Tag Archives: Memorial Day

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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Pushing Up Daisies

27 May

I have visited my son’s grave twice now in the last 24 hours.  Yesterday Brian, Esther and I decided to drive to Miramar for Memorial Day–it seemed fitting as Cole is buried in the National Cemetery there.  And then again today, by myself on my way home from work.  I was compelled to stop by mostly to see if the flowers we left graveside were still present, after all I pass by the exit twice daily so stopping by is an easy affair.  I can report to you they are, including the floral heart on the grass at the base of his stone, created by his sister from daisy petals she plucked from the bounty.

Yesterday, in honor of Memorial Day, the cemetery was bustling with activity.  They held a service at 1:00p.m. and families were gathered a plenty in all parts.  This evening, however, I was alone.  Alone with the wind and the rows of marble headstones, one of which bears the name and details of my son.

On Sunday I actually did what I had set out to do, according to my last post, which was to “get at it.”  I ventured out and met up with a couple of friends whom I had put off for over a year.  We had a nice visit and took a small walk together around the Newport Beach back bay.  It was a lovely time and I enjoyed it.  But upon my drive home, I caught the view off to the east side of the freeway, of the orange balloon of the Great Park in Irvine.  And memories of my time with our family of 4 came flooding back.  We went together, after Cole’s surgery and when he was well and able enough to manage a slight excursion, to the Great Park and together braved the heights of the hot-air orange balloon.  Seeing the ball suspended as is its custom, and feeling the loneliness which instantly was upon me due to the vacancy of the passenger seat to my right, my longing for my son returned anew and my previous resolve to get a move-on in life, away from my grief, flew out the window and more than likely landed-SPLAT-on the large orange sphere.

So today when alone, alongside the marker on the green, I couldn’t help but want this undeniable truth to go away.  All of me wants to dig him up and out of his silent grave.  Not because I wish him back to a place of continual and constant suffering, but because I miss him.  I miss my son.  And I’m not ready to let go of that just yet.  I still want to live out the fantasy that he will return.  Or the preposterous idea that the reality which I face does not, in fact, belong to me.

Do you know that it is more natural for me to drive in the carpool lane than it is not?  I had the honor of caring for my son the last two years of his life and as result I was always, “two or more.”  I find myself on auto-pilot, engaging my blinker and maneuvering toward the carpool lane entrance until I, at just the last minute, catch myself and pull out.

Yes, I pray daily for strength.  And yes, I have a goal to “get at it” for the sake of others and to honor, in my living, my Heavenly Father as well as my son.  But for right now I’m just not ready.  I am not assimilated to this new reality, more time is required apparently.  Now I can tell you that The Bent 3 are ever committed to living life without being ruled by fear.  And I can also tell you that this is no easy task.  Especially after a difficult loss.  For it is common place to want to cling tighter to those around you, fearful of loosing even more of that which you hold dear.  But we know too well, if we give fear even an inch, it will take over, and a paralyzed and ineffective life is what remains from its admittance.  So we press on, even as fear attempts to coerce our attentions, we press on.  And I assure you, I am pressing on.  But…

There is no timeline in grief.  Yes, I would like it to magically be one year.  And yes, the first year is most difficult because every celebration and/or significant date on the calendar reminds of memories past which previously were shared with the loved one lost.  And yes, as the second year comes around there are different memories to focus on.  But to think and to strive to adhere to the one year rule is not realistic.  Not today; though on Sunday a glimpse of progress shone through.

Blue dyed daisy petals, shaped into a heart, lie at the base of a headstone…there is no getting over it.

 

The Making of a Memory

30 May

I am learning.

Now isn’t the above statement beautiful?  I think so, which is why I choose to give the three little words a line to themselves.  It is a true statement.  And the word, “still”, is blatantly omitted; its implication unnecessary, given the intent of the meaning.  I am learning…

Patriotism.

I believe it was January of 2010, perhaps December 2009, when my husband Brian, daughter Esther, and I attended the United States Marine Corps School of Infantry graduation ceremony of my son, Cole.  We took, along with us, the grandmother of my husband.  Granny, we called her.  In fact everyone who knew her called her “Granny”.  She was 83, and for the first time in his 44 years, Brian noticed her mannerisms–walking, breathing, and the like–resembled that of her moniker.  She was a Rosie the Riveter of WWII, a beauty and a powerhouse of a woman.  In her eighties she could out-lift me!  I know this because she would often corral me into helping her move a heavy, solid wood, piece of furniture from one end of her house to the other.  Bad knee and all–hers that is, not mine!  So it was quite shocking to see this grand woman needing ambulation assistance from the car to the bleachers where we sat for the ceremonial debut of Cole, the grunt (the Marine Corps sure goes to lengthy strides in ushering out the pomp and circumstance upon the young grads, only to send them out to the front lines of Afghanistan.  But that is another story, not the one I am telling here!).

Yet to the bleachers we went, though Granny took a trip over the legs of another person who happened to stretch his out just as she was passing by his seat.  Between Brian and myself we caught her, but the increased pressure the near fall caused her, already sore knee, was apparent.  With her discomfort in mind, I sat close to her so as to keep a watchful eye upon the, now fragile, woman.  I confess, I was a bit irritated at her insistence upon joining us, especially as her fragility was now an issue.  In my selfishness, I wanted to only focus on my son without having distractions.  But I did get over myself and took on the perspective of gratitude that this woman, in all her discomfort, wanted to support the accomplishment of her great-grandson.  Cole and his Granny were a special pair, and her being there was absolutely as it should be.

As the ceremony began, as it continued, and as it ended many tunes were played.  I had the privilege, because I was next to the woman, to witness Granny stand up as if on a twenty year old knee and sing every word of each patriotic song, then sit down again as if the call to action was no imposition to her worn out legs.  Not only did she sing, she sang with tears in her eyes and her hand over her heart.  She sang without shame, and a glimmer of something precious was in her eye.  A glimmer I did not possess.  In that moment, I envied the sense of patriotism Granny exuded.  I still do.  And I have never forgotten it as it is my impetus to better understand the motivating gratitude from which it was generated.

Now on Monday of this past week, Memorial Day, Cole requested we go to the Marine Corps Park in San Clemente to pay tribute to his fallen brothers.  So that morning, I took him to purchase the flowers he wanted (the type had been discussed in detail previous to the day so I knew what we were after).  And Brian, Esther, Cole, and I hopped into our 1956 Ford and headed south to the park (not to be confused with the show, ‘southpark’).  To get there we had to go around a Memorial Day blockade and be subject to the rude interaction from one of the traffic volunteers.  We then found the one handicap space available which put Cole’s side of the car directly into the bushes making it difficult for him to navigate his balance, his cane, the car door, the incline, and the shrub all at once (not to worry, we watched–just kidding, helped).  We then made it across the lot to the park.  Cole stood quietly with his cane, his dad by his side.  We placed the flowers at the foot of the Marine statue and then Brian asked Cole if he would like for him to read the devotion of the day from his devotional book.  The answer was, “yes”.  We then read every plaque and name imprinted on the statue and the surrounding wall.  I sat down on a bench with Esther as Brian offered to read the inscriptions to his son–the ones Cole’s poor eyesight kept him from reading for himself.  All the while, I couldn’t help feeling choked up.  In fact, I had to wipe away many a gratitude-filled tear.  And I remembered Granny, her beaming face, her gaze at the USA flag, and her knowledge of every word to every song sung at Cole’s SOI graduation.  I could feel the appreciation for the willingness of a stranger to give of his/her life for the benefit of others–the awe that my son is among them.  And I could feel the sorrow of the loss of each family who had a name on a plaque, while understanding more passionately the miracle of having Cole still with us.

Brian tore the page from his devotional and left it under the flowers; right next to a handwritten note from a Vietnam Vet paying tribute as well.  It was difficult, in our silence and humility, to know when to leave…though Cole helped with that as his stomach was calling the shots.

I am learning, and presently my son is the one teaching.

United States Marine Corps Park, San Clemente, CA

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