The Winter Time Blues

What is it about winter that seems to steal all my joy? There's tons of good stuff that happens in winter, all the good holidays are here (including my birthday) so I should be excited right?
There are a ton of hard dates that happen in winter, but I really feel like it's more than that.
I'm at a point where I have to literally drag my body out of bed in the morning. I can't focus, I'm always tired, I'm irritable. Damn you winter - you are draining and awful!

Things have been going well, besides my opening this post with complaining. Grad school is amazing and I am happy there. I love how much writing I have been doing with it and I seriously wish I could be doing more. I'm sorry that it seems to have taken me from here. Work is going well, I got a new job within the same company and I'm really enjoying it. It's a tech writing job so it's finally kind of in my field. Woot. I'm also writing over at Many Kind Regards with Highly Offensive Mom (perfect for me, or what?!) So if you get a chance go check them out and leave me some love over there too.

A is doing well, she is such a diva and has so much personality. She's been talking a lot about her dad lately, which I love. In fact, a few weeks ago she asked me something about when he was coming back. I tried to gently break it to her that he wouldn't be, that that simply wasn't possible as much as we might want it to be. She said, "Well mommy, the people who die are always with you as long as they are in your heart." Schooled. Again. By a 4 year old. She's the best. Speaking of school, she's doing awesomely in her Pre K program. She can spell words now. SPELL. WORDS! It's pretty exciting. Maybe we have another little writer on our hands? She is certainly an observant person, which gets me in trouble sometimes, but for the most part she's my tiny best friend and that's how I like it.

I wish I had more thrilling things to report, but I've missed y'all and I've missed my little space on the interwebs so it's just a check in. I'm sure I'll have something more thrilling shortly ;)

What Are We Doing To Our Future?

"I believe the children are our future..." Mm, sing it Whitney!

So. This past weekend, I took A to her bestest buddy's 5th birthday party. It was Frozen themed and super cute. There were crafts and food, and even an appearance by Elsa, (which we had to miss so don't ask A about it). I am good friends with her buddy's parents, so I was chatting with them a bit when I inquired into something I had noticed upon walking up. There were a lot more kids here than in years previous. I asked my friends about it, wondering if that was just part of kids growing older and going to school or what. They then told me that their daughter's teacher had told them they had to invite everyone in the class.

Here is where the record scratches and the party goes silent.

Umm. Come again?? Yup, they couldn't bring their invites to school (aka the easiest place to bring the invites for distribution since half the time you've never seen the kids' parents outside of school) unless the entire class of around 20 kids received one. They went on to say that it wasn't really a big deal because their daughter probably would have wanted everyone anyway, but it really got me thinking...

What in the world are we teaching our kids? Okay, I get it. You don't want to hurt any 5 year old's feelings because, let's face it, they can really make you feel bad when they cry. But seriously. I just can't get on board with the "Life is fair for everyone" crap. Yup, crap. Life isn't fair. It certainly sucks sometimes, but it's something we all have to face. I can remember a number of parties I would have wanted to attend but didn't get invited to growing up. Guess what? I was disappointed, sure. But I survived. All these fairness rules, in my humble opinion, are teaching our kids to be entitled little jerks. 

Oh gosh, did I just say that our sweet angels could ever be jerks? Yup, I did. And I'm saying we are the cause of it if we keep this up. These sorts of things are teaching children that just because they want it, they can have it. Where is the lesson in that?! They are learning to be entitled, they're learning they don't have to work for things. They are not learning how to deal with disappointment, or hurt feelings, or being left out, or not getting what they want - all of which happens in real life.

Not only do we have to invite every kid to the party, no teams lose, everyone has to share...
Every team wins?! What the hell?? Nope. In life, there are winners and losers. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. It happens to all of us. I lost student council secretary in 5th grade. I was super disappointed. I lived. I tried again in high school. I lost that too. I have definitely learned how to lose. I've also won some stuff at some point, all of which are escaping me at the moment (see, the losing really does shape us!) Our kids need to learn how to lose AND how to win. They need to learn how to lose and cope and deal with their feelings, they need to learn how to win graciously.

Everyone has to share. Ok I get it. Sharing is caring and all that character counts jazz. But seriously, kids shouldn't have to share everything. Sometimes, kids need to learn it's okay to say no about a special item or something they aren't done using. And the kid who wants it needs to learn to respect no. That either that thing belongs to that person and he's not getting it, or he needs to patiently wait his turn. He's not entitled to what that other kid has. A has things that I don't make her share. I'm sorry parents, if you or your kid are offended by that, but there are things that are special to her (or to me) that I don't require her to share. It's not everything and sure, I intervene if she's not sharing at all, or if she's hoarding toys, or just being generally selfish, but I also respect her personal boundaries. She has learned the other way, too. If another kid doesn't want to share, well, she has to deal with it. It's called coping and it's important because life isn't fair. At all.

Let's just look at some of this from the perspective of adulthood. Winning and losing. Pretty obvious. If there were no winners or losers, we'd have no presidents, no scholarships, and the Superbowl would be really lame. Winners. Losers. Real life.
As far as sharing... well, if you have to share everything, then I would like to use your Lamborghini for the day good sir. New iPhone6? Don't mind if I do. I mean come on. Sure, it's cool to borrow things from friends or family, certain things, but there are limits. That's the point I'm making here.

I think as a society, we've gotten soft. Come on, now, I'm not that old. Things can't have changed that much... but they have! I love my little girl more than anything in the world. And I want to give her everything she wants in this world and keep her from all pain. But I know, unfortunately, that that is just not realistic. It is my responsibility as her parent to make sure she doesn't turn into an asshole. We aren't just raising kids, we are raising people. They are one day going to be adults, and what was ingrained in them in childhood is going to carry over into their adulthood. So let's teach them how to cope and deal with inevitable disappointment, how to respect others' space, how to work hard and earn things, how to be caring and curious and polite and generous but be just tough enough. I don't want to thicken her skin into rough calluses, I just want her to be just tough enough. It's a fine line to walk, I know, but right now, I think the general way it's being handled is teetering dangerously off that line and into a very bad place.

What say you? Let's have some open communication on this. I'm interested in what you have to say. Respect others' opinions while standing your ground and let's have a dialogue on preparing our children for the big, scary world out there and whether or not this is helping.

do you Believe in Heroes?

It's super obvious how important the military community is to me. I mean, if I have to tell you that, you're probably a first time visitor, so hello and welcome. To the rest of you loyal folks - hey there, it's me again! Anyway, back  to the topic at hand... The military community. So important. As the daughter of a Vietnam Veteran and the widow of an Operation Enduring Freedom Marine, I have seen first hand what war does to our loved ones. I have seen friends come home injured and I have met women who have lost their loved ones after sustaining injuries. War is real and it is brutal. That is why it is so incredibly important to support our military. Those who are serving, those who have served, those who remain after those who have fallen, and those who are injured.

Wounded Warrior Project is a pretty huge organization for America's Wounded Warriors. I doubt there's a person reading this that hasn't heard of WWP, even folks not affiliated with the military community on a personal level have most likely come across WWP at some point, if only at their local Walmarts. Like I said - HUGE organization in support of Wounded Warriors. That it was I was greatly honored when I was approached to be a part of the Believe in Heroes Campaign that raises funds for WWP.

Believe in Heroes is a national campaign that was started in 2010 to unite people doing every day thangs with the WWP. We all grocery shop, right? (Well... I do sometimes... when my kitchen is bare... but let's not go there) Wouldn't it be awesome to save money but raise funds for an awesome charity like Wounded Warrior Project at the same time? If you head over to this link, you can have access to great coupons that will aid in your shopping needs while also raising money for WWP. Awesome right?

Let me give you the low down on how you can get involved:

  • You can head here to download over $25 worth of coupons.
  • You can spread the word through social media. Tell all your friends about this awesome opportunity. Help them save money (they'll love you for that) and support a great cause (I'll love you for that)
  • You can purchase Believe in Heroes merchandise in stores or online
So let me ask you something... Do you Believe in Heroes? Then what are you waiting for?! Get clicking, get shopping, and get helping! The campaign runs through Veteran's Day - November 11th - and coupons are available until November 30th, so you've got plenty of time to get your shop 'n' save on!

Disclosure: I’m participating in the 2014 Believe in Heroes® blogger campaign and received compensation as part of the program. 

My Friend, Like Me

I am sitting here and I honestly don't know where to start this post or really how to go about it. The words have been floating around in my head but I just can't organize them. Maybe it's because I still can't grasp the fact that my friend is like me. This young widows club I've belonged to for nearly 5 years has been extended, once again, to include one of my own. And honestly, I am totally and completely not okay with it. I guess I'll begin where logic makes sense, at the beginning.

On Thursday, August 14th at 0559, my phone was vibrating. This was unusual because I'd already silenced my alarm twice and that makes a really annoying ringing sound. The different sound roused me from my sleep and I checked the caller ID. It was my friend Katie. She was in Chicago. I quickly tried to calculate the time difference, "what is it there? 3... 4... in the morning... is she drunk? I guess I should see what's up." I answered and was floored. Right off the bat she told me that our mutual friend, her best friend, had lost her husband the night before. I was still asleep and rambled some questions, still not quite comprehending what she was telling me. As it slowly sunk in I could only think... Fuck. Fuck. Not waking up like this again. Fuck. I texted my dad to see if he was up. Maybe if I talked it out this would make some kind of sense. There was no way a friend of mine from "before" had become one of "us." No. Way. I told my dad what I'd heard and talked it out. This wasn't the first time I'd called him in the wee hours of the morning with terrible news. Things felt too familiar. This must have been one of my nightmares. I texted with Katie, still trying to grasp my bearings. She had said she'd spoken to Raechel so I knew she was up. I called Raechel. She was going to tell me this was some mistake, or I was going to wake up. There was no way this was real life. It was real life. "How did you do it?" She asked me. Fuck. I don't know how I did it. We talked about logistics. I realized if I stuck with business, I'd be okay. I called my then-boyfriend. Things were not okay. I called my boss. I'm going to be late, I need to get myself together. I texted a fellow widow in a similar situation for advice on how to proceed with the business side of things. Stick to business, stick to logistics, stay away from any emotion because the emotions would crush me.

Raechel, what can I say about Raechel. I start to cry as I write this, thinking of my beautiful, strong, graceful friend. Raechel was the girl who introduced me to the 1/6 family.  When I was lost in North Carolina with no friends and wandered into the FRO's office, Raechel was there helping with the tour of Camp Lejeune. She was there when I said, "Hey, can I just come hang out with you guys every day?" She was there was I became a Family Readiness Assistant. Along with a couple others who were present that day, she was my first friend in Jonny's unit. Raechel came to the hospital when Ariana was born. She had just gotten back from a trip to Florida and had to drop some things off to a fellow 1/6 wife. She had the knowledge that that particular 1/6 wife talked with her husband over the internet regularly and could let Jonny know his baby girl was coming. She returned to the hospital and snuck me McDs french fries when I was so hungry after being there for hours. She asked what I wanted to listen to and had a Bob Marley song ready when I asked for it. She witnessed Ariana's birth and made Jonny's phone call to witness it possible. She was one of the first ones through the door when the CACO and the Chaplain told me Jonny had died the day before. She walked with me on the side of the road when all I wanted was a fight, keeping me toward the inside of the road in case I got any crazy ideas. She drove a group full of my friends from North Carolina to Delaware to be present when Jonny arrived home from Afghanistan. She came back to North Carolina when I got back with my friends and piled in my bed. She slept at the foot. We told "ghost" stories, and she witnessed Jonny's presence. She came down to Florida for Jonny's services even after finding out her husband had been injured. She stayed as long as she could. She introduced me to Katie. She always understood and never judged. She snuck into my house with me before I closed to check it out.... She's been there for ridiculous amounts of the most important moments in my life.  And that's just how she has been present in MY life. 

I went to work. I tried to work things out logically. I'd told my dad I wanted to get down there but wasn't sure when was the best time and I'd talk to my mom about it when she woke up. I thought I'd probably go down on the weekend. I tried to work, I only thought of Raechel. I called my best friend. Dammit, another one in our club. Not one of my own from before. I couldn't stay at work. I talked to mom and Mandy more. There was no way I could be here and her there. I told my bosses that and I headed south. There might have been nothing I could do but I had to be there. Maybe I wouldn't be the one pushing the chaplain out of the way, but there was no way I wouldn't be there for my friend.

She was surrounded by great people. Thank God for the great people in our lives who pull us through this shit. I did what I could. I never felt it was enough. Sometimes, I felt it was more for myself. Stay busy, stay logical. I needed to be there for her, but I couldn't let myself slip back 4 years and 5 months ago when I'd entered this. I never expected to be so close again. I did what I could to make things easier, to be there. I learned what my friends have known for years after being next to me during my step into the journey of grief - you have no idea what to do. You do what you can and you pray that what you do makes even a little bit of difference. You pray so hard you can take the pain away but you can't find a way, so you help in any way possible. I knew the pain. Maybe I could absorb it. I'd already done this for our group - wasn't that enough?! Let me take it, I already knew the pain. I didn't want anyone I loved to go through this. My aunt, so close to me, had just gone through this a few months prior and I couldn't do anything about it, please let me just take some of the pain from Raechel. Wasn't there any way to sponge away her pain?

I hate talking about Rob in past tense. It just doesn't feel right. Raechel found him. We all believe it was a bad medicine combination. He was a fucking warrior, how could he just slip away from us? You might know Rob Richards as the badass who was featured pissing on the Taliban. Oh man, how I wished I could have pissed on them, but thanks Rob, for doing it for all of us, including us widows who lost our loves to them. Rob was a sniper. He was injured during Jonny's deployment and made it through. He was hand selected to return. He did his job and he did it extremely well. He was medically retired following the little peeing incident and was well on his way to a new life. He was going to college to become an engineer and work with prosthetics or weapons. I remember the day he came home to Jacksonville from Bethesda. I hadn't been up to visit him, dealing with my own loss and emotions, but had the pleasure and honor of being there when he returned. Even with a cane, he still walked tall. His voice was gruff and rugged, fitting for a warrior but certainly different from the times I'd heard it before the deployment, before his Adam's Apple was replaced with a titanium piece because of the insurgents who pulled a string and detonated a bomb on him. They didn't get him. They didn't win. He thanked me for being there, I thanked him for a job well done and for fighting. He might not have known it, but I thanked him for returning home to my friend. Many others thanked him for returning their loved ones safely. Rob saved lives. He was a warrior and a hero. Over the years I stayed in Jacksonville, I saw him here and there. His fervor for the fight never ended. He wanted to finish what he started. I wasn't surprised to learn he was going back again. Again, he came home. Again, his badassery reigned. Not long after his final homecoming, we learned of the scandal and I will not deny, I was proud and a little jealous.  How I wish I could have peed on those men who stole my love from me. Thanks, Rob. Just a little bit of karma! Of course it erupted into a huge ordeal but Raechel stayed strong. Damn, that girl was graceful. There were court hearings and media attentions and changes galore and still she held fast. There were rough times, but they wouldn't get her down. She was an inspiration. Someone to aspire to be like every day with the way she held herself, fought for what she believed in, and most importantly stood by the man she loved the most.

The funeral was held at Bay Pines in St. Pete. I suggested Anderson-McQueen funeral home, the folks that handled Jonny's, for their kind and considerate manner. I attempted to organize what I could and take away as much stress for Raechel as possible. It helped me feel like I was doing something, anything, to help her, and it kept me in the present. Rob was honored. His bike club, American Infidels, rode by his side on the way from Jacksonville to St. Pete. They stood guard while he rested in both cities. Friends far and wide journeyed to honor and remember him, and to lay him to rest. It still wasn't real. I stayed busy. We were surrounded by such amazing people. We found ways to laugh and celebrate a life lost too soon. 

The services were beautiful. The services hit close to home. I made it. She made it. We made it. A few hours later, with a little help from alcohol and wondering thoughts, I lost my shit. Repeatedly. I cried over Jonny. I cried over Rob. I cried over all that had happened in the last 5 years. I cried over Raechel's addition to this stupid club. I cried over the absense of light. Raechel let me know it was okay. I apologized. I can't believe after all this, I'd let go and lost it and she was consoling me. Of course she would, because that's Raechel's way - strong, and graceful, and caring. But man... I lost it. I knew better. I knew better than to drink and I knew better than to let myself feel too much during this time, but still I unraveled. Wasn't I supposed to be an example? I assured her time and time again that she would be okay. That I was okay and that I knew she would be okay, and then I proved to her that the pain was still something that couldn't be muted when it wanted to present itself. I kick myself for that. And dammit, this wasn't about me! It was not my time to fall into the depths of my grief. It was my time to be a friend and to be strong for someone I loved. I know that she is fully aware that I hurt. I know she knows so many people hurt along side her. But dammit, couldn't I keep myself together for just another couple days to show her that after time you can make it through. Maybe it was good. Maybe she felt less alone knowing her pain was inexplainable and here was her long time friend with similar inexplainable pain. I hope to God I didn't make her pain worse. The last thing I wanted to do was to make anything harder for her. Pain and grief are sneaky. You think you're doing alright and it sneaks right up on you. I knew better and still I apologize. Some days I think I'm the example of everything not to do as a widow. Do not act a fool. Do not try to hide your pain. Do not be a crazy person... the list goes on and on. 

I had to come home. I want to be next to her, even though I'm not sure at this point I could provide any comfort. But I want to. I know that she'll be okay. I know that I have my moments of weakness but I also know that overall I've been okay, even when I just knew I wouldn't be. I want to provide her some sort of guidance into this wretched world of young widowhood, but there's really nothing I can provide except someone who understands. Someone who will never say "I know how you feel" or "I know what you're going through," but who can say, "I understand the suck" and "You will be alright, even through the pain." Someone who can hold her hand and maybe share the pain. Someone who can cry along side her.

Please pray for my beautiful friend in her coming days. It's not going to get easier. One widow told me early on something along the lines of "It doesn't get easier, you get used to it." That is so true. Every day it's hard. It is so damn hard. Every day it hurts. But it becomes your norm and you learn how to deal with it. I hate that I can't take her pain and I know I am not the only one. I hate that she's "like me." A young widow. I hate that she has to embark on this journey. I am comforted in knowing that she is such a strong and graceful person that I know with my whole heart she'll be alright. I am comforted in knowing the widow community is a wonderful place that will embrace her and lift her up. I am comforted in knowing that Rob is in great company up there. I am comforted in knowing that she feels his presence. 

You'll be alright, beautiful girl. You may fall apart at inopportune times years later (or that might just be me) but I know that you will be alright. Know I am always, always here for you, even if I'm a few hours away, or having a little meltdown - your stuck with this crazy gal. You are loved. Rob is loved. He will never be forgotten and you will not only survive but you will thrive.

As Raechel embarks on this journey, she will have so many things to deal with. Coping with her loss, navigating her grief, and finding her new norm are of utmost importance. One thing she shouldn't have to worry about is funds or keeping Rob's legacy alive. A Memorial Fund has been created to assist in both of these - to help with costs Raechel will now face in her time of loss and to donate in Rob's name to charities that were most important to him. Even during her own time of tragedy, Raechel is still thinking of others.
Please consider donating to the Rob Richards Memorial Foundation


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