Here’s Johnny

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Last night Andrea and Kevin wanted to orchestrate a belated birthday dinner for the General. Of course, as part of the entourage, I was also invited. In all truthfulness, I can say it proved to be an exceptional evening.

 

For starters, Andrea and Kevin chose a restaurant where the General and I have never been. Truthfully speaking, I am mostly a stranger to the kind of fine dining that includes something more than a white tablecloth and dinnerware. I am not accustomed to having a myriad of choices for the first course, second course, main course and the grand finale (aka – desert).

 

It was a touching moment when Andrea looked at the menu and said to her mom, “Why don’t we take this and this and this for starters?” She offered several suggestions to include for the second course and pretty much left the third course for our own choosing.

 

Seriously, for the most part, I had looked at the menu and had no idea what was being served. When it comes to culinary choices that include something outside my regular fare or frame of reference, my first reaction is to look for something else on the menu that seems more familiar. I kind of discount the possibility that I will like it if I haven’t already tried it.

 

Andrea has a culinary charm about her where she can get by with promoting a menu selection for consideration. She does a good job of convincing you that you have a treat in store. I had a flashback to the General coaxing Andrea throughout her childhood to try different foods.

 

It was both interesting to observe and experience the role reversal-taking place before my eyes. Andrea was taking on the role of teacher and mentor. Though she’d never suggest that we were her inept students, we were on unfamiliar territory. She was pretty convincing that we would enjoy the taste. Never once did she use the line: “It is good for you”.

 

The waiter was a young man named Johnny. Actually, when he first came to our table, I missed his providing us his name. At least, I didn’t recall his name when he came back around. Consequently, when he came back around I said: “Help me with my memory. I don’t remember your name.” He smiled and said: “It is Johnny. Just like Johnny Cash, except that I don’t have any cash. Okay, so now I had a frame of reference. I would remember his name.

 

As our two-hour-plus dinner took place, I watched Johnny interacting with a host of other folks dining in the restaurant. He was attentive, personable, and had a genuine gregarious nature about him that added to the ambience of the evening.

 

He mentioned early in waiting on our table that he had just returned to work. He had been on vacation. I asked about his vacation and he provided a thumb-nailed sketch. He had gone to Arizona. While he was there, he attended his brother’s wedding. He added: “I also had a great time visiting with my mom. I sprung her from the hospital for a while. She has just finished chemo and radiation treatments”. He mentioned that in four months she has aged about fifteen years.

 

Immediately, I had the thought associated to the complexity of his family’s circumstances. His mother’s health status had to weigh heavily on the family as they rallied around and celebrated a family wedding. I’m sure there were lots of emotions surrounding the celebration.

 

I mentioned that I was sorry he was dealing with that kind of stress. He said, “It comes with life”. Who could argue with that? He went on to say: “It is interesting, but my mother has developed the most magnificent sense of humor. She had never been so funny. I guess she figures, ‘What do I have to lose’?”   He added: “I really enjoyed the time with her. In addition, my brother’s wedding provided an opportunity for me to visit with a lot of old friends I’ve not seen in awhile. It was really nice. I enjoyed my time at home, but it is also good to be back at work.”

 

Through the course of the evening, bits and pieces about his life surfaced in conversation. He mentioned George Straight’s song: “Ocean Front Property In Arizona”. He said he had recorded the song and given it to several friends. His friends had responded with positive reviews.

 

I asked: “So did you come to Austin to get in the music business?” He said he had graduated from high school at the age of seventeen and was ready to advance his career. He had started skateboarding at the age of four and thought he could make it as a professional skateboarder. California was calling his name. He had to go and give that career track a chance”.

 

I doubt that is just the kind of thing every parent wants to hear from his or her seventeen-year-old son? Actually, he told his dad he was going to request court emancipation. The dad countered that he would allow him to go, but that he wasn’t going to be emancipated. The dad wanted to keep him on as an income tax deduction. Did I mention that his dad is a CPA and his mother is an art professor?

 

He had support from his family as he pursued his dreams. In the course of the two hours we shared, he shared several more tidbits about his life. He got a degree in nursing and things began to fall apart with his girlfriend at exactly the same time that he was beginning to see a line of white picket fences.

 

I had the thought: “What a clever way to express where he was in his human pilgrimage.” Romance didn’t work out in California and he made his way to Austin. His story associated to getting into the restaurant business really caught me by surprise. He said, “It was all about the Balloon Animals”. “The what”, I asked?” He said when he was still in high school a friend had showed him a stash of cash in his wallet. He said: “He had twenties and hundred dollar bills.” His friend explained: “I’ve been working at a restaurant making animals out of balloons for children.” He said, “The parents love it and they pay me. Some pay me very well”.

 

“You’ve got to show me how to do that,” was his response to his friend. In short order, he received permission to do the same thing in another restaurant. He said, “I guess it was my gregarious nature, but folks really liked me. When the restaurant decided to stop allowing me to do that, they said I was too valuable to loose. They employed me as a part-time server while I was in high school”.

 

When asked about his passion going forward he said: “I am a writer. I was made to write. I can’t stop writing. I haven’t gotten anything published yet, but I will. I write. I can’t stop writing”.

 

Something tells me, he’s got the stuff to reach his dreams. I liked his line: “I was beginning to envision a line of white picket fences”. What an incredible way to say much in a very different way of expressing it!

 

Johnny gave me permission to share his story and reluctantly provided the same regarding his picture. It would serve you well to find him. He is an exceptionally knowledgeable server who works for an incredible restaurant. You’ll enjoy a fantastic meal and an exceptional waiter.

 

All My Best!

Don

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Father/Son Relationships

Late Friday afternoon as I made my way down the corridor toward the security check point at Reagan National Airport in Washington, I walked behind a father and his two sons. The oldest son looked about two-years-old and was doing his best to keep up with his father who was walking a little faster. Periodically, the father would turn and look behind him and encourage his son to hurry.

The father was pushing a stroller with the three-month-old and also lugging a duffel bag, back pack and suit case. I wondered about the family’s story as I followed them. Sometimes the two-year-old seemed a little farther behind his dad that my comfort level would permit. Yet, it wasn’t my place to interfere. I had to quell the desire to invite the little boy to old my hand as he walked. Of course, I would have asked the dad’s permission before I did so.

I generally walk fast, but I had nothing but time on my hands.  I was content to walk behind this young family.  Finally, after getting to the security checkpoint and preparing to load stuff on the conveyor, I asked the young dad if it would help if I held the infant?  He initially seemed a little hesitant, but responded: “If you don’t mind”.  

I watched as the father disassembled the stroller and had the thought that strollers have changed dramatically since I had small children. I’d have never been able to figure out the assembly/disassembly process.  Once through the security check, I held the infant again as the dad put the stroller back together.

There was some whimpering and tears on the part of the child both times when I held him, but I attempted to allay his fears by talking softly to him and rocking side-to-side while keeping the child pointed in a direction where he could see his dad.  Actually, the child’s whimpering and tears were a healthy sign of attachment to his dad. I smiled with the thought that this family seemed appropriately bonded.

Actually, not only have strollers become more complicated, parenting has become a lot more complicated than when I was a dad. Ours is a different world today than the world from forty-to-fifty years ago when I had very small children.   

I was a little disappointed that the father and his two sons weren’t headed to Austin. Instead they were headed to Las Vegas.  I intuitively assumed they were heading to share time with family rather than the lure of the bright lights and roulette wheel.  

Being in the A-group, I had my pick of seats on the plane.  I opted to take an aisle seat on a row with a passenger already seated in the window seat. The odds of the middle seat being left open were non-existent. Reportedly, the flight was completely sold out.

The person who subsequently took the middle seat next to me was flying to San Diego. I was a little envious. I love Southern California. I mentioned that my son had been stationed at Camp Pendleton a couple of times. He said that he live very near the base. I made some reference to San Clemente and he said he, too, likes that town. After all, what’s not to like?  The view of the Pacific is pretty spectacular. 

He mentioned that San Clemente is now a town with problems. The same is true for a lot of small towns in Southern California. Reportedly, it isn’t infrequent that a bus filled with homeless people are transported into the town and let out in the downtown area in the middle of the night. It is thought that they are being transported out of Los Angeles.   

The young man expressed concern for the plight of the homeless and for the increasing number of problems that regularly are highlighted in the news. He said, I don’t know what to make of it?  The problems are real, but the answers are few.

At that point in our conversation, I didn’t know exactly the age of the young man. I assumed he was college age since he was flying alone. As it turned out, he wasn’t flying alone. He and his father were traveling together. Since at the time they boarded, there were only middle seats, it precluded their sitting together. 

I asked: “How long were you in D.C.?” He responded, “We got in very late last night because our plane was delayed. Actually, it was early morning when we arrived.  We drove from here to 

Annapolis.  Because of our late arrival, we only got about four hours sleep.  The purpose of the trip was for me to participate in a half-day football camp at the Naval Academy”.  He added that he was hopeful to attend the Naval Academy when he graduates from high school.

It was a quick trip – it was an expensive trip – it had only one purpose. A father had accompanied his son for the sole purpose of supporting his son’s dreams. I have no idea of the socio-economic level of the family. The student did mention that if appointed to the Naval Academy, he could get an education without student debt.  

Isn’t one of the characteristics of an incredible dad the willingness to sacrifice for his children? My dad provided for our family, but he wanted more for my brothers and me than he had experienced for himself. He saw education as the key to a better future. My dad sacrificed to ensure our opportunities would be beyond his own.  He wanted his kids to have opportunities he didn’t have.  Gratefully we did.  

It is interesting now that I’m in the closing chapters of life (however long or short that may be), I’m discovering that what I want most for the rest of my days is to be just like Dad.  

My dad represented a level of strength and sacrificial commitment that I’ve never known.  The last fourteen months of his life were filled with one physical difficulty after another, but the overriding passion of his life had little relationship to himself.  His primary goal was to take care of Mother.   

He simply lived with a reliance on God that somehow the need would be met.  He refused to give up, retreat to bitterness or fall prey to depression.  He had the sense that God was with him every step of the way during the last chapter of his life and he was a testimony of how faith can make a difference.

All My Best!

Don

Cliff Notes

I knew the wedding would go on as planned. The big question in my mind was: “Would I be there?” From my perspective, the only justification for me to miss the Saturday evening wedding would have been death. Though it would have been understandably a disappointment for the couple getting married, they probably wouldn’t have held it against me. 

An excuse like a cancelled flight wouldn’t be so easily understood. In addition, I would have to spend the remainder of my days knowing I had created a hardship on the couple that was unnecessary. I would tell you that I was psychologically in a panic, but you’d think I was making a mountain out of a molehill. No one had said the flight was cancelled, but this was not my first rodeo. I know how these things can work out – “been there/done that”.

My daughter would tell you that I sometimes overreact. Of course, she knows that to be true because she has the same capacity. We obviously must be cut from the same cloth. I had boarded my flight on Friday afternoon at Reagan National for a 5:55 return trip to Austin. 

I was in the A-group without a care in the world. The Uber ride from the conference hotel to the airport and been non-eventful. I arrived at the airport in ample time to get through security without delay. The passengers were now all boarded and I was breathing a sigh of relief. Earlier, I had obviously been anxious for nothing. I feared I wouldn’t get to the airport in time. Isn’t that the way it generally works out? 

My sense of “all is right with the world” evaporated into a high level of anxiety when the pilot announced: “We are keeping the plane door open for an indefinite period of time. Because of air turbulence to the south of us, the Tower has placed our departure temporarily on hold. When we know something more, I’ll get back to you.

A subsequent text message from my daughter inquired about my time of arrival back in Austin? My response that the flight was on hold and the time of departure was questionable much less knowing a projected time of arrival. She reassuringly suggested that I not worry. Encouragingly she added: “Even if the flight was cancelled, I still had 24-hours before the wedding”.

The pilot mentioned that another couple of planes currently in the flight lineup were also being held because the clearance for take-off had been rescinded. So, what would I do if my flight was subsequently cancelled? I opted to erase the question from my consciousness. There wasn’t a good answer. Driving from Washington, DC to Texas didn’t sound like a good option. I would have difficulty making it back in time. In fact, it would have been an impossibility for me. The stress was building – all I could do was pray.

Had I known at the time, that the day before, several outgoing flights were permanently cancelled for the same set of circumstances, I would have been beside myself. Fortunately, I didn’t see the news release until Saturday morning of seven people – strangers – who opted to rent a van and drive 9 hours to reach their intended destination.

In the back of my mind, I had the thought if we’d at least leave the gate, it might make things more hopeful. As it was, it would be a lot less problematic to have us get off the plane while it was at the gate.

The Captain made an announcement that if anyone anticipated needing to use the lavatory in the next two hours, to please do so now. Call it the power of suggestion. You would have thought they’d just announced a half-price sale at Macy’s. A line from an episode of “Seinfeld” immediately came to mind: “I’ve got a lot of problems with you people and now you are going to hear about it!” 

Seriously, we needed to move away from the gate and get in line. We could do nothing as long as the lavatory line was keeping us immobile. Finally, finally everyone was seated and the plane back away from the gate. I’m not Catholic, but I used the sign of the Cross to indicate only God could intervene. There are Scriptural references to His calming the wind. We needed the issue related to turbulence to disappear.

I didn’t quite know what to make of it when our airliner passed the first plane that was parked. I was equally confused when we passed a second. I was overjoyed when our flight picked up speed and head toward the “wild blue yonder”. My heart was definitely filled with gratitude and my blood pressure was probably back within normal limits.

The wedding on Saturday posed a problem or two, but it worked out perfectly. For starters, a heavy rainstorm significantly dampened the outdoor venue about an hour or so before the wedding. All the chairs needed to be towel dried. However, no real damage was done other than to the lapel microphone that was no longer operable. 

About fifteen-to-twenty minutes before the wedding was the start, the mother of the bride contacted me. She emphasized that her daughter really wanted an outdoor wedding. Reportedly, another round of storms were anticipated soon. Consequently, could I significantly reduce the script in order to make it work? 

With a borrowed pen, I quickly eliminated about half of the script. Hey – I can be accommodating! As it turned out, the wedding itself went off without a hitch. Just prior to the wedding, I made an announcement requesting that folks turn off their cell phones and that no pictures be made during the ceremony. I also announced that due to another anticipate rain shower, that the wedding ceremony had been condensed to Cliff notes. Consequently, the ceremoney would be something slightly more than: “You want ‘em – you got ‘em”. The announcement drew laughter.

Actually, the wedding couldn’t have gone better. The bride and groom and their families were awesome. I enjoyed it immensely. Most of all, I am grateful to have been present.

All My Best!
Don

The Myth Of Closure

Best practice is always a work in progress. Being an old child welfare worker, I can remember with horror that there was a time when the accepted norm and standard practice was to always move a foster child from their placement if a foster parent ever asked about the possibility of adopting a child already placed in their home.  

In my new worker orientation as a child welfare worker in 1970, the need to move a foster child was stressed in the “dos and don’ts” and reinforced periodically through in-service training.  I remember thinking as a 23-year-old wet-behind-the-ears new worker that the rationale for the rigidity to a no-variation approach didn’t make a lot of sense.

We professionally chose to ignore the reality that permanency with a family with whom the child had already bonded and was thriving in the environment where they had been placed would intuitively reduce the risk for placement disruption and be in the child and family’s best interest. I guess you can say it was old-school-thinking.

Of course, at the ages of 23-24-25, I was immersed in a job that I loved and I had enough sense to know that you don’t bite the hand that feeds you.  I would follow the rules to the letter and keep my opinions to myself, but the rigidity associated to a lack of openness to consider doing it differently seemed antiquated. Of course, by the age of 26, I was a lot more verbal.

Thankfully, we have moved to an age where we have a better understanding and choose to make placement decisions for children needing permanency very differently than the way we did in the 1970s.

In many respects, what we now know about the grief process has also changed dramatically since the 1970s. As I shared at my workshop on ambiguous loss at the League of POWMIA Families meeting yesterday, a lot of us started our journey with a road map in mind that seemed to make a lot of sense. Dr. Elizabeth Kuber-Ross had crafted the stages of grief in her book entitled: “The Five Stages of Grief”.  I don’t even have to look at my notes to tell you they include: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

All we had to do is get through those hurdles and closure was somewhere on the other side, or so we thought. Her roadmap accurately describes the experience of persons with a terminal illness for whom time is limited. It is not a road map applicable for family members dealing with the loss or absence of a loved one, particularly in the midst of ambiguous loss. It was magical thinking to assume that all we had to do was complete one step at a time and we’d emerge at a different place.

One morning this week, it became apparent to me that my Uber driver didn’t know where the Metro Station was located after we left my hotel. Of course, by the time I made that discovery, I no longer knew the route to the station. The driver was relying on the map associated to the phone he held in his hand to get us to our destination. When we drove by the same place the third time, I had the sense that we were never going to get to the station.  Sometimes the grieve process can feel the same way. We find ourselves re-experiencing thoughts and feelings we thought we had long since left behind.

For all of us, the grief process is not a “one size fits all” approach. Grief is both a universal experience and a unique one. In many respects, it is different for different people and it includes different dimensions for the same person over time.  Sometimes it feels like two steps forward and one step back or the reverse of that. The grief process is not linear. You don’t complete one stage and move on to the next.

The grief process is also developmental. At each stage in the developmental process, people re-experience grief. For example, fifteen plus years ago when the General and I were eagerly anticipating the arrival of our first grandchild we were elated. I couldn’t imagine life getting any better. Coincidentally, at the same time, my brother’s daughter was expecting. I found myself grieving Ronnie’s loss all over again.  I grieved that he would never know the joys associated to being a grandfather.  I also grieved that his granddaughter would never know her granddad.  The concept still leaves me teary eyed.  

In some respects, it is a cheap substitute, but I figured I look the part and I certainly know the family story. Consequently, my twin’s daughter became my granddaughter.  I guess you could say, his loss became my gain.

In the 1970s when Dr. Pauline Boss coined the phrase ambiguous loss, she was working with MIA families who had no information about their loved one and yet, continued to live with the hope for their subsequent return. At the same time, they also lived with the fear they wouldn’t return. The household may have included a mom, her three kids, a missing father and an attempt to put life together in a way that made sense. It was hard work and wrought with an abundance of difficulty.

On the 50thAnniversary of the National League of POWMIA Families, I dare say that no one continues to have the sound of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again” rolling around inside their head. The best we hope for is a shred of evidence through a DNA match and a bone fragment that can be returned home for burial. 

So what is the grief process really all about? In 1917, Dr. Sigmund Freud wrote in “Mourning and Melancholia” that the goal of mourning is to relinquish one’s ties to the loved object (person) and eventually invest in a new relationship. Reportedly, this is the difficult work of mourning, but it is a process that is meant to end. From this perspective, people who are emotionally healthy are expected to resolve a loss and move on to new relationships – and to do it relatively quickly.

As a side note, I couldn’t disagree more with Dr. Freud.  I don’t believe for a minute that “severing ties” with a loved one serves anyone’s best interest.  The General and I have two children. When we anticipated the birth of our second child, we initially couldn’t wrap our heads around how we could love another child as much as we loved the first one, but it happened.  We continued to love our son with 100% of our being and we had that same level of love for our daughter. You don’t have to relinquish a level of love from one in order to invest a level of love for another. 

I think the purpose of grief work is to reach the place where every thought of your loved one isn’t surrounded by circumstances associated with their loss. It is to reach the place where thoughts of them are independent of the sadness associated to their absence. It doesn’t happen quickly, but it does happen. Fortunately, for me, it happened decades ago.

In looking back across almost five decades, I am grateful that I discovered what a treasured gift memories becomes early on. Memories become the catalyst for gratitude. Eventually, with the passing of time, the conscious awareness of grief begins not to darken the totality of every day. The pursuit of living brings with it opportunities and challenges that offer diversion and respite from the sense of loss.  Life places family, friends, opportunities, work, responsibilities, and a variety of other good things to assist in offering a diversion that precludes life from becoming one dimensional and totally absorbed in perpetual sadness.

A more recent article written by Dr. Pauline Boss and Donna Carnes is entitled “The Myth of Closure”. I like the shift Dr. Boss has made in her thinking. She asserts that one can live with ambiguous loss.  “Rather than closure, the goal is a search for meaning. Finding resiliency and peace in the midst of circumstances is now the expressed goal rather than closure…This discovery, a hopeful one, is that at some deeper level, we can personally and professionally hold the incompleteness of our particular story. It is as it is, unfinished”.

All My Best!

Don

A Tender Moment

Karoni Forrester – League of POWMIA Families Opening Session

In one of the League of Family sessions yesterday afternoon, the statement was made: “No one hates a war like a soldier”. It was profound statement and I opted to write it down. Later in the day, I thought about it again and wondered if it might not be more accurate to say:  “No one hates a war like a solider unless it is his family?”

War doesn’t often have a positive face. Everyone has a story and many of those stories carry sadness and heartache related to war. Yesterday afternoon, the Ambassador of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to the U.S. shared three stories crafted around three questions. The essence of all three stories surrounded the heartache orchestrated through war and death.  I am eager to access a copy of his script. I found his thoughts and ability to articulate them movingly meaningful. 

Some carry their burdens silently and if you didn’t already know, you’d probably never know. Some people are more comfortable keeping their personal life private. While I think there is value and truth to the proverb: “Shared joy is double joy -Shared sorrow is half sorrow”, many people opt not to live that way. 

Yesterday morning, in the opening session of the League meeting, Karoni (my niece) prefaced the opening prayer by saying something closely akin to: “This past Sunday was Father’s Day and for many, the day served as a painful reminder of the years we never experienced. She said of herself, “I have no memories of my father. Somehow simply being told that he would have been so proud of me seems to fall a little flat”. It wasn’t just that she missed the father/daughter dance, it was that she missed his presence all together.

She then added, “Perhaps, I am one of the lucky ones.  What about the sons and daughters that do remember their father and for the past fifty years have lived without answers associated to his loss?” 

This afternoon I am speaking on the topic of Ambiguous Loss. Three or four weeks ago, someone from the League office called to ask if the title was still okay or did I want to change it? I didn’t suggest a change, but if I had it to do over, I probably would have reframed it: “The Things You’ve Taught Me”.  I am so indebted to many of those in the League of Families for putting a face on what the grief process looks like. I’ve learned much from them. 

A lot of us started our journey with a road map in mind that seemed to make a lot of sense. Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross had crafted the stages of grief in her book entitled: The Five Stages of Grief. Most of us are so familiar that we can identify stages from memory: (1) Denial (2) Anger (3) Bargaining  (4) Depression & (5) Acceptance.

Somehow in the beginning , we mistakenly thought all we had to do is get through those hurdles and closure was somewhere on the other side.  Her roadmap accurately describes the experience of persons with a terminal illness. It is not a road map applicable for family members dealing with the loss or absence of a loved one, particularly in the midst of ambiguous loss.

We can all substantiate from our own experiences that dealing with ambiguous loss is not a linear process. What I do know from personal experience and observations of learning to live with an empty chair, the process is circular and repetitive.  It is also developmental.  At each stage in the developmental process, people re-experience grief.  The experience is also impacted by anniversaries, family rituals and celebrations, holidays and subsequent losses.

It is almost like two steps forward, one step back.  It is as someone wrote: “Like the chill from a cold north wind, it is both intermittent and recurring”. 

In 2015, the first year I was privileged to conduct a workshop on ambiguous loss, I asked a couple of questions in an effort to make our time together interactive, 

  • How old were you when you learned your loved one was Missing In Action? 
  • How long has it been since you’ve given thought to how that loss has impacted you personally? 

No one was required to answer the question. A face value, it doesn’t sound like a complicated couple of questions. The thing that I found surprising is that several folks started answering the second question and found that they could not.  They were hit with a wave of emotion that virtually rendered them speechless. Trust me, I know the experience. It has happened to me more than once. I can’t truthfully tell you that I don’t live with the fear that it could happen again today.

Last week was Father’s Day. I invited a friend at church whose father has been on the other side of eternity for a very long time to share a brief overview (2 or 3 minutes) of what he valued most about dad. My friend, has just returned from a nine-month deployment in Iraq. He is a take-charge kind of guy. He is articulate and does public speaking often. On Father’s Day when stood to share information about his dad, he found that he could not.  His eyes filled with tears and after taking a couple of deep breaths, he managed to say, “I’m sorry, I can’t talk about my dad”.

So what is the explanation? Before I provide you my answer, I probably need to quantify it by saying: “I am not an expert in the grief process. What I’ve learned, I’ve learned primarily in the classroom of experience. For the past 47 years I have, at times, been painfully aware of the complexity and ill-defined dimensions of ambiguous loss. In addition to my own pilgrimage, I’ve had opportunities from both a pastoral and social work perspective, to make anecdotal observations of others in the midst of the journey”.

My answer to the answer to the question could best be described as “a tender moment”. Folks attempting to answer the questions and found that they could not were blindsided by emotions that came out of nowhere. I might note that emotions are neither right or wrong, they just are. A lump in your throat or tears in your eyes is not necessarily linked to the grief experience. Having an emotional moment is not a character flaw or an indication that anything is out of place. It simply reflects one’s ability to be in touch with their feelings, express empathy and be filled with compassion. To live without emotion would be the equivalent of being mostly dead. I’ll settle for the emotion anytime rather than live without them.

I’m taking a risk here because only secure men would be willing to admit this, but it isn’t infrequent that I cry in a movie.  I remember seeing the movie “I Can Only Imagine” and I was grateful for the darkness in the theatre. The storyline of the movie surrounded the harsh emotional abuse an adolescent son received from his father. I’ve worked with kids from hard places. The movie moved me to tears.

All My Best!

Don

Ready – Set – Go

“Ready – Set – Go” – I am all about the adventure, but sometimes the sense of drinking from a fire hose can be a daunting task.  This is my fifth year to attend the Annual Meeting of the National League of POWMIA Families.  This year marks the 50thanniversary.

Prior to five years ago, I periodically attended military briefings associated to family updates at different places identified across Texas. In 2015, I was privileged to be asked to conduct a workshop on ambiguous loss at the League’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C.  In the process, I met a lot of people that I’ve come to regard as friends/family. It is a dynamic that works for me.

I stopped by the designated hotel last night to pick up my registration packet and immediately found myself with folks I’ve come to value and appreciate. I just checked the agenda and unsurprisingly found it is full from early morning –to-late evening. It is that way every year. Trust me, when an individual comes for a League of POWMIA Families meeting, it consumes most of one’s waking hours.  

Every year, the experience is duplicated.  One’s waking hours becomes far more extended than one might possibly think. That’s because the opportunity to capture time to visit personally and catch up on others becomes a priority.

So, I’m up and going this morning long before most.  This is the first year that I have not stayed conveniently at or near the hotel where the meeting is being held.  Somehow, I failed to correctly remember the cut off date for the guaranteed room rate of $158 for the block of rooms.  I shrugged it off thinking it really is no big deal. I know how to make my way around the block through the use of Priceline.

“No Rooms Available” proved to be the automated response to every hotel I looked at in the greater Arlington, VA area. Coincidentally, the last time I checked the rate for the Hilton Hotel where the meeting is being held, the rate was listed at $600 a night.

A look at other hotels in D.C. with a four-star rating were hovering mostly in the $250-to-$600 range. Desperate people do desperate things, but this time push came to shove. I located a four-star hotel with a vacancy and made a reservation.  I called the hotel, and “yes” they routinely provide shuttle service to and from the hotel to the Metro Station. Problem solved!  Well – maybe not? The hotel’s shuttle was being repaired. Would it be operable by the time I was in town, they didn’t know.

Okay, so I’m use to walking. Why not make an exercise routine out of it?  There is something about a backpack, luggage and a BiPap machine that makes that cumbersome. Of course, I would not be lugging all of that back and forth to the conference hotel.

When I checked the map to see the distance from the Metro Station to the hotel, I noticed that the projected time frame for walking was 45 minutes. Thanks, but no thanks.  Uber is my friend.

After picking up registration information at the conference hotel last night, I returned to Georgetown – North (a long way away) using the Metro.  I dialed up Uber and was set to go. Three minutes most before the driver arrived.  With the projected time frame in place, in short order, I noticed a car that met the description. The driver lowered his window. I asked if he was Uber?  He asked if my name was Don?  I got inside and we were on our way, or so I thought.

Before we had gone less than a block, the driver received a call that his intended passenger was still at the Metro station. He stopped the car and let me out and I did a fast walk back in the direction from which we had come. Toyota seems to be the name of the game. I found another and once again was off and running.

When it comes to Uber, I was late to the game. Several years ago, at a traffic intersection in downtown Houston, the light was pretty delayed in changing. There were scores of people on the sidewalk and loud music was filtering through my closed windows from what appeared to be a bar.  For some reason, I felt a little intimidated by all the people and reached over to engage the door lock.

As it turned out, I obviously unlocked the door.  I can’t describe how surprised I was when a man opened both the passenger doors to the front and back seats.  Two ladies climbed in the back of my car and he got in the front.  Attempting to process whether or not my vehicle was being hijacked, I calmly asked: “Can you help me understand what is going on?  The man looked at me and said: “Uber”. I replied, “No, my name is Don.”  

I may have been the first to be surprised, but my three passengers were even more surprised. Talk about the great escape!  Had they told me they needed a ride, I’d have gladly provided transportation without charge.

So, it is early and I’m off and running – “Ready – Set – Go”.

All My Best!

Don

Ripple Effect

Generally, I wait until the last minute before any presentation to craft exactly what I want to say even if the topic is one I’ve previously addressed.  I am in Washington again this week to make a few visits on Capitol Hill and conclude the week by attending the 50th National League of POWMIA League of Families Annual Meeting.  On Friday, again this year, I will have the privilege of leading a workshop on Ambiguous Loss. I was provided that opportunity in both 2015 and 2016. I look forward to the opportunity again this week.

I share all of that to simply say, I don’t yet have the contents to this year’s workshop fully worked out in my head. It certainly isn’t written down on paper and you can anticipate what Thursday night will look like for me. I suspect it will be a late night.

I take delight in the fact that I had the privilege of sharing life with Ronnie for the first 25 years. Actually, truth be told, there has not been a day in my life since that time that I haven’t also shared life with him. He is forever a part of who I am and I am better; more full of life for it.

I am not dependent upon the need to have a bone fragment with identification of his DNA to know that Ronnie is with the Lord. Even if I had answers to all the unanswered questions concerning his absence, at the end of the day none of it really matters. 

Perhaps we have mistakenly been led to believe that before there can be closure, more information is needed.  I’m not sure that isn’t a mistaken assumption.  The mistaken assumption is that closure is ever possible for any of the losses of loved ones we experience because the love and connection continue to be a part of our identity.

Over the past couple or three days in anticipation of this year’s League meeting, I’ve thought about how my life has been enriched by getting to know people for whom Ronnie continues to have a place of importance. The men he served with, the people he went to college with, the list goes on and on of bits and pieces of information that have come my way sharing dimensions of Ronnie’s life with me.

One of the first contacts I had concerning Ronnie was from Dennis Carpenter. In response to a Memorial Day posting I shared, he made the following response:

Don, my name is Dennis Carpenter and I am one of the Marines who waited in vain on the flightline for his aircraft to return the day he was lost to us. As I stand every Memorial Day as a member of our VFW honor guard my mind will return me to that day and that flightline and they sense of loss that I feel for Ron and the other brave men our squadron lost. Rest assured that I will never forget him or the others for the rest of my life. Thank you for stepping forward on Memorial Day and speaking for your brother and for those who served with him and who knew him as a brave man and a compassionate friend. Sgt. Dennis Carpenter VMA (AW) 533 COM/NAV Night Crew”.

I guess at some level, we all want to make a difference, don’t we?  Sometimes I liken my personal impact to that of a rock thrown into a pond. Momentarily there is a ripple effect, but almost as quickly as it began, it ends and the water is still again and there is no evidence of the impact.

The day after Father’s Day, I shared the kind words my daughter shared with our family of faith about at church about me. She asked for the opportunity to speak.  She prefaced her comments by saying: “There are so many wonderful things to say about my Dad. He’s wise, selfless and loves unconditionally. He also embraces life to the fullest”. She then identified a litany of memories she treasures about the bond we share.

There were 124 folks on Facebook who made a response with a “thumbs up” or “heart” and 51 people who made a written comment. All the comments were “feel good” comments and I am grateful for the love and show of support. However; one comment in particular tugged at my heartstrings in a way that no other did.  It was a brief comment made by a man I’ve never met who served with Ronnie.  Les Adams Sr. wrote: “Very nice Donald. Ron’s brother for sure. Same good heart. Semper Fi”.

Obviously, for folks to have those distinct memories of Ronnie over the past 47 years indicates the mark he made on others is lasting.

All My Best!

Don

Play Ball

When it comes to the General, I never cease to be amazed. For starters, I’ve had an out-of-town trip on the calendar for several months.  When the people at the fence company wanted to schedule removing the old fence and replacing it with a new look, I figured the sooner the better. Consequently, they are scheduled to arrive this morning.

In addition, there is some level of urgency.  Just last week, the General walked to the front door to discover a goat contentedly licking the window in the door as he looked inside. We surmise, the goat lifted the latch to the gate with one of his horns.

Over the past year or so, our seventeen-year-old fence is worse for wear. It couldn’t withstand the previous abuse from horses, cows and goats. It was time to do something different. Of course, the General had some thoughts regarding the look she wanted. 

Of course, I made the assumption the General would be in town to provide the level of supervision that only she can provide while the folks were building the fence.  It was with a sense of disbelief that she announced toward the end of last week that she has other plans. She what?  I had the same reaction. Seriously, one of us needed to be at home at least to ensure that folks were putting together the look we anticipated. 

Could I possible juggle my calendar?  My initial thought was “No”.  However, if I really believed one of us needed to be at home, it was obvious I was your man. The General had other fish to fry.  Despite my weakening resolve to keep my calendar as intact as possible, I called SWA to see what the additional charge would be to delay my departure by a day. How does over $400.00 sound? The anytime ticket is now $635 for a one-way-segment.

As Florence Jean Castleberry would say: “When donkeys fly!”  I obviously wasn’t going to fork over an additional $400 to delay my trip by a day.  The good news is, according to my shallow thought processes, Sealy was only 2 ½ hours away. That isn’t a bad timeframe to windup in the bleacher section. The General could watch the All Star game, come home early the next morning and the problem would be solved.  Simple solution! – Right?

I don’t know if it was the sound of Florence Jean Castleberry in my head or if the General actually articulated the thought: “When donkeys fly!  I am not making this up. The General packed the car like she was planning to stay gone a month or longer?  The sound of: “I bought the shoes that just walked out on me” was beginning to surface in my head.  

So, I asked: “How long do you plan to be gone?”  She envisions Jake’s team not losing a game. Consequently, she doesn’t plan to be home until sometime next week.  Seriously, she took Snickers with her.  There is no rush.  For that matter, I should have fit last night’s game in my schedule?  

My mother was good at manipulation by guilt. Did I mention, “I married someone with similar characteristics?”  I actually considered making the five hour round trip commute last night in order to see the game. After all, I’m not a deadbeat Granddad. Unfortunately, I needed to pick up by cleaning after 6:00 p.m.  My being in attendance was obviously not going to work out.

On the good news side, Uncle Kevin and Aunt Dre did make the game.  I decided to pitch-hit by keeping their two labs.  As it turned out, Samson and I played catch. He, too, is pretty hooked on playing catch with a tennis ball.

I went to bed last night with the sound of the Avett Brothers rolling around in my head. It is really strange.  When my son was a freshman at Texas A&M, he prepared for exams by listening to the sound track of Lonesome Dove. Would you believe he memorized the lyrics?  He figures, having that repertoire of easy-to-recall responses equips him for life. Apparently it has.

I wasn’t a fan of Lonesome Dove, but I am hooked on the music by the Avett Brothers.  I call it real life with a musical narrative. It is really strange. I can’t recall the name of the song that was repeating itself in my head last night, but I awakened this morning at 4:00 a.m. with the same sound track playing. I had the thought, “I need to write this down.”  I didn’t write it down and I don’t remember the words. 

I have a wedding this weekend. The couple are fans of the Avett Brothers.  I had a brief conversation with an extended family member last night who is familiar with every song the Avett Brothers have ever written. He has their lyrics down in his head for a life-resource.  He suggested I borrow a line from January Wedding and include it in the ceremony as a gift to the bride and groom.  Maybe I will.

I kind of like the phrase: “ I hope that I don’t sound to insane when I say –
There is darkness all around us – I don’t feel weak but I do need sometimes for her to protect me – And reconnect me to the beauty that I’m missin’ – And in January we’re gettin’ married”.

Fortunately, my son-in-law came to the rescue. He is meeting the fence crew this morning.

All My Best!

Don