We had the perfect fairy tale ending…at the beginning.
I was the 3rd wheel on a friend’s date. She wanted to be with her boyfriend while he played pool at the enlisted club. She didn’t want to be left alone so she asked me to go with her. I had just gotten off work. I was dirty and wearing just jeans and a sweatshirt. I didn’t care. I hated those places. A meat factory. When I walked in, I kept my head down, didn’t look anyone in the eyes. As I walked to the table we were going to sit at someone yelled really load, “WOW!” I didn’t know who it came from. All I know was, I was embarrassed. Later he said that daggers came from my eyes, penetrating him to his core, and sobered him right up. I don’t remember this part. Back then, and even to this day, I tend to block out any attention drawn to me.
So there I was sitting there talking with my friend. I don’t know how many guys came up and asked me to dance. Of course, I turned everyone of them down. Shy? Definitely. And I don’t like people looking at me. 🙂 But after we had been there a while, some guy at the other table leans back and says, “My friend wants to apologize to you.” He points to a really cute guy and I blush. “For what?”
The conversation channel had opened for the both of us. We talked until the bar closed and we moved outside to the curb. We talked until the MPs came up and kindly asked us to leave so the employees could go home. Apparently they couldn’t leave until all patrons were off premises. Um. Oops. We moved to his car and we talked until 3am. OMG! My parents are going to KILL me.
We exchanged numbers and parted ways. I never really trusted him to call me back because, let’s face it, I had self-esteem issues and my history with guys wasn’t great. So I called and left a message with his desk sergeant the next day. And he called me back!! And we talked and talked.
The first few days we couldn’t get together. Somehow I managed to contract the flu and he was busy working. But we managed an actual date that weekend. He showed up on my doorstep in his Class As. My father opened the door, leaned over, and said, “So, you’re a private, huh?” He told me he almost said, “Wrong house” and turned to leave. Almost. But then I came down the stairs. In jeans. He must have misconstrued what I meant when I told him I would love to see him in his uniform. Because what I meant was his BDUs. I turned around and quickly changed into a nice pair of slacks and we went to have dinner. Nachos…in his Class As. Priceless!
We’d been out several more times. Talked on the phone when we could, then found ourselves five days later sitting in his car in front of my house. I didn’t want to go in. I loved talking to him. Out of the blue he said, “Be my wife.”
I’m stunned. Shocked. Couldn’t breathe. I finally said, in a small squeaky voice, “You’d have me as your wife?” and commenced a choke hold around his neck. (I didn’t know it at the time.) He scooped me up and whispered, “I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t mean it.”
No way could this be real. How could anyone want me for the rest of their life, let alone after only knowing me for 5 days?!
We sat out there for a little while longer. But I had to go inside or, yeah, my parents would kill me. I was always late. But hey, I was in my driveway!
The next day was another dinner date. I dared not tell my parents what happened the night before. I was too chicken. I mean, 5 days! Seriously, how would they understand?
He was late. Two hours! He wasn’t coming and I wasn’t going to get married. I just knew it. My track record with guys was falling right in line.
A half hour later the doorbell rang. I ran to answer it. Breathless, anxious, I asked, “Where have you been?”
He smiled and brought his hand from behind his back. A single red rose. I smiled. Then, he opened the palm of his hand, and there was a diamond ring, slid up the stem of the rose with the porch light glinting off its table! OMG! It’s real! He WANTS me!
I quickly snatched it off the rose and slid it on my finger. Then, I yanked down my sleeve to cover my hand. Can’t have the folks noticing before I’ve told them. How am I going to tell them?! Dad would either shrug and say, “And?” or he would kick me out and disown me. Mom, she’d either say, “What about school?” or “Are you pregnant?” I knew my parents too well.
For the next month, I spent as much time over at the barracks with him. I’d do homework. I’d started quilting my mother’s Christmas present. Of course, I was always late coming home. But oh well. It was the only place I knew my mom wouldn’t see her present. And I wanted to be with my fiancée. We also devised a plan to present to my parents.
After that month, we brought to the table paperwork, budgets, and everything we could think of to convince them that we’ve really thought this through. He was to deploy in January and we would get married when he got back, in May. My parents took it all in. Better than I expected, actually. And then they spoke.
Dad said, “And?”
Mom said, “What about school?”
Whew! I’m not disowned.
When we told them when we were planning on getting married — after his deployment to Korea — my father suggested we get married before the end of the year for the tax benefit.
We married before Christmas by the Justice of The Peace. And I planned the whole wedding for May while he was deployed. He was supposed to be back early April. But military things happened and he nearly missed our wedding. He came home 6 days before our church wedding. But he made it and we’ve been together since.
The best way we describe it when people ask, “how did you know?” is to say, “it was like meeting a friend you haven’t seen in years and you catch up on all the old times.”
We’ve beaten all the odds, even when all that life throws at us tries to tear us apart. It is those times that changed the fairy tale dream…
Grief is an intense sorrow, usually associated with death. It is something that we all will encounter at least one time in our lives. But for me, it comes and goes. The life we have now was never meant to be.
Over the years since his accidents, since all the troubles that the accident and incidents have cause, we’ve gone through a slew of emotions, never really understanding what they were or why. But the one that keeps recurring is grief.
It took a very long time to pinpoint the source of that grief. We both came to the conclusion just a few months ago, opening up and talking about it with each other, making it real and tangible and we began to grieve together.
We mourned the loss of our lives. The lives that should have been.
He wasn’t supposed to be hurt. He wasn’t supposed to have all these complications, this pain, the memory issues, the emotional issues. He was supposed to be a soldier until he retired, get out of the military and work a full-time job. I was supposed to be a stay-at-home MomMom, raising our children, homeschooling them, being the good and strong role models for them. We were supposed to be happy, healthy, and full of love and life. We were supposed to grow old together, side-by-side, hand-in-hand. Everything was supposed to be perfect. We were supposed to live happily ever after. It was a fairy tale for criminy’s sake.
So we mourn our loss of life while living it every day.
We go through every emotion associated with the mourning process:
I’ve never lost a close someone to me yet, so I cannot attest to whether these feelings come and go with the death of a loved one. I can only speak for myself, and what I know from him.
I haven’t really written about the last three stages, yet. But they are there. The problem with this type of grief/mourning is that it’s something that rears its ugly head over and over and over. For me, the stages cycle, never easing up, making it harder and harder to cope. For me, before I realized all this, before I openly talked about it, I grieved continuously, every day.
For him, he also continued to dwell, to wallow, to sink deeper into his already dark place. He began to rationalize. He began to listen to the negative auto-thoughts floating around inside his head. He began to plan.
I didn’t know about this until much later, after his epiphany. He told me all about his thoughts and all about the epiphany he had in a single heart beat. I listened. I cried. I loved him.
I think it affected me a great deal more than I ever let on, even to my conscious self. For the last 9 months it progressively got worse until I couldn’t control my crying. I did everything I could to remain positive, hopeful, telling myself this isn’t permanent. Things will get better. But it never worked. I lost all hope and I fell deeper into my own abyss I couldn’t climb out. I needed help.
All my usual methods were not working anymore. Meditation, thinking positive, reading, watching TV, gaming. The negative voices in my head were now screaming at me and I couldn’t get them to shut up. I started listening. They drained all the hope from my heart. I would wake up angry, every little thing would set me off. I just wanted to run away and hide, start over.
But I couldn’t. I had my son. I had my soul mate. What would they do without me? They would be devastated.
I knew what I needed to do. I needed some chemical help to get me back on the positive path. I went to see my doctor and explained what was going on. He prescribed a mild anti-depressant, the same one I was on for postpartum depression. I had the same issue with uncontrolled crying back then, too. So I knew it would work. Within a few weeks things started looking brighter. I could see a dim light at the end of the tunnel.
And then I was able to find more help I needed. Empathy. Knowing I wasn’t alone in my feelings, that there are people who understood the situation and all the things that go with TBI, chronic pain, and PTSD. I was no longer alone, and the tunnel got brighter.
I found the VA Caregiver Support Program and attended a couple of their conferences. I found Hearts of Valor and joined, found that it had a local chapter and met up with a couple other Veteran Caregivers. I found Family of a Vet and joined their initiative. And learned that I’m really not as alone as I thought. I’m learning just how vast this family really is. With the light shining on the caregiver up in Congress with the Fellows of The Elizabeth Dole Foundation, CNN’s The Uncounted, ABC’s Hidden Heroes, and the release of the RAND Study on Veteran Caregivers my eyes are wide open and my heart is filling again.
The more we recognize that we aren’t alone, the less troubles we will have. Education is the key for any illness and the care that goes along with it. We need to remove the stigma. Open the doors and hearts to others. That is my wish for this blog. If I can show just one person that what they are dealing with is not unique, that their feelings are natural, that they are not alone.
Of course, we will grieve for the life we lost, the things that were meant to be, the things that will never be. It is what it is. Everything happens for a reason. This is what we are given and we must make the best of it. What we must do is move on to the next phase, accept what is, and find the happiness within.