As I started out the door to walk our dogs this evening prior to watching our beloved Cards play another game, I heard the Star Spangled Banner begin. I jiggled my husband's chair and said "show some respect babe" so that he would lay down his Iphone and pay attention with me. I sing it poorly but I sing it like I mean it. I don't know that I would have ended up this ""patriotic" if my son hadn't enlisted 7 years ago. Patriotic in the sense that whenever I hear it I stop dead in my tracks and pay attention. Patriotic in the sense that I still cry every time I hear it. Patriotic in the sense that I think about the fallen as I sing it. As the weeks start to tick down for our umteenth deployment over the holidays my sleep begins to fall into the pattern that doesn't allow me to rest as well as I'd like. It appears to be hitting me earlier this time. New training I've been exposed to while I'm working towards my yoga teacher certification is assisting me in at least being able to place myself in a comfortable, meditative state while I'm NOT sleeping. He's not sleeping either. Which is a worry for this military mom. Whatever's on his mind will stay there. And I'll be left to guess how I can support him from so very far away.
It won't be long until after 9 long months of continuous deployments I will be able to lay hands on my son again. His big sis plans a big dinner, and I plan EVERYTHING. A tibetan bowl massage to heal his body and mind, private yoga instruction to heal his spirit, personal training to challenge him. I will do my usual "overwatch" of looking for changes in his spirit, signs of PTSD, signs of fatigue in his body, smelling his shirts for cigarette smoke, all the usual things that a mother does when she's feeling powerless to heal her child. As usual, he sounds upbeat, looks great and one would never know that he's been fighting in this war now for too many years. He will insist that nothing about him has changed and that he's "livin the dream" as I grieve for the innocence that he once had that is gone now forever.
Hearing my son's voice for the first time in months couldn't have come at a better time. He was finally home and I was with 15 warriors in Utah with the Wounded Warrior Project Odyssey. The experience provided me with a rare opportunity to connect with 15 warriors and 4 staff members at the National Ability Center in Park City, Utah. The experience changed me as a therapist and as a Blue Star parent. My son told me once that some stories can never be told. The divide between the civilian and military population is too wide. I took in his statement at the time and I honored it, but I have a deeper understanding for it now. I came home a little quieter, with an expanded appreciation of what it takes for a member of the military to walk into my office or meet for a "walk and talk" and "process" his or her experiences. I hear things a little differently now and my role as a military parent and a civilian is now clearer than ever.
This deployment continues to drag on and on. The promise was "this will be a short one mom". I suppose it was his way of shielding me from the truth. He's become quite good at that as the deployments come faster and last longer than ever before. I'll be leaving in less than 12 hours on a plane to Utah to provide services as a therapist to the Wounded Warrior Project Camp Odyssey. Adventure Programming will be the push that I need to get out of my comfort zone. It will make me feel good to do something with my skill set and allow me to learn from my new teachers............................the warriors themselves. Adventure programs are effective because they utilize personal development and growth through experiential learning. The warriors will be coached to set goals and create action plans. A social worker's dream.
When people ask me what I consider the most difficult aspect of having a deployed kid, I can easily answer them regardless of what day it is or where he is in the cycle of deployment. It's the waiting. For security reasons, extended missions, bad news, weather, many times there will be days of no communication. It's been a while so when I walked downstairs this morning to walk to my car I stopped cold in the middle of the sidewalk. Government car. There it was. Government car. G on the plate. Non-descript. I looked inside........................empty....................... Breathing begins again.
I've had a lot of people in my life lately expressing their concern for me. The last 24 hours were difficult when the alert came through on my phone that there had been a crash in a familiar sounding area of the middle east. Discussing geography and time lines are forbidden so I never post in real time. I had made a promise to my son that I would ZEN UP this week. His statement hit me hard "Mom, I don't like it when you sound sad". A few days later a friend told me in the parking lot of my office, "You seem sad in your blog lately". When two people tell you you sound sad, it's time to ZEN UP and practice what you preach. When I heard that one of those killed in the crash based out of SAFB, it hit me hard, but lit a fire under me to give more, do more, be more for our service members who live locally. I'll keep you posted on what that will look like.
My military alerts ap informed me that we've reached 2071 deaths in Afghanistan today. My heart already felt the heaviness of the number. Zenning up gets difficult when news like this hits my in box and we are in the early days of a deployment. I stop sleeping, but increase my meditation practice. Zenning up is the only choice I have. I can't change what my son has chosen to do. So I shop for goodies, pack the box, mail the box, tell the postal worker about my son, and about his special someone, who is also getting a box. Buy another military t-shirt to wear to yoga class. .......and worry, I try to help a person or two along the way. And worry..........................Repeat.
This morning as I began my day in my office, I took one last look at my phone to check e-mail. There it was, my first Heart's Apart e-mail for this deployment cycle. I'm never prepared for it. With the happenings in Boston this week, my heart was already heavy. I've waited for my husband at the finish line so many times during his many marathon runs. My son and my husband have talked about running a marathon together on several occasions. I am no longer get excited at this prospect.
This week Americans came together and I watched many national guardsman, first responders and active duty military alongside everyday Americans rushing TOWARDS the blast to assist. As the news emerged of the horrific injuries that these average Americans sustained, I thought of the thousands of troops who have witnessed similar horrors over and over again. As these months move forward I have a great hope that military families and civilian families will come together to support each other. Who better to support the families affected by these life changing injuries than a military family who has suffered the same life changes.
With so little time between deployment goodbyes I was caught a bit off guard this morning moving through my Vinyasa class. The tears came......... a few at first but by the time Shavasana hit, and I looked up at the ceiling fans before closing my eyes (ceiling fan, trigger for me) it was all over. I laid there as long as I could, sucking up my tears before pulling myself up to a nice seated lotus position where I demanded my vulnerable self to STOP CRYING BEFORE THE CLASS ENDS AND EVERYONE CAN SEE YOU. It didn't work. The tears kept falling and before I knew it they were sitting there atop my dark blue sticky mat for everyone to see. They had completely bypassed my shirt. How does THAT happen? My tears didn't even have the decency to absorb into the thick mat fabric dammit. They were just SITTING there, staring at me. I was reminded of a mantra I was given when being instructed on how to teach meditation to specific populations by a mindfulness mentor. "Let it happen.......................let it go....................................... So I let it happen, and then I let it go in the park with a nice long run with my husband, post Vinyasa flow.
Let it happen..........................let it go................ then Begin Again tomorrow.
During the spring months as I watch the tulips come up in my neighborhood, nature reminds me that this is a time for renewal. During Critical Incident Debriefings, and in my office over the years, the newly bereaved have stated to me that even before their loved one died, they experienced a stillness and emptiness in the air or felt it in their body. Even more profound is their description of a strange disconnect from the usual comfort that they carried by being in a "soulful" partnership with another human being. Many years ago as I sat and watched a Blue's game with my best friend, who was also my peer on a hospice team, we both experienced a bolt of cold air that our seat mates did not feel. We looked at each other and said "whoa, what was that?" and asked those sitting in front and to the left and right of us if they felt the same wind. They did not. 2 minutes later her phone rang and she was informed by the hospice nurse that her patient had just died. As we called her a cab so that she could retrieve her car and provide grief services to the family, we stood there on the street silent. This was one of many signs that we had experienced in our years as hospice social workers and we knew it would not be the last.
I am a believer in "the next place". I believe that even in death in the theater of war that the dying person has that moment of peace where they are enveloped with the loving arms of comfort and peace that their higher power provides them so that they are given the safe passage forward that they so deserve. These last two weeks, military families have experienced many losses at home and in the Middle East. May their memories be a blessing to all of us and may their families someday find renewal and hope.
I am the mother of a United States Military Service Member who is searching to find peace and meaning in my experience.