Tag Archives: Introspection

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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Grace, she is my Mercy

28 Sep

**I wrote this piece a while back. And now, amidst the global natural disasters we are under, I am feeling as if this piece is a bit too selfish. But I share it anyway, because the sentiments were (and are), legitimate. The Medical Board of CA called today because they are reviewing a doctor who treated Cole, they are concerned his care was unethical…

I’ve been using the phrase “I need grace and mercy,” this past year more than ever! It is not that I didn’t have use or previous need of the extension of that which grace bestows, but I am recognizing the consistent failings of my humanity and the longing therein for compassion’s salve. Honestly, I have my “shit together.” That just means I am of sound mind and physical ability and utilize these tools as I carry on in life. Beyond that, I am damaged goods bouncing along this road of life and hoping to not hurt others as result of my own struggles. Of course grace is a divine assistance and not really a human trait, but it is the foundation of mercy; compassion or forgiveness shown to someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.

The above statements aren’t necessarily illuminating. They aren’t meant to be. To me they are just facts I am sharing. Really what I want to focus on in this post is the reality of sorrows imposition upon the soul; and the tangible need for grace from above and mercy here below. How I see it (visually) is much like bowling with a child, when the bumpers are up on the sides so the ball can safely bounce back and forth down the lane in order to accomplish the intended goal of knocking down some pins. I see the extension of grace as the bumpers, and the hurt person the ball aggressively moving from side to side until the bumpers have absorbed enough friction to calm it down, and set it straight. Of course the knocked pins are the victory, the accomplishment of the goal through much aid, protection and mercy. Funny I should use a bowling analogy…not really a game I play, ever. Perhaps its a subliminal homage to my grams–now she was a bowler!

Here’s the thing, if you don’t know or fathom rather, the need for compassion’s touch–bless you and my sincere prayer is you remain in the good favor of the almighty. But if you do, if you are someone who has suffered a sorrow that is debilitating and you have to find somehow, someway to keep on living, then you understand the profound need for compassion from others whether in small or large doses.

The reason for this is simple, it really does take a great deal of energy to usurp the pain of loss. To daily strive to allow joy to be present, and to even be an active participant in life’s activities such as grabbing a cup o’ joe (coffee), can consume a days worth of effort. This doesn’t leave much energy left for superficiality, self centered choices, inconsiderate behaviors, and intolerable acts. And because those, too, exist within the daily walk of humanity the energy left at the end of the day is most often only enough for “a little bit more.” This my friends is where the gift of mercy is most appreciated…

It is here, at this point, at the exhaustion from living-in-pain point, where you will find the newly, unimproved, Rivka. The Rivka who gives an answer with a sharp tongue (ok, that’s always been my strong point!). The Rivka who hasn’t much to talk about (new found trait). The Rivka who doesn’t want to go to social events (ever). The Rivka who uses the F-word to get a point across or when stubbing a toe (learned in the hospital alongside my paralyzed son). The Rivka who doesn’t call (because she’s out of words). The Rivka who falls short on birthday celebrations (birthdays are overrated, are they not?). The Rivka who has no patience for people’s judgement (of myself or others). The Rivka who doesn’t get excited when things go wrong (I live daily in the “wrong” of my son’s death). The Rivka who wants to annihilate inconsiderate drivers (move them off the road). The Rivka who might not seem burdened by heartbreak (but is). The Rivka who is struggling just to connect to this world (but thankfully does). And, it is at this point you will find the Rivka who is desperately in need of compassion or forgiveness when it is (justifiably) within one’s power to punish or harm her.

Knowing this about myself allows me to don a cloak of empathy most of the time, which has just about shut out my ability to cast judgement (still in me are ill thoughts toward those that callously hurt others, and cars that don’t let me merge onto the freeway). In practical terms, I recognize I am overusing the grace of G-d and the mercy of humans on an ongoing basis. And as such, am using some of my depleted energy bank to ensure I am not stingy in considering whom else might be traveling down life’s lane with the bumpers up.

And if I’m real here in this post, I can confess I hope this writing will challenge each of us to consider further the grumpy person in line at a store and the fact that their story might be wearing them down. Or the aloof individual who doesn’t reciprocate a friendly smile, who might just be making it under the weight of loss. Of course none of this encouragement is new, there are scriptures and proverbs that guide in this wisdom. But in our humanity we forget and so a reminder is not such a bad idea.

 

Hungry?

27 Nov

It is the Sunday after the Thanksgiving holiday here in the USA and so it seems fitting at this time that I write about food and hunger, though this is a thought process that has been in the works for a while now…

When I was around nineteen years old I had the wonderful opportunity to live with my grandmother Ella and grandfather Greg for nearly a year. During that time, I became engaged to marry my husband and thus had domesticity on the brain. Living under the influence of Ella was fortuitous and her mark was evidenced in my own nuclear family for many years. She taught me many basics of cooking which lent their foundations to my spring-boarding recipes. And so my children, friends, nieces and nephews, neighbors and more knew me to be a creative and consistent cook.

*I have to take a side step here, for I know my mom (Margie) reads this blog and will be chiding the computer screen with a “hey, what about me?” type question. My mom is an amazingly creative and gifted culinary master in her own right. Unfortunately for her, I liked only white rice and plain pasta noodles during my formative years. Her cooking left me stuck at the kitchen table as a young girl for hours past the dinner meal, staring at and stirring my grub. I have vivid memories of her pea soup, which now I would relish, but then I thought was some ancient torture ritual and I the prisoner of circumstance. I learned a few tricks of the trade during that time–swallowing peas like pills so as not to taste them and lopping up my food with napkins, burying them down in the bottom of the trash “unrecoverable.” And though it would seem I am the reluctant beneficiary of her talents, I see her in myself and my preferences more and more. I am thankful for her influence though she didn’t find in me the opportunistic learner that her mom did. Now back to the story at hand.

I am winding down in my 27th year of marriage (anniversary in February) and for 23 years of marital bliss I had the circumstance and opportunity to provide meals for my household always with a nutritional and creative lens. I viewed the kitchen as my “lab.” Understanding the chemistry of ingredients and how they react one with another lent for some masterpieces and some flops. I came up with creative ways to serve my husband and children vegetables that they found palatable as well as low-sugar desserts and some high sugar ones as well. Under my grandmother’s influence I started off the culinary arts with a high fat dependence upon butter, cheese and Campbell’s soups. But the more ground I gained as dietician to the Bent family, the “Margie factor” crowded out the Ella influence and hydrogenated fats in the soups were replaced by a love of olive oil and international ingredients. I studied nutritional journals and published papers, kept charts of the nutritional values in different vegetables, fruits, grains and meats, and used this information to better understand the influence food has on the body. I took inventory from my troops of the nutrients they consumed in a day and planned menus to provide variety and diversity of ingredients for the holistic picture. I believed (and still do) that our nutrients are best derived from food and not supplements, so diversity of food has been key in healthy living.

*I must side step again as I find it so ironic when I write or speak about my views on health or faith, because my son died of a brain tumor so I realize that my investment in food and prayer are not exactly the poster child one hopes for, as far as outcomes are concerned…sometimes I wonder if I should have embraced soda and fried chicken! Forgive me as I digress.

Getting back to the subject at hand, which the mention of my deceased will help me to do, is to say that I have spent a good and consistent part of my life creating and being inspired to cook. Which is why, since the loss of Cole, I find it strange that I don’t even feel hunger. My creativity is lost somewhere inside of my struggle to live in loss. My palate craves nothing and my body needs little. This is not to say I dislike food, on the contrary, I do like food-I guess. But my taste is simplistic at best. I am satisfied by an avocado for lunch. Or fish and rice. An artichoke for breakfast along with my coffee is more satisfying than an iconic spread. I now walk the produce section of a grocery store in wonder, with no inspired thought. Oh yes, I know I enjoy sauteed mushrooms but with what? I don’t know and don’t care. I don’t want pasta, but bought a package to have on hand this past week for my young cousin who was visiting. My husband is often eating cereal for dinner as I have no offerings to provide (unless in his ambition he heats up a hotdog and canned beans) and prepackaged meals gross me out. Even salad, usually a favorite of mine, is common place. I assemble one often for lunch because I know this is the type of fuel that works well for my constitution but I don’t crave a certain type. I even find that during the holidays, when hosting at my house, I struggle to think of what others would want and enjoy. I don’t snack and my beverage of choice is water. By my own assessment, I have become quite dull. In full disclosure, this past week I did eat 7 sticky buns (Ella’s recipe courtesy my sister who keeps this family recipe/tradition alive) but declared it my dinner and left everyone else to fend for themselves. On Thanksgiving I bought the ingredients to ensure the traditionalists were happy, but I myself, had not one bite of turkey and ate very little from the side dishes as I felt no pang of hunger. In fact as I sit here and write, Brian (my love) is asking if I’d like a stuffed potato for dinner–his treat courtesy the local barbecue restaurant–to which I give an emphatic “no!” …I’m not hungry and I don’t want to eat.

Living in loss, with loss, can make one feel quite lost. The person I have known myself to be is missing and with her is the desire for food. I eat out of a knowledge base to fuel the body (except for the sticky bun extravaganza which is more of a nod to past practice than anything else) and prefer to have food in its natural state such as rice, fish and vegetables (and I suppose a potato would work). When I think I am craving a food, as soon as I see it, the desire dissipates. I am not fond of this disconnect. But then again I am not a fan of this life without my son in it. So there you have it, my soapbox on food, hunger and grief just as my husband asks me again with a boy-like enthusiasm “are you hungry and ready for dinner?” I of course restate my first answer, but in yielding to the knowledge that fuel is a necessary agent for living, relented and promised to wrap up this post so we can talk dinner (or he can talk rather). I think in this regard a fairy god-mother of food would be helpful for me. I need a Rivka in my life who will assess my nutrient intake of the day, prepare the food I should eat, and tell me it is the only option. Sounds like I need a mom! I suppose this is a maternal retribution, Margie’s revenge…for I scorned her culinary influence once upon a time. Oh irony how thee doth sting.

Stuffed potato anyone?

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