Published author, leadership and organizational development mentor, inspirational speaker, advocate for cold noses as healers Architecting a social movement of unconditional listening one voice, one story at a time
Hope Has a Cold Nose continues to lead my path to extraordinary stories of hope. As I have the sacred privilege of listening to and writing stories of brave military veterans, Hope Has a Cold Nose is desiring to expand my awareness. I am being guided to hear stories that may not involve experience fighting a war as a soldier; yet, it does involve fighting an enemy as a civilian – the enemy of pain, trauma, sorrow, and despair (PTSD). The enemies of negative perception and judgment. And. Or. As you are about to read, the enemy of abuse.
Once again, I have had the sacred honor of writing about the strength and beauty of the human spirit. I have listened to how courage and will are mightier than the barrage of inflicted reasons to doubt, to feel unworthy, and to feel stripped of dignity and value. I have listened to how hope prevails. Through another inspirational story, I am witness to how hope flourishes with the aid of a soul in fur who exhibits no greater attributes than unconditional listening and love.
It is my privilege to share with you the story of:
JOY and SARA.
And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom – Unknown
Some say that in order to fulfill our purpose in life, we must first experience the opposite of our destiny. I can share with you an example, or perhaps two, or maybe even three. One would be growing up as an apple of a father’s eye; an only daughter among brothers, receiver of my father’s adoration and pride. I was safely wrapped in the protection of his love when I relied on him to take care of me. When daddy’s little girl grew into her independence, his self-worth began floundering. Not able to “make it all better” as he could when I had a skinned knee or a boy made me cry, he chose to build a wall around his feelings of helplessness thick and tall enough to push me out of his life.
No longer my father’s favorite little girl I could be. Broken from my heart was another piece, though it wasn’t the reason for my heart’s shattering. Because I was trying to glue the broken pieces inside me back together again was the reason that being my father’s daughter came to an end. Like that bud that reaches a point where it must begin to bloom, I had reached a point where I had to honor what was my own authentic truth. I had experienced pain and trauma that had striped me of my self-trust and my sense of security. That I couldn’t flip a switch and move forward easily my father’s struggle to be understanding.
Before I share the third experience, let me share the second experience that has greatly influenced who I am meant to be. The second example is being a teenager who experienced seizures frequently. Imagine studying for a test, and then in an instant the material you studied has been wiped from your memory. If only it could be as humorous as the movie Fifty First Dates, but that isn’t reality. There is a gift in this, though, for it led me to serve others in need. First as a 911 dispatcher and then training as a technician assisting during surgeries.
Let me first talk about being a dispatcher, for that will lead me to my third puzzle piece, the piece that snapped “perfectly” into place to guide me towards my wholeness that had been stripped away from me. When you become adept at living with an unknown you became a calm voice when others experience significant uncertainty. Never certain when a seizure would render me to a blank stare; the exact timing of my mind’s erasing I was never aware. I became a 911 dispatcher receiving incoming calls; help me, I don’t know what to do, she’s unconscious from her fall. Or, he’s not breathing, I can’t get him to wake up, please hurry, help me, please! Or, I’m scared, I’m so very scared he’s going to find where I’m hiding.
Sure, not all calls were of such gravity, yet for the more distressed ones, I knew I was where I was supposed to be. That I would enter a career in the medical field had been calling since I was a patient, too. After all, an attendee of hospitals and doctors’ offices I frequently knew. When you have unexplainable seizures, you become a specimen to test, trial, and prescribe medications to. My choice to respond to these experiences was to be develop a gift of empathy for what others who are ill go through.
I met my first husband while in college, while both of us were in need. I, with my seizures; he with a kidney disease. Illness our bond until my seizures ceased. No longer being dependent on him unveiled a deeper sickness I did not see when I said I do. His sickness in the form of verbal, psychological, and border-line physical abuse. It began on our honeymoon, though I didn’t realize it at the time. After all, I was still a for better, for worse, until death do us part blushing bride. Though our honeymoon was eleven months after our wedding due to a restriction on vacation days, I was still focused on happily ever after per the vows I had made.
How is it said two sides to every coin, or said another way, two ways we can look at signs we receive? It is hindsight that often provides us our best wisdom, to see more than what we initially see. Our honeymoon was bumpy from the moment we flew to our destination, flying over Hurricane Rita’s tumultuous energy. In my naïve-ness, and my dutiful wife love, I thought our honeymoon experience about the tests that marriages endure and rise above. Now I realize it was symbolic of the massive storm that would soon rage, a storm that would try to erode my self-worth and dignity in every way.
The storm began as near-misses, meaning a remote control that avoided my head yet caught my arm. An immediate second later was the “make it all better” by his expressing he meant no harm. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do that, I believed had been spoken with sincerity. Until a coffee cup, an office chair, and then a fire extinguisher was at later times hurled towards me.
Though I was familiar with First Response processes and procedures, I was not knowledgeable about how to work around the rules meant to be in place. The man I was legally married to was very savvy in leveraging relationships to sweep his actions away. The marks he was leaving on me were invisible to the naked eye; the rips and tears I was experiencing were administered deep inside.
The psychological wounds took place in public by the continued monitoring of my whereabouts while I was working. If only those were the only wounds I had received. Pieces of my soul were pierced when in the privacy of home. Behind closed doors where the only witnesses were the walls who couldn’t communicate what they know. Actually, I take that back that the concealed injuries only took place in what was supposed to be a safe haven from harm externally. There was also an experience while at the Mayo Clinic after he received a new kidney. Not at home, yet still a shattering nobody – except my dear mom – could see.
About four years before the fire extinguisher met with my strength to leave, we traveled to Mayo Clinic for the transplant operation as more than a two-person family. I was pregnant, though my condition was not of importance in his mind. In pre-op, during-op, and post-op, unwelcome tones and words by him and his family communicated it would be best if I remained out of sight. My mom, always only a phone call away, flew eight hours to offer moral support to me. If it wasn’t for her, I would have been alone during a time of increasing grief.
It is said we have guardian angels that keep us in safe keep. Yes, my mom as one, but there was additional guardianship that took place, or at least how I believe. A child I was not meant to bring into this world and myself were angels to give each other what would be best at that time. I had a miscarriage while in Arizona, a baby that would not know this life. I was not able to fully grieve the loss, yet I was also at peace. I know that it was best for this little soul and me. My mom taught me well that unconditional love is about loving another over one’s own needs. As much as I would have loved this child, this soul was safer not becoming part of our family.
After a three-month recovery period at Mayo Clinic, we returned home where once again we were hidden behind closed doors and out of sight of a closed support systems like the police. It was during this time my second guardian angel was conceived. This time my child was meant to enter this life and our family; twelve years ago, my son Benjamin entered this world to complete me. My son Benjamin, whose name symbolizes strength of the right hand, is without a doubt my right- hand person who inspires my strength to believe I can.
In the beginning I talked of opposites and how we must experience one extreme to then fulfill our destiny. I am thankful every day for the gift of my son I received. He was conceived from fear for my life -and his – that I would then learn I would give my all for my son and I to live. My son was conceived from a deep hate directed at me, that I would learn there is no greater love than the one I have for my son and his well-being. Benjamin entered this world full of smiles and laughter, exhibiting the joy I had locked tightly away. My emotional pain and my despair have been anchored from drowning me by Benjamin’s giggles and radiant smiling face. Benjamin my right- hand strength, anchoring me in the moments when the rest of my life has felt in such disarray.
There are things I haven’t been able to shelter him from, innocence my son is losing far to quickly. Yet, unlike his miscarried brother or sister, I know Benjamin – and I – are better that his soul entered this life to experience it with me. Benjamin’s biological father had tried to develop Benjamin into a weapon of control since my former husband is unable to yield domination of me as if I a puppeteer on a string. It is not easy to share joint custody with an individual who views his son as a chess piece. Yet, true to Benjamin’s strength and his wisdom beyond his tender age of twelve, Benjamin knows that he is close to setting his wings in flight. He can already discern between genuine love and love that comes with a price. I strive to bring a foundation to Benjamin that fosters his independence and his safety; in turn, Benjamin gives me the bricks in which to build a solid foothold beneath both our feet.
And now let me tell you about my third experience in which – at long last – my heart has found home. I first had to know the depths of lost, frightened to the brink of death, and feeling completely alone. To know what unconditional love feels like one must know conditional hate. If I hadn’t experienced someone’s hatred, I may not have recognized when I found my soul-mate. Though our souls very old friends, we have been newlyweds every day since August 7, 2011 formally. Informally it was the day Ken offered to cook me dinner and our voices and text messaging became a face-to-face meet.
My husband experienced his own storm, his opposites to guide him to his destiny. Though his journey was not filled with emotional abuse, his experiences were guiding him to me. A military veteran, well-versed in serving those at their most vulnerable time, my dear husband has saved lives and has graciously held dignity for those who reached the last moments of life. Both of us calming voices for those who are struggling. We have been brought together to heal within ourselves as we walk towards a purpose to serve humanity.
I’m not yet able to go back and work in an operating room because I still need Sara – my service dog – beside me, and her fur is currently a barrier for sterility. I know we haven’t yet talked of Sara – I promise I will share more about Sara shortly. My husband has paused his role as sheriff, currently serving people in a different capacity. My dear husband – the kind of unconditional love that puts first above all else my well-being. I need more time to heal the sight of uniforms and side arms from my memories. That my husband can wear plain clothes to his job is helping reframe the images that equal my T (for trauma) in PTSD.
What do you think when you hear the numbers 9-1-1? Maybe you think emergency or perhaps you think September 2001. For my husband and I both meanings resonate equally. I was dispatcher when my husband and I began communicating casually. My husband was at the Pentagon when life became before and no longer the same for all of us nationally. This number so significant to us, it formed the development of my wedding ring. Some interpret the number nine as symbolic of living one’s life committed to being of service to humanity. The number one is about unity and new beginnings.
Our four sons – three from Ken’s first marriage and of course Benjamin who I’ve already introduced to you – are the center of our committed service in all that we do. Our extended family such as my mom, my brother Mike, and my niece are the next layer of who I strive to service, and who equally give back to me. As Ken and my servant-hood expand, we wish to inspire others on their healing journeys.
I know what it means to fight for my life, not just in my past, but each and every day. Fear is such a powerful force that threatens to imprison one from believing they are no longer in harm’s way. I also know what it is to fight not only for that inner voice inside me that has a will not to give in; I know what it is to fight for one who is an extension of my flesh, blood, and each of my limbs.
I didn’t understand the depths of the cuts when objects were being hurled at me, nor the depth of the trauma the day my son was conceived. I could apply a simulation as if I was a teenager again having a seizure to render my mind a blank. Only this time I was still alert, opting to erase any feelings that might distract my focus on staying safe. Being scared was allowed only enough to keep me on my toes; caring that my dignity and self-security was slipping away I swallowed and then buried whole.
I did not know the pain that would sear me and nearly cut me in two while in the throes of fighting for my son and what he had been through. Like a person whose adrenalin leads them to extraordinary feats despite the fire raging around them nearly burning them alive, what was creating scar tissue inside me I was oblivious to as I focused on ensuring my son would be alright. This time I could feel emotions – feelings stronger than anything I had ever known. What I wasn’t feeling was the flames burning into my flesh and bones.
Like that bud whose petals can no longer remain tightly wrapped around its soul, the pain and trauma I had experienced needed a place to go. It started to rise to the surface in a place where I felt safe. Thankfully it was caught by unconditional love and gentle strength. Ken was wise enough to look beyond a wall I was building to not take my distance personally. Adept at calmly breaking down barriers, Ken guided me to people who could help me.
One such “person” is Sara, who I briefly mentioned above. Yet another to enter my life giving me unconditional love. It is said that we have experienced a fortune if we are blessed to have one great and true love in our life. I thought my cup overflowed to have two great loves in mine. It was love at first sight when I held Benjamin in my arms after his first breath. It was love at first sight when Ken was peeking around the curtain to see his dinner guest. Somehow despite the darkness that makes up a significant portion of the life I’ve lived, I have found not just one, nor two, but three great and true loves to share my heart with.
I think of that rose still a tight bud and I think of the so very prickly base in which it rests atop the stem and waits. The thorns a protection that no harm will come to its delicate petals before they are ready to unfold and captivate. My physical self-cutting moments in which I was trying to release the core to my bones pain of not feeling worthy. My panic attacks and my anxiety heightened in crowds who I was certain was full of people who wanted to further hurt me. These crippling fears my thorns to protect the fragile yet strong heart tightly tucked inside. Through many layers of believing I was not loveable, my soul was whispering there are three angels who will be your guides.
Sara and I met for the first time when she was a mere four weeks of age. Another love at first sight when her tongue and my hand integrated that day. No, it wasn’t a puppy teeth bite, but a kiss she gave me. In an instant I knew she was the service dog for me. We have been inseparable since she could come home. I am convinced she can read every whisper of my soul. Without words Sara can hear my body and my heart when either or both in need. She senses my emotional fears and she is in tune to my hypoglycemic crashes before I know they are about to happen to me.
Sara is my crowd control to be my front or my back ensuring people don’t step inside my box of comfort when I am in a public domain. Sara can turn on and off lights and press the button to open a handicap assessable doorway. Before Sara I found the risk of leaving home greater than my bravery to leave. Now the petals around my heart are unfolding ever so slowly. Thanks be to Sara who is my guardian, my eyes, my ears, and my even breathing. Sara enables me to believe again in my own bravery.
Both Ken and I have had individuals try to tarnish our reputations, to discredit our integrity. We chose not to fuel the lies printed about us as a result of court proceedings. It would also be easy to keep my personal story tucked away – after all, most aren’t comfortable listening to another’s pain. Yet, the more I bravely risk stepping out of that bud, and the more my petals unfold, the more I fulfill my destiny. If one person finds the strength not to give up because I have found the courage to share my story, then I have made it matter and given purpose to the pain, trauma, sorrow, and despair that has engulfed me.
Mom, it’s me Sara, and have I told you lately that I am proud of you? I know it isn’t easy, yet I continue to watch you pushing through. You give me credit believing I am the one that has given you your life back since my paws entered your life. I would like to remind you it isn’t until a student is ready does a teacher arrive. You and dad consider me a guardian angel to keep watch over you. I appreciate that, yet your forward momentum is at the hands of YOUR bravery, too.
I know I alert you before you can hear that the sirens are about to get louder and nearer to our home. Yet, it is you that makes the choice in how you will respond as the frightful noise draws close. You could choose to flee, to hide, to ask dad to sell our home so that you could find a place even more isolating. Yes, I know we live in seclusion now, but there is always hermitcy. I am your strength, I know, but please don’t diminish the strength that is growing in you because of your own courage to boldly and beautifully bloom.
Mom, do you know what one of the best things about our relationship is to me? How you and I can communicate so much without my ability to speak to you in English. I know you feel there aren’t enough words in a dictionary to communicate how much I have helped you find your gentle petals waiting to beautifully unfold. It can be hard to adequately express what a heart feels and knows. Yet, mom, that is the joy of our relationship – yours and mine. You and I don’t have to try to find words to express the rhythm of our hearts that beat in perfect unified time. It’s like the beautiful roses you talk about in your story; when the petals of a rose unfold, they can take someone’s breath away because of their beauty. And in that intake of breath someone doesn’t need to try and verbally convey their awe and reverence of a most miraculous grace. We are like that rose that has unfolded to steal a breath or two; such is the power of our love and how I show you the courage that is YOU.
Mom, you know what else I can’t wait for is to see what number forty-five, forty-six, and even eighty-eight might be! I love how your tattoos also communicate your story. They contain beautiful colors and imagery and they are the healing art to release your deepest to the bone once held belief that worthlessness was your only deserving. In their messages they communicate your invisible scars are what enhance your radiant beauty. Forty-four petals visibly showing your bravery; forty-four tattoos telling a most extraordinary story.
I would also like to say thank you for equally giving to me what you so lovingly say I provide. Unconditional listening and love you give back to me every moment of my life. I see it in your eyes, I hear it in your voice, and I feel it each time you touch me. I feel it in the home that you, dad, and Benjamin have created for all of us as family. I know the song “1000 years” is one you and dad share to signify you are each other’s everything. There are certain words to that song that my heart also sings.
“Time stands still
Beauty in all she is
I will be brave
I will not let anything take away
What’s standing in front of me
Every hour has come to this” – David Hodges, Christina Perri
Mom, you are everything to me and there is nothing I wouldn’t do for you. Thank you for the honor you’ve given that I would have the privilege to keep watch over you. I could not think of a better person to be a guardian angel I was sent to. And mom, as much as I wish you had not experienced the pain, trauma, sorrow, and despair you’ve known as part of your story, I am grateful only in that because of your journey I have been able to fulfill my own destiny.