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Memorial Day, Maria Shriver and Me

28 May

This past couple of years my professional life has allowed me to interface with Maria Shriver and her team at Shriver Media. I have become increasingly touched by her Executive Producer, Sandy Gleysteen, as she and I have worked together to help bring the program, Architects of Change (AOC), to the scholastic level. I have also had the privilege to share company with Maria and others from her inner circle (just a few, as Maria’s inner circle is bigger than my hometown!) for bits of time, here and there within the last couple of years. I am touched by them because of their authenticity. Maria especially has been quite transparent, sharing her own life’s lessons, goals and struggles through her book tour, I’ve Been Thinking.... Back in March, after an AOC live conversation with her, we had time to talk a little bit about life. The subject of children came up and I did my best to deflect the conversation by stating “I’m a Gold Star Mom.” Usually, I can divert the talk away from me with that singular statement–not with Maria! She is a journalist after all and she walks away from nothing (or at least that is my impression). My secret was not safe with her and within minutes she and her team were learning of my son, Cole, and my heartbreak. We were just outside of my office where symbolism of my children reside, such as an inch high bottle of Tabasco sauce, reminding me (only) of Cole’s tour in Afghanistan where the MRE’s (meals-ready-to-eat) were so horrible he asked all of us to send him as many, mini-sized hot sauces as we could find so he and his fellow Marines could doctor the “food.” Pretty soon, with just a few snippets of insight, we were all wiping away tears. And Maria, in her straightforward Bostonian tongue, invited me to write a piece “from the Gold Star mother” perspective for her Sunday Paper, Memorial Day 2018 edition.

Knowing that AOC is about learning from one another’s stories to empower change for the good within ourselves first and then allowing the ripple effects of that goodness to extend beyond our own vision and reach, Maria challenged me to tell the story of how I get up out of bed and keep going. She reminded me that some people, after loss, cannot find the strength to do so and for some reason, my carrying on while bearing the intensity of my sorrow touched her. And so back in March, I began to think of why I keep going. I was given a 700 word limit and a deadline. I was also left to face aspects of my own story that I strategically ignore, which is not fun especially when the story cannot be fixed (corrected). And even now, after sharing my story via MariaShriver.Com, I am wondering…can I move beyond my disappointment and pain, turn a corner from it? I wonder this because while I am still balancing the weight of losing Cole, my soul remains burdened by it–an open wound that can bleed at any minute. I don’t have an answer to my own question just yet, but Maria Shriver definitely has me thinking!

At any rate, I hunkered down on Mother’s Day and gave way to writing. And just yesterday, Maria’s Sunday Paper hit email inboxes with her own sharing of new beginnings along with my short tribute (and inspirations from a few other amazing people). You can read my story directly on Maria’s Sunday Paper: The Power of New Beginnings by scrolling down and clicking on the photo of Cole and me.

OR, you can read it here below–

I am blessed to be the mother of two. And like my last name, Bent, so too is the Gold Star which envelops me. You see my son was returned home from the front lines in Afghanistan, OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom), with the injury that would later claim his life. And as I write this with the shaky hands of a mother bearing the extreme loss of her son, I am grateful for the extra time I was given to witness the strength, honor and courage first hand of my United States Marine Warrior, Cole Bent, while he fought to survive.

The month of May is a tough time for families remembering their fallen loved ones. For me the month is a succession of painful reminders. I begin with Mother’s Day as I celebrate the role that gave me ultimate purpose, while also bearing the knowledge I am “a man down,” though still in the game. I then move on to the worst day of my life, May 17, when the authorities infiltrated with the horrid news no mother should have to hear, “your son is gone.” And then to the finish line of a national holiday where the entire nation remembers the bravery of the military deceased, those who have selflessly trained and honed their craft to preserve the freedom of our United States. Yes, May is a tough month to be sure.

Maria has asked me to write from this place of grief because she has known me only as having a spunk in my step, a smile upon my face and a forward motion in life that masks this inner turmoil hidden beneath the Bent Gold Star. How does one continue on with such a rift in the maternal walk of life? This question has been following me like a ferocious lion ever since she [Maria] posed it. At every proverbial turn, however, the answer remains the same; love and honor. I am compelled forward by love. The love of my son is insurmountable; yes I use the word “is” because though his physical being is gone from my world the love of him remains brilliantly alive. Love of my daughter, who needs a mother still. Love of my husband, best friend and father of our two children. Love of my family and friends who have walked this Bent road alongside us. Truly it is love, which precludes me from my selfishness.

When faced with the unbearable weight of the news of death, I fell. I fell into my bed unable to physically function—no eating, no drinking…no need! And yet in my desire to allow the grief to overtake me, I couldn’t help remembering the incredible strength of my Marine. The honor, which he so sought by enlisting in the Corps, and the focus of his commitment, are undeniable truths I could not avoid. And still today, I can not allow myself to disengage in this life, while knowing first hand the incredible sacrifices of our military personnel—a world I have been brought into through Cole. This knowledge coupled with love keeps me engaged to this life and to the ones still here.

To be fair (and honest really), I am nowhere near having the strength I long for. The desire I carry to advocate for our veterans and injured military lies within me, dormant, because my own grief still gets in the way. I hope time will assuage this, but the weight of the burden remains unaltered from the moment the golden star was placed upon me, though my soul muscles are more accustomed to carrying it. In the present, the best I can offer is to step out of my bed determined to give and receive love with those who are in my path and to find gratitude in the moments this side of Heaven I am still privy to.

This Memorial Day 2018, I will visit the National Cemetery home to Cole’s remains. I will take time to read the details on headstones surrounding his and recognize the incredible sacrifice of many to preserve freedom. As Cole’s mom, I cannot help but notice he is surrounded by lives long lived. This is the struggle I will again bear as his marble displays the sad truth of a life cut short at 22 years. I will have to, once more, draw upon love and honor to pull myself up from the depths of maternal loss because his legacy deserves that from me. LCpl Bent, not only served our country, he gave our family insight into a world of hard-core commitment and determination. It is for Cole Bent I share my story and give a proper Marine shout…“Oorah my son, Oorah!”

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En Proceso – Stinky Feet

3 Apr

In the past several months I have had the opportunity to field unintentionally, unkind commentary. Most likely the result of being in my third year of mourning. And though I could spell out for you the details of each encounter, I will spare the invocation of sympathy by not doing so. For truly it isn’t necessary for me to utilize this blog platform to rally my troops, not today anyway (no guarantee for future intent). The problematic formula, or root of the unintentionally unkind quips, is that they each imply that the lapse of time should be lessening the pain of loss. A practical concept in theory, though rooted not in the reality of the griever.

I do understand the foundation of the misunderstanding, for I smile a lot. I invest in people’s lives, a lot. I am warm toward others, forgiving toward others, caring toward others and interacting with others, a lot. A newbie to my world would never suspect I carry, in my soul, the burden I carry. I celebrate babies, I empathize with others, I congratulate achievements. In essence, I am continuing on. People in mourning, people who grieve, continue on. If they don’t, they themselves are not living.

So how, how does one get on with it? How do I? Aside from the foundation of faith…

  1. Live in the now. I pay the price, daily, of disregarding the weight of my sorrow. The cost comes in form of loss of memory. In order to survive, I have to shut out certain reflections. Shutting the doors to pain also shuts out good memories as well. My friends help fill in my gaps when needed.
  2. Gratitude. I start with my ugly feet, though dreadful to look at they are the work horses of my life. I am grateful for my feet, their support of my body and the abuse they endure as result of my love of impractical shoes. I expand the exercise further from there. Gratitude is a most superior, healing salve.
  3. Being present. Remembering that my loss is not the only loss on earth forces me to connect with family and friends with a reciprocal intention.
  4. Embracing imperfection. This one could be it’s own blog post! Mourning, suffering loss, grieving, etc., has caused a desensitization of sorts for me. I am no longer “ruffled” by the small injustices in life. Example: waiting in long lines in the supermarket or coffee shop because of incompetence either with the employee or the customer doesn’t faze me. In life “my story” is always upon me, always goes with me and impacts my threshold. My own loss has given me greater understanding that each of us could be navigating the daily tasks of life with a complication, a fact and consideration I impart to others. *except when driving–I’m a beast!
  5. Letting go of offense. This one probably falls under the umbrella of #4. But to give it its proper due, I’ll list it out. My motto is, “I don’t have time for offense.” I move through affronts quickly for my soul has no extra room to carry them.

And of course my #5 brings us back to my opening paragraph. Suffice to say that I suffer loss in constant, and the questions hurled my way that cause offense do not (and cannot) penetrate the pain already there. In truth those that ask a question or make a comment in ignorance are fortunate; they haven’t been touched by sorrow’s sting or the injustice of a life gone too soon. I applaud their blessing as I put on my “big girl pants” and enact rule #1.

beautiful feet

Always at my service!

Heart in a Box

1 Aug

I’m shy 16 days of 3 months since I wrote my last post.  Lots happens (& has happened) and yet time stands still within my mind.  I liked my last writing, the mostly dead crew, which is why I sit on it easily and let it run its course within me.  There is another reason in which I find solace within the moratorium of writing, at this particular juncture.  Perhaps it will resonate with some who have walked this same road upon which I trod, or who are presently walking alongside me.  It is the intentional act of stepping away from the loss, my loss.  You see much like loosing a spouse, loosing a child impairs the minute by minute interaction within each day.  And as such, grief is faced in every nook, hallway, tabletop, room, street, store, movie, etc.–the loss is constantly present, because the person who has left was at one time, completely enmeshed in all aspects of your (my) living. That said and knowing that life does not pause for the brokenhearted we scramble to find our way while facing the loss at every turn.

So, this past June I did something different…I put my heart in a box and stored it.

What the hell? Well metaphorically speaking, of course. I consciously decided to step aside from my grief and work on being in the moment of whatever the moment provided.  I consciously decided to disallow the lens of grief to magnify the circumstance.  And I gave a try at putting my heart in a box, closing the lid and storing upon a shelf for a while.  I must say, it has been working.

I went to Manhattan, NY this past June. While there I focused on wonder and joy. I took time off to be at home and reorganize closets.  In doing so I began to find new homes for some of my son’s clothing, joyful homes, compassionate homes. I took time to be with family and friends, not all, but some.  I took time to do things while tired and not let the fear of exhaustion rule the day. I took time with my daughter and husband.  I actually went to the beach with him once…it’s been a while since I’ve done that.

Bottom line, I took time to view living and its interactions through another lens. A lens of life, not my lens of grief.

I am moving into this next year (academic year) with intention of keeping my heart in a box for a while longer. I’m not sure how I’ll do.  I’m not sure for how long I can keep the lid secured. There have definitely been moments, this summer, when the lid seems to be popping off, but I’ve managed to catch it in motion and refasten before the full extent of my heartache is exposed. Why? Why go to all this trouble? Because I’d like to see what Rivka looks like without the veil of grief over her face. I’m just wondering, can I be whole when I’ve been cut in half? And what does that look like? Can you relate to this type of musing? If not, no worries. I’m quite comfortable being a lone wolf within introspective ideations.

There is also the possibility I might just change my mind on the subject and continue to swim upstream the rest of my days.  In any case I’ll keep you posted, especially since I’ve just paid for another year of domain usage. And who knows, perhaps the next post I write here on Bentrivka will be filled with wisdom and encouragement for the reader. I still believe in miracles, though I’m clearly not a miracle worker myself. But I think it safe for us to stay tuned and see what possibilities await.

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