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Warning Signs

7 Sep

When I was a young girl I would often travel with my cousin, aunt and uncle to their cabin on Echo Lake in Northern California. On the winding mountain road there were signs posted that read, “Watch for Falling Rock.” At the time my uncle quelled the inquiries of us two little girls with the following story:

Falling Rock is a little Indian boy who was lost from his tribe. His father put these signs up so people would keep a look out for the young boy in hopes of finding him. So keep your eyes open for little Falling Rock and let me know if you see him.

Needless to say, my cousin and I would keep our eyes glued to the great horizon, through the boundary of trees and cliff sides, through each pane of glass afforded in the Jeep Wagoneer, in hopes of reuniting the little Indian boy to his family. Of course upon our arrival to the cabin the distractions of fun took precedence to the road sign call. However, the search would continue for the duration of the ride down the mountain and would commence again the next trip up.

Here’s the thing, I honestly believed my uncle’s story up until I was in my nineteenth year. At this point I don’t remember where I was headed, but I do remember it was somewhere in Southern California (not northern) and I was in the driver’s seat. I also remember that I was alone at the time for when I passed the “Watch For Falling Rock” sign and had the epiphany that it is actually a roadside warning sign due to the potentiality of loose rocks falling from the cliffs and not anything to do with a little Indian boy, I had to ingest the knowledge of my gullibility and my uncle’s cunning tactics alone. I remember feeling duped, enlightened and dumb all at once.  I remember I was also relieved. Finally I could let go of the concern, genuine concern, I had stored up within me for this little lad–his non-existence lifted the native American plight. And for the first time I interpreted the “Watch For Falling Rock” sign as its placement intended, a warning to driver’s that rocks may fall onto the road.

Warning signs along the way of life are helpful. The yellow road signs are “suggestions” and meant to assist the traveler’s path. And so we become accustomed to looking out for these markers and almost expect they will keep us from dangerous terrain. So is true for emotional warning signs–or so I thought.

In my previous post I shared that this summer I have been purposeful in negating grief’s call. And had you asked me a week ago, I would have felt somewhat successful in the endeavor. But this past week I was tagged, caught in the whirlwind of sorrow and was thrown back into the throngs of pain as if I had never left. It truly was akin to a PTSD experience. Though we (the Bent 3) have not had the formality of the diagnosis (you can imagine that staying out of the doctor’s office is more the goal than in!), even so signs and symptoms have been present since May 17, 2013. Veterans know. In fact we’ve had a few seasoned military men and women ask us (respectively) “what are you doing about YOUR PTSD?” My answer is usually the same, “I’m smoking and drinking and doing drugs,” an answer I borrow from the wit of my deceased son–dry sarcasm at its finest! Of course I am not doing any of those things, my penchant for health has been marking my actions for almost three decades now. But I did get tripped off this past week, Wednesday to be precise, and it came without warning. Where’s Falling Rock when you need him?!

I was at work, a place I am usually disconnected from my personal loss for the work pace is such that one doesn’t really have the time to dwell upon self. It was an “all staff” gathering in which the entirety of the 2 hour block was devoted to rolling out our new health benefits plan. I arrived to the location in normal form, coffee in hand and laptop ready for note taking, but I was also eager to learn more about the new change–I had high hopes of finally being able to afford health coverage for Brian and Esther. So it came as a surprise to me when at about 30 minutes into the presentation my heart began racing and my vision was blurring to the point I couldn’t read the informational paperwork. I began to get nauseous and a headache was creeping in. I left the building to head to the bathroom and get some fresh air, but it didn’t help much. As I tried to stick it out it felt more and more difficult to focus and actually breathe. I had to excuse myself, pack up and leave–if I was going to loose my lunch I wanted to be home sooner than later!

Back at my office to gather my things I contemplated the symptoms upon me and began to point the finger toward my tuna sandwich I ate for lunch. It seemed the most viable culprit due to the fact I purchased it from the 7-11 convenient store.  I thought I was most likely experiencing food poisoning given how quickly the affliction hit. Thankfully my niece was at work with me that day and was available to be the appointed driver. In haste we hit the road in hopes that I could keep my tuna from swimming back up for the duration of the hour long ride home. But as our voyage north inched ever closer to Miramar National Cemetery where Cole is buried (a landmark I pass by twice daily, Monday through Friday), I knew this was not the flu nor was I poisoned by fish. As the guttural cries could be contained no more I realized the topic of healthcare and health insurance was cause for my angst.

I spent the rest of the day in my bed crying. I remained in this condition throughout most of the night. I awoke on Thursday and could not pull myself together enough to make it into work, which thankfully my boss understood. I had been tripped off. For me it was a strange experience for I usually can see the signs coming. The thoughts of Cole in my head and the pangs within my soul typically provide fair warning that I am moving toward unstable ground. The difference with this situation is that the physicality of symptoms hit first and I honestly thought I was coming down with the flu or having a bad reaction to something I ate. My son had PTSD and I learned a lot about it at result, which is how I also recognized the symptoms within the Bent 3 upon our loss. But this being “tripped off” was a new aspect for me, personally, and a bit alarming if I am to be completely transparent. I didn’t like that my body was responding to something my mind hadn’t caught up with yet. A panic attack without knowing yet that panic is present. It is strange indeed.

During my son’s two years of struggle post surgery we, collectively, hurt for those veterans who lacked the advantage of an advocate. I was honored to assist Cole and he was grateful to have my voice in his corner. And I have not forgotten those Vets still lingering without assistance. I somehow need to find a way to navigate topics that trigger adverse physical and emotional responses. I do hope to one day be able to advocate for veterans and active military, in honor of Cole and his own soft-spot for helping others, his own understanding of how much red-tape exists for military men and women, young and old, in need of health care. Cole’s story is layers-full and rich with injustices from all sides: US Marine Corps, Army Medical Centers, Department of the Navy and Veterans Affairs. And sadly, his story is everyone’s story, is the majority of circumstances and reform is most definitely needed.

So here I am, trying to gain ground in healing in order to have access to strength for the impending task at hand. I know the call to action is inching ever closer, I can feel it. Most likely as life has proved, I won’t be ready but provisions will be there. Opportunity will call me out before I seek it. And the broken heart I carry will come with me, not hindering but guiding, reminding me of my own vulnerabilities and need of grace.

Without warning we live daily, though not without help.

Psalm 23

November 11

10 Nov

November 11, Veteran’s Day, can be a hard day for many U.S. residents.  It is a day of patriotism and recognition of the men and women who enlist to serve and protect our country.  It is a day of celebration, it is also a day that reminds…

For those who suffer the loss of their veteran, or for those whose veteran is deployed, it is a day of non-avoidance.  As we know, my veteran is no longer with me.  Funny, my dad was also a veteran, and I miss him too.  This past Saturday I opened the door to my son’s bedroom.  I looked around and thought, “ok Cole, enough of this already, it’s time to come home!”  Some would say to me as response, “he is home.”  And you know what?  My spirit agrees, but my maternal heart and mind does not.

Tomorrow when I raise the American flag (U.S.A) I will be moved to a place of non-avoidance.  The “missing” of Cole is hitting pretty hard these days.  Shock has side stepped as time has traipsed upon its reigning hour, and the missing is taking center stage–for us all.

I will share a photo here, only because I intend to honor the many veterans whose bravery is incomprehensible to me.  The picture is of the folded flag our family was presented at Cole’s posthumous honor ceremony, the medals are not his (those are placeholders awaiting his mom, me, to finish the shadow box presentation–a task I do not wish to accomplish as it would imply I am moving into a place of acceptance of my loss, which I am not).  Yet by doing something difficult for me, facing this reality upon the shelf, I hope to honor our men and women veterans and their inspirational tenacity, their example of bravery, and in doing so honor those same qualities once held by my son.

For those reading this post, may you be reminded to extend gratitude tomorrow (and every opportunity henceforth) by saying, “thank you for your service,” to the women and men who willingly stand up and defend our rights and freedom.

Happy Veteran’s Day

honor flag U.S.A.

Cole, thank you for your service.

Note:  The following organizations were instrumental in assisting my son, I also thank them for their service to him and to others.  Their work is a blessing to many:  http://semperfifund.org  —  http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/#

Cookie Dough and the Haircut

15 Dec

The Cookie Dough:

Earlier in the week I took a hike with a girlfriend.  We are very close friends and have known each other since our teenaged years.  Why include that information in the intro?  Because it should highlight our deep rooted connection which has been forged by many decades of interaction.  …it should, I hope it does.  So here we were huffing and puffing up a hill when my friend told me of her cookie dough dilemma.  Apparently, several months back she had succumbed to the charms of a young boy and his door-to-door knocking plea of, “please pre-order cookie dough, pay now and I will deliver it to you in a few weeks.”  Being that her children are in the private school sector, she thought this a good opportunity to support the local, public elementary house of education.  And so she handed over her twenty dollars, wrote the boy’s name down, and tucked her anticipation away until the three week marker was set to arrive.  Well, according to her, three weeks has turned into three months.  And her question to me was, “I have his name and I know his school, should I call them and ask for my cookie dough?”  My answer was quick and firm…”No.”

I went on to explain that life is unpredictable (as she too is aware), and as such, impedes upon plans and/or intentions.  I suggested that we don’t know the circumstances surrounding the boy’s life and perhaps, in this instance, he (or his mother and father) could benefit from receiving a little grace.  I also recognized the potential that the boy took her money and also enjoyed her cookies as well.  But my thought is, if we look at the circumstance as if weighing it out on a balance, the extension of grace proved the ‘heavy’.  …’nough said.

The Haircut:

Thursday, (only a few days after solving the ‘cookie dough caper’), I took my son for a haircut.  It was an unplanned excursion (especially as I am the usual coiffeur to the Bent family), and took place because we had to kill some time and he needed a cut.  The little barber shop is located within the Long Beach VA facility and the resident barber is Judy, a woman.  She was on the brink of finishing a cut for an older male veteran, so she offered us a place to sit while we waited.  In a short amount of time Judy and her prevailing customer learned of my son’s “Wounded Warrior” status.  And wouldn’t you know, when the man in the salon chair was finished with his cut he turned to Cole and said, “Son, it would be my honor to buy you your haircut.”  Flabbergasted Cole said, “Are you sure?”  To which the white-bearded man replied, “Yes.  I thank you for your service and it is truly my honor.”  …well he tried to get that out, but honestly he got so choked up the words were having to fight their way out (if you know what I mean).  And of course, me being a sucker for a kind deed and an adherer to the policy of “no one cries alone”, I got watery eyed and was (still am) incredibly blessed by this older military veteran.  Not only because he paid for the haircut, but because the plight of my son made a mark upon this experienced man.  After thanking the stranger for his kind act, Cole carefully stepped into the chair of honor.

Judy proceeded to tell us of her credentials and a few personal accounts of her life, while in process of cutting Cole’s hair.  Once finished under her experienced hands, he asked if he could give her a five dollar tip and then handed her a twenty dollar bill.  She thanked him and handed him back a five.  Now the haircut itself cost $10.00, which the kind stranger had taken care of;  so in truth, Cole should have been given back $15.00, not $5.  I watched this transaction which then jet-propelled my ‘momma bear’ tactile instincts.  Though something within me held my tongue.  It could have been that Judy shared with us that she is a four time cancer survivor who lost her “dream retirement home” because of her medical bills.  She shared with us that the circumstance ended up being more of a blessing to her in the long run, and then gave Cole’s knee a pat and said, “see it was a good thing after all!”  It could have also been that she had another man awaiting her services and there was really no way to tactfully call attention to her monetary error.  Or it could have been that I had the twenty dollar cookie dough advice still fresh within me.

Which ever the case may be, it donned on me (as we were leaving the facility) that most likely she had forgotten that her previous client covered the expenses of her next.  Thus when Cole offered to give her a five dollar tip, his rightful change, from a twenty (considering his haircut cost ten) would have been a five-r.  But it wasn’t until my shower this morning that I was given the true message of the triangular transaction.  You see, I was viewing the circumstance from the perspective of my mommy lens.  And what I thought to be an infraction against my son, was actually an INTENDED double blessing from The Good Lord himself.  As she communicated, Judy’s finances were tight.  And unbeknownst to the stranger, Cole’s spirit was depleted.  In one fail swoop, Judy picked up an extra 10 dollars, and my son received a little boost to the soul from the sincerity of the gentleman.  Both were blessed, just as each one needed.  …Oh how my vision is so impaired!

To that end, the answer to my cookie deprived girlfriend still stands.  In fact, now more emphatically.  As if the two stories are not enough, I have more reason to advise my friend to consider the unknown before taking action.  This past week has been grueling for our family…to say the very least.  The “short” of it (as if I can tell a story short-handed):  We introduced a new medication to Cole’s regimen, last Thursday, which caused several severe adverse reactions.  The one I will focus on is the emotional spiraling which occurred on Monday (after my hike with my friend).  Oh there were other, very obvious, overtly physical, negative affects as well.  But the hopelessness that Cole was left to contend with spun him in the direction of suicidal ideation.  And he attempted to overdose on his pain medication, though his actions were thwarted by the entrance, into the room, of his little sister (who remains ignorant of her brothers actions).  Not a fun place for him, not a fun place for his parents (my husband and I).

Unfortunately we didn’t put 2 and 2 together that first night, and it wasn’t until Tuesday eve that we realized this new state of low, was directly related to the collision course of the new medication.  Now I beg of you, as I tell this story, to kindly refrain from offering loads of advice on the subject of suicide ideation…my armor is a bit weary.  The purpose of my sharing is to illuminate the full circle effect of choosing the road of grace, also known as mercy, especially when another option is present.

I will tell you that amidst our tumultuous week, the ‘normals’ of life continue to go on.  In fact, I was the email liaison/coordinator for a magazine photo shoot happening at our house yesterday (Friday), for a London based quarterly.  The photographer, the models, and the stylist were looking to me to ensure the times and locations were set and in place.  Now earlier in the week one of the models called to complain because the schedule for the event had to be tweaked slightly and he was irritated at me as a result.  …keep in mind, my son had just tried to OD…  But you know what I realize, the circumstances of my life do not cause the lives of others to stop.  He was completely in the dark about our familial hardship.  And yes, I could have enlightened him (and his single, no children life), to our heart wrenching scenario…but to do so was (and is) unnecessary.  Let me interject here…I had called upon my “prayer warriors” a few days earlier and my request was simple, “wisdom, please pray for wisdom”.  Not only does my Heavenly Father offer to grant wisdom to those who ask, as written in his word, but he provides the necessary tools for the actions required to enact the wisdom given.  Hallelujah for that.  And at this point in my story is where, for me, I see the fulfillment of prayer most profoundly.

Now back to “the short of it”…haha!

For him (the aforementioned male model), the change in plan was infringing upon his convenience.  And being he was receiving no remuneration for his time, he had every right to be a little testy.  I didn’t need to use my “E ticket” as I call it (E ticket=passport to the very best rides at Disneyland–until the changeover to the ‘all day pass’ was enacted), to override his concerns.  So I apologized and together we worked out a viable plan which ended up being the best choice for all involved.  After all, the beauty of gaining in years is that one is also gaining in wisdom (hopefully).  Now what good would all my wisdom be if it were left as an untapped resource!

Ok, ok…truth be told, the older I get the less I know.  Though there is one lesson life has been teaching me over and over again:

“Much grace I must give, for much grace I often require.”

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