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

Wars of the Worsts

Holy Hell. Quick disclaimer: I am about to go off on quite a rant. Unfortunately, if you came for something uplifting, tonight is not the night. I've got a lot to say and I'm going to say it. Apologies in advance for any swear words.

I'd been wanting to touch again on mommy wars. I'd planned a post to talk about why moms must always feel the need to attack one another over parenting choices instead of bonding together as moms. My good Lord, that post was exponentially blown out of the water tonight.

The grief community is supposed to be one of unity, understanding, compassion, and comfort. Tonight, I saw the most disgusting opposite of that in a private facebook for grieving families. Not only is it a spot to honor loved ones who have fallen, but a place to seek understanding, to vent, and to let out emotion. Grieving people are emotional. No matter how far out in the process you are, it's emotional, so I will try to keep that in mind as I ease into this.

A widow posted a question on the site that could have been construed as offensive to grieving parents. I am not saying her question was right or wrong, although I really don't think she had ill intention behind it. It could have been worded better, yes, but I think she wanted some validation to something that was bothering her. She wanted to vent, to seek some understanding, and to be comforted about something that was bothering her. I do not know this widow personally, so all of this is just assumption, but after reading her question and following comments, that is the conclusion I came to.
At first, many grieving parents were upset, and I can see their side as why they could have been offended and an argument unfolded.  The question is irrelevant and not something I'm going to get into here, as the post quickly spiraled away from the topic at hand and it is the ensuing shit storm to where this blog is heading.
It escalated from simple, "What you asked was wrong," to, "You can't possibly hurt as much as we do."

Wait. What??
Yes. Someone, or a few someones, started telling this widow that she could never know the pain of burying a child and that her pain was therefore inferior to theirs as parents.
What. The. Fuck.

I am not writing this to argue whose pain is greater. I know the widow world. I walk those shoes daily. It fucking hurts. It is the worst pain I have ever imagined. I know that not only do you lose a spouse, a partner, a love; but you lose your whole world. This was the person you pledged forever to. The person you had plans with. You were supposed to... (fill in the blank). And ya know what? I can not freaking imagine the pain of the parents burying their children. They lost the person they gave life to! The person they were supposed to see grow old, supposed to... (fill in the blank). No parent should ever have to bury a child, that's just not the natural order of things. Both. Ways. Suck. But to turn it into a competition? You have got to be kidding me. As one widow friend of mine elegantly pointed out in the comments, Your perception is your reality. Let that sink in for a moment. Losing Jonny was the single worst experience of my life. In my world, my bubble, my brain, there has been no greater pain than that. I believe it may be safe to assume, that losing Jonny was also the single worst experience of his mother's life. In her world, bubble, brain, there has been no worse pain. Losing my husband was my worst pain, losing a son was hers. Pain, is pain, is pain. It is never a fair assumption to say someone else's pain is not as bad as yours. Never. Hell, in other people's lives, getting a divorce is their greatest pain. I have never been through that. Therefore, it would be completely unfair of me to say Losing my husband in death was much more painful than you losing your husband to infidelity. How in the world can I know that when I have never lived in that person's brain?

I remember a time once when my mom-in-law said to me simply, "You had him for two years. I had him for 26." I hugged her and we cried and held on to each other, sharing in our pain. If one were to analyze the statement, one may wonder, was she assuming her pain is greater than mine, as she lost someone she's had for so many years? One may also assume, is she insinuating my pain is the worst, as I hardly got any time with him in comparison? There need not be an analysis. It is a statement of fact. She had him for 26 years. So long, yet so damn short. She knew him his whole life. He was her child. She raised him and was present for all of his milestones. She was not supposed to outlive him. I had him for 2 years. He was the love of my life, my husband. A wonderful 2 years full of a lifetime of love, but so short. So many things we missed out on together. So many experiences we would never share. It. All. Sucks. PAIN is PAIN is PAIN. The fact of the matter is we lost someone incredibly close to both of us, and in that, we can comfort each other, support each other, and sympathize with each other. No, we will never completely understand the others' pain, but we will know we are not alone in our grief and sadness and in missing him.

The thread was then heightened another notch when a grieving parent commented along the lines of "You can remarry. We can't have another child and replace him." Stop right there. Just. Fucking. Stop.

Let's just talk about this for a second. Just a second because it is really a topic that deserves it's own post (or several). Are you implying that by remarrying I am replacing my husband? I know several widows who are remarried, in serious relationships, moving forward with their lives. In no way, shape, or form does that mean their spouse has been replaced. Absolutely not. It's impossible. I mean, come on. There are a variety of people and a variety of ways to handle things. Some people continue to talk about their late spouses regularly even in new relationships, some choose to remember them quietly or on their own, and others choose to gently close that chapter. In none of those circumstances has that person been replaced.
Just because someone moves forward with their life, keeps living, does not, by any means, mean they have forgotten their past. Do you honestly believe that even those who may not speak of their late spouse often, or share much information about him, really do not think of him? No. You can't tell me that. All circumstances are varied but you can not make me believe that anyone just moves on and forgets and gets a replacement.
And on that note, if I can replace him so easily by remarrying, why can't you replace him just as well by having another child? Too old? Can't conceive? Adopt. Adopt another child. There ya have it, a replacement child. Oh, that doesn't work for you? It doesn't replace the son you lost? WELL HEEIIIDY HO! Maybe now you see where I'm coming from! Maybe now you realize YOU CAN'T JUST FUCKING REPLACE SOMEONE! And seriously, who says that? Who even has the mind to put together that sentence that you can just go ahead and remarry and that will fix everything?
And just for shits and giggles, even if it were desirable or at all possible - do you honestly think it's really that easy to just go and remarry?! Because yes, there is a gaggle of men just waiting to propose to our crazy, sobbing asses. Because no, dating widows isn't one of the toughest things many men may encounter (just ask my past boyfriends - it ain't a walk in the park). Because, of course, we just happened to have a fucking backup list of in case I need a replacement, let me go get a new one! This isn't freaking car shopping!!!! Maybe you total your car and you go buy a shiny new replacement and you don't even think of your old car. You had an eye on the car you wanted so you'll just go pick it up, easy peezy. That's because it is an object. You don't just replace a person!
You don't replace a spouse, you don't replace a child, you don't replace a sibling, a parent. If someone dies, it's not all fixed because there is another one. My husband was one of 10. I know for a fact his siblings miss him every day, and their pain is great and real. They don't feel less grief because they have other siblings. They haven't just replaced his absence by becoming closer to another sibling.  You don't replace people you love!  Hell, if you really think about it, you don't even replace people you don't love. They are people. They come in and out of your lives and you remember them and the ones you love you keep them in your heart. You live your life as best as you can, you move forward, and you hold sacred their memory in your heart forever. You never, ever replace.

So with this ranting out of the way and the stupidity of the comments analyzed, I must say, I pray for those folks. I really do, and not in the southern, "Bless your heart," sarcastic way. I pray for them because, like all of us in that group, they have lost someone so dear to them. They are hurting. They are in pain. And pain is pain is pain. Grief is a nasty bitch. It comes and goes as it pleases and it causes us to say and do things we might not have done with a clear un-grieving mind. Those moms said something I found to be incredibly stupid and hurtful, but they are hurting, too. They are women who love their sons and ache daily. They are probably not stupid or mean. Just because you say or do something perceived as stupid or mean does not mean you are stupid or mean. We aren't always our words or actions. We lash out, we get offended, we get defensive. Shit happens. I do think in groups like that, though, it is important to remember we are in this together. We walk very different paths in the same world. We each have a different grief story, but it is still grief. Like the moms who are attacking each other over parenting, the grieving communities need to band together and hold one another up. Humans need to band together and hold one another up. We need to support, comfort, and attempt to understand others. We need to stop comparing and competing and engaging in these "Wars of the Worsts," and learn to love, empathize, and forgive. Because really, it is humanity that makes us human and it certainly seems there is a dire lack of human in this world. Synonyms of humanity include compassion, brotherly love, fraternity, fellow feeling, kindness, understanding, and sympathy. Let's put the humanity back in human. Let's together learn to hold one another up. There's enough war in this world, in that group we are all victims of war in some form. Let's over power the war in our lives with love for one another.

"If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other."
- Mother Theresa

* I use sons and he a lot, please don't think I discredit you if you've lost a daughter or a she. I use the word that applies to my story (and is simply easier than writing he/she each time) and encourage you to read in the way that suits your story.
** A huge shout out to the 3 widow friends of mine that I do know personally who helped spark this piece by their own comments on the thread. A lot of what you had to say was exactly what I was thinking. It's really crazy how we really can all be on the same page sometimes. W <3 p="">

From the Mouths of Babes

Driving in the truck the other day:

Ariana: I miss my daddy. When is him coming back down to us?

Me: (thinking, crap, how do I answer this without upsetting her?) Well baby, he can't come back down.

Ariana: But he is in Heaven.

Me: Yes, that's right.

Ariana: Well, if you keep the people you love who went to Heaven in your heart, they will always come back to you.

And that my friends, is how I was schooled by my far-wiser than me 4 year old.

Thank God for children. Thank God for my beautiful little girl who can really put me in my place and remind me of what is important.

I fear that one day she'll keep waiting for him to come back down and realize that while he is in our hearts every single day, he can't physically come back down to us, and that will crush her. I just pray she always feels him with her, always has her own special relationship with him.

Father's Day was pretty difficult for her.  We sent balloons to Heaven like we always do, and afterward she cried and said how much she missed her daddy. My only strategy was to remind her that her daddy loves her and is watching from Heaven and we will see him again some day and in the meantime to remember she has so many people here on Earth with her who love her, too.

Parenting is so hard and so rewarding. It is a constant lesson and a constant test. I never want to hurt her, but I also want to be real with her. I want her to understand things, even if those things are hard and unfair. I think, as I've said before, that she has a far better understanding than most adults I know.

Day is Done, Gone the Sun

I remember when we used to sing Taps at the end of camping trips and other Girl Scout functions.  I never really understood why my dad, a Vietnam veteran, seemed to cringe when we'd sing the tune, or why he'd mute the TV when it played on shows the news.  I remember loving Memorial Day, being awesome as a day off school and a kick start to summer, and while I knew the reason behind it, I wasn't quite sure as to why some people seemed so solemn.  Now, it's a race between dad and I to the remote for the mute button at the first note of Taps, and I'm a huge advocate for "reason for the season" type information on Memorial Day.  Ignorance is bliss.  When something hits close to home, you really understand things.  You grasp what you've been missing for years.  And you wish it weren't quite so personal.

I've gotta say, I am so, so proud of my facebook friends this weekend and yesterday. So many of you were sharing the true meaning of Memorial Day and enlightening those who may not have a personal relation to the "holiday."  I saw post upon post about how Memorial Day and Veteran's Day are different, about how it's not just the beginning of summer or just a day for BBQing (although it is an ideal day to BBQ and I believe our guys in Heaven would appreciate a good BBQ!), and about the true meaning of Memorial Day and how "Happy Memorial Day" might not be exactly appropriate, (the post about would you say 'Happy Funeral Day' to someone really resonated with me, that was a good one).  I don't know if knowing us personally drove some people to share their thoughts on the importance of the day or if they're just educated folks, but I just want to thank everyone for remembering and honoring.  You guys were amazing and I was really pleased with my newsfeed yesterday.   The only way to cure ignorance (and I do not mean that in a derogatory way but only a definition - lack of education - way) is to educate.  I commend you, friends of mine on facebook, for educating, for honoring, and for remembering.

My Memorial Day was pretty low-key this year.  I spent the early parts of the day working on the chicken coop here at LPF.  We recently acquired 6 chickens and 2 ducks and I am beyond ready to move them out of my garage and into their own home.  So we worked all day, I burned my skin, and we got a majority of the coop built (huge thanks to my amazing family for helping me in all my crazy farm endeavors, I love you and you are the best!)  In the evening, I had a small "viewing party" with Ariana, my parents, and some of my closest friends to watch the Memorial Day special on HLN that Jonny, Ariana and I were featured in.  It was nice having some of my closest homies with me to watch.  A group of people who have been there, some "before" and some "after," and known me at various points in my journey.  I can't thank them, and all of you, enough for your support during this crazy roller coaster of life.  I am so grateful to have such an amazing support network and to be assured that Jonny's memory will live on.  I am a lucky girl to be surrounded by such amazing people. I am also so grateful with the job HLN did on my story, as well as the two following stories.  I was super moved by the story that followed mine, a fellow Gold Star wife who is also an active duty soldier, as well as the last story of the show, that of the journey of a West Point jacket making it back to it's owner's widow.  I want to thank the folks over at HLN (Andres you rock and it was a pleasure working with all of you!!) for following along and reading, supporting us Gold Star families, and doing an amazing Memorial Day special.   I am also really impressed with the written portion of my story, I think they did our story justice, highlighted some very important parts of our life together, and I believe Jonny would be proud.  If you missed it and want to check it out, here's my portion, and the rest can be found on the HLN site, as well.

Also, how do you guys like the new set up? I want to thank the lovely Nicole at Broken Road Creative  for providing me with the most beautiful blog designs since I started this thang.  Nicole, you are the bees knees and I love you!  If you are interested in getting your blog revamped at Broken Road, please feel free to use the code ALITTLEPINK until June 27, 2014, to get 25% off your pre-made or custom blog design with Nicole.

I hope you all enjoyed your long weekend, had a great time with friends and family, ate delicious foods, and had a drink or two for those who are watching from Heaven and guarding the pearly gates!

Semper Fi,
Mrs P

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