Monday, May 28, 2012

Reflecting on the Day

Yesterday we attended the 101st memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. We arrived early so I could go visit my friend's husband grave site. When I said I was going to be right back, Deryn asked, "Are you going to see Mr. Dave?" And I said yes. She then told me she wanted to go. Of course little sister wanted to go to and I happily agreed to let them come with me.

As we were walking down Eisenhower, this is what we saw.

Deryn said, "Mom there are so many stones." I said, "Yes there are." She said, "So this is what Memorial Day is about?" I said, "Yes it is." She then started asking questions about the people buried there. We had a very important walking home school lesson. We talked about what we have in the US that many other countries do not. We talked about freedom and how blessed we are to be Americans.

Then she wanted to know how many of Daddy's friends were there and I told her I really wasn't sure. She asked, "How many friends has Daddy lost?" I told her, "I stopped counting at 30." She asked why and I went on to tell her that once Daddy lost his 30th friend I just counted count anymore. The number made my heart hurt. I went to as many of their memorials as possible. But I don't think we know anyone at Arlington besides Mr. Dave.

Deryn went on to tell me about her memories of Mr Dave. "Mom, he really loved McGwire. I remember." Deryn and McGwire were in Kindergarten together when Dave was tragically killed in a helicopter crash. But somehow in that short window of time, Dave planted a seed in our little girl's heart and it has bloomed.

I'll never forget the day Kristy told me about Dave. My heart stopped. It was like she took the air out of me. It was so hard to not immediately go into the ugly cry.

I still remember the night when Deryn was in Kindergarten and she was crying because she didn't want to lose her Daddy. I remember her asking me all sorts of questions about death. I remember crying to Chaz later after I calmed Deryn down. I was not ready to have such a serious conversation with a 6 year old. It's moments like these that are the invisible scars of war.

We are so blessed that Kristy and the boys are still in our lives. Dave was killed September 11, 2007 and I am pleased to report Kristy and the boys are doing amazing well. We are thankful for the privilege to watch them heal and be a small part of their lives.

Kristy and I became even closer once Chaz was injured. I was all smiles when we landed at Chaz's homecoming, but one look at Kristy and I lost it. I knew out of all of those people standing there I knew she knew how extremely thankful and blessed I felt at that moment. I would like to think that if God would have let us keep Dave a little longer that Kristy and I would still be the friends like we are. But I know God has a plan and his plan was to unite us through our tragedies.

Kristy, I am so blessed to know you and you are one of my heroes. I know I've told you many times you are stuck with me. I hope you are as happy with that as I am. Thank you for letting us be a small part of your lives. Happy Memorial Day, Stanley family. Our family will never forget your hero.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Stuck in Purgatory

The other day during a conversation with my friend I realized we are stuck in purgatory. This is definitely not heaven and I believe hell has to be way worse. We all just feel stuck. Many of us feel like the forgotten pawns that were discarded during the chess game. We were taken out of the game when captured by the opponent and we sit on the side waiting to jump back in again.

We get up each day and spend another day here in the middle waiting. We're waiting for a VA disability rating, Nar Sum, new knees, another surgery, there's always something we're all waiting on. We all can agree waiting sucks. It's so hard to sit by and wait. When healing a wounded warrior, you truly are helpless and all you can do is wait. We're waiting for Chaz's body to heal so we can see what else he might need. Obviously this is something you cannot and do not want to rush. We are also waiting on VA paperwork, which we all know could be rushed, but I bet it would just get messed up in the rush. Since  we have to wait on Chaz to heal, then we'll just let the VA do its thing. 

Some of our friends are on their way out. Their stay in purgatory is almost over. Those of us who are stuck here are excitedly jealous of them. You see, we are so excited that they are moving on, but totally jealous that it's not our turn yet. It's a very interesting way to feel. I compare it to graduation day except I don't remember being jealous of anyone graduating. I remember how excited I was for them moving on to their next chapter.

So how do we cope?! We will throw them a "see you later" party and miss them when they're gone. But the most tragic news is that there is no shortage of families here. So our friends will move on and a new family will move into their room. We'll welcome them to this phase of this journey and one day we'll say see you later to them as we move out of purgatory.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A New Confession

OK it's confession time! I will admit it. I cannot call Bethesda, "Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at Bethesda". I realized this yesterday when I said to someone, "This is Bethesda, we stayed in the real, original Walter Reed," to someone. So you are probably thinking well, why not. It's really easy, Bethesda is not Walter Reed. I truly don't think it ever will be. They are totally different places. Am I bashing Bethesda? No, not at all, but Bethesda is Bethesda. It is a well established medical facility that has it's own great reputation.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt chose Bethesda because the he felt the area resembled the healing waters of the biblical Bethesda. FDR took frequent trips to the healing springs. He would go and sit in the springs because they made him feel calm and in control of his disability. He sketched out the hospital on a napkin (if my memory is working correctly today) and he even laid the cornerstone of the hospital we know today.

Major Walter Reed embodied a different kind of fighting spirit in regards to medicine. He focused on discovery and research. To me, it seems like the premise is to combine the fighting spirit of Reed with the healing spirit of FDR, which is on the face of it a great idea. But I truly believe Bethesda will never be Walter Reed. They are just too different. To me, Bethesda is and should remain great in its own name.

At the original Walter Reed, you were greeted with a feeling of welcome and comfort. At Bethesda, the feeling is heal and get out. Yes this is how we all feel. I have no problem admitting it. It's very interesting to talk to those of us who experienced both hospitals. We miss our places to fellowship. We miss the family atmosphere of the hospital. The staff at Bethesda is really trying to recreate what we had, but only time will tell if it all works out. In the meantime, we're all just doing our own thing. But you have to ask, why weren't those areas constructed before the merger. The answer is people assumed what we needed rather than actually asking us.

The important part is the medicine is the same. Chaz has received the same level of medical care that he received at Walter Reed. Luckily Bethesda took on the amazing surgeons, nurses, doctors and staff who have seen more things then I ever want to imagine. We'll all agree the medicine is the important part. What I will never understand is if you have a facility like Walter Reed dissolving into your facility, shouldn't you plan more efficiently for the merger?!

We have a huge parking problem, which signals that the right research wasn't done. I think that hospital administrators grossly underestimated the patient/staff flow of traffic they would be taking on. We had a huge parking problem at Walter Reed so I am sure someone mentioned this fact during the merger. We still to this day do not have buttons for our guys to use to open the bathroom doors throughout the campus. The public play ground may be opened in August 2012. The families really don't have a place on campus to go and retreat from the crazy. You might be thinking, lady it's a hospital. You are correct, but we have families living there. The average wounded warrior family will spend 19 months at their Military Treatment Facility. So shouldn't we make them as comfortable as possible?!

I guess my biggest problem with all of this is inefficiency. I don't like seeing my tax dollars wasted right in front of my face. The BRAC was passed in 2005. So we had adequate time to make everything happen that is just now beginning to happen. The bottom line is Walter Reed should not have been closed, until Bethesda was actually ready. I really feel that it should have renovated instead of closed. I will always feel this way. We've been at Bethesda for months now. The staff is amazing and there are a lot of team players, but if you can't get everyone else to join the team you will fail. I cannot count how many times I have said, "I don't care what branch of service you are. We are all on the same team. It's one military with branches coming off of it." I work with people from all branches and non-profits to make things happen there and I'm not giving up anytime soon.

I had to face a harsh reality the other day. The families are fighting the upstream battle of a never-ending train of egos. Well I'm sorry but it's time to chuck your damn egos in the trash and look at the human beings who need help on their journey to healing. It's still the same story I've told before the people at the top really, really care about those at the bottom, but the ones in the middle are the dams holding up progress. It's not fair to the true team players to constant have to fight to make things better. I understand change is difficult to face, but sometimes changes are good things. I disagree with the closing of Walter Reed. I cannot undo that in any form shape or fashion, but I can get on board with the team players who want to make a difference and help make Bethesda better.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Second Time Around...

I was once told the best conversations in the whole wild, world happen on a rocking chair on a front porch in the South. Of course being from Tennessee, I totally agree with this statement. While we were home I had one of these talks with one of the greatest women in the world, my mom.

I was sharing with her that I find it easier to bond with the moms of the single soldiers than I do with the wives sometimes. I was telling her that once a wife looked at me and said, "I didn't sign up for this." I told her, "Well actually you did. It was in that "in sickness and in health and that til death do us part" piece of that vows." That wife did leave her husband a few months later and he and no one else never heard from her again.

So many of them leave. They are so young and just can't handle it. I get it. It's so hard to deal with all of this. There are so many components that make being a wounded warrior's wife almost impossible. But what's even harder is helping someone heal when their first choice of caregiver turns their back on them. This has happened to many, many parents of our wounded.

These parents who are here healing their children are the ones who steal my heart almost instantly. They give up everything that they had worked so hard for so they can heal their injured child. They lose their jobs, homes, friends and sometimes everything. Some of them had to choose between their retirement fund and healing their child. Some of them choose between their child and their husband. Some of them have to choose between children. This happens when their oldest is injured and they are the one who has to come care for them. The younger children are left back home and are passed around to various families and friends who jump on board to help the injured families make it all work. This keeps happening again and again. The parents of our wounded are really the ones who did not sign up for this. I told a good friend that I feel like they were all drafted into this war.

While we were on the front porch, my mom said the second time around is the hardest. She was referring to how hard it was watching her grandchildren grow up and become independent. She then went on to say she can't imagine how these moms feel. To a degree, they are raising their child all over again. Or at a minimum they are getting their child back to themselves prior to injury. My mom went on to say that she can't imagine seeing your child injured so severely, then healing them, and then the Army or your child tells you to go away. She asked what's being done for the parents. The answer is very little.

So now you ask why? Well parents have a very hard time putting themselves first. They will do whatever their child and the military tells them to do because they are being told that's what's best. We all put so much focus on our warriors that we get in our healing tunnel and keep on trucking and totally forget about ourselves. Then due to military policies, the parents are excluded from so much. There are exceptions to policy, but the parents have to be vocal to get it. But the parents are exhausted and they just go without. To me the parents of our wounded never stop sacrificing because more than likely one day they will let their baby fly away again and they have to sit back and hope for the best. So the second time around has got to be so incredibly hard.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Silent Ranks

The most amazing people I know are the ones serving our country in silence. They serve countless hours supporting our country and rarely are recognized for their contributions and sacrifices. Less than one percent of our country serves in the military and that number does not include military spouses. In my opinion, when you marry into the military you are committing to serving our country too.

When I married Chaz in 2001, his First Sargent looked at me and said, "If the US Army wanted Allen to have a wife, they would have issued it at basic training." He wasn't kidding and I learned very quickly that he was right. I learned that I had to accept that I had to cherish the days the Army let me have Chaz and be willing to let go of the days the Army claimed. Chaz was the Army's first and mine second.

The hardest thing I had to do as an Army wife was give birth to Deryn with my mom by my side because the Army ordered Chaz to Korea without me. Many, many other wives can tell you their stories that are like mine. We have so many stories of special moments that we had to tell our husbands about over the phone or when they returned. We can show you all the pictures and videos we took so our husbands could enjoy the moments as well. Chaz calls them secondhand memories and we've collected a lot of them over our thirteen years together.

Thanks to our years of silent service, military wives can add a long list of qualifications to add to our resumes. We are wives, mothers, teachers, counselors, bankers, plumbers, electricians, event planners and so much more. I really don't think there is an end to that list. Military families are asked to endure so much. We are asked to just deal with what ever the military throws our way and we do. We just roll with it. We may not like it, but we roll with it anyway.

Out of respect for our husbands, we fight next to them silently. We allow our husbands to do their jobs. We allow them to come home and fill us in on what's next. Just like our amazing husbands, we are always ready to answer the call to fight.

We will fight because the vows we took on our wedding day, we actually took their meaning to heart. We will fight because the person we married is the love of our life. We will fight because we want to make it to our happily ever after together. We will fight to hurry up to get things done only for the military to make us wait. We will prepare our families for another move, deployment, training or what ever the military throws our way. We will be there to support our families through the consequences of war, because that's what we do.

Not everyone can be a military wife. To be able to stand in our ranks you must be willing to sacrifice when necessary and never be afraid to answer that call. You have to be able to love and accept someone unconditionally. You have to be their rock and/or their safe place to fall at a moment's notice. You must know that your life can change with a few pieces of paper or in my case with one step taken in the wrong place. You must be willing to give up half of your heart upon demand and then wait patiently for it to return to you. Being a military spouse is the toughest job in the military. Our troops may be fighting the wars, but we are the ones picking up the pieces and putting them all back together.

I am so proud to have so many military spouses among my friends. I look at them as sisters in a very large sorority and camo is our color. I am proud to stand and fight with them everyday. Today is Military Spouse Appreciation Day. If you can find one of them and just say thank you. You might just make someone's day!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Our Trip to the Supreme Court

So for those who don't know, I am a nerd! I am very proud of my degree in Political Science and History. I was blessed with some of the best teachers growing up and then in college. They shared their favorite stories of our nation. I am thrilled to be in DC and be able to share those things with my family. I love being in the buildings where life changing decisions have been made. I love sharing my "nerd skills" (Chaz's words) with my husband and kids. I also like to see that my $64,000 degree (circa 1997 prices) that hangs on the wall is more than just a coaster.

Yesterday I was in "nerd heaven" (once again Chaz's words). But what was great about the tour were the ladies with us. They were thrilled that we are home schooling. I had a very proud mommy moment in the bathroom, of all places. Deryn said, "Mom why does all this matter to you so much?" I told her, "You can never know where you're going if you don't look back to where you came from." Then I reminded her and Ryann of our lesson about the three branches of government. We went through them and I said ok you've been to the...and one said White House and the other said President's house. Then I asked what branch is that? I got "Executive" back from them. Then we talked about Congress. They got all of that correct so then I asked what was left. Ry says the judges and Deryn says the Court, the Judicial branch. Woot-woot, now our girls know more than half of our country! Yes I was excited. Then I shared with them that history is so very, very important and we talked about the decisions the court make effect so much. Then I let the docents take over.

Before we knew it, we were in this one room and the docents were asking questions. Someone tell Dr. Conroy that this girl knew all the answers. I know he'd be proud to know all of that knowledge was still in there. My hubby told me he was quite impressed that I knew all of that stuff. I always know when I impress my hubby. He tells his cyber buddies as soon as he gets online. He's so cute. I think I'll keep him a little longer. ;)

Then we went to another room and 5 out of 9 Justices greeted us at a reception. The girls' favorite was Justice Sotomayor, then Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas. They were all three super sweet to the girls. But they really made the girls feel special which of course made Chaz and I feel even better. The other Justices were occupied by the other families. They also chatted with us, but not like those three did. They were all super nice and you can ask anyone on the tour they were very considerate and caring.

You should have seen the people's faces when we said we were home schooling the girls. Everyone we met was so excited we were home schooling them. Everyone made our girls feel so special for being home schooled. It was the first universally awesome home school experience. Usually at least one person questions us on it. But not in "nerd heaven" no we were welcomed there. They also told the girls how special it is to be home schooled, which of course always helps Chaz and I.

The best part of the day for me came when I was skyping with my mom last night. Deryn was telling her what all they learned at the Supreme Court. My favorite thing that she shared with my mom was about the animals in the court. We found owls, lions and turtles all over the place. In one of the rooms, the docents shared why they were there. Deryn remembered and told her Grannie, "Turtles are there because justice is slow and steady. Lions are there because the courageous seek and protect justice. Owls are there because they show the wisdom of justice in the wise old owl." Home school field trip success!!

Ryann just had a great 7th birthday all around. She woke up to a new outfit for her birthday. (They got a little extra sleep on the bus ride over.) One of the Justices sang happy birthday to her. Then everyone came and wished her a happy birthday. When we returned to the hospital, the events services coordinator, the awesome Mr. Caleb, had a few treats for her too. We stopped and got Chic-fil-a (upon her request) on the way home. She open three more presents (one from mom, dad and sis). Then we enjoyed our yummy cake from Charm City Cakes. She and Deryn had a great time playing with her new things.When she kissed me good night she told me it was a great day. Yeah!!!

Oh and the girls were excited because they scored four rewards on the tour. Chaz and I have a deal with the girls. Anytime a stranger comes to us and compliments our girls for their behavior, we reward them with a small treat, think ice cream cone or along those lines. This way they always have a reason to always be on the best behavior because they never know when they can earn a special treat. Well yesterday four separate people including a Justice bragged on them. So we paid up in the Supreme Court gift shop. It was cool to see what they picked out. They got pencils that look like gavels and a turtle piggy bank and a few other cute little tokens. They each got two things to share and two things for themselves. That was Deryn's idea and again made me proud.

When our neighbors came home the girls were so excited to tell them about our adventures. I was proud because this "nerd" got a welcome to the supreme court book and had the Justices sign under their pictures for each of the girls. Deryn and Ryann were so excited to show our neighbors and talked their ears off about their day. I think I can safely say I turned a "nerdy" day into another great memory for our family! I can't wait to get the pictures back from their photographer. Truth be told I am just trying to make sure I earn my Mother's Day present. ;)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Palm Tree

Joel Osteen's writing about the Palm Tree filled my head this morning. A while ago he wrote about how God designed the Palm tree to be so special. You see they grow in tropical climates, so they can withstand the heat. Also when the winds blow so hard and it look like those trees are about to snap, it turns out they are only growing stronger. You see God designed them to bend over and gain strength from bending. God designed those trees to continuously take a beating only to come out stronger in the end.

The families of wounded warriors have serious problems that need to listened to, not heard. There's a big difference between listening and hearing. You hear us just fine, but are you really listening. I had several wives tell me yesterday they are so tired of hearing the word "eventually." When they complain, they are being told eventually this will happen or that will happen. Well we don't have eventually, we need it now. These are serious times and we are dealing with people lives, eventually is just not good enough. And the problems can be solved quickly we just need the people who care to push it.

Yesterday while in a meeting I argued on behalf of the wives and caregivers that I am currently help navigate through this system. Even with examples (not names) I was still treated as if I am the only one with any problems. I am so very far from the only one.

The caregivers who surround me are amazing people. Our war never seems to end. We fight constantly. We fight for everything. Once we think one fight is over a new one begins. To me we are all Palm trees and I have news for those who ignorantly think that we will go away. Your winds are only strengthening our trunks. Your heat only makes our leaves more green. We ladies are only helping our roots grow stronger and making our trunks thicker. We are tired of fighting and honestly shouldn't have to, but these Palm trees are not going to bow down. Nope we'll stand strong and proud of our families and we will not give up.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Saying Good-bye to History....

Tuesday morning I had the honor of joining two friends and going to say good-bye to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. I was so very eager to go one more time. But I totally underestimated how hard it was going to be. I took a lot of pictures and I am going to share some of our favorite memories with you.

This is the hospital that helped heal millions of lives. We spent most of our time on the 5th floor in Ward 57. When I sit back and look at this picture all I can do is smile thinking about my family's journey.

This is where my part of the journey began on the afternoon of January 26, 2011. I was escorted by a member of the Army from the airport to the hotel and then inside these doors to meet SFC Motes who was our 101st liaison and sometimes life saver. I can't recall how many more times I walked through those doors.

On that bench on the left was where Chaz and I were when I received a very cool phone call. Then we met CSM St Louis from the 101st who is now with the 101st Association. I remember that day very well.

This is how Chaz got into the MATC almost everyday once he became an outpatient.
This is my re-enacting my phone call with the Montgomery County School System. This is when I told them we were home school our girls with or without their permission. That was another interesting phone call along this journey.
This is where I would help Chaz get on and off of his hand bike when he was training for the Army Ten Miler. He (and many other warriors) would race around the building on this very path.
This is part of the path we took to the hospital on our daily walks to and from the Fisher House.
This is the Old Red Cross Building. It was used for all sorts of things. We passed it everyday on our walks.
This is the Fisher House we stayed in from March until August 2011.
On March 20, 2011, our daughters walked through these doors and saw their Daddy sitting in the living room which was to your right. This was the first time they had seen Chaz since his injuries. It was an amazing moment full of hugs, smiles and tears. It proved to the four of us that everything was going to be ok. It was the beginning of a new chapter in this journey for us.
 This was our suite in Fisher House that worked very well for our family.

 This was Chaz's favorite parking spot. The van fit very well and he could wheel right into the house.

 This is how Chaz got out from the house and then to the back so we could enjoy the outside for a minute.
 Our girls love and miss this playground. Many, many hours of fun were spent right here.
 This little house was probably their favorite part of the playground.
 This patio used to have a grill and furniture and was filled with smiles and laughter. The residents hung out here often.
This is where our Fisher House friends Laura and Leah stayed. Their friendship has been a big perk out of this journey.
This is the hill that I pushed Chaz up in the pouring down rain last year. He yelled, "Mush, Mush!" at me like I was a husky. So then I said, "Say it again and you'll get a lesson in gravity." We laughed so hard as I pushed him all the way up that hill that night.
 The Mologne House is where the majority of our outpatient warriors and their families lived during their stay at WRAMC.
 The entrance used to have people sitting on its benches waiting to go on another adventure provided by executive services.
 You could never find a parking spot in this parking lot.
 This is the tunnel to the back of the Mologne House. Many days non-profits would line up in this tunnel and thank our warriors and their families for the service and sacrifice. So many different types of food would fill the tables set out here.
 This pond was filled with Koi fish waiting eagerly for you to drop them a piece of bread.
 We found the playground and decided it was just too lonely. So we each took turns making a few more laughs and smiles with it.
 This patio was once overflowing with love, life, smiles, tears, music and so much more. Now it's a ghost town.
 This was Wagner gym.
 This is the original Walter Reed General Hospital. 
 Chaz liked to come down here when the sprinklers had gone off and would spin out in his power chair.
 The path to the rose garden.

 This is how I knew someone was watching over me. This is the flower of a tulip poplar tree. I remember my granddaddy catching those flowers for me when they fell. It was at this moment I was pushed to tears.
 Then I looked up. The trees just gave me a sense of calm.
 I love this path under the trees. To me it's the road less taken.
 Then I looked back to admire the Rose Garden. I took in it's peace and serenity and mourned the fact that we don't have a place like this at the new hospital for the families. I realized that I was so lucky to have one last moment there. Then I wished that I could pick it all up and take it to the new hospital so all of our families could have a place to retreat to and just enjoy the beauty of nature.
 Another shot of the original hospital.
The fountain from the front steps.
 Looking up...
 This plaque will stay on the building so others will always be reminded of Walter Reed and his legacy.

 So many first steps were taken inside this building. So many advancements in prosthetics happened right there. 

 I just love this sticker!
 Chaz walked laps and laps and put in hundreds of hours of PT in that room.

One final picture of the map and the way it was....
And one last picture to say good-bye to the place that helped heal my family. I don't think we'll ever truly know how many lives Walter Reed Army Medical Center touched. But I do know we miss it horribly and that we're not alone.