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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!”

1908-2011

24 Nov

Those of you who have been ‘serious’ followers of my banter, here on bentrivka.com, will remember the post titled, “100% Cotton Mouth”.  If you have not read that one, please take a moment to skim over it before continuing to read this current post.  The reason being, is that my ‘…cotton mouth’ post referred to my Aunt Hilda…who, today, closed her eyes and left her body.  Her almost 104 year old physical being.  Her spirit is now young again, her voice is strong, her vision is perfect, and her poor, tired feet alight as she moves freely about the Heavens.  My Aunt Hilda is home.  And though she lived a very full life and we rejoice in her peaceful passing, the finality of her time here with us is still a bitter pill to swallow.

I lift my glass to her.  I wear her gloves and purses with a sentimentality not found in a new purchase.  I find enjoyment with every note I write on her secretarial steno pads–from when telephone numbers began with a letter.  I wear her skirts with joyful amusement that I still can.  I value the time spent with her throughout my life.  I will cherish always her “bear” in the game Pictionary, for I could have sworn it was a squirrel…

She is home.  I am grateful.  Though my heart still aches.

February 19, 1908–November 23, 2011

Bless you Aunt Hilda, and bon voyage!

Extreme Cole Update

5 Oct

Sounds like a TV show, right?  Well most of you already know that we don’t have television in our home (the conventional channels, we only have dvd players and internet of course).  Even so somehow I am abreast of titles of TV shows; i.e. ‘Extreme Home Makeover’.  And when I read today’s posting title, that television show comes to mind (though I know nothing more of it than its name implies).  Why no television?  For the most part we have made that choice because life in itself is already an adventure filled with tragedy, comedy, and plenty of drama!  Allow me to serve up a healthy portion…

Cole is doing remarkably well!  In addition to having one-on-one physical therapy, three times per week, he has begun to work out in the wet and dry, adaptive kinesiology program at our local college, Saddleback.  He begins on Tuesday by getting in the pool at noon.  He works out for about an hour and then moves to the adaptive gym where they have all kinds of equipment for every possible physical disability.  He works out in the Saddleback gym on Friday afternoon’s as well.  Yesterday, he was swimming in the rain.  As he put it, “Yes, I was swimming.  Underwater, with goggles that actually work!”  He then gave me a look of accusation for not providing him adequate equipment here at home…he is quite expressive for a guy who has lost use of his facial muscles!!

During Cole’s first meeting at the gym he was introduced to a man named, Fermin.  Fermin had a stroke 8 years ago leaving him fully paralyzed on his right side, yet he now races in triathlons!  So Fermin took to Cole right away, seeing in him a drive (in all honesty, I would like to use the word ‘acceleration’ instead of drive.  It feels more accurate in describing Cole, but the English language confines me, currently, to the word ‘drive’–but keep in mind I am meaning it to reflect ‘forward motion’).  So Fermin showed Cole his recumbent bike, used for racing (and getting around); and offered to allow Cole a try at it around the running track there at the college.  Cole accepted the offer and we set a date for last Friday.  Brian came and our neighbor and good friend, Harry, met us.  Brian helped Cole into the bike and off he went…down the track, full speed ahead!  He hadn’t even gotten his helmet on (as Brian and I were quick to notice, while biting our nails).  Man-o-man, he raced that bike on that track like he had no disability whatsoever!  His Saddleback instructor, Pam, was also present and then invited Cole to tag along with her to a disability expo happening the next day.  Cole accepted the invitation and spent all day Saturday experiencing a new world of, “I can”.  He kayaked, climbed rocks, did pull-ups, met new people, and tried out different types of apparatuses.  He met a VA counselor there who asked Cole how long it had been since his surgery.  When Cole replied with, “six months”, the counselor said, “man, that’s it…if you are doing this well at 6 months, what is stopping me?!”  I said, “wow Cole, you counseled the counselor!”  He said, “oh yeah…”  When he returned home in the early evening he was wiped out.  But it wasn’t as he puts it, “neurological fatigue”.  In other words, he felt great and tired too!

Now backing up some, on that Friday at the college track Harry met us with a purpose.  You see, a few years ago Harry lost his legs to diabetes.  And when he received his prosthesis legs, he and his wife walked around the track.  At that time Fermin bestowed upon Harry a triathlon medal he had won.  The sentiment was that it would be a traveling medal, bestowed to a person the bearer of the medal feels exhibits characteristics of a hero.  So Fermin gave it to Harry and that day at the track Harry gave it to Cole.  It was very touching for us watching, and all of it has touched Cole deeply.

For the first time, post surgery, Cole is future focused.  Not that he didn’t see the future before, I mean he spoke of traveling (still does), but he “feels” the future.  For the first time he isn’t concerned about having disabilities.  He is going to overcome them…  Riding around the track gave him hope for driving a car again.  Meeting Fermin and people at the expo who are not letting their physical (or mental) challenges thwart their progress spoke volumes to him.    Being entrusted with a ‘hero’s medal’ from a man he admires, encourages his soul.  He is so on his way!

And then, yes there is more…the Orange County Register actually contacted me to do a story (based off of the letter in my previous post).  The reporter came yesterday and the story just might be in print by this coming weekend or next week (scary–you never know how one will interpret something).  Then on Sunday Cole had another set of MRI’s.  We picked up the report yesterday and all looks good; no changes.  YAY!!  Now with all of this news, you can understand better my title.

 

 

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