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.

 

 

 

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…

Today

Today I have read extensively about two warriors. I can’t begin to sort through the emotions that I’m feeling, but I’m going to try. Because one needs us and one has given up on us.

I will begin with the one who needs us. I had posted something on Facebook and one person replied simply with a name. John Peck. I saw it, but I didn’t understand and was headed out. But, this was tugging at me… I had to find out who this was and why he would be posted on my page.

There are probably a lot of you who have heard, read, or seen Marine Sgt. John Pecks story. I had not heard about this young man and his determination to live and serve this nation.

Now, I’m going to tell the rest of you his incredible story of living not just surviving.

In 2007, Sgt. John Peck was serving in Al Anbar province, Iraq (This is where Aaron was injured) when he was first wounded. After a daylong patrol searching for Taliban, receiving small arms fire, finding a cache of HME (Home Made Explosives), waiting for his unit’s EOD team, it was time to go back to base. He was manning the machine gun for the lead vehicle, as it rounded a corner the vehicle was hit by a pressure initiated IED. He was thrown from his seat and smashed his head into the machine gun. He remembers fragments from that night. As a result, John was left with vision, balance, and hearing problems. He also suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI), and suffered short-term and long-term memory loss, forgetting everything up to the point of the injury. Twenty-one years of memories were gone. He had to learn everything all over again. To this day he continues to have problems remembering things from before this incident, difficulty finding words, and short term memory issues.

His first injury didn’t stop him from going back to serve his country. He had to beg and plead with doctors to release him from limited duty. You’re probably wondering at this point why? Why would he go back and not just take the medical discharge? “As a Marine, we don’t do it for the pay or the benefits, we go back for the guys on our left and on our right.”

However, on May 24, 2010, life once again changed dramatically for John. At the age of 24, Sgt. Peck was serving in Helmand province, Afghanistan when he stepped on an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) This is the type of explosive that tossed the tank that Aaron was in 10 feet into the air.) and triggered an explosion that would change his life forever. The resulting blast amputated his legs, part of his right arm, damaged his left arm, and caused third degree burns on his stomach.

Sgt. Peck is one of only two people alive to survive blood contamination by the flesh eating fungus, Aspergillosis. As a result of contaminations from surgery, doctors were forced to amputate part of his left arm, making him the third quadruple amputee of the Afghan and Iraq wars.

RECOVERY – Through the blast and twenty-seven different surgeries, John received forty-one pints of blood, thirty-five units of plasma and five units of platelets, and at one point blend out completely. He was medically sedated from May to early August, during which he endured daily surgeries to clean out debris and dead flesh and t6 fight the infection that was slowly spreading through his body. At one point his family received the heartbreaking news that John was living minute to minute and the doctors, sadly, suggested they say their goodbyes. During his surgeries, he flat lined three times and was pronounced dead once.

By the time his body finally started to fight back against the multiple infections attacking it, he was left with his right arm amputated above the elbow, left arm amputated at the mid forearm, and right leg amputated just above the knee. He is also missing his left bicep, first layer of abdominal muscles and his entire left leg due to the flesh eating fungus. The complete loss of his leg means he’s forced to sit on his pelvic bone –  a painful task with which he has learned to cope. When he awoke in early August, he was informed by his family of his extensive injuries, sedation, and near death experiences. Because of his tracheal tube, he couldn’t speak without using a special device. In order to have the tube removed, he had to perform swallow tests, which is where the doctor’s thread a small camera down your throat and feed you small amounts of food and liquid to see if your throat can handle it. “I remember all I wanted was a Mountain Dew and they couldn’t let me have it. One day a nurse walked in with a small can, popped it open and poured it into a bag. She left a second can behind and I, thinking it was soda, told her, ‘As soon as you leave thats mine!’ I soon came to find it was medication.”

When he woke up he couldn’t move any part of his body. He had no strength to lift his limbs nor any range of motion so he had to be stretched out daily. However, there was a problem, John’s skin had become hyper sensitive to touch. In short, the minute anyone made contact with him he was in enormous amounts of pain.

Every year John’s determination inspires those around him – from jumping out of a plane to scuba diving in Key West, and even completing fifty miles on a hand cycle. John also has a passion for helping those who have fallen on hard times. “I was raised by a single mother and every Christmas it was a financial struggle for her. You could see the pain in her eyes as the need to put food on the table out weighed the Christmas wishes of her young son. After my injuries I vowed I would help as many families as I possibly could at Christmas time.” In 2011 he started at a Target in Washington D.C.- helping a single mother purchase gifts for her daughter and surprising the woman with a gift as well. In 2012, after moving to his new home, he helped another mother with two children in Wal-Mart. In 2013 he changed his method and instead of approaching families, he decided to go to layaway and pay off three random accounts with toys in them.

THE FUTURE – John was recently approved for a double arm transplant. Through multiple tests including; skin type, blood draws, mental exams, vein mapping, and ultrasounds, the doctors determined he a strong candidate. He is currently waiting for the call that will take him to Boston and give him back his arms.

Although the double arm transplant is a miracle of the 21st century, it will also be an expensive and long-term recovery for John and his family.

For more information about helping John and his family by donating go to his email – jmpeck1985@gmail.com

Help John to realize his dream of becoming a world renowned chef!

 

Here We Are

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Well, Veterans Day 2015 has come and gone. Actually, it was a weeklong celebration of gratitude for what our veterans have given for us all. With all we did, every place we went, the people we met, the thing that stood out beyond anything else were the veterans themselves.

I love to stand back and watch as one veteran approaches another–whether they have met before or not– and without hesitation they reach out with an automatic acceptance and a camaraderie of spirit, which those of us on the “outside” cannot comprehend.

We try to see inside the heart of our war fighters–our sons and daughters, our spouses, our family members, our friends–as we try to pry from their shielded memories, from those thoughts that haunt them, wanting desperately to understand that which we cannot.

What we can do is simple. We can listen. We can observe. On one occasion, I was attending an event where there were wounded warriors and caregivers mingling within a crowded room. A room that was buzzing with warriors coming together with a release of spirit that only happens within the ranks of those who have served. And the caregivers huddling together to share their own joys and burdens. Again a closed group that only exists because of circumstances that redefined their own lives.

At one point I was standing in a hallway, waiting on a friend, when a young woman in uniform entered and stood across from me. I looked at her and saw someone who was desperately trying to hold down a full-blown panic attack. All she said was, “There are so many people.” I asked her to breathe with me. In through the nose and out through the mouth. We continued this breathing in unison for a couple of minutes. She watched me, as I watched her, with each motion in this simple taking of each breath.

Everything outside of that hall disappeared for a few moments. That was what she needed. Time to reach inside and find that strength within herself, which she had lost sight of in that crowded room. We parted not knowing each other’s names, only a shared moment of awareness.

That is the way we can help. We don’t need to know the why or the what. All we need to do is listen and observe. The answer will become clear. Then we act. And a bond is made.

Silver and Gold

Silver and Gold,

Silver and Gold,

Families of heroes,

Both Silver and Gold.

A warrior is gone,

And with death there is sorrow,

As their family lets go,

A Gold Star in the window.

A warrior is wounded,

Life has been changed,

For a Silver Star family,

Life is never the same.

Silver and Gold,

They both have seen loss,

Precious their medal,

Two paths that cross.

Silver and Gold,

When joined together,

Gives strength to both,

Supporting each other.

Silver and Gold,

Working for good,

Making sure we remember,

They gave what they could.

Silver and Gold,

Silver and Gold,

Families of heroes,

Both Silver and Gold.

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Warriors

I have not met one single warrior who has come home from war and accepted the title of “HERO.”  Even though they have been through tremendous pain and suffering from injuries, or suffered from the emotional scars of PTSD, they still do not like being referred to as heroes.

It took me a while to understand why, when my son came home from war wounded, he had a kind of discord to this word when it was applied to him.  You could see him physically tremble, when this word would come his way.  He refers to the scars he will always carry as badges of honor.  And at the same time, he says they feel like he is wearing a heavy coat every single day.  He can not feel the touch of my hand on his burn-scarred arms, unless I apply enough pressure to push through the scars to the muscles that remain.  It’s so sad when a mother’s touch often times cannot be felt…

Why–we all wonder–do our warriors not feel justified in holding this title they have all so willingly fought for.

The answer is simple–they do not believe there is any such thing as a hero.  Throughout all the wars in the history of our nation, those who fought have never liked this word.  All every warrior believes they have done is to fight for their families–their friends–the one standing beside them–the one behind them.  And this is simply what they believe anyone would do.

Heroes are something we create, to somehow justify the fact that we were not on those battlefields with them.  We believe we are honoring the sacrifices these warriors have made for us.  But it is not the way they want to be honored.

If we want to honor those who have fought, died, and come home wounded, then let us honor them in the way they want–for what they fought for.

Let us all remember our grandfathers, fathers, partners, and children, as they were and are, precious, courageous, loving souls who took on the job of protecting us and others.

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The Question

The early morning darkness was beginning to show the promise of another crisp autumn morning.  Through the window I watched the orange glow of the slowly rising sun sitting just below the hills in the distance, as I took another sip of my honey sweetened tea.

Instead of enjoying this peaceful time of the early morning dawn, I sit at my desk—remembering—writing another article on the question I am most often asked.

What is it like to answer a phone call informing you that your child has been injured in battle?  I must have answered that question in many different ways, over the past 9 years.  But, the words were never even close to the reality of that unbearable moment—that moment when time stops—that moment when you know that nothing will ever be the same again.

I remember hearing words that made absolutely no sense.  They were nothing more than a string of garbled utterances, carried through the air from a phone so far away.  They entered my world without hesitation, as my hand gripped tighter and tighter around my phone.  The string of words that seemed to be read from a sheet of paper, so formally, came crashing into my world trying to eliminate hope.  I suspected they must be read, because of the difficulty the person on the other end of this conversation is having in just saying such things.

When the call ended, the words spoken began to take on their combined meaning.  They ran through my mind while I felt as though my heart was being ripped from my chest, and I screamed with all that I am, “No!”

But the reality of those words remained, and I had to plan…

How do you plan for this “thing” you prayed would never reach your door?

You don’t—you can’t…

You simple respond, one small step at a time, as the details and realities are slowly set before you.

First the tears flow—for the life that was my child’s future, the life that has been forever changed, and then for my life as well.  How selfish I felt at that moment, wondering what would be required of me.  “How will I cope?” I thought, as I started that journey on a path that held only uncertainties.

The perfect child that I had handed to another was being returned damaged, but this was still my child.  I had to reach deep inside my own emotions, and present a world of hope and healing that I wasn’t at all certain would exist longer than the light of one more day.

One moment, one hour, and one day at a time, I tried to do all I could to bring life back to some kind of normalcy.  Normalcy—what a strange word—Its definition had been so completely changed by that single phone call.  Then it had to be redefined, and its goals redirected.  My son’s life, nor mine, would ever be the same, and that could be a good thing or a bad one.  That was a choice we both had to make.  A choice that must be made every single day for the rest of our lives.

We learned to take each day as it came, and not to try and figure out all the answers at once.  The questions would change.  And those answers that we were finding some small bit of comfort in, would no longer apply.  Each new day would start with its own beginnings, and a different set of goals—yet to be defined.

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