THE GIFT

I wrote this back in July. I think it’s message for our new Commander-and-Chief, is an important one.

I have been trying to write this “Independence Day” message for a couple of weeks. And frankly, I have been struggling. Then, a new connection on LinkedIn sent me a message and through our exchange, I was inspired. If not me, who? I wrote at the end of my message, a reference to the firework displays. The veterans who have seen war, who have fought battles, our warriors, struggle during those fifteen minutes of, “Bombs Bursting in Air.” For many it is terrifying. The noise can throw them back in time when there were real bombs exploding, real danger, real loss of life, real friends dead. We are a young country with many wounds to heal. But, we are strong and need compassionate leaders.

Out history of the emphasis we put on this day of the year, to celebrate our nations freedom, to honor all veterans from that first day when we declared ourselves an independent nation in 1776, is phenomenal! We are a young nation at 240 years. But, we are a strong nation who needs strong leaders.

There will be family reunions, picnics, barbecues, parades, concerts, and baseball games in every backyard, small town, city, and state where people can gather. Th months of preparations for this single day, to show our patriotism is nothing short of monumental. We are a young country. But, we are strong and need righteous leaders.

This one day of the year has been stretched into a week, or more, of honoring our veterans in various ways. All the ball parks have a veteran throwing out that first pitch. There are charitable organizations honoring veterans with special events. And some families are gathering to remember the one that won’t be with them this year…We are a young nation, but, we are strong and the price has been high. We need honorable leaders.

All this attention to the veterans walking among us today, warms my heart deeper than any of you will ever know. Some of you have similar feelings from your own circumstances, and some of you stand proud that one of yours has given their livesvso we can keep this day of freedom sacred. We honor you too… This is a day about remembering the price as well as the gift. Yes, the gift. The gift of freedom all veterans fought for, and are still fighting for today. This gift of freedom…all gave some, and some gave all.

Remember this Mr. President.

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You Are What You Are, Until Your Not

We are all born with unique talents and specific desires. Some of us are outgoing while others are quite, shy and withdrawn. Those who are comfortable talking to strangers and enjoy being in the middle of whatever is going on, are envied by those who would never want to be in the position of having to engage in conversation with people they don’t know. They don’t “mingle.” 

You know who I am talking about. You remember them from childhood. They were the ones who tried to hide behind the student sitting in front of them in the classroom, for fear of being called upon by the teacher. Do others even notice these timid, low-self-esteemed individuals? I’ve often wondered if those raising their hands every chance they get, even notice those who hide.

I was one of these introverted individuals. I can hear some of you doubting this. But, if you knew me when I had someone to hide behind, then you know this to be true. I didn’t have to talk or explain anything because there was always someone else to do that for me. I was told once that I seemed to disappear when more outgoing people would enter a room. And I did. I couldn’t imagine that anyone would want to hear what I thought, or had to say about anything. I was not important. I was of no value as a person. So, I stayed in the shadows of life. I was who I was.

Three things happened to change who I believed myself to be. The first thing was that I felt valued as an employee. I was good at what I did. I began to like myself. Secondly, the people I would “hide” behind were removed from my life. Again, I liked the person I was without them. Then the most significant, and most tragic, event changed who I was in an instant.

I was no longer anyone except who I needed to be at that time. I was a mother of a wounded warrior. He hurt. I hurt. He struggled. I struggled. He cried, I cried. He needed support. I gave support. He needed help. I looked for help. He needed to talk. I listened or found someone he could talk with. If I didn’t have the answers, then I went looking for them. I wasn’t anything close to being all that my son needed. But, I tried. I wasn’t who I had been. I was more.

I believe that no matter how you see yourself, no matter how important or insignificant you saw yourself in the past, who you are begins today. I’m not saying it’s easy to jump out from behind those doors you’ve been hiding behind. I know it is not. I was good at hiding. And I did not want to turn that door knob.

All I’m trying to say is be brave enough to “shine.” Wherever you are, whatever is going on in your family, however you are perceived to be in the workplace, it all comes down to you. You must begin to like the person you are, where you are. Step out from behind the wall you find comfort behind and “shine.” Just one little sparkle at a time. I know you can.

If I could stand back up and fight every time I’ve been knocked down, then you can too. Oh, it’s not easy. You are allowed to shout, cry, be angry and feel so low that the grass will grow over you. But, then it’s time to get up. It is time to stand, to stand tall, to shake it off and take that first step, over and over again. No matter how many times you are knocked down, get back up and stand taller. You can do it, one step at a time and as time goes by you will feel stronger, better, taller. Just concentrate on your “one step at a time.” No more hiding. that part of who you were is gone.

It is a process that repeats itself. You stand up and you are knocked down again. But, each time you grow. You never lose, you grow, you learn. Your steps will change and your choices will be wiser.

You are who you are, until you’re not, until you choose to be more.

 

 

 

My Amanda

July 30, 1978-September 27, 1978

 

My daughter would have been 38 years old today. I held her for nearly two months before she drifted away… I have been asked many times about the loss of a child so young; a child of any age. Maybe even more so since Aaron was so gravely injured. And I opened that door when I wrote about Amanda in my book. Questions like; How did you survive the loss of a child? Do you think they remain infants in Heaven? Or, do you think they age as the years go by? Surviving any loss is a personal journey that isn’t like anyone elses. There is no right way or wrong way to “get on with life.” And it can take years before we even want to begin to pull ourselves up again. On some days, I think of Amanda as an infant in my arms-rocking her in the nursery that was always shaded by the fullness of the flowering Mimosa trees outside the window. On other days, I imagine her as an adult. But, always she is my baby child…always I miss her…

I have no answers, no understanding, one day I will…

When a child is born, and stays but a short time in this life, angles wings seem to surround them, protect them, comfort them. It is as tho for those first few weeks, they exist between where they came from and this world where they have been born. We hold them tenderly, watching quietly as their sleeping faces slowly smile, grin broadly, cooing-speaking in the language of the heavens. Then, with a rich assurance of familiarity, reveal to us the Devine presence that fills their dreams. That glimpse from where they came, is what we hold onto. Somewhere deep within our own soul-no words to describe-we come to understand…they could not stay…they were not meant to stay…it hurts…it always hurts…it gets a little  easier as time passes…but, it still hurts…it will always hurt…

Baby blue, were the color of her eyes. Like a breath of Spring she came and left, and I still don’t know why…

My Amanda…

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Daddy On My Mind

My daddy is always with me. He was always the one who I could count on to be in my corner, to be there with an encouraging word and to show me his forgiving heart no matter what I had done. He was the example of unconditional love throughout my life.

I learned from my daddy what it was to be a parent, a friend, a companion, and most of all-how to love unconditionally. The memories I hold dear are the ones when my daddy had an arm around my shoulders. When I was half his size we would go for walks in the evening after dinner. Just him and me-slowly walking to the corner of our street in Fresno, California. That big hand resting on my shoulder made me proud. I felt his pride in me too.

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My dad was the oldest of three boys. A little James Dean look going on here.IMG_0429

On his side of the family I was the first girl, the first granddaughter on both sides of my family. And I was a prissy little girl.Scan 7

My daddy was always watching as I grew, teaching me to walk, holding my bike as he taught me to ride, sitting in the passenger seat as I learned to drive a car, and as I grew into an adult.

My daddy was not one to talk a lot about anything. He was a quite man, a strong man, a man of convictions when it came to family. When he did say something to someone about me, about my job with Walmart, about me working to start the Sam’s Clubs, there was pride in his voice. It made me proud to hear his pride in me. I guess that has always been the most important thing in my world-for my daddy to be proud of me.

I cherished the four mile walks that we took when I would go back home for a visit. We would get up before anyone in the house would stir. My three children would sleep another hour or so as daddy and I would head out the door. Those times were when we could talk about anything, and it never went any further.

When my baby girl passed, daddy held me even when I couldn’t sobbed anymore. He tried to pull the pain out of me and take it on himself, so I wouldn’t hurt. When my big brother passed, (he was two years older than me) daddy was the one who held me as we sobbed together. He tried to pull the pain out of me and take it on himself, again.

Then daddy passed…I could still feel his arms holding me…and I’m sure I always will…

 

 

THE MIRROR TEST

When the mail came one day about two weeks ago, my husband dropped  magazines, some ad papers, and two packages at my feet. I reached down to pick one of the packages up, thinking they were some quilting supplies I had ordered. But, as I lifted one of them off the floor it was obviously a book. The second package was addressed to Aaron.

I had been contacted several months earlier by a marine who had met Aaron in 2009. Reece Lodder was having trouble getting hold of Aaron, so, he reached out to me. He was trying to obtain permission for the use of some photos and quotes for a book that he was helping to edit and research. I sent a text to Aaron and he did not object. Over the next couple of months, Reece and I exchanged several emails as I continued to give permission on Aaron’s behalf. But, he never reveled the title or content of this book, which I found admix that pile of magazines and advertisements.

The book I held in my hands was THE MIRROR TEST, by J. Kael Weston. When I opened the cover I found a note on the title page:

Dear Diana,

Thank you for writing your book and for your help in support of this one. Families like yours make this nation great. 

Sincerely,

Kael Weston                                  (See page 438) OP Mend Ch.

I had no idea that he had been in touch with UCLA Operation Mend. I was flipping  through pages, wondering what was on page 438, and eager to read the chapter he had dedicated to the organization that had done so much for Aaron. I read through the pages where Kael had interviewed Ron and Dana Katz. Then, I was overwhelmed, speechless, I literally stopped breathing for a moment, when I came to the paragraph that started,  Diana Mankin Phelps, Aaron’s mother…My name in this book…what an honor. I’m humbled… On the designated page, he mentioned my book, A Mother’s Side of War, along with a couple of quotes from me. The last sentence in this paragraph told that I also maintain a blog, this blog, Writing To Heal

J. Kael Weston represented the United States for more than ten years as a State Department official. He received one of their highest awards, the Secretary of State’s Medal of Heroism, that acknowledged his multi-year work in Fallujah with Marines.

The first sentence in the Preface reads; ” I first met Marine Corporal Aaron Mankin in Fallujah in early 2005, just before he lost most of his face in the Iraq War.” You can see how this book grabbed my attention. He goes on to describe Aaron as, “professional in bearing, with cobalt eyes, square jaw, high-and-tight haircut, showed maturity and possessed an eloquence that belied his youthful age.” Aaron’s story of injury and healing is just one thread throughout this book about war and resilience. But it is so much more, as the author turns the mirror on our nation, on our policies and directives, how we look at our country, and how others see us.

THE MIRROR TEST is something that you may have heard Aaron talk about in his interviews and speeches. How he willingly ignored the mirror in his hospital room for weeks, not wanting to see the truth of his injuries. And after the tears, after the anger, after his realization that who he is on the inside had not been changed, and finally with acceptance as he embraced that figure in the mirror – Aaron passed THE MIRROR TEST.

Kael spent seven years on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. He landed in Baghdad in 2003 and was embedded with the marines by 2004 in Fallujah. This book is important, essential, for us to understand the other sides of war. The side of the civilians who lived in a country devastated by war, the side of Iraq’s political advisors to us, the side of Iraq’s military who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with our service men and women, the side of those who were given-assigned-the task of rebuilding a nation and her communities, and the side that describes the emotional toll on all, are just a few of the reasons why this book is one that had to be written. And must be read!

THE MIRROR TEST – J. KAEL WESTON 

Release Date-May 24, 2016

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My Big Brother

My brother, Keith Alan Lindsey, would have been 64 today. He passed very unexpectedly 15 years ago, leaving the love of his life and two daughters. I can’t tell you how heartbroken, confused and just plain angry I was when I got that call. We were all inconsolable… He had a military service as he was in the Air Force before he finished his Masters Degree.

My brother was two years older than me, and bigger than life in my eyes. For the first few years of my life he was my world. It broke my heart when he started school, leaving me without a companion, a playmate. I would stand, with my mother, at the end of our driveway and watch for him to come over the hill on his way back home. We were living in Cortez, Colorado on the outskirts of an Indian reservation. I spent a lot of my time while Keith was in school watching the women, with their babies tied on their backs, as they walked by our home.

Keith was on this earth for 49 years, and touched more lives than anyone I know. I’ll bet he even touched each of your lives. If you have ever gone to the post office and looked at the screen showing how much your package weighs, or how much you owe, my Keith did that. He brought the US Postal Service into the world of technology. (Granted there have been many upgrades since he first brought them online.)

My brother and his family spent approximately 14 months, maybe longer, in India. Keith had the task of teaching their technicians how to read and maintain their countries very first weather satellite. Predicting and warning India when the devastating monsoons would come, saved countless lives.

In the years before he passed, Keith was heavily involved with NASA and the International Space Station. He was working on the power systems. He traveled to other countries who were assigned to make pieces of the power systems to make sure they all fit together properly. As the space station evolved, Keith would teach the astronauts how to install each piece as it was sent up on the shuttle. To get that weightless effect, they would go down in a ninety foot deep pool. That is how Keith, a certified diver, would teach them.

Keith was one who sat in those arenas at NASA watching the astronauts as they worked. He would often call our mother to tell her about each mission and its success. I remember one call when he told her they only lost one wrench that floated away, lost in space.

All in all, I’m very proud to be the sister of this incredible man!

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Veterans Emotional Support Animals

Republicans introduce Bill to Get Puppies for Veterans.

Currently – an Emotional Support Animal is a companion animal which provides therapeutic benefits, such as alleviation some symptoms of the disability. (Such as with PTSD.) Emotional Support Animals are typically dogs, but may include other animals. A person with a verifiable disability can be prescribed an Emotional Support Animal by a physician or medical professional, and will be protected under the United States federal law.

These are the legal aspects of Emotional Support Animals. But, from the personal aspects of the veterans who have known life with an Emotional Support Animal, it has often been a life saver.

My son, a marine wounded in Iraq eleven years ago, has had an emotional support dog, Rocco, from the time he was released from the hospital and assigned a house on base, with his wife.

Rocco died a few weeks ago. When Aaron called, it was to let me know a member of our family was gone. We had seen Rocco aging, but still, we were not prepared to let him go…

As we talked about how Rocco had been with Aaron through so much of his life, we were amazed at how that marine dog had been there to help Aaron through some pretty tough times, as well as the good. The unconditional love was easy to see…

The companionship of a dog, or other support animal, can make all the difference in a veterans decision to keep moving forward. Rocco had been with Aaron through years of surgeries, the birth of his two children, a devastating divorce, and the challenges of becoming a full-time single dad. Aaron’s 9-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son had never known a time without Rocco in their lives.

Rocco was with Aaron when nobody else was, the dark times, the silent times. Rocco would lay next to him with the unconditional love that only comes from an animal who senses the pain. He was there when Aaron struggled with the emotional and physical pain from injuries sustained while serving in Iraq. He was there when Aaron was filled with joy and pride as he brought his daughter, then his son, home from the hospital. And he was there through the painful dissolution of his marriage shortly after his son was born.

Rocco stood with Aaron as they watched over those two children as they stumbled and grew through their toddler stage. At Christmas time there was always a stocking on the mantle and a new ornament on the tree for Rocco too. He was there as Aaron’s children grew and went off to school each morning. And sat at attention, watching intently, beside Aaron as those two came around the corner on their way home. Both greeting them as if they had been gone for years and had crossed the Sahara desert to reach their destination.

This marine dog has earned his strips, and a salute for a job well done. This world needs more “Rocco’s” to stand beside our warriors. I ask that you support legislation in your states, and at the federal level, to see that these special companions are available to all our heroes who need them.

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Rocco, you will be missed…