Tag Archives: military

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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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

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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