|Todd and I on the Betsy Ann Riverboat|
|Todd and I on the Betsy Ann Riverboat|
When my husband joined the National Guard back in ’04 it was right after the horrors of 9/11. He was 34 and went through Basic Training and then AIT. He was home for about a month when he received the call he was being sent to Iraq.
We knew he would be sent right over. He picked a MOS (Combat Engineer) that guaranteed that, plus it was what he wanted to do. So there he went, off to Camp Caldwell. There he spent time at Anaconda, Stryker, and more that I don’t know about. He was a gunner and operated the .50 Cal. When I would express concern that he was vulnerable on the top of the vehicles with the giant gun, he said,”Love, don’t worry. No one fucks with the .50 Cal.” He explained that people would scramble from the soldiers when they would see them coming down the road.
Yeah, as if it was just that safe or that easy, right? Well, after spending his time in a group of guys that basically patched up a battalion from Tennessee that needed some Combat Engineers. There he and the few other Texas Guardsmen were looked at like the red-headed bastard step children that show up at a family reunion. All of the promotion slots were given to the Tennesee guys and they supported each other. This is not unusual. When Todd returned home, he went back to Texas and since it was just him returning, there was no ticker tape parade or any sort of big deal made. It was business as usual in Austin. No one on the airplane asked what he was up to or welcomed him home. I make it a point when I am on a plane to inquire on soldiers with combat patches as to if they are coming or going. Usually my son and I will buy them a drink or a snack if they need one.
The only welcome home was the one of his son and I. That was it. Nothing. Months later, he saw in the National Guard magazine, pictures of the Tennessee guys getting their fancy welcome home parade. How nice for them.
Liam and I tried to make it fun, tried to make it a big welcome for him. Two people and a senior citizen dog can only do so much. I know he appreciated it, but I know how really disappointed he was.
When Todd deployed to Afghanistan in 2009, his return home was very exciting, but not in the way any soldier wants it to be. He came home via Medivac. They did not think he would survive the flight from Bagrum Airforce Base in Afghanistan, to Landstuhl Hospital in Germany. To the delight of my son and I, he made it all the way home to Texas. He did not get a parade at that time, either.
It wasn’t until April 19, 2012 that he received the true heroes welcome he really deserved. Thanks to a non-profit group called WarriorBeachRetreat.org, he was truly welcomed. Warrior Beach Retreat is a non-profit started by Linda and Phillip Cope, of Panama City Beach, Florida. They started this group after their son Josh was severely injured in Iraq. They realized how couples really need a source of recreation and fun to help balance with all of the seriousness in life after injuries and PTSD.
On Thursday, April 19, Todd received so many thanks I swear my face was hurting from smiling. There were so many people standing on the main streets and the bridge that went over the water to connect to the other side of the city. It was the prettiest thing I have ever seen. The most touching scene for me was to see the young Navy (forgive me for not remembering what the newbies are called in the Navy) cadets were saluting all along the fence perimeter at the Navy Training Academy. I cried because they saluted us so well as if we were important officers or something. I also looked at them like potential children of mine as they were all around 18 years-old and I am 41. I prayed for their safety when they ever had to face deployment. I never want any of them to end up like my husband.
|So many flags, it was the prettiest sight to see.|
Here is the prettiest thing ever! Make sure you zoom in so you can see the flags and the townspeople holding them. After we drove our wonderful red shiny brand spanking new Toyota Camry in the motorcade and saw everyone out with their flags, we went to the First Baptist Church where we got to have dinner and see a wonderful program recognizing our heroes. As soon as the video is available of it, I will post links. It had me crying my eyes out again. It is soo nice to see my husband’s sacrifice being appreciated. So many Viet Nam Veterans stood outside holding flags in formation as we walked by. Todd refused to use a wheel chair and there was a ton of walking. He couldn’t use his leg brace because he was wearing his dress shoes. I admire him so much, even if he is stubborn and causes himself more pain. He walked all the way down to the front row of the auditorium.
After the program, a man came up to me thanking me for my service (which made me cry yet again) and told me how Todd inspired him as he could see the grit and determination held in his firm jaw. He inspired me as well. He walked so much that his leg was so swollen from the day before. It did not bother him. He kept on. He walked because he could. Everyone smiled at him. After the program was over, we were put in the foyer to sit and meet and greet the people that came for the program. I am so glad Linda gave us our own box of tissues as it was very emotional watching Todd process the welcome he very much needed. It was cathartic for both of us. I have always felt badly that he never had the parade or anything the media shows many soldiers receiving. I can proudly say he was welcomed home.
The Copes have done tremendously with their group and it was truly a blessing for us. I have not seen my husband smile in so long. He was actually giggling and he told me he had fun while playing on the beach in a Beach Scoot. This was graciously provided for us by the owners of the company. The Scoot looks like a Gator and a Rascal had a baby with really fat tires so it can maneuver on the sand. Fabulous!
Here is a picture of Todd sitting on the Beach Scoot. Note the smile. He was kind of tired, but still happy in this shot.
|That killer smile – note the appearance of dimples. Indicators of a good time.|
|That beach was so nice I never wanted to leave. Here we are on the far right.|
Here are some other couples with us on the beach. As you can see, they were a blast and the beach at St. Andrew’s State Park in Panama City was gorgeous. Some of the softest sand I have ever felt and the water was clear, unlike the murky water I have seen in the Atlantic on the other side of Florida.
We were flown to the event thanks to www.aircompassionforveterans.org. That was really nice. We never have been the recipients of such huge amounts of kindness like this, it was absolutely mindblowing.
We got to stay at the Wyndham Bay Point resort, which was gorgeous.
Here is their web link so you can see better quality pictures of the place as mine don’t do it justice.
We can’t thank the Spa Director enough. The wives of the soldiers got to go to the Spa at the Wyndham or go Deep Sea Fishing. Of course I opted for the Spa. Good decision, hands down. I got a lovely deep tissue massage and custom facial. My skin looked amazing. I didn’t even want to wear face powder on it for the rest of the trip, they made it look so good. They made us feel so pampered and spoiled, much like movie stars or royalty or something. I honestly did not want to leave. I joked to my husband,”Is there a button we can push so our son can be sent here and our dog, too?”
I can’t thank The Copes enough and I will write again about some of the other activities. It is time for bed as I have hit the ground running since coming home on Monday. It has been doctors appointments as usual. Today was a 4 hour marathon at the VA. Goodnight, all. More to come.
With a big smile in my heart and on my face, I close this one.
Back in January, I started a support group for fellow wives of wounded soldiers in the Austin, Texas area. When I first started it, I was unsure how it was going to work out and worried that I might not be ready for something like this. It is hard to take on projects when your soldier does not allow you to get your 7 or 8 hours of sleep in one straight block. At my old age, I am not so able to thrive without rest. Funny how I took that for granted. I used to go one whole day without sleep when I had my own business. Talk about drive. I am still driven, just in other ways now.
Back to the group- I have found it to be one of the best things I have ever done. It has helped me a lot and I have seen where it has been useful for some of the other ladies, too. There is room for growth and I have big plans for it. I am so happy that others in similar situations don’t feel as alone anymore. It is something I am very glad I did. I get to hear about successes first hand from others trying different methods on fixing their husbands.
So, here is a big question about drive, research, and pushing. For all of you with wounded soldiers at home suffering with TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), and other debilitating health issues, when is enough enough? I can’t seem to stop researching the latest and newest methods to help restore cognitive function. I am always googleing TBI, PTSD to see if there are new strategies in helping to remedy the side effects. Through one of my friend’s blogs, I see there are injections that are being given to soldiers suffering with PTSD and that they do help a lot on reducing anxiety. However they have to be repeated every 3-4 months. To get the shot, you have to go to the clinic, which is far from here. So my hubby would have to endure the painful journey of getting there as well as receiving the injection, which would be another kind of pain. When I started talking to him about it as I got excited when I saw Kristle’s blog, he said he was not interested.
What? You are not interested? You like having PTSD? You like having the nightmares that make you literally sweat out a gallon of sweat each night and have the flashbacks? You like waking up sick to your stomach when you experience one of your many horrible wartime experiences? How can you not want to get rid of this? How can you not want to try something new to get it eliminated?
I got upset. I thought WTF- why am I doing all of this research to help him regain his short term memory issues and other cognitive deficits that really frustrate him if he does not even want to try something that has a documented success rate?
He won’t even try acupuncture and I have many wives tell me how much it has helped their soldiers with pain and also some of their anxiety. Anxiety is the huge feeding pool which fuels PTSD. This is not fair. I hear about all sorts of new treatments and things to try and he won’t even consider it.
What do you ladies do? I am frustrated. I don’t want things to be like this for the rest of our life. I want him to have fulfillment from what he does and to feel good about himself again. I want him to one day wake up without the chronic pain that knocks him down and makes him sick to his stomach.
Is that too much to ask for? Do I just stop and give up?
When I look at my husband, who is still young at age 41 and has a life left in front of him- I can’t imagine him not trying something to help him feel more like he used to. Would he want to spend the next 25-30 years suffering with chronic pain? Would he want to keep going and keep the blinders on to alternative treatments around him?
Can I just stop and let him control what he tries next? Can I let go of this?
One of my fellow wounded warrior wives posted a funny, but sad list of “You know you are a wife of a wounded soldier when..” It was amazing how many women posted something that I have experienced. It was very eye opening as I did not realize how much of it I had experienced.
What I mean is that the time has gone by so fast, I did not pay attention to all of the minutia that had changed in my life or that I had to adjust to. When reading some of the other women’s comments, they triggered memories in my mind that I had forgotten about. Kind of like when you watch a mother hold a toddler on one hip, balance a diaper bag, purse, laptop bag, and lunch in the other free hand. Her toddler drops a toy and she bends with everything else in her hands and arms and in one quick, efficient step, has retrieved the toy.
You just adjust physically and mentally and get stronger as your baby grows. In this case, it was mental growth. Realization of how things that can seem so bleak and difficult (and there were some pretty tough days) are surmountable. The ability to keep plugging along is something us WWW’s have in common. Ever since I had found the website for the Wounded Warrior Wives, it has been a literal lifesaver for me. I have posted their website in the Useful Links area. I recommend it to any of you spouses.
In some of my blogs I wrote about the isolation I felt being the caregiver of a wounded soldier. No one else knows what it is like laying next to someone having nightmares that cause their husbands to get up and run to the restroom because they are so upsetting they make him throw up. To lie there and listen the moans, yells, avoid the flailing arms moving in self-protection, and console him when he wakes up. To get up with your child in the morning after you have had only three hours of sleep and act like everything is rosy and handle a few things and then take a nap when scheduling allows. To be fully aware of all of the things that trigger his PTSD and keep him in a zone to allow him to be more comfortable when he is out in public, in crowds, and other places where he can feel apprehensive.
We (wives of wounded soldiers) do all of those things without really thinking about it. We do it out of love for our soldiers. Just like how my husband STILL opens the door for me first, even if he is having an extra sore day and he will walk all the way around his truck to my side first. Even in rain. The Taliban did not blast away the gentleman that he was prior to getting injured. They did not blast away his courage, his strength, and his heart for his country. He does those things automatically.
When I look back on the isolation that took over me when I was away at the Fisher House and had to spend the weekdays away from my son, I can remember when the darkness faded and the sun started to shine. It was when I first read a forum that one of the wives had commented in. It was seriously a light in the tunnel of never ending darkness. It makes me think of that Police song,”Message In a Bottle.” The lyrics in which Sting’s character finds a million other bottles with messages lying on the shore,”It seems I am not so lonely being alone..” It just rang true. None of us are alone anymore. There are brave wives dealing with bureaucracy to help the future veterans not have to fight as hard for their health care. Some of them are giving voice to the many issues we are all enduring. I applaud every single one of them. I can only thank you. Your willingness to share the resources you have found along the way of helping your husbands recover has only inspired me to do the same.
I know this is a long-overdue post about something absolutely wonderful and intense that I feel so lucky to have been a part of. Last July, myself and some other WWW’s got to go to NYC to meet with the Writer’s Guild East. The Guild is a bunch of amazingly talented, successful and professional playwrights, novelists, TV writers, and more.
November 2011 was our time for the second trip of the retreat. The purpose was to have our mentors look at our writing we had done during the few months in between the retreats and give us some constructive feedback on our writing. It was a great experience. I am working on my memoirs or “momoirs” as my son calls them.
As many of you can imagine, to write about something very profound and life changing can be like opening Pandora’s Box of emotions. I have not had the time or the privacy to sit and blubber like a fool while I type a bunch of stuff out. I know I need to do it, I will do it. I will just have to make sure I hit up the local Costco for tissues. Have you ever experienced something and stuffed all of your emotions away just so you could put out the fires life throws at you and so you can be strong for your kiddos? That is what I did.
Just when I thought I had the lock tightly closed and hatch sealed, I found out during our trip we were going to visit Ground Zero. Ground Zero is the area of New York City in which the Twin Towers once were. This is the hallowed ground of 9/11. Anyone that knows my husband Todd, knows that it was 9/11 that inspired him to join the National Guard before he was too old to do it. My mind was spinning at the thought of seeing a memorial to all of our innocent people lost on a brutal attack that many people, even New Yorkers, have forgotten about.
The trip would put in front of me the most visually impacting symbols of loss and hope that I have ever seen. My husband is forever suffering from serving his country. Wounds that are both visible to the eye, and invisible. The invisible wounds are the worst ones.
It was a beautiful day in November, 2011 when we all got off of the bus and walked to Ground Zero and waited in line to get in. On the outside, there is a beautiful bas relief in bronze of the firefighters who died trying to help rescue the people trapped in the rubble.
That bronze sculpture above wrapped around a huge side of the firehouse. It made me cry when I saw all of the in memory of written on the plaque. So many people sacrificed themselves to help strangers. How many people sacrifice anything at all in their lives to help others? There were a bunch of tourists around from other countries. Some were standing in front of the wall laughing, cracking jokes and posing. I wanted to kick them hard. To me it was a solemn, beautiful thing to look at and give it respect. Not treat it like a Mickey Mouse statue at Disney World.
In the museum, there were items that were found in the rubble and excavation of the property to build the new memorial grounds that are breathtaking and very tactful.
The item above was a .45 revolver that had melted into the cement during the blast.
One of the things that made it surreal and heart breaking was the wall of pictures of the lost. The walls were tall- I am guessing around 20 feet tall and were covered every inch of pictures of people missing and lost. People to never be seen again. I thought of every family missing their loved ones and it made me glad. Glad that my husband decided to stand up and support his country. Never again did he want to see such horrors inflicted on US soil ever again, not if he could help it.
The stuffed lamb really made me sad. I thought about a child dealing with the panic of what that day was like. The museum had sound bytes from the 911 calls, to actual messages from victim’s cell phones. It sounded like pure chaos. The innocence that the animal portrays made me think about the parent that had to reconcile the fact that they were not going to live through the event. How can you hold your child’s hand in a tragedy and look into their eyes, knowing you are only going to see them again in heaven.
This was my hand written dedication to the memorial. Visitors from everywhere wrote their kind words of healing, faith, encouragement, and support. I was blown away to see the kindness of others that poured in via these postcards of support. Some from South America, Africa, and the Middle East. It made me smile to see kindness. To see humanity.
Outside, where the twin towers used to be are two beautiful giant granite and marble monuments with large water fountains in them. Here are the pictures of those.
I took pictures of some of my friends, but I was crying my eyes out, looking at the symbols of my husband’s best times of his life and the worst. It was hard to see the reasons he went to war, right in front of me. I am so glad I did get to see it. I really felt that it was beautiful the way the people’s names are lit up along the sides of it. The names were the firemen. There were so many names.
I am proud of my husband for serving his country at a time of crisis and I do not regret what he did. He will never regret not answering the feeling he had of patriotism to sacrifice his life and the life of his family for serving.
I hope we never ever again see such a sickening loss of life on our soil ever again.
Today I was on Facebook looking at the posts some of my friends had written. One of my fellow wounded warrior wives’s husband posted this blog about PTSD and I thought it was refreshing. Refreshing to see a man not afraid to talk about something that so many guys are sadly embarrassed about having.
If you check this out, you will be amazed at his way of writing what many of our soldiers feel. Thank you, Rob!!!
About two months ago, I received an email from my contact at the Wounded Warrior’s Wives Group asking me if I would like to attend a writing workshop in NYC for the wives of wounded soldiers. The purpose of the workshop would be to help us find our voices and develop the way we write. Really! NYC! To go and develop my writing? Hell yeah!!
June 17, 2011 I boarded the plane to NYC. I was so exited as I spent 23 years of my life growing up in NY state, but never got to go to the city. Finally, I get to see the big apple. I got in, got in my room at the Affinia Manhattan and settled in.
The next morning at breakfast all of us wives were a buzz thinking about what the day would bring. We took a bus to the Writer’s Guild East building and walked in. We sat in a large conference room and were introduced to the writers who would be our mentors that weekend. To my amazement, Eric Bogosian walked in. Many of you might remember him from the movie, Talk Radio. That movie was crafted after his Pulitzer nominated play of the same title. Can you imagine sitting in the room with such an accomplished playwright and actor! He was a really nice, approachable person. Here is a picture of me with Eric.
We all had breakfast, introduced ourselves to the Guild and got sectioned off into groups to meet with our particular mentors. My mentors for that weekend were Matthew Eck and Gina Gionfriddo. Matthew is a writer who wrote a book called The Farther Shore. Gina wrote the play, Becky Shaw. She is an accomplished playwright and television writer as well. She has written for Cold Case, Law and Order and Law and Order Criminal Intent.
They talked to the other wives and I about what type of writing did we want to do and how to get started. We talked about what we have done so far and what we all hope to accomplish. Some of us had been blogging, some are quite accomplished in it and some have former news writing experience.
That evening we got to do some sight seeing and explore Manhattan. It was a blast. We were told that we were getting to go see The Lion King or Mary Poppins on Broadway. I drew a ticket for The Lion King and it was absolutely amazing. The sound was beautiful – there were 3 percussion stands (two up mid level against the sides of the stage walls and one below in the orchestra pit). Some of the characters joined the rest of the cast from different positions in the audience! It was a lot of fun to watch the “elephants” and other animals make their way to the stage. What a treat it was both visually and aurally. I sat in the front row! My friend Amy and I were giggling like little kids at our great seats.
We did more sight seeing and walked from 31st Street to 59th Street so we could see FAO Schwartz and the rest of the shops of notoriety. It was so fun to see all of the images as a New Yorker I had seen in movies and magazines, but had never gotten to experience. I never felt in any danger. The police had a large presence there and I felt safe even as it started to get dark. I really enjoyed the city.
Energized from new experiences and making new friendships with some of the wives I hadn’t met before, I woke up ready for our day at the Writer’s Guild. Matthew had us do a character development exercise that was really cool. We had to come up with a name for a character, then list various things that the character would believe in or have in their possession. From the bottom level up, I built a character. It was a very helpful exercise to me. We did some other writing exercises and it was an incredible learning experience.
When the trip came to an end, I was ready to return to my soldier and son, but I was happy that I had learned some new skills, met some amazing, courageous wives of wounded soldiers, and made some INCREDIBLE literary contacts. Part of me did not want to leave New York City as I had really enjoyed the bits of it that I had experienced. I wanted to see more and do more so I will definitely do that when we get to return late October-early November.
I can not thank the Wounded Warrior Project and the Writer’s Guild East enough for the experience. It was incredible and I am so happy to have met such a brilliant group of writers. Thank you to everyone that made the trip possible.
Today is a beautiful day. It went from 19 degrees and snowy of all things to a great spring day of what feels like 65 degrees. Definitely a quick flash of winter for us here in Texas.
After dealing with the loss of all of the things I have not allowed myself to feel, it is a nice feeling of the weight being lifted off of my shoulders. I think I saved myself a few visits to the counselor with last weekend’s revelations and thoughts I finally felt. Now we need to work on the task at hand, which is to get Todd the best help we can so we can help him figure out what his plan B will be in case he can not physically or mentally handle his job. His fear is that he will not be able to work due to his lack of short term memory. In order to do any sort of job, you have to remember what you have read a few minutes later. Sadly, he isn’t cut out for a physical job as he has no energy or stamina due to his blood disorder and leg injury.
However, his shoulders are strong, his willpower is there, and I know that things will get better in time. Just have to take it one day at a time and tonight, I get to go to Carnival with my friends. I am looking forward to dancing and spending time with my girlfriends.
I had a major breakdown of grief the other day – it started while at the muster for the community based wtu and as I was looking the nurse manager in the eye and the Col, who I love. It all of a sudden clicked with me that it has been 15 months since Todd got hurt and I haven’t seen a ton of improvement. My eyes started tearing up and it was all I could do to try to be non-emotional when covering all of what needed to be addressed and fighting to get him to go to the shepherd center. When I complained about his quality of life and how he needs and deserves better, they both agreed.
Saturday, on our way back from San Antonio, I got to stay with my bff and go to of all things, a Tupperware party. It was a lot of fun and I am going to have one. The next day I was taking a bath in her giant tub and all of a sudden I started crying as I remembered thinking that Todd resembled an old man getting out of his truck as he used his cane and negotiated the grass and rough terrain. It made me cry thinking that we are never going to be able to learn the Tango together. He had told me we would do that when he got home from Afghanistan. I cried for him having an uncertain health with his blood chemistry all whacked. I cried for the loss of the strong, agile man that I used to have. I cried for him suffering with his TBI and PTSD and how it has taken away his self esteem. I let it all out. I cried for all of the worry, the pain, and loss of his two friends that died that day. It was bottled up for so long and I needed to let it out. Now that I have let it out, I feel a bit clearer on what we need to do. My plan for him is clearer. Even though it will be tough on us, we will do what needs to be done to give him improved health and a reason for being.
It has been a while since I have gotten to put some thoughts down on paper. We have been pretty busy with traveling back and forth to San Antonio for CSF’s Med Board medical appointments.
We also met at the Center For The Intrepid to get him fitted for a brace so his right leg that is considered a “salvage” stops buckling at the knee when he steps forward. He has had 8 surgeries on that leg so far. It is never a good thing for the army docs to call your limb a salvage. To me it gives a visual of a junkyard. Inside of his right leg, he has metal from his right knee to his hip bone. Now, due to his lack of white blood cells we really don’t want him to have to endure any more surgery on that leg. An infection would cause him to lose the leg at the hip and that would be incapable of a prosthetic.
He has a lot of hetero-topic ossification in the limb, which is bone growth that grows all through out the remaining muscle. In other words, it’s bone where he shouldn’t have any. It pinches in against the nerves. Just sitting in a hard wooden chair causes him excruciating pain.
The brace prototype did show some positive results!!! It will take Todd some getting used to working his remaining leg muscles differently with it, but in about 3 weeks, the real brace should be ready for him to try. I hope it helps him walk better. I think for him to walk upright and without a cane, would be the gift he certainly deserves.
Time will tell!