Angel Protecting Entrance
Panteon Delores, Mexico City
I just walked away, didn't I?
I lost everything after he died. I sort of shut down and while I was at it, just shut down the world around me....it seemed too loud
, too cold
and, way too overwhelming
. It's been a hell
of a year. I could give you a dozen analogies but, it truly is like walking on a tight wire with a set of heavy weights. You spend so much time fighting to keep upright and follow a straight line when in reality....you are wobbling, going side to side due to the weight of the problems and, scrambling to keep from sinking down or falling off. I had been shut out, shut in, doors slammed in my face and the cards shuffled once more on what our identity as a family was. The coldest reality was trying to figure out who we were without
him since our existence was based on his service, his injuries and his story. I didn't know how much our lives revolved around him and that everything else was just a forethought. Once they are gone, you are left with "what do I do now?". It seems weird that I no longer have to fight the system, remind about medications although I still think I do when I see the clock or spend three hours a day trying to wake him up and another four, trying to get him to go to bed. We were with him on a daily basis. It had the same echoes of familiarity as them coming out of service, retiring, med-boarded etc and not knowing who they
were anymore. It was hard to look in the mirror and face ourselves as regular people; not that family of a wounded warrior. It was just... gone
. In a minute.
Grief has been my best friend of sorts as far as my mind and heart goes. He stays all night, doesn't complain, opens his visit with a mournful sigh and pitiful laugh when you remember a funny memory. He kind of slips in without making a fuss or big show of "Here's Johnnnnnnny
!" and climbs into bed with you while you watch the shadows creep around your bedroom. He lies there quietly in that cold, dark bed of heartaches and regrets with you while the icy hands of loneliness caress you while you try to find the elusive sleep you so desperately seek. He keeps the lights low, whispers softly and keeps the covers easily accessible so you can pull them over your head. He holds my hand when the tears start, quietly allows me the time I need to get it out and, stays with me when my heart hurts. Patient he is, with me, especially on those moments where you can't breathe. He just sits and waits. He doesn't fuss about the puffy eyes you hide from crying so others won't see, he doesn't make any comments that you look like utter crap when your nose is all snotty and red from the crying jag you had from an all night-er. Yes, Grief keeps a steady vigil while you read a letter over and over again until it threatens to fall apart from the creases you keep folding and unfolding. He doesn't mind what you're wearing, doesn't fuss if you don't eat or that your absolutely just broken inside. He is with you all the same.
Guilt can also be a bitch.......
A cruel....malicious....unrelenting.... nasty....son of a bitch.
The kind who creeps up when your smile is a thousand watts and shuts it down while laughing at you as you stumble and fall in the dark. He is there as a reminder when things *seem* to be going OK and when those moments of "I am
, Honey!! I am doing it for
you and with
you!" hit you like a freight train. There with you, as you watch your child run on the playground with his friends at school. Squealing and whooping with so much joy
and a laugh that could make the hardest crack up; all while knowing
his father will never
see that. The tears...when your other son tells you how much he misses Daddy and how he wants to be a doctor in the military....Yeah, Guilt is a hard ass when he wants to be especially in those moments where you wish nothing more than him there with
what you are witnessing and feeling
that moment in it's entirety
. He is a reminder that I am without him. He is that daily dose of the bitch slap into reality when you wake from a good dream where I see and talk to him, that he isn't
truly there. Grief's a bastard
. Then when it's really bad, he creeps up quickly when you least expect it and sometimes brings along his side kick, Guilt
Yeah, I said it. When we say as Caregivers, family and wives etc, that we don't "get" our Veterans sometimes? We know they have it but, we don't quite understand
the who's, the when's, and the why's? You will if they die. Not all
of it but, to a major degree you understand more in the aftermath. I don't honestly know any other way
to say it that will make it pretty or sugar coat it.....it simply is what it is. It is harsh, bittersweet and cruel
to finally understand a majority of it when they're gone. All the buried secrets uncovered, the lies harbored finally released, the full extent of what
War can do
to a man, finally reveals itself in a way that drops you to your knees. It will swallow
you up like a big, gaping, black hole and, not release you no matter how much you're kicking and screaming. You fluctuate between being stunned at the revelation or shocked as hell you didn't get it before. You wonder how
you could be so dumb
, how you were so blind
that you missed
it before and, that you knew them like the back of your hand so how did you miss this
? How could I not
understand to the full extent while he was alive? It was the one
thing that keeps them from smiling, having joy in its fullest or what kept them from sleeping peacefully. It kept them from saving themselves.
Guilt....the nastiest and biggest demon our Veterans face post-war home and carry on their backs. It is the one Demon we can't soothe, or banish from their hearts...no matter how much we hold on and love them. Mix that with regrets, loss, moral challenges/conflicts, and the adrenaline they seek to replace the daily pucker factor and rush they were so used to....it's one of the hardest things to battle in my opinion. In my mind....I know now there wasn't anything I could do to relieve that. I get told this all the time but, damn.....reminding myself over and over again and accepting it is a challenge in itself. My heart has been overloaded on acceptance of some things these days but, that one? It might take a while and maybe never......
Then you get pissed......
, that you didn't see it coming, pissed
that they didn't want to lay their burdens on you when you were offering and pleading to share the weight of their demons. Pissed
because they didn't give you a chance
to help them. Irate
, because you are so confused
because it wasn't
their time to go. Infuriating moments
on a daily schedule, when you think about "what if it was
his time?". Why now? Why let us love at all? Pissed
, because you were able to save him before but, enraged
that you still hear his pleas of "why
didn't you just let me go
when I tried before?" in the middle of a meltdown. Hurt and angry because you constantly
replay that in your head and wonder if you did something wrong
by doing the right
thing? Incensed, that we were not
enough to want
for. Was I selfish by holding on to him or was he for not wanting to stay?
Anger.....it's a bitch too.
Guilt with anger
, because you promised everything would be alright and you would see them through. I know that I kept every single promise
I made him except for my wanting him not
to become a statistic
in a VA drawer. The anger in myself for failing
is inevitable I know....but, damn
for a fact
he could always count on me and that I kept my promises. How could he leave so fast? Infuriated
....they didn't see you
when you were right there
. Pissed, because instead of taking you up on it, they back away into the shadows alone and choose between the two of you. Incensed
, when the reality hits
that he chose death
. Anger surges daily because you feel you didn't do enough or try to understand the why's. You know it's not their fault but friends....friends
who had information
things....never said a word
. It's not their place, it wasn't their job but, I feel like they just stood by and let him go. You get so pissed because the hurt sometimes is just too much to deal with. Enraged
that you couldn't do a single. God. damn. thing
. to save them.......
Yes, Guilt and Grief......
the Good and Evil twins....
the great bastards of our human emotions as we know it.
I overheard a conversation the other day of a young twenty something talking to a buddy of his about him being turned down and bummed out by it to the point he didn't want to go to his college classes. He seemed relatively down and out but, I could tell his ego was hurting more. So his friend replied that he didn't know anything
until a man is turned down by a woman he really
didn't even like
. "I didn't like this chick but, she was available. Guess what? I ask her out and she had the nerve to tell me no." He considered this
turn down as the "ultimate slap" in the face and to his manhood. It was especially hard for him to accept this turn down since he honestly didn't care for her. I had my hands clenched
out in front of me, hoping for that split
second my body would overstep it's normal boundaries, disregard
my shaking legs and let courage step in to beat the hell
out of them. Not that I would ever
do that but, just so you get the gist of it.
I so badly
wanted to say "You really
an injured or broken heart until you lay one to rest. You don't know what losing is like
or what being turned down "ultimatel
y" until your best friend and partner chooses death over you
....That, is the ultimate turn down. There isn't a man or woman alive who could dare say that so and so turned them down and it hurt or, that the person they love chose another person to replace them....and be any
the pain that the knowledge of death winning
, brings into your life. Oh, to be that young..................
But, each loss is painful isn't it? A different kind of loss...different for each person. So who am I to judge right?
Between these feelings, I seem to be divided in finding comfort in them as they have been around for a while or... spend the rest of my time fighting them off. When I feel my smile fading, I try to quickly regain the control of it again. Sometimes I smile and it feels like my face is going to shatter
from just the pure energy I had to force
to do it. When those breathless moments hit you when something reminds you of them, you fight to just grasp
a tiny bit of air. Yes......fighting seems to be a never ending action when it comes to PTSD, TBI, Suicide and the Aftermath of it all. I don't want
to fight anymore....I can't fight
anymore. I just
I headed West back in the Summer as I was accepted into the Hyper-Baric treatment program in Boulder, CO. It was a great experience and one that I am eternally grateful for not just for that treatment but, in the future. I met so many nice people, especially the wounded veterans coming in. I felt terrible trying to get myself better but, I couldn't just lay down
. My doctor's weren't paying attention with their chemo drugs and kept piling more on and on. I couldn't keep going like that. Between that and all the issues death brings, I more than likely would have died from a combination of all plus a broken heart. Sounds exaggerated but, it wasn't
. I know that now, and was told that. It was good to get off all medications, wean myself off of the multiple steroids and, to start trying healthier approaches that I had not considered. I love
that there are more options for me than what limited resources we had back home. I was now a single mother and provider, I had no choice
but, to take care of my kids and myself. While there are many slackers, I couldn't just choose option B of "I don't want to do this anymore!".
Home wasn't home
any more. It was a prison
that had terrifying
echoes that resounded off every little thing in there. It was heavy
heavy that people didn't like coming in there. I couldn't breathe, relax or sleep. Eating a meal was a challenge for me. Relatives were pretty damn bad
. Some friends....even worse
. It was an earth shattering time and I am still reeling. Some days are better than others; some really bad when some of his demons come looking for a fight. I could deal with the lies, I could deal with his mistakes but, what I could not
handle was to look back to see how his world was spiraling out of control and knowing there was nothing I could have done. How was I to know when he hid it so damn well? What I had
been able to do just wasn't enough
it seems and I am still
with that knowledge.
I just could not deal with the aftermath of how our family was. To see my children who did nothing wrong, punished or to see them scared
killed me. There isn't a thing
I wouldn't do if it meant taking that punishment for them and ensuring that we were going to be ok. The unfolding of the truths about his death, friends who seemed to always need us but, weren't there when it came our time to ask for help was a hard blow. The pain that comes with the realization that certain family members turned their grief into pure malice and hate, further broke me. For a while, I thought back on every detail wondering what I had done to cause these people to act this way or did I not give them a chance? No, it started immediately and ran it's course. Churches
not all of them are bad but, some
than any Westboro member I could compare to them. Bibles were left with horrible, hateful notes, passages highlighted to ensure that you "got" their message whether you wanted to or not, and who could forget how many
told me he went to Hell because of the stigma of suicide? Nothing says "we care" like complete strangers at your door wanting to pray for your husband's soul that now "rests in the hands of Satan".
The Ever Lasting Fight With Religion......
I read the Seven Stages of Grief or whatever that book was. I'll admit it...I half-assed skipped through it and didn't even want to read it. I was never one for self-help type books and I didn't need a book to tell me how to grieve. I spent a lot of years with people telling me how I should do this or that. I wasn't going to define my feelings based on what a book said I should feel. The one thing that struck me was it didn't mention the struggles of one's self and suddenly being faced with a religious conflict. I worried....I panicked, and there were days where it was all I could think of. I began to read all these notes and started thinking....what if? You never really stop to think about disregarding what you believe in and were taught, until it's right there smacking you around. I remembered my husband telling me how he struggled with his moral convictions while in Iraq. We have all had our moments in our lives where we question our beliefs or possibly are angered with God or whoever you believe in; could put you in such hard times? Never though, have I witnessed a simple man break down because he felt like God just left him. He told me one night when he needed to "unload", how War showed him that mankind was cruel, relentlessness in their efforts to pursue what they may or may not think what is right anymore.....He told me how it changed and shook him to his very core of every thing he read, learned in the bible and what his grandparent's taught him. I told him he had to forgive. He wasn't left and if anything? He was there with him, helping and guiding him with the ones who were treated. They may not have come back if not for that partnership. But.....it was never truly about how many came home....it was always about the ones that didn't. I understand now....how it must have felt to have that conviction ripped from you. My best friend uses the analogy of "baptism by fire" and I could only imagine that's what he faced. How, what people think that is right or wrong and not really knowing the true meaning of anything, shatters what you believe in or know. How, it hurt to be faced with people who blamed you for something you didn't even do.....Yeah, I understand so much now. I lived with "What if......???" every single hour on the hour. It's Hell; pure Hell and torture. Then I said no......
No, it can't be.......
and will not believe
that. There are too many
things that have happened to me since his Death that points in the other direction. Inner conflicts of the doctrines of religion should be one of the stages of grief. No one seems to mention that but, who hasn't
wondered about a loved one passing and just as you worried about them alive, you worry if they made it to the pearly whites? I still worry he is alone, or scared....fearful
that I wasn't there to meet him and help him. I even worried about what if he got lost? I wasn't there
to help. I worry all the time about him....but, I know in my heart he is at peace. He struggled for a long time and while I never understand what happened.....I now know he was in a lot
; physical and mental. So much pain
.... the kind that a human should never
have to endure. How the hell he hid it from everyone was just....dumbfounding. I found out more after he passed and try to incorporate that to help me deal with the fact he's gone. There are days where I swear I hear him but, running towards that voice leads me to an empty room and deflated hopes.
talk about religion or politics, you know that! It is though, my
personal belief, that religion doesn't
get to have the last say
when War is
involved. It's War
. What happens as a result of it as far the soldiers that battled in it, isn't religion's decision
whether they are worthy
of saving or....falling
No, most religions say the Lord is a forgiving and merciful one. I still hold on to that. He was a
man, one who has given his shirt and coat off his back to someone
in need, rescue and help someone, give money when they had none. One who
followed his beliefs even when he and God had their issues to
work out between them. I can be blamed
for a lot of things but, I can't
be blamed for not making
that God didn't leave him
out there. I understand, accept that and, the fact it was something
he and so many others like him have to work out. How can anyone be expected to change that way of thinking once it's in the mind of a lost, discarded shell of a man that he once was?
I have struggled with
the grieving process. I won't lie. I think it's a combination of a lot
of things. Death growing up, death of friends and loved ones, being
shied away from that pain by my parents, or having a husband who thought
you were so strong that crying was beneath you. Tragedy has struck me
quite a few times and I realized that I never learned
how to cope
death. I used to be quite fearful of it but, somehow I am not anymore.
I am learning as much as I can and looking into so many other options for learning new coping skills. I learned all my life to hold my feelings inward like a
closely guarded treasure that you were afraid would get stolen. It
doesn't mean I don't have any or am cold....I am exactly the opposite.
Sometimes, I love
too much that those emotions
from others are then mine. It makes it living hell when this happens
because I never know how I am feeling. I am probably grieving the wrong way to some people
but, is there really a set formula one has to follow to be considered "appropriate"?
I avoid Facebook most days, weeks, well.... months.
I haven't been there unless it's to check on something or speak to a
friend. Some days I want to yell and say "Learn to appreciate even the
roughtimes because Dammit! It can be gone just like that!" but, that isn't fair for me to lash out nor do I want to be that reminder again that it could
happen to you. I was that for almost 8 months and still to this day, I
get emails stating this blog helped them but, that it scares you because
our story is similar to that of what you go through now. "You don't want to be me".....I get it. Trust me, I don't want this either. I don't mind
the emails but, there are so many like myself and husband out
there.....we saw it every day. We weren't the only ones. Those of us who are advocates
pushed....pushed for recognition of the 22 a day, more programs to help
us to win the War that was brought home, tried to put out there what we
were trying, accomplishing and failing at. All in hopes, that it might help someone following us. There are many of us who
helped others with statistics, brought forth failing programs (or lack
of) and boldly pushed the news when it came to misconduct of the
military, VA hospitals and employees and, yes, even the Civilian side of
We were there...
The whole time.
Our story is no different than the rest of you.....
The one similarity between us all is
we just hope for a different ending.......
like I don't belong anymore there. I feel like I let a ton of people
down and well, things have changed so drastically just in over a year or
more that I feel what we have been through isn't what the current
situation is. I know I am loved, and blessed to have such a wonderful
and tight knit community but, I am ashamed still. Not of my husband and not
of his post war injuries that were sustained. I am ashamed
because I couldn't save him
. Yes, before people email me and comment...I am
doing counseling. I take things one at a time and hour by hour. I focus every day on my kids and have gotten back to basics with my family. Hell, I am trying to get back to basics with
me. It's a challenge but, I am working on it every minute of the day. Another obstacle is to learn to forgive everyone involved or who weren't involved enough
, especially those who will never
say they're sorry for what they have done. Learning to forgive myself is a major battle that I will fight. Forgiveness....such a simple word but, one of the hardest to put into motion.
don't know the answers because who really learns to even consider these items
in a marriage to someone you thought would always be there? This wasn't
something that they teach you, warn you about or prepare you for. In
our story, we were supposed to end on a mountain top, in our cozy front
porch rocking chairs trying to shoot warnings shots at the kids because they want to
drop off the grand-babies. At least, that was his story for us.
How I wish things could have been different.
For some reason this blog hit 277,000 plus views just this year and in a way....I hate that. Why? Because if you are here, it means that you are looking for answers that I can't give you. I hate that anyone should have to look for help when the help should be there all the time. I know the sheer desperation though, and the feeling of being all alone trying to hold up the world. Many of you have reached out and told me how his story saved them or helped them in some other way. For that, I am grateful. Many of you know his motto was "If we could just save one, Mommy". Well, I think he accomplished that. I just wish he knew. We were a good team on this endeavor. I was the pen that put it to life and he was the one living it. I am ever grateful for that support but, I am more grateful that this blog helps in some way and so very proud of the Veterans who have found their way and saved themselves.
I haven't been able to write since the last post. I don't know if it was just writer's block or perhaps, my heart isn't in this fight anymore. I don't know. It feels good to have written this much and just put it all out there. Thank you so much for all the love, support and kindness that you have shown me. It means the world to me and my boys. We will get back on our feet....somehow we always do. Just this time, was a much harder fall and one that will take us a while to climb back up. If I had to end this post with any advice....it would be, keep fighting. Let them know every. single. day. how much you love them and even when the days are dark....find at least one positive thing to say to each other. Talk.....communication is that important. While I know the struggles all too well, there are moments when I realize it just wasn't that important that he was messy, or that I held so much resentment inside towards him for things he just simply could not help. I am brave enough to admit that was my fault. Honestly...I don't think I even knew I had resentment until it was gone. Count each accomplishment no matter the size, as a big win and dammit...celebrate it. Try to remember that no matter how much you do for them? They don't sometimes understand nor can they reciprocate. It's just not cognitively there anymore to do so among their injuries.. Sometimes, we as spouses, loved ones and family harbor ill feelings when in reality? It's what we do to show our love, so how can we fault our Veterans if they simply just don't "get" it? Stand your ground no matter how hard it gets, if you truly love them. When I started to falter and lose strength, it's when he gave up on me. I don't want this to happen to someone else. Let go of those resentments and change the regrets into doing them. Share your story....you never know who will read it and change their world.
Love is a Bitch Too,