Avoiding Arlington

Nearly every year I visit Washington D.C. for training in cancer care or advocacy work that provides me with the skills I need to do my work as a therapist and advocate.  Every year I walk around the monuments, the capital, visit the restaurants and experience the power that you can literally feel coming from the ground there.  It’s like your being shocked at a low voltage from the moment you see the White House.  When I see the Honor Flight WWII Veterans sitting in the lobby of the hotel, I thank them for their service and sometimes, they cry.  When I worked for hospice, my territory included the Missouri Veteran’s home.  Sometimes, I had as many as 15 Veteran’s to see on my caseload there.  Walking through end of life with these Veterans was vastly different than walking the path with civilians, but that is another entry for another day.

When I’m playing advocate, I take the elevator to the basement lunch room surrounded by uniformed women and gentleman with more “lapel flair” than I’ve ever seen and it is simply surreal.  I smile at them, thank them for their service, then watch as they make their way to lunch looking like American royalty.  They go home each night to their families and put their jammies on just like everyone else but they look like some serious super heroes to this girl.  I’m star struck as they walk so straight to their tables.  I wonder if my son will work in the Pentagon like his uncle before him.  I feel a pang of guilt as I remember the thoughts in my head begging him not to re-enlist unless he can spend less time “over there”.  So glad I didn’t say it out loud.  I’ve no right to say it aloud.

 Each year I say to myself “this is the year I will visit Arlington”.  Each year I am unable to make the short trip by car or train to pay my respects to those who gave everything.  I am afraid I will just lose it and embarrass myself in front of strangers. This year will be different.  This year I’m going to pay my respects to someone who lost his young life just two years after getting married.  He was part of my son’s military family and this year, in death, he will give me strength that I need to visit this sacred place.

Today, the following Air Force servicemen were buried at Arlington, 50 years after being lost in action.  After taking off On Christmas Eve 1965 an Air Force plane nicknamed “Spooky” took off from Vietnam for a combat mission and never returned.

Col. Joseph Christiano, of Rochester, New York;

Col. Derrell B. Jeffords, of Florence, South Carolina;

Lt. Col. Dennis L. Eilers of Cedar Rapids, Iowa;

Chief Master Sgt. William K. Colwell of Glen Cove, New York;

Chief Master Sgt. Arden K. Hassenger, of Lebanon, Oregon;

Chief Master Sgt. Larry C. Thornton of Idaho Falls, Idaho.

Say their names out loud in your prayers tonight or on your yoga mat tomorrow morning.  Namaste’


Olives and Father’s Day

P1030342With papa at the grill

I shop for food.  Lots.  Cooking is my passion. My parents were chefs.  My father loves nothing more than to make me surf and turf when I visit.  My son loves his papa’s surf and turf.  My weekly boxes of “stuff” that get sent when he’s deployed don’t include surf and turf. I cook fresh and local so it doesn’t exactly mail well over there.  So I find odd items that I know he’ll like and send him those instead, with the occasional vegan cookie or energy date bar without sugar.  YUM!  My mom sends me healthy stuff, lucky me, I imagine him saying as he watches the cookies and candy come in from other parents.  His father makes him homemade beef jerky.  How cool is that?

He won’t tell me what to send him.  This is maddening for me and the rest of the family. The only things he’s really talked much about are the single serving packaged olives that I sent him once and the Trader Joe’s Panang Curry Tuna that goes into each and every box.  The olives I was only privileged to find once in my weekly excursions.  So this week when I happened upon them I bought the entire display.  For future deployments.  The entire display. For future deployments.  Seems unfair that only a few families have to endure the continuous cycle of deployment. With only one percent of the U.S. population in the military, this is the sacrifice.

We think differently.  “I’ll buy this for the next one”.  The next one.  Think about that statement for a while.  We get to put our hands on our kids for a moment in time only to send them back again within a couple of months.  People look at me like I have 3 heads when I try to explain to them that his work requires him to be there continuously and that he feels compelled to DO the work.  The work matters.  It makes a difference that he’s there.  I thought about deployment when he enlisted, knew it was the reality of this life.  I must admit I didn’t expect to endure deployment over and over again.  I wonder how his body will continue to hold up under the physical and emotional toll that these deployments take on a human being. I worry about cancer from the chemicals and the exposure to the elements.  I worry about crashes on the ground and in the air.  I worry about his nutrition, his emotions and most of all I worry that he’ll not a find a good woman who understands his lifestyle in the military to share his life with. Someone else to send him boxes of stuff and notice when he says “I really liked the olive packs”.

How many mothers do you know instruct their sons to BANK YOUR SPERM, just in case the right woman never shows up, this way you can still experience fatherhood.  I worry about infertility.  This comes from being an oncology social worker AND a military mom. Happy father’s day to all the military Zen dads out there.  Send a box of stuff this week to a deployed dad you don’t know. They’ll appreciate it.


http://www.loveboxesforourtroops.com                                     Peace, love and little donuts,


Yesterday at noon I heard the sound I had been longing for, “hey mooooooooom, I’m in the states”.  After an hour of advising him to keep his stimulation down, stay out of Wal-Mart, don’t go to any bars, and stay away from loose women (okay, I advise of him like that even when he hasn’t deployed) and listening to him talk about  his commute, he boarded one more flight to get him home.  At 6:47 I received the text:  Beer is delicious.  My baby boy was safe and sound in his condo at his home base.  After another 1/2 hour of advising, keep your stimulation down, don’t drink more than 2 beers, keep processing and stay away from loose women he was off to bed and I slept like a baby for the first time since the early spring.  I know it won’t last, this feeling of safety that I have when he’s on US soil, but he’s here NOW and I’ll get to put my hands on him in a couple of weeks after he’s in-processed and he’s ready for me to PUT my hands on him.  I posted a picture of him smooching me when he was a toddler on his Facebook page this evening, just to hear him chuckle.  He’s still my little boy.  We don’t see these warriors as civilians see them.  When he sends me pictures of himself standing in the desert in BDU’s holding a machine gun, I see my little boy in a ninja turtle outfit jumping off of his red bunk bed. Today I had the blessing of a long conversation with a dear friend, a mother of four.  She is my hero, raising 1 very special little girl along with her 3 beautiful boys in such a lovely zen mom way.  She asked me “what is it like, to know your son goes through everything that goes along with war?” ” Michelle, it is every terrible thought and feeling you could ever imagine, it never goes away when they are gone, it just sits there waiting to pounce on you”. You “zen up” by staying busy and trying to be worthy of his sacrifices for you. You tell everyone you come into contact with that he’s there.  You make every civilian see the sacrifices by wearing his unit pin or plastering your vehicle with stickers that shout out your pride.  You take every moment to educate  99% of the rest of the country about what it is REALLY like to be a military family member. You try to comfort your daughter, his big sister who still calls him “bubby” when she looks up at you like she’s 3 years old again and says “he needs to come home now”.


My son and I share a problem this go around.  Neither of us is sleeping.  A nice 30 minute “chat” left us both bewildered on how to solve the problem.  When he left last time, I started experiencing serious sleep deprivation.  When I finally got some help for this from professionals, I would dream about my son several times per week.  In my dreams, I could hear him walking up the stairs with his duffle bag.  Thump, thump, thump.   Then turning the key in the door and saying “hey mooooooooooooooom”.  He sounds just like South Park’s Cartman when he does that.

In another dream he was sitting on the end of my bed telling me how he drove all night to get home.  I could smell him.  When I woke up, I sat up in bed and reached out to him to give him a hug.  He wasn’t there.

I would wake up in the hallway some nights reaching out to nothing and confusing my dogs in the process.  I’ve never been a dreamer in the literal sense.  But during that time, my son and I had some really great discussions.  A friend of mine stated that in some circles it would be considered time traveling.  She believed that my son was coming to me in my dreams because he was away and he knew I needed to see him, smell him, hug him, and that he probably needed me too.   I don’t know what it all meant, but I know that it was comforting to hear.

This time around the dreams are not sweet visits from my son. They are violent and involve images that I cannot shake even after my favorite cup of coffee is finished the next morning.  Planes falling out of the sky.  People hurting other people.  I don’t know the actors in my dreams.

The dreams have subsided a bit as this deployment ends its 2nd month.  No dreams at all this week that include violence.  Just images that don’t make much sense.  Wish I had taken that dream analysis class in college.

Pray for the families of the fallen this weekend.



This morning as day six unfolded of hearing nothing from my son, I had a moment.  A few moments actually, that didn’t serve me.  Bad news coming across the newswires actually prompted me to look out of the window of my 3rd story walk up to see if there was a government car waiting outside.  Projecting myself into that scenario didn’t serve me.  What happened next was a phone call from my girlfriend, a mindfulness guru and then an e-mail, lovingly shared with me by another girlfriend to shake me awake and into the present moment.  The present moment, this is where I have the ability to regain some sense of control over my circumstances as a military mom.

She has given me permission to share this e-mail that her sweet, sweet mother sends each year to her children and grandchildren.

Sixty seven years ago today your dad/grandpa was the ripe old age of 19.  He was on a minelayer, destroyer at Iwo Jima in the south Pacific, with a crew of 300 men.  U.S.S. Lindsey. They were hit by 3 Kamikaze planes. They had been threatened by them many times but either shot them down or they missed.  Just as simple as that.  I remember him telling that one of the pilots survived and a young young Japanese man just like Len and scared to death.  They held him prisoner on the ship and not sure what ever happened.

 Len  was very lucky to be a survivor as one/third of the crew was lost or badly injured, and half the ship was destroyed. A son of one of the men who died that day keeps in touch with me.  From Abilene, KS. 

I know I have told this story before over and over, but just can’t help but think about it each year.

 Len would fly the flag at half mast for his shipmates and always stood at the bottom of the flag pole and looked up for a while. He was always sad that day.  At that tender age of 19, it was something he could not imagine. He had been in the navy two years by then.  At 17 he ran away from home and would not come back until his mother signed the papers for him to join the Navy.  She finally did and he left school to go.

WWII was a very patriotic war. Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, had been attack by the Japanese.  The young men and women wanted to serve their country in any way they could and many lost their lives because of it.

 He came home, finished his senior year in high school, and went to Morningside College in Sioux City, Ia. and graduated in three years with majors in Business and Religion.  It cost him $3.27 as he went under the G.I. Bill.  The government treated the soldiers of that era very well. All his close buddies from Sioux City got their degrees also and continued to be very close. One of them, it is his wife’s recipe for “Iowa Taverns”. So there.  🙂 

 O.K.  Enough sentimentalizing.  I love you all, just as he loved you all.  So so much.


Shaken back into the present moment by an e-mail that reminded me that I’m not alone in my journey, even though it feels that way some times.  My mother’s brothers all served their country during wartime.    And they lied about their age in order to do it. Jack, Carl, and Kenny Fletcher served proudly in Korea and Vietnam.  They sent their paychecks home so that my mother could be a cheerleader and have pretty dresses for dances.  Families were different then.  Children as young as 17 years old were enlisting in order to help support their parents during a rough economy.   My uncle Jack was a POW.  He was our family’s John Wayne. He owned a ranch in Cheyenne Wyoming.  He died at age 50 from chemical exposure during Vietnam that damaged his heart and lungs.  My grandmother cried like a baby at his funeral.  She was 80.

Somebody else’s children are deploying over and over and over again.  Somebody else was visited by a government vehicle today.  May they find peace in knowing that most Americans appreciate their sacrifice.  Thank you for your service Len Corkhill.  May you rest in peace. You raised a really great kid.