He is here, but I can't feel him. Its almost like I feel him looking at me from the corner, or something, and he doesn't want to come close to me.
But I know I miss him. I know I need him, and that I have a lot of life to look forward to, without him. I am so thankful for the time we have had together, I will always be. But, that doesn't leave me not wanting more.
Sometimes, I want to take my pain off the shelf and nurse it again, I guess. My shelf is not dusty, it is always in sight, and it is always within reach.
I love you, sweetheart. I miss you so, so, so much. I wish you would just come back...
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Don't get me wrong, there is nothing out of the ordinary that I did tonight. I simply had a good day, my headache went away this afternoon, and Gabriel and I did some shopping. Except we didn't actually shop. We went, and browsed, threw some things in the cart, I played with his feet and held his little hand, watched him giggle, and then decided that I didn't really need anything, so I put it all back and left empty-handed. I was actually just enjoying spending time with him, and reflecting on how thankful I am that he is in my life, and that I get to play with his feet, hold his hand, and watch him giggle.
When we got home, he took a good nap, and I got a lot of my grading done, attended a meeting, did the dishes, and even held an extra seminar for my class.
My class, so far, has been what has thrown me off. Well, one of the things. But, it is one of the big things. I have always been proud of myself as a professional, and taken pride in my work. I have always felt that I needed to do well in my position, as a way to define myself. If I didn't do well, then I often attributed that to my lack of being a responsible or worthy person even before I had grief to deal with additionally. However, today, I held it all together.
My students helped me hold it together tonight. Gabriel is teething, so his schedule is not as perfect as I would like it to be, but somehow, I still (barely) got him to bed on time, even after his long nap. During seminar, I had 9 students show up, even though it was not graded- optional- which meant that other than information, they got nothing out of it. They showed up. They showed up for me, and more importantly, they showed up for themselves. I cannot believe how much this group has grown. In the beginning, I was so worried that I had taken on more than what I was able to, and in the beginning, I was worried that I was not a responsible or worthy person. But, tonight, I have seen the growth, and the potential of these students, and realized that I have a part in that growth and potential that is starting to shine. It is a wonderful feeling.
I love November. I have always loved November. I love it because it is Thanksgiving, which is truly one of my favorite holidays. I love reflecting on what I am thankful for, and I love seeing others reflect on what they are thankful for. I love having the entire month of November to celebrate Thanksgiving, before heading in to the craziness of consumer-Christmas.
After grad school, I substitute taught at a preschool in my hometown quite frequently. One day, we were putting together a Thanksgiving book for the students to take home. What a great idea! I am definitely going to do this independently with Gabriel when he gets older. Some of their responses were so cute, and definitely should be cherished. I remember one little girl saying that she was thankful for her Mommy and Daddy. Another was thankful for his candy. Another was thankful for her pockets, and another was thankful for his belt! And, while we laugh at their cuteness and "simplicities", it also makes me think that I am thankful for the big stuff, and also the little stuff.
Ultimately, I am thankful for the little stuff, and the big stuff. I am thankful for my couch, my TV, my books, and my "woobie". I am thankful for my dog, my family, my friends, my baby, and my Angel Husband. I am thankful for my life; if you would have asked me that several months ago, I am not sure I would have been thankful. So, I am thankful that I am here. Now.
The coolest part of thinking about what we are thankful for is because it gives a moment, even if just a very quick moment, to think about how blessed we are in our life, and helps us forget about some of the sad things, or things that we wish we would have said, done, or had happened differently. And, it also helps us have a new perspective on those items that we maybe would have said, done or had happened differently. No matter what happened, or what was said, or what was done, ultimately, it has brought us to be the person that we are, with the blessings that we have.
More and more, I see how much life is a ripple effect. I see how much it is a chain reaction. Sometimes links are broken, but it gives us a new perspective. And when the chain comes back together, it is stronger, reinforced, and it takes more to be broken again. I did post a "thankful" blog last year, on December 6. I am still very thankful for all of those things today, and maybe even moreso. I think it is important that we stop and observe what we are thankful for, and maybe we should do it more often than in November. I feel like I have changed so much since then, but am still the same, just maybe a better version of me.
Tonight, I held it together. Tonight, I was good at what I was doing, in all areas of my life. Tonight, I realized that I am having more nights like tonight, just as I was promised by so many a year ago. Tonight, I know that they will eventually continue coming along, and I can continue healing.
Tonight, I am thankful for everything.
Monday, September 19, 2011
Sunday, September 11, 2011
At about 8:45, my alarm went off. I had rounds the night before, so was up late hanging out with my residents, and trying to complete a paper I had forgotten about. My alarm went off. It was usually Bob & Tom, because I always jumped up to turn it off, as I can't stand their laughs in the morning. And now what?!? They are JOKING about planes and terrorism?
I woke up from my sleepiness and annoyance for how they actually stooped this low for a tasteless joke. I turned off the alarm, and turned on the television. Every channel, again and again and again, video of an airplane flying in to a building, and then, another hit. I still remember the newscaster scream when the second hit...live. And then, they fell....
It was a haze. Disbelief. Who could do this? Why would someone do this? It had to be an accident? What about my brother in the Navy? What about my resident's husband who is in the Army? She is now so close to me? What am I going to tell the students? WHAT IS MY MOTHER GOING TO TELL MY 19 MONTH OLD BROTHER?
The campus was silent. There were tears, many, many tears. No one understood what was happening. Candlelight vigil? We could find those everywhere. There were no loud stereos, unless it played "The Star Spangled Banner" or "America the Beautiful". Other than that, there was silence, and windows draped in American Flags. All across campus, our flag waved, or draped, or was carried.
My National Guard residents deployed within the week. We lost them as our fellow college students and peers to those holding our country together in the very beginning of this war in a week.
The world will never be the same. THE WORLD HAS NEVER BEEN THE SAME.
Fast forward eight and a half years later. One of my colleagues and very close friend now has informed me that she personally lost on 9/11. Her sister worked in one of the towers. She told me about her troubles and her fears, and how she has learned to cope, but that it never gets better, just easier to deal with the pain. This is not my story to tell. My friend informed me several times that she was so proud and thankful that my husband is fighting for our country, for our freedoms. She never met him, as I met her just after he deployed. I am so thankful for this friendship.
Last year, on 9/11, I honestly don't even remember what I was doing, other than worrying about my friend. She wanted to be alone, and her husband was out of town. I believe we may have talked about the issue, but I didn't know what to say, other than to be there for her.
Just ten days later, I had a better understanding of how she felt. At 9:30 in the morning, I hear a dreadful, unexpected knock at the door, and an unknown car parked outside my house. I immediately started screaming "No! No! No! No! NO!!!" April came out, wondering what was wrong, but immediately knew when she saw my face. I am so thankful she was there. I can't go in to what more happened that day. I remember it very, very, very vividly. I remember when my friend who was most thankful for Matt's service came to my home, and the notification officers were still there. I could not look at her, talk to her. I was lost in my own mind. She knew why I was going through what I was going through, and I couldn't talk to her. I couldn't form words. I wanted to wake up from the nightmare that I had had several times before that day. I just couldn't wake up this time...
Ten years ago, the ball started rolling for my life as I know it now, as we know it now. Ten years ago, someone, or some group, decided that they wanted to inflict harm on our country, on our people, on our way of being. Ten years ago, we united, we showed our strength, our resilience, and most importantly, our patriotism- Together.
Today, we remember. Today, we reflect, and today, we have middle schoolers who know nothing other than war. My brother, now 11, was just 19 months ten years ago. All of my nieces and nephews have known a world only with war. They have never known Peace.
It makes me wonder, with Gabriel, as well as the other children in my life, and in our country, and in our world, will they ever know Peace? Will they ever be able to turn on the news without the horror of war? Without the hatred that comes along with it? Without the tragedies that occur as a result? War is so far reaching. As I have discussed before, it is not just the military personnel that feel this. It is the families, the friends, the communities, and ALL of us who ever immerse ourselves in an environment with other individuals.
Today, I dedicated Gabriel to a Life with Jesus Christ, where he will know Him as our Savior. As much as my faith was interrupted and questioned in the last 355 days, it has been strengthened and confirmed ten times. I know I want my son to know our Lord, and I know I want my son to know that Jesus died for our sins, so that we may have Eternal Life.
During the sermon, the amazing Pastor who has been an incredible help in my journey, possibly some of the hardest parts of my journey, gave a sermon regarding Holy Response to a Divided and Violent World. His dedication of Gabriel, with an explanation of our situation, tied in beautifully to today's sermon, although it was just chance that Gabriel's dedication was today.
He talked about the violence that has errupted and continued the last ten years. He talked about our responses, first with patriotism, then with anger. He gave us GUIDANCE on how to move forward in this situation. He explained that we are no better than Osama Bin Laden, because, ultimately, we are sinners also. He said that it takes only one sin to keep us out of Heaven, as we are no longer perfect. Luckily, Christ died to forgive our sins, and for us to have Eternal Life in Heaven. He said that Bin Laden needed to find Christ to be saved.
He explained that the Bible says that we should not fight evil with evil. We should not rejoice in the pain of others.
I am so happy he said that. When we killed Bin Laden, I cried. I was in the airport, just coming off the gate and saw it on the television as I walked past, well, walked, saw and froze. I could not get out fast enough. People around me are cheering. I felt like screaming, because I was paralyzed with emotion. I am glad that we caught him. I am glad that we were able to find the man behind the horrendous pain that he has caused our country, the uncountable losses he has delivered to our people, and the unrest that he has forever placed in to this world. I am not glad that a man is dead. A man with a family. I felt guilty I felt this way. I felt guilty that, because of the actions this man started, my HUSBAND is DEAD! Why don't I have extreme hatred? Why do I want to cry instead of cheer? Crying to me now feels like mourning. Am I mourning Bin Laden? The most hated man alive?
I now understand it. I have an understanding of what grief feels like, and I have an actual empathy that can no longer be taken from me. I understand now. My mom and dad always taught me that two wrongs don't make a right. Now, God is telling me that you do not fight evil with evil, and you don't rejoice in the pain of others.
What we did, what the SEALS did, was not evil. It is what we believe as a hurt and scorned nation to be right and just, and deserved. But, today, I learned why I felt so differently than "everyone" else. Today, I was given the ability to understand- FULLY- that sin exists, and then understand the magnitude of the fact that Jesus died to forgive our sins. So that we may act in this world with the best of intentions, but they may not always be as God wishes. With the acceptance of the gifts of Grace, Forgiveness and Jesus Christ, our sins, no matter how large, are forgiven.
My husband did not die in vain. He died for a country he loved. He died for family and friends that he loved, so that we will never have our freedoms taken away, including our freedom to love our Lord. He died as a believer in Christ, and he is in Heaven, clean and free. My husband, I know, has so much joy that I have finally learned the Truth, and that someday, I will join him. I am lucky enough to know my Savior, and share this with my son, so that he may grow and understand, and share.
The American Soldier dies for Freedom. Jesus died for Forgiveness. Without one, you cannot have the other.
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Utah, then, could also be considered my home. Its a little different. I don't know my way around as well, but I know how to get to Him.
Tennessee is my home, though. Tennessee is Our Home. It is where Matt and I established our home. It is where we put so much blood, sweat and my tears in to, just to make it our home. It is where Matt spent his final days and weeks prior to deployment making the house ready for him to be "gone for a few months". Our home is on Broadripple Drive, with a large, steep driveway. That is our home.
I have been in Illinois for almost 7 weeks now. Don't get me wrong. We are having a wonderful time with family, and my Mom and Harry, Christy and her husband Shane, and even Dave, Dakota and Abby have been big helps with Gabriel. This part is wonderful. I appreciate this so much. But, today, I realize what we have been missing not being home.
Some of it is just mundane stuff that needs to be done when you own a home. Firstly, my "first of the month" list as I like to call it: Changing the air filter, putting the septic stuff in the toilets, changing the Arm & Hammer in the refridgerator...I have missed that since July, and that is because I was here visiting for a week, not knowing I would return a week later for my little blessing.
We are also missing other preventative and/or mundane things- I need to go to the dentist for my checkup. Lily hasn't gotten her hartguard, or her flea drops, I have other appointments I need to go to, I haven't been able to keep up with the therapy that I need to be doing and participating in. The grass may need to be mowed again. Lily is due for her yearly shots this month. The trailor is sitting in front of my yard, which is certain to eventually annoy the neighbors. Our mail is, I am sure, piling up. I asked the post office to hold it. I should ask them to throw all the junk mail away! But, what am I missing? I know there is something important in there from my employer, but I can't get to it. I am here. It is there.
I miss my family there. I miss my friends there. Lily misses her yard, I miss my yard. Gabriel is outgrowing the bassinet that my mom had for him, which means that he has outgrown the one that I have for him, even before ever laying in it. Gabriel hasn't met my best friend yet. I want to have his pictures taken, but can't, because she is there and we are here. Gabriel hasn't gotten to meet my other friends there, they haven't gotten to see the shear joy that this little man gives me.
I miss my pictures of Matt. I miss our bed. I miss seeing his clothes in the closet. I miss his shoes.
It's time to go home. Please pray that we can go home soon.
Friday, August 19, 2011
Looking in to your eyes, I see your Angel Daddy. Your eyes are only a little darker than his were, and it makes me so happy to think that you might someday, somehow, resemble your Angel Daddy. He and you both have very long toes. I love your long toes. It was our dream to have you, and be a Family. I know that he is always here watching over us, protecting us, and keeping us safe and healthy.
More than anything, I see your Angel Daddy in the way that you look at me. You look at me knowing that I am here to protect you, and that I will always love you. That is how your Angel Daddy looked at me. And that is how I looked at him too. We always knew we were a match made in Heaven. Luckily for me, I have had two opportunities at this.
I may not have carried you in my tummy, but I have carried you in my heart. I prayed and prayed that you would come in to my life, somehow. And now, here you are, just right next to me. Snuggling and comfortable.
I am going to give you the best life that I can give you, and all the Love that you deserve. Forever. I love you, my little boy. Thank you for making Mommy so happy, and for fulfilling her life.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Obviously, I have thought a lot about babies since Matt passed away. This is an opportunity that I may never have. When would it be my turn to be a Mommy? It has been difficult to know that Matt never will be a Daddy. That is heartbreaking. He would have been such a good Daddy. That is something that I really wanted to share with him.
But, at the same time, it is still something that I want. I want a baby. I want to be a Mommy. I have thought for nearly ten months about the correct way to approach this. I am 30 years old. Not an old maid by any means, but still old enough where my "timeline" is of concern. Especially considering that I am not ready to begin to even think about dating someone else. My life still revolves around Matt and my marriage to him. And part of that marriage and our goals was to raise a child. Should I continue on with this? My thoughts have been going wild over the past couple days. When is the time right?!?!? How do I know?!?!?!?
I started thinking about questions.
How will I know when I am prepared? I thought hard about this one. Matt and I talked about this in our premarital counseling. We both agreed that, other than the year that we wanted to have together before having children to "build" our relationship and prepare it for children, we didn't want to plan. We both felt that if we planned, we would never be ready. Babies are a blessing, and you take them when God gives them to you.
What if a child came in to my life that I could help out? What if I felt that I could give a child a life that he may otherwise not be able to have? I think that Matt and I, if approached with the opportunity, would without a doubt help a baby. We would adopt a baby and be able to provide it with a loving, caring, stable family situation. I think that we, like other newlywed couples, would try to conceive our own, but if the chance came to us, we would certainly have taken it. Sometimes babies are born into unideal situations, but when given love by the biological family, as well as the adopting family, the situation and life for the baby can be better than what they ever dreamed up. This is truly how dreams come true, I think.
I have so much love to give, when is the right time to be able to give it? How do I know I am ready? There is no way to say it, other than that the last nearly ten months have been very difficult, but I am getting through it. Day by Day, I prove myself to be more strong, to have more Faith, to take less for granted, but also to really, really crave a purpose. My purpose before Matt passed was most certainly to be his loving and caring and faithful wife, from this day forward. I knew that. I loved that, and I wanted nothing more than that. But, my life has changed. Death, unfortunately, has done us part. What is my purpose now? I love my Harley, but that is not a purpose. That is a hobby. It is a passion for some, but it is not a purpose. It is not a reason that God put me on this Earth. What is my purpose? For the last almost ten months, I have been dying to learn what my purpose is. Maybe now it is time to find out, and maybe a baby will allow me to have a purpose?
What if the situation was perfect, and it just felt right? Sometimes, as Matt and I talked about, and even Ron (Matt's dad) and I have talked about- sometimes a good situation is too easy to talk yourself out of. Of course- too good to be true comes to mind. Of course. No decision is 100% good. NO decision. There are sacrifices with any decision, I don't care how perfect it is. But, how much is one willing to lose in order to gain? What is the gain to loss ratio? Sometimes we miss opportunities because we are too scared to take the risk, we are too scared to sacrifice, or sometimes, we just don't pay attention to what is in front of us. I suppose if the situation was just perfect, I would have to consider it, weigh the sacrifices, gain to loss ratio, and make my decision.
What if it felt so right, I could tell that it was a Gift from Matt? As you probably know from previous blogs, I want and crave to feel Matt as much as possible. I want a decision such as bringing a child in to my home to have hints of Matt's approval, of his understanding, and more than anything, I want to know that he is here with me and for me!!! I wish, I wish, I wish he were here physically. Raising a child is difficult enough with two people, I'm sure. What about just one? That would be my scenario. But, I feel that if things aligned just so, maybe I would know that Matt is here, with me, helping me, and guiding me. He is always guiding me. Matt would be the baby's "Angel Daddy". I would be able to raise him knowing who Matt is, and what he died for, and also that he died for the baby and I as well. He would know "Angel Daddy", and he would know to love him, and he would know that "Angel Daddy" loves him too. "Angel Daddy" would also be able to assist me with allowing the baby to understand where he came from, and how happy he made Mommy that he came in to her life. He will always know that we will Love him forever, by the way. Bunches and Bunches. Forever.
What kind of support would I receive? Especially after having lost my husband? What if I had the entire support of our entire family and friend network? What if those closest to me were so supportive, happy, and also felt that Matt was a part of bringing a baby to me? What if I had so much positive energy coming my way that I just knew that it was the right and best decision? What if I had finally decided that those who may not be supportive are not worth my time and energy as a new Mommy? I think this is the healthiest way to raise a baby, with no time for negativity and only support, love and happiness from those that truly matter.
On Sunday, July 17, my life changed and my dream came true. I took in to custody and began the process of adopting 5 week old Gabriel Louis Wagstaff.
Sunday, July 10, 2011
That's how long we were married, before my Husband on Earth became my Angel Husband. It seemed so short, but with so much hope, so many plans and we were so excited about the future ahead of us. Together. Forever. Forever would never be long enough. We were excited, and we couldn't wait to get started.
Today, it has been nine months and nineteen days. 9 months and 19 days.
That's how long it has been since my Husband on Earth became my Angel Husband. Since God decided He needed him more than I did, more than his family and friends needed him, and more than my family and friends needed him. More than our Country needed him. I guess the Big Guy always does need to come first.
Now, that same amount of time seems so long ago; so exhaustingly long ago. The future seems so scary, so desperate, so unknown. So Alone. Forever seems way longer than it ever did before, and I am exhausted, although I just got started.
We talked in our premarital counseling about the whole "'Til Death Do Us Part" thing. That is actually how I have made most all of the decisions of my and our life, so far. Our talk, our discussion, and the seriousness in which we took these questions, helped to determine our future and has laid a path for us, and now, for me. Alone. We discussed the "What happens if the other should die". We both said our peace, do this, do that, and "Move On and Be Happy". We both said that, both fully meaning it, both really wanting the other to still be able to live a happy life, but we didn't know that it was actually going to happen, so soon, so suddenly. We didn't know that we would only have seven weeks physically together after our wedding, and only nine months and nineteen days together as husband and wife. At least I didn't know, until he geared up and walked away. Thank God he didn't let me believe it.
I am not ready. I am not sure I will ever be ready. If I am never ready, is that letting him down? Is that not honoring this direct request of his? I don't know, but I am not ready. Don't ask me if I want to date your cousin, your brother, your friend, your cousin's dog's dogsitter- the answer is No. And quite frankly, depending on the day, I may not even want to get dressed, or put on makeup or even leave the house. I try (although sometimes it isn't enough). I try because I care, and because I care about what you think about me, but I only want him. I. only. want. him.
I am not ready for the journey that I HAVE to embark on. I am not ready to not think that I can hold his hand again someday. I am not ready to think that this love I have for him is not two sided. I know it is, and I know it will be someday, but I am not ready to let go.
Sometimes, I can see the path that I have to go on, and I can approach it bravely, knowing that I have to do it. Other times, I want to scurry and hide in a corner. The Uncertain is scary. And, unfortunately, Life is much more uncertain than certain these days.
I didn't want to be the one left behind. I didn't want to be the one to leave behind, either. But, I know that is how he felt, too. Life is Not Fair. Life is Chaos. Life Hurts.
Who knows what the next step will be. I will probably never again have certainty with what I need, or even WANT, to do next. I was naive thinking that the next step would always be there, always be "in order". I was too trusting of the world to think that we had planned it, so it would be so.
Some things I know I want for sure is stability. I crave stability. I need a solid place to land my feet, instead of this constant rollercoaster. Who knows if I will ever find it. And I wasn't even used to the fact that I had it yet...
The thing that hurts (or, one of many, I suppose), is that I have no one that I am responsible for, who is also responsible for me. Or dependent, maybe is a better word. Or, maybe those are both two completely different things, actually. I can't be dependent on him, or him on me. But, we cannot be responsible for each other. No one counts on me anymore. Nor am I able to be counted upon right now either. I am free from that, but I am lonely because of it.
My grief seems to be saturated with horrible, awful, confusing, heartbreaking dichotomies and conflict. I don't know if this is normal. But it is me now. I apologize, but then again, I don't.
Sunday, June 26, 2011
- your command has experienced a death, and you want to provide the right support to the surviving spouse;
- you are assigned as a casualty officer to a new widow; or
- someone you know became a military widow
- Treat her as you would like your own wife to be treated if she were in this position.
- Don't try to protect her from information about her husband's death. If she is asking questions, she is ready for answers. She may not like what you are telling her, but she does want to know.
- Never use the phrase, "I can't tell you." Even if your reasons are valid, she won't hear them. She will think you're hiding something from her. Instead, say, "I can't answer that question right now."
- "I don't know" is an honest answer. Don't speculate or repeat rumors.
- Never use the word "closure." It does not exist.
- If she prefers not to talk with the media, have the PAO handle them for her.
- Shock and grief can significantly slow down a widow's ability to make sense of what you are telling her. You may have to repeat information several times before she understands it. Be patient.
- Bereaved people may behave in ways that make no sense to you. Grief reactions are not logical or rational. Again, be patient and nonjudgmental.
- Don't assume she knows how the military works. Let her know what to expect and when. The military culture may be especially confusing to National Guard or Reserve widows, who have limited exposure to it.
- If her husband died on deployment or at sea, ask her if she wants his clothes washed or returned as is. She may want his belongings to smell like him rather than laundry detergent.
- Don't help out at her house without asking first. That squeaky door may remind her of her husband.
- Don't assume she knows what she needs. Ask her.
- Include the military family support group in assisting her and her family. They can help with meals, child care and refreshments for the funeral or memorial service.
- Remember, you are helping to bury a fallen comrade or shipmate.
- If she decides on a military funeral for her husband, offer to let her personalize it. The same thing goes for the memorial service
- If she is not familiar with the rituals and traditions of a military funeral or memorial service, tell her what to expect so she won't be blindsided. This may be especially important if she doesn't know about the rifle salute, the Final Roll Call, or the Missing Man flyby. She may not know she can obtain mementos from the services, such as the spent shells from the rifle salute.
- Be sensitive to how her husband died. For example, if he was killed by gunfire, she may not want the rifle salute at his funeral.
- Allow her and her family to see ahead of time where the service will be held.
- Offer to pick up out-of-town relatives at the airport. Assist them with hotel and car rental arrangements, as well as base or post access and directions.
- Find out how many family members will be attending and reserve enough chairs or pews for them. Have tissues available in the seating area.
- Offer to videotape the funeral and the memorial services, especially if the widow has children.
- Have a guestbook or scrapbook available so friends and visitors can share memories of her husband. Consider having a video camera at the funeral or memorial reception and encourage people to share stories about him.
- Make sure she has the correct contact numbers for ongoing needs, such as benefits and counseling.
- Ask her if she wants someone to explain the accident report or autopsy results: they may contain graphic or disturbing information.
- Tell her when the accident report will be released to the media. It may be carried as a news story.
- Wherever possible, don't let her find out about developments in the investigation of her husband's death from news reports.
- If she is not having a military funeral for her husband, offer to help with the private funeral arrangements. This is probably the first time she has had to plan a funeral, and it may be overwhelming.
- Ask what you can do to help. You can assist with small matters, like washing clothes, or big tasks, like making a picture collage for the service.
- Offer to help her write thank-you notes after the funeral.
- Don't avoid her because you don't know what to say. Sometimes, just your supportive presence is enough.
- User her husband's name when talking about him. People think using his name will upset her. It won't.
- Be prepared for a wide range of feelings and reactions for a long time.
- Don't judge her behaviors. She is doing the best she can, given the circumstances.
- Bring meals and nourishing snacks to have on hand. Comfort food is always welcome.
- Help her return the empty casserole dishes.
- Be a good listener.
- Laugh with her. Share funny stories about her husband. She will love to hear these, especially stories she hasn't heard before.
- Watch the kids so she can have some time to herself.
- Help her sort through her husband's clothes, when she is ready.
- Call her on significant dates, such as the anniversary of his death. It will make her feel good to know that her husband is remembered.
- Seek out and suggest local support groups she can attend. Offer to go to the first meeting with her. It will help her feel more comfortable.
- Offer to take her to visit her husband's grave the first time. Going alone may be more than she can handle.
- During the holidays, remember this new widow. Don't ignore the fact that there will be an empty chair at her table.
- Ask her if she wants to attend Memorial Day or Veterans Day ceremonies.
- Make a donation in her husband's name to her favorite charity. Check with her first, though.
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Phase One: The flag pole post that I dug and made to hold his flag Sunday night. This will be here forever, I believe. I love that it is anonymous, so it can apply to all of the fallen soldiers. Note the Fallen Soldier Cross in the center of the heart (helmet, rifle, boot).
Phase Two: At this point, I had an idea of what I was going to make, and also that I needed more brick!
Phase Three: The finished product. I am hoping to get better pictures from April that can capture the full size of it and still show the detail. It was absolutely stunning at half mast, and so beautiful fully raised!
Sunday, May 8, 2011
Friday, April 29, 2011
By Joanne M. Steen, MS, NCC Author Speaker Instructor on Line-of-Duty Loss
(Reprinted with permission of the author. This article first appeared on the cover of The VOICE for Military Families, an NMFA publication, in July 2007. It has been modified and updated by the author.)
Since the days of colonial America, bad guys have threatened our freedom, values, and homeland. America’s first citizens were attacked at home and abroad, and fought to protect their families, homes, and way of life. It’s no different today.
More than two hundred years later, American citizens have been attacked in the United States, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Iraq, to name a few hot spots. Just as in America’s early years, the job of protecting and defending America belongs mainly to the United States military. And, it’s a dangerous profession.
The price of freedom. Since September 11, 2001, nearly six thousand service men and women in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard have died as a result of the Global War on Terror (GWOT). In addition to these war casualties, between 1,000 and 1,500 service personnel die each year in an active duty status. They are killed on training missions and in accidents, while others die from illness, disease and suicide. Most die while honing their war-fighting skills, preparing to protect and defend our country if -- or when -- their tasking orders are executed.
In peacetime and in war, the number of fallen warriors grows. A number of these service men and women were stationed in your city or town. To some, you can attach a name and a face. To others, you know the family that loved them.
The families of fallen warriors. Surviving military families are a cross-section of America, a blend of ages, races, nationalities, and backgrounds. They are ordinary Americans, coping with the unimaginable. A surviving military family has been dealt an unexpected and life-changing blow, and they struggle, often with great difficulty, to survive and adjust to a world they dread -- a world without their loved one. They possess no special skills for dealing with this nightmare, yet they learn to survive, cope, and eventually live happily again.
Seven ways you can help. If you’re like most Americans, you want to say and do the right things around the families of our fallen warriors. But sometimes, not knowing what those right things are, you say or do nothing, for fear of making a mistake. This is one of those times when silence is not golden. The grieving family can easily misinterpret silence as disinterest or abandonment. They don’t know you’re struggling to find the right words or actions.
The subject of death has a way of pushing buttons in many of us, even when we’re not personally affected by it. It’s hard not to be moved though, when you meet a family whose loved one has died in the service of our country. Here are seven practical ways you can help:
1) Learn about military loss. When a military death occurs, it’s both a personal loss to the military family and a national loss to America. When their loved one wears the uniform, no matter what their job or warfare specialty, family members believe their service member will come home safely, even when we go to war. No military family expects their loved one will die in the line of duty.
Military deaths have multiple layers of complexity. A military death is often sudden and unexpected, potentially violent, and sometimes in another part of the world. The surviving family members are often living at a duty station, far away from the support of family. The rites and traditions of a military funeral and memorial service are fitting tributes to a fallen warrior, but they’re profound and touch the deepest places of patriotism, love and loss. They’re also news events, forcing family members to expose their grief to local or national media. Reports and investigations can take months, and sometimes years, to be finalized, often delaying a healthy grief response. And, in addition to the bureaucracy that surrounds any death, surviving military family members must navigate through the resulting changes to their military benefit and health care systems.
A sudden, traumatic military death often leaves the surviving family members emotionally numb, psychologically fragile, cognitively impaired, and physically exhausted.
2) Be patient with the family. Military grief is complex, complicated, and sometimes just plain messy. When a family member is confronted with a sudden and traumatic death, the ability to accept this death is often compromised. It often takes more than one year for the reality of the loss to sink in. Many military survivors call the second year the ‘lonely year.’
Deployments add another layer of complexity and can make it more difficult to accept the death of a service member. Until the unit returns from deployment, a glimmer of hope exists in the hearts of the family members that the military made a mistake and their loved one is coming home with the returning forces. It’s not denial; it’s a reality of military loss.
3) Choose your words of condolence carefully. It’s a natural tendency to comfort a grieving family member with words of sympathy or encouragement. Occasionally, these well-intentioned words may sound like an attempt to fix the grieving person’s pain, and can be misunderstood by the family member as minimizing their loss. For instance, the words of comfort offered at the passing of an elderly person, (“It was his time,” or “Cherish your many memories.”) are often not appropriate when a young service member dies suddenly. It’s never a good idea to start a conversation with “I know exactly how you feel…” A good, safe choice of words of condolence is simply, “I’m sorry for the loss of your (son, Josh; daughter, Jenn; husband, Jack; wife, Julie).” Use their first names, not their rank. A family has lost a loved one first and a service member second.
4) Acknowledge the sacrifice of the family. At a military funeral, when the folded American flag is given to the family, it’s presented with the words, “Please accept this flag on behalf of the President of the United States and a grateful Nation.” This flag, and the sentiments that accompany it, honors the ultimate sacrifice made by the fallen warrior. In the years that follow, the surviving military family lives that ultimate sacrifice in big and small ways. We can honor the fallen warrior by personally thanking the family for their loved one’s sacrifice, and also by thanking the family, for their on-going sacrifices that never make the evening news.
5) Ask about their loved one. Everyone loves a man or woman in uniform, but a military family really loved their man -- or woman -- in uniform. Surviving families like to talk about their loved ones. In fact, they need to talk about them; it’s a healthy part of the grief process. Ask a surviving family member about their loved one. Don’t ask how he or she died. Instead, ask how they lived! And listen. You won’t have to say much.
If you’re stuck on how to begin a conversation, simply start with the basics: “Tell me about his smile,” or “What was her sense of humor like?” The conversation will take off, and you may even see a smile on the family members face.
6) Be a good friend, co-worker, or neighbor. If you’re not a listener, but want to help, offer some manual labor for the ‘honey-do’ list. Loss and grief tire a person out. Regular chores can overwhelm surviving family members. You can do your part by offering to cut their grass, clean the house, wash the car, or put up and take down the Christmas tree. It’ll all be appreciated. If you have a new widow in your midst, help her by recommending a good handyman and mechanic. Give her some guidance on what to expect.
7) Give a military family a break from grief. Grief can be physically and emotionally overwhelming, and just about everyone needs a break from it. In fact, a break is necessary, as it recharges one’s psyche, and strengthens a person’s resolve to keep working though their loss. Give the family of a fallen warrior a chance to recharge their batteries. Offer to do something fun with them.
Humor and laughter can give a grieving family member a few moments of enjoyment. Don’t be taken aback by their gallows humor. Finding humor in the midst of grief gives the family member a sense of control when they have little control over life’s events. Humor is not disrespectful to the memory of the fallen warrior; it’s reinvesting in life.
To the families and friends of the survivors. You’re not alone in trying to understand and help the families of fallen warriors. The families themselves are trying to grasp what’s taking place within them. They’re learning, in real-time, how to cope with their loss. And sometimes, they don’t know what they need.
As a friend, neighbor, co-worker, or professional you can help the surviving military family by recognizing that the family member may not be ‘back to normal,’ no matter how together they appear. Be patient with unpredictable moods. Be aware of their vulnerabilities. Protect them. And, treat them as you would want to be treated if, God forbid, fate placed you in their shoes.
I’ll end with some rock-solid advice: It’s better to reach out to the family of a fallen warrior in ways that you’re comfortable with, perhaps even making a mistake or two along the way, than to do nothing. Remember: In these circumstances, silence is not golden.
I welcome your thoughts and comments on this necessary, but sobering, subject. Write to me at Joanne@militarywidow.com or Joanne@military-parents.com
Sunday, April 17, 2011
Saturday, April 9, 2011
Thursday, March 31, 2011
I feel like I should be so much further along than I am at this point. I feel like I should be more adjusted. I feel like I should be more acclimated to my new life, my new life without him. When I compare myself, I feel like I am still at step one. I can't let go. I can't stop looking for him to return home. I can't leave the time, the very short, and very, very important time, that we had together. Every forward step in life is a backward step in grief it feels. It is removing a sheet of that armor, exposing me raw, unprotected, naive and hurt.
Sunday, March 13, 2011
I don't know what is going on with me. I honest to goodness can't find positivity. I cannot find that little piece, and a major piece, of me lately.
But, not only am I drained, I am draining. I know what it feels like to be around people like me. People who can't seem to find the good, the positive, the happy, the funny, the....anything, in anything. It is draining.
I can't figure out how I found all of that before. Now that it has been longer- almost 6 months, and I feel worse off than I was at 7 days, 1 month, 3 months, 5 months? Why is that?
I no longer have motivation. I no longer have just a little glimpse of positivity that I can run with. I used to be able to take that little piece, run with it, and take it all the way home. Yes, I stressed, of course, but I could make something happy out of pea soup if I wanted to. I could FIND that.
I feel like all I have now is fear. Maybe I am thinking too much about the future. Maybe that is the problem. It is terrifying. Every scenario is so scary. My life has so drastically changed in the last 6 months. And, because it has so drastically changed, it is hard to look forward to anything, because what if that too were stripped away?
I am dreading upcoming PCS-es and ETS-es. What am I going to do without the very support system that has held me up so far? I am terrified of losing my friends to far away places, of drifting apart from them, or of losing them completely.
I am terrified of family issues. What if something happens to one of my family members? Every little thing, unanswered calls, late night calls or texts, calls from those that I don't hear from regularly, makes me gasp, a bad scenario runs through my head, and then I find out that whatever that scenario was didn't happen. It is like my panic is my very first, innate response, and it is way more short fused than it was before. And trust me, that is super short fused.
I really want to find the positive. I am definitely not me without it. I can't feel so sulken, so empty all the time. I am hurting my family and friends. I am pushing them away, because I am draining them. I can't do this anymore, but I can't figure out where it all went or how to get it back.
I know that someday, this will all be better. This will all work out. I am going to heal, and I am going to be fine. But, I am sick of waiting. I am sick of waiting on the investigation. I am sick of waiting on results, I am sick of waiting for the next day to be better, and to be let down. I don't understand how it is so often said "Time Heals All Wounds", but the longer I go, the worse I feel lately.
I need to do something.