Monday, April 30, 2012


This blog hit my radar yesterday

I thought this blog entry was very well written. She is so right, all we military wives do it wait to breathe all the time. But for me I am holding my breathe for a different reason now. I am now waiting to move on with our new normal. There are so many days I wish I could go back and things be the old normal. The chaos of "that's the Army" has been become the BS of "that's the VA" and "that's the Army."

The weight of this journey fell on me again Saturday. It was horrible timing. We were having everyone over for Ryann's birthday party. Since we'll be in Maryland for her actual birthday we decided we'd have a little party for her here with her friends. At one point I was so distracted, I cut my thumb. It was really bad, deep cut. I probably needed a stitch or two, but I just want to stay our of hospitals and I did get it to stop bleeding. My mom was of course not very thrilled with my stubbornness and I believe was ready to smack me because I wrapped it up and kept on doing stuff for the party. Somethings will never change. My stubbornness is one of them.

The worst part of Saturday was that I was very short with Chaz all day Saturday. He was just on my very last nerve. Now to my defense, he was annoying the girls and making them scream off and on all day. I swear some days he really is my oldest child. So some of my behavior was justified, but definitely not all of it. He did not deserve me taking my frustration out on him, but we are each other's place to fall. One thing is for sure he always catches me and gets me up and back moving in the right direction.

I apologized to him Sunday because I realized yesterday morning exactly what I had done. I was taking everything out on him. Which was totally unfair to him, but only proves I am only human. All of that frustration has to go somewhere. It doesn't make it right, but it is reality, we all do it at some point to someone we love.

It is so hard to go from a full blown partnership where you can have them help you with everything to what seems like a totally uneven, unfair shift in balance. We are like so many other wounded warrior families, we are still working through all of our dynamics. Chaz has always been a great dad and awesome hubby, but now because of his injuries, he has limits. He has a lot of physical limits and this damn house likes to show them to me on a daily basis.

In addition to all the restraints this house puts on Chaz, it is now up to me to be Mr Fix-it and things along that nature. Which I have to say thanks to several deployments for teaching me those skills. But this is in addition to everything else. The days of hey honey can you climb up there and fix that shingle are long gone. Once again this adds more weight to my shoulders again. Oh and let me add in the fact I have a very hard time asking for help for others, which doesn't help me at all.

I know I create my own recipe for disaster, but we all do. But I know I cannot take my stress out on my family. Luckily I was able to shrug it off and focus on what I was doing, I'll thank the cut on my thumb for that. As the blood poured out, I realized what I was doing and tried to get my head back in the game. I shook my head and then went back to focusing on our cuties' special day.

After reading that blog last night, I realized some days I still hold my breathe because some days I feel like I am drowning. Sometimes I feel like I am out in the middle of the ocean treading water and someone has pushed me under. Then I get up for air and someone does it again. But when I have those moments, like I had Saturday, I need to go breathe rather than lash out at my loved ones and give my self a new scar.

Taking care of a wounded warrior is so incredibly hard. You have the medical part, then come all the accessories; there's the emotional, physical, the family, the Army, the VA, society and the list goes on and on. You've got some enormous weights for one person to carry. And we have to carry it all because our warriors are just not strong enough to do it yet. So we inhale and hold our breathe and get those weights back up there and move forward. It's what we do in sickness and in health, til death do us part.

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Place of Refuge

On our last trip home, we dubbed our home to be our "vacation" home. Why?! Well we are currently spending more time in Maryland then in the home we pay a mortgage on. Makes sense huh?! I am sure by now you have learned we make fun out of everything. That's just the way we heal.

To me our "vacation" home has also become a place of refuge. We can come here and not worry about all the craziness that constantly surrounds the wounded warriors. We don't have any place to go and no one that can get in our face and yell at us. You can call us all you want, but we don't have to answer. No we get to runaway from it all and have copies of the paperwork to prove it. Who would have ever thought our home would become our perfect vacation getaway destination?!

This morning as I was getting things done around our home, I began thinking about all the families who don't have a place of refuge. It was that moment that I thanked God for his timing. Chaz's incident came to our family while we were in a very good place in our lives. We don't know everything, but we've learned a lot. I can't help but think about all the things he put us through before we got here. God sure as heck knows what's he doing.

But what about those who have no place to go?! Many families were renting or living in military housing when their spouse was injured. So a few months after the injuries occurred, they packed up their things and moved it in all into storage and came to live in Maryland. Then we have parents who have lost their homes because they came to care for their injured child. They lost their job after FMLA ran out and now are facing foreclosure and/or bankruptcy. So I ask where do they go for refuge?! Their answer is their place the Army provides.

For those who don't know that is a very nice apartment unit in either Building 62 or 1200 East West. There are a few other options provided by non-profits that a few of our families use, but 62 and 1200 are where the majority of us live. I will tell you these options are waaaaayyy better then any Army housing I have ever seen in my 14 years as an Army wife. I was beyond impressed when I saw where they were putting us. But we live in the concrete jungle and that is just not a great place to heal.

Chaz will never admit it but Maryland drives him as crazy as it does me. I have no problem admitting it. We live on top of each other in a fourteen story apartment building. We have to park in crazy parking garages were idiots fly around the corners because they think what ever it is won't be there if they don't drive fast enough. Everyone there is in a hurry and seriously I don't even think they know what they are in a hurry for. I know there is more to Maryland then where we live. We have been through Maryland and Virginia and both are beautiful. But where we heal our warriors and their families is an crazy place that gets smothered in layers of crazy when you add in all we deal with on a daily basis.

We all need a place to getaway where the crazy can stop for a little bit. For us it's our "vacation" home, but for the majority of the wounded warriors and their families they don't have that place of refuge. So instantly I bet you thought well they can just go somewhere to get away. Well it's actually very hard to find ADA compliant places to stay. Trust me, we've encountered this more than once. We are going to Oklahoma in November and I began researching hotels. I finally called for assistance and explained the situation and they were very happy to help. (So WW families call for your travel needs). In the first search, there was only one hotel with one ADA compliant room within a 30 mile search and it's reviews were not good at all. We finally found one and we'll book it closer to time, but I will not be waiting too long that's for sure. But the point is ADA rooms are few and far between.

Can't you stay with family?! First very few people have homes that Chaz can get around comfortably. Currently no one off the top of my head has a home that would be easier for him to navigate then ours. Second, my Granddaddy always said, "You know what family and fish have in common? They both start to smell after three days." And he's so right. I am very stubborn and head strong. I cannot be a burden on someone else. I am set in my ways and I don't like having my routines messed with. I have to provide for my own family. And if I really like our relationship I am going to protect that by being around you in small doses. I like my space and I like having time with my three favorite people everyday away from others. Third, your family always means well, but before you know it they will become experts on healing a wounded warrior and then tempers will flare and disaster will strike. Chaz and I have been lucky. We haven't had this problem, but I can give you a very long list of families who have. These three things are my short list of why you don't stay with family.

So what do we do?! Well I am going to start researching trips and things for the WW families. I know that the Vail Veterans Program is the only program at the hospital that takes care of the whole family. All other programs are Wounded Warrior plus one. Well the Allens are plus three and you buy one get three free or it's a no-go. We have many other families in the same boat. So I am off to find places of refuge for them to runaway for a bit. Then once I find the places, then I'll be convincing them to go runaway! If you know or come across some please share them. Our families need breaks from the hospital.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

That Flippin' Chair

For those who don't know, Chaz and I chose to home school our daughters this year. We learned very quickly that Deryn has Chaz's personality and Ryann has mine. When we sit down to do lessons and Chaz is available he takes Ryann and I take Deryn. We learned this is the most productive way to get our lessons done in a timely manner.

Yesterday he got out of his wheelchair and got into our comfy recliner to read a book with Ryann. He went to pull the level to let the foot rest out and pushed back on the top part of the chair like any of us would. Well when he did, this is what happened....

Of course this made a very loud noise and I came running through the house fearing the worst. But what I found instead was Chaz and Ryann laughing uncontrollably. Then Chaz looked up at me and said, "Look Jess, I'm top heavy." Then we all laughed. Deryn had followed behind me and this was her reaction.

She just climbed right on up there and joined in the fun. Throughout this whole journey, I have always been so worried about our girls. They have every right to be angry because of what they are going through, but no instead they laugh along with us. Yesterday's incident reminded me that we must be doing something right with our girls.

After the laughs calmed down, we helped Daddy get into his chair and I flipped the recliner back up. Then he got back in it to read that book with Ryann. We still giggled about it all day. That flippin' chair reminded me how proud I am of our little family. It shows how far we've come and how well we have healed as a family.

And for those who think it was wrong or cruel for me to take a picture before I helped him, I just wanted it noted it was Chaz's idea! ;)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

His Dogs Tags

Dog tags are a part of the military's identification system. The dog tags we all know today came from the first World War. The tags help our wounded and injured to be identified. In college, remember reading a story about WWI. This soldier described what it was like to go through the trenches and make sure each of his deceased friends had one tag on them and that he had the other before they could be buried. I remember him talking about how as he accumulated them, he just became like a robot. I remember his words very well, his story has never left my memory. He put one one on the solider and one in his bag that had to be turned in to his command. He called it tagging and bagging. He said it never got easier, it was just his job and someone had to do it. He felt it was his honor to serve his fellow citizen solider that way. Our current day military still relies on these tags for help to our soldiers get home to their families.

Yesterday Chaz and I began going through giant storage boxes from his deployment. The Army has packed up all of Chaz's belongings and Fed Ex'd to me last Spring. I cannot forget watching that woman unload box after box and me thinking and then saying "What the heck?" Then came the best part. The driver came up to me and said,"Um yeah, if you want these closer to your home you need to come help me move them. I don't have time to" Yes a complaint was filed with Fed Ex. One of my friends didn't wait for me to say yes they just did it. I got a call from someone apologizing. I remember saying, "Ma'am I am fine, but you need to brief your drivers that you just don't know what you are delivering. Therefore customer service should always be top priority." My friends all came over that weekend and helped me organize the garage and put the 12 boxes away. I had not touched them until yesterday. Chaz wanted to see if he had something in them. What's so funny is now I could not tell you what we were looking for, but I can't shake out of my head what we found.

Since the boxes were so deep, I had to reach into the boxes for Chaz and then I would show him what I discovered. There was this envelope and inside it was a plastic sleeve with his dog tags in them. When that hit my hand, I froze. All the sudden I thought, there's two of them. Then came the tears. I realized what could have been didn't happen, I have both tags here in my hand. Chaz touched my arm and said, "Are you OK?" and I said, "Yes, I just don't know why these are making me cry." Chaz joked and said, "Well there are many reasons." He was so right. Then I realized some of those reasons.

Was I crying because I was so happy to have both tags in my hand? Was I crying because these were with him the day he was hurt? Was I crying because the contents of these boxes and especially those tags represent the career that Chaz had that is now gone? Was I crying because I miss my old life? Was I crying because I knew how much his soldiers and our families were hurt by Chaz's accident? Was I crying because the consequences of war hurt so deeply and we can't always see how deep those wounds are? Or was it all of the above?!

Regardless we had to have a moment. Thank God for big sunglasses, because just minutes after my little moment, our neighbor walked up and I was able to play it all off. I was actually very thankful for the distraction. But now I sit here with those tags again. I have both. They sit here in my hand. Those tags are a reminder of what could have been. Those tags are another reminder of how blessed we are. Who would have ever thought that two little pieces of metal could be such a blessing?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

An Update from Tennessee

It is so nice to be writing from my desk in our office in our home in Tennessee. We have had such a fun week. There's no place like home.

We have only seen our girls from 8am-3pm. If you notice those are school hours. As soon as their friends get home from school we don't see them until dinner, then they are right back outside riding bikes until dark. They are having a blast!

Chaz is helping me make phone calls to get caught up on things that have to be done. Even when you aren't home it seems that things still have to get done at the house you own. He and I both were just talking about how we will have movers this time. Then we joked around about just selling the house with everything in it. He has also been filling in for me with the girls home school lessons.

Chaz made our day yesterday when he ditched the chair and decided to just walk on into Deryn's friend's birthday party. Deryn and her friend, Skylar, have known each other since they were 2. So we have gotten quite close with that family. Our friends were so excited to see Chaz walk in. Bobby even told me he had to fight back the tears because he was just so proud. This is just one example of the awesome friends we have here.

I have been working, working, working! For those who don't know I run my own tax preparation company. I had many loyal clients who were just waiting for me to come home. So I have been up everyday at 530 and filling out tax forms until beyond dark. Luckily I only have 3 more crazy days and then I will enjoy the rest of our time home.

I will blog more about our TN adventures later. I realized the first week has already flown by. Times really does fly when you are having fun!!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Baskets!

Rosemarie started this all off with her Valentine's Day Baskets two months ago. Those baskets went so well we decided to do something each month. Last month Operation Ward 57 donated Georgetown Cupcakes for us to pass out. This month since we are celebrating Easter we decided to put together Easter Baskets. With one email, I had more things then I could have imagined.

Yellow Ribbon Fund donated the baskets. Aleethia Foundation donated the grass for the inside of the baskets and the plastic wrap and ribbons for the outside. The contents for the baskets were donated by Help Our Military Heroes, Operation Ward 57, Operation Second Chance, and the Oklahoma chapter of the Blue Star Mothers.

As you can see the donations all worked out very well and our volunteers worked really hard. The group of ladies we put together worked very well together. The fifty baskets were put together before we knew it. Things tend to work out very well when you have a great team working together for a great cause.

We passed the baskets out on Friday afternoon. For us "Senior" caregivers these baskets have been amazing. Going back to the beginning and being reminded of how far we have come, really helps in your healing. We also love being able to share our stories of healing and hope with the families that are new to journey. I think Rosemarie's idea has developed into a reciprocal relationship that is yielding some incredible results for everyone involved. I can't wait to see what we do for the next months.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

First Lady-Fisher House Event Yesterday

My degree is in Political Science and History. I understand the political structure very, very well. Of course our military is one of the hottest political issues out there. I am very aware of this. I am a self-confessed fence rider. Chaz and I are not registered with either party. The reason is we agree and disagree with aspects of both sides. When we got a little further down the healing road they warned us about "Pet the Vet" situations. Chaz and I avoid these events like the plague. The hospital has done an excellent job navigating the families through these events. I will tell you that one huge improvement at Bethesda over WRAMC is their screening of the events and people who come through the hospital.

Last week I got a phone call asking for our daughters to attend a special event at the Fisher House. First I hope you all know that we are very big advocates of the Fisher House Foundation. So when they call, we are more than happy to help them out in any way. They simply asked us to show up and have some fun and share our experiences with the Foundation. Then I got word that the First Lady was going to be there. Chaz and I decided we would take the girls because they admire the First Lady. We are beyond thrilled that we took them because they got a once in a lifetime experience.

I have admitted more than once I did not vote for Obama. Chaz did. We didn't like either candidate in the last election so we flipped a coin and I got McCain. We voted to cancel each other out. We always take the girls to vote with us so they can see democracy in action. But you know what is so funny?! The Obama administration has kept tabs on us since I met the President in June. The Senators and Representatives that Chaz and I actually voted for from Tennessee have not contacted us one time. Chaz and I are both registered to vote in Tennessee and I am beyond disappointed that we haven't even gotten a letter or email from them. Here's a funny fact. We have a list of Senators and Congresspersons who keep in touch with us and we can't vote for a single one of them. So how weird is it the ones we can vote for haven't contacted us one time, but I get emails from people I can't vote for who are willing to help our family in any way.

Ok all the politics aside, Chaz and I are trying to truly educate our children. We have been given a very unique opportunity and we are trying to make great memories out of what could be a dreadful situation. We want our girls to grow up knowing that politicians and celebrities are just people like you and I. Some of them just have some really cool jobs. Not very many people impress our girls, but they think Mrs Obama is super cool. Mrs Obama and I think it was her spot on iCarly that did it. Regardless we created another great memory for our little family yesterday.

Mrs. Obama came in and only spoke to the press for a few minutes and I mean one to three max. She was only supposed to be there for a little while, but she took her time with the families and went around and spent time with each and every one. You could tell she was excited to be there spending time with the families. She loved all of the kids. Our girls' day was made because when Bo (the dog) came in he came straight to Deryn and then to Ryann. When Mrs. Obama got back to our table the girls were so excited. Of course Ryann didn't talk at first. We shared the story of how Mr. Obama was the first stranger Ryann ever willingly spoke to. Mrs. Obama said, "It was those ears of his wasn't it?" We all laughed and then Ryann started talking to her. Mrs. Obama was just awesome. Our girls were over the moon after the event. They told me that they really like my surprises. Here are some of the pics of the goodies the girls brought home. Of course we also received tickets to the Easter Egg Roll. When Mrs. Obama announced that she brought the tickets, our cuties began jumping in their seats.

I know this is an election year and many people have said it was just a photo-op for them, but for those of us who were there it was an amazing event. Our children walked away feeling special and felt even more pride towards their dad and his military service because Mrs. Obama told them how proud she was of him. I like to build confidence in our girls and yesterday helped to lay another stone into that foundation.

Chaz has been in the Army for almost 14 years, I have been with him for all except the first 9 months. In all of those years no one has stepped up to help our military families like Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden have. Joining Forces is working hard to do some amazing things and it is long over due. I am happy to see more attention be given to military families. Military families work as a team and every member on the team needs to feel special. Joining Forces is trying to make it better for the entire team and that's what we need.

We are so excited for Monday!! Mrs. Obama told the girls to come and be ready to play. Our girls are pumped and are more than happy to get up early for it! Yesterday was a great way to kick off the celebration of our first Easter weekend away from home. Maybe the girls won't miss home so much since we have so much to look forward to?!

Monday, April 2, 2012


Thanks to the success of the Valentine Baskets we are now going to the hospital once a month and visiting with the caregivers who are caring for the in-patient wounded warriors. During the last visit, a mom who was very angry said, "Oh your hubby is an amputee? Well tell me this, how do you not smack people for staring at him." I was caught off guard. I told her that you just get used to it. I told her our 9 and 6 year old daughters have. We hardly notice people anymore. We know they are looking and even staring, but you just have to keep moving on. The past few times we've been out and about I really paid attention to what I do. That way next time I'll be ready when someone asked how I handle it.

I do warn people hanging out with us for the first time. I learned that it's best to tell them up front. All of our friends handle it differently. I always remind them that people can't help but look. When you are different in any way, you will attract attention. I tell them to remember less than 1% of America serves in the military and then the percentage of wounded is even smaller. So if you add all that in people are going to look and wonder. There's nothing wrong with it at all. It's just one of those things.

Most of the time I just put myself in a tunnel and block everyone out. We just keep right on trucking. Sometimes people stare so hard you can't help but notice. When this happens I try to lock eyes with them and smile so they'll stop. I do this more for the girls then for Chaz. Our girls are very defensive of their Daddy and sometimes they get upset. I truly don't think people are trying to be rude I just think it happens. I think they have so many thoughts and questions in their minds that they just don't know what to do or say.

We love it when people come over and thank Chaz for his service. We like showing the girls what patriotism is. I personally like them being reminded of how proud everyone is of their Daddy.

I am not perfect and I will tell you sometimes I stare back. I have had thoughts about smacking people. There was this one teenager on a group tour of DC. We crossed her path several times while touring the monuments. At one point I told Demetria that if that girl gave Chaz one more dirty look I was going over there and was going to have a talk with her and her leader. All of us noticed this girl, that has to tell you how bad it was. Her looks were evil, not curious. We all know the difference. Finally we got away from her group and it wasn't a moment too soon because she finally had gotten to Chaz.

I truly love the people who look at us and smile. I know they see what we are. We are a happy family just moving along the path to the new normal. These people see our happiness and that makes them happy. To me that's equals mission accomplished! We want others to smile and be happy for us. We're happy, very happy and we want you to be as well.

The pity stares are and will always be the worst. I feel sorry for those who feel sorry for us. You know why I feel sorry for them? They see our family as victims. They are thinking aww, that's so tragic. They're thinking aww that poor family. The truth is we are victors, not victims. Chaz survived a 40 pound IED. He could have died so many times along the way, but no he's here with us. We have been through so much, but yet here we are just moving right along. I feel sorry for those who stare because they just don't understand. I also feel sorry for them because just being around these guys is awesome. These soldiers inspire me so much. I love being a part of their lives. Those who stare with pity are really the ones who should be pitied. They are the ones missing out.

There is no way to make the stares go away. We all realize this, but there is a way to move passed it. That way simply comes with time. We've moved way beyond them. We are so incredibly blessed and everyday we are reminded of this because we have another day. I guess that peace and comfort just comes with time. Sure we'll have additional encounters with the stares, but the stares are just a part of our new normal.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Why this doesn't suck....

Chaz and I wrote this list in his hospital room in Ward 57 on Sunday, February 13, 2011. I copied and pasted this from my facebook notes.

***Top 10 reasons why this doesn't suck!***

Here's my top 10 list. This is not in any particular order except for number one!
  1. My husband is alive!!!!!!!
  2. No more deployments!!!!!! When this is all over Chaz should not miss anymore birthdays, anniversaries, holidays or big events.
  3. No more stinky feet in our house. I won't have anymore stinky socks in my hamper or on the floor. The dogs and kids won't run away when he takes his shoes off. I won't have to cover the house in something to cover the smell up.
  4. He won't cut me with his toe nails in bed anymore. I don't have to nag him about not taking care of his feet. We have argued over this many times.
  5. We will get awesome parking since we are now members of the blue man group.
  6. Chaz and I have been able to bond even closer with our Dads. We both love our Dads, but this has made us become even closer to them. Moms we of course love you too, but we've always kept that relationship with you.
  7. Our girls can now talk to their Daddy pretty much whenever they want.
  8. We're in DC! I am so going to use this opportunity as a learning experience for our family. There is so much to do and we'll have lots of time to do it. And we'll get to do it as a family!!
  9. Chaz is getting some of the best medical care possible. This is not how I wanted to experience it, but I am thankful for the technology.
  10. We have been able to reconnect with some awesome friends. You know who you are!! This is not the way I wanted to reconnect, but I am glad to say it's a positive effect of this.
Please understand this is how we heal. Chaz and I look at everything with humor and positivity. One of the first things he asked me was how did I pull myself up once I got the call. A few of these popped into my head. Since we have been on this road, we've added a few and we'll keep adding. Thanks again for all your prayers, support and understanding!!
=) Jessica ***

The day we made that list we had a hard time coming up with 10. We made the list because we needed to focus on the positive rather than drowning in the negative. When we made this list we had just been told that based on Chaz's injuries we should expect to be in the DC area for 3-4 years. When those words came out, I immediately began crying. All I could think about was the girls and everything they had to give up for us to make this work. After they gave us this grim news, Chaz grabbed my hand and said there's no way we're staying here that long. Sometimes reality really can suck and that day was one of those times. I never forget Chaz looking at me and saying I'll at least cut that four in half. I hoped he was right, but I trusted the doctors and therapists. I guess the lesson to learn from this is never ever underestimate faith, love, hope and determination. As of Friday, if all goes well, it looks like we will be heading home for good around November. Chaz is sticking to his word and will have more that cut that in half. Proud doesn't begin to explain how I feel about my husband. But now I have a few things to add to that list. Once again these are in no particular order.

1. We have made some new friends that I know will be life long friends.
2. The girls and I have truly learned what a hero is. And we are blessed to be so close to one and know so many others.
3. We have learned about some truly amazing non-profits and the amazing Americans who are the driving force behind them.
4. We learned that home schooling your children can be a truly amazing blessing that you'll never regret.
5. We have been given so many outstanding opportunities that we probably wouldn't have had and we cherish each and every one of them.
6. We never have to renew the license plates on our vehicles since Chaz got a purple heart and we live in the state of TN. (Chaz thought this was super cool).
7. We have been able to educate other people on the lives of our wounded. It has been our honor to do so.
8. We have learned that faith, hope, love and determination can get through any storm. No matter how bad it seems.
9. Paying it forward is absolutely one of the best things in the world. Now we constantly look for ways to do it.
10. We have learned the support of family and true friends can make any mountain into a grain of salt.

I hope you have enjoyed our lists!