Hope Has a Cold Nose – November Update

Hope Has a Cold Nose Final Final (2)

 

Dear Supporters of Hope Has a Cold Nose,

So very thankful, incredibly grateful, unbelievably blessed – Unknown

Though November in the United States is synonymous with being thankful, I struggled in that dance of opposites to start out with this quote. On one hand, it felt most appropriate to express gratitude for the stories I continue to have the privilege of listening to and writing. And, to express gratitude for the inspirational leaders I am crossing paths with who are tirelessly – and sometimes tiredly – striving to support veterans and canines who need hope. On the other hand, knowing that so many struggles in their pain, trauma, sorrow, and despair to feel thankful or blessed, I also felt a twinge of disrespect to feel gratitude when many feel hopeless.

In the way that one such inspirational leader communicated with immense gratitude and pride – and fierce determination to increase the number – we are saving lives; we have saved 110 lives!, I was reminded of Brene’ Brown’s Netflix documentary Call to Courage. Brene’ talks about what individuals express in their interviews who have known profound loss due to genocide or mass shootings. These individuals who have known profound loss, such as their children, ask that others do no avoid sharing stories with them about their own children who still live. To withhold stories for fear of deepening the sorrow of these individuals is to minimize giving purpose to such horrific tragedy. By sharing stories, it communicates that people are appreciating every precious moment with, and every precious aspect about, their children. They are not taking for granted the gifts of life they can still raise.

So with that, this month I express how thankful, grateful, and blessed I am that my path continues to intersect with such inspirational leaders – both the story-tellers you will find in Hope Has a Cold Nose and in the individuals who are focusing on building the new. The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new – Socrates

Like a magnet, what we focus on, we attract. We need to be aware, for it is the awareness that calls us to action and asks us to courageously step onto the path that is our purpose, our purpose to create for something – or some ones – greater than us. The storytellers who courageously served because they felt called to something greater than each of them are now aware of the urgent need to continue to serve their comrades whose will to fight has been depleted by the crushing weight of pain, trauma, sorrow, and despair. They are bravely sharing their stories of hope. The founders of organizations who are putting their whole being into providing alternative healing modalities such as service dogs are aware of the urgent need to save lives, to reduce twenty-two to zero.

And yet, what these inspiring leaders are also doing is turning their full attention towards creating the new. They are keeping their hearts open to the awareness of the critical need, and they are putting their full energy into attracting the resources and support needed to provide the service dogs and the training to veterans. I can only imagine the times they feel impatient or when they wear the gravity of the news that the needle is not changing from twenty-two. I can only imagine for I know the times I feel that I should be taking faster steps to do my part or my sadness when I learn that yet again the will to be free of pain came at the cost of continuing to live. I am thankful for the storytellers and leaders who inspire me through their unwavering ever vigilant focus on saving live and giving hope. Those who remove mountains begin by carrying away small stones – Chinese Proverb

One step at a time.

For something greater than us

Over the past couple of days two people very dear to my life communicated their hearts to me when they each expressed the wish to give to an organization serving veterans in place of Thanksgiving table center pieces and Christmas gifts. As we knock on the season of giving, these two individuals remind me that the most lasting gifts are not materially placed in a box to be wrapped in pretty paper and adorned with equally beautiful bows. The most lasting gifts are gifts from the heart.

To give for something greater than us.

That what will be unwrapped is…

hope.

For twenty-two lives a day

And for more who are fighting with all their will not to become one of twenty-two.

Sincerely,

Christine

In previous monthly updates I have featured organizations I have been blessed to meet on the journey of completing Hope Has a Cold Nose. If, like me, your heart is whispering to forego beautifully wrapped packages, please consider giving your ripple of hope to one of these below:

https://www.quantumleapfarm.org/wmae/

https://www.mission22.com/

http://www.doggoneexpress.com/

https://thejaegerfoundation.org/

https://www.northwestbattlebuddies.org/

In addition, feel free to share this email and encourage others to subscribe to updates regarding the progress of Hope Has a Cold Nose to its published state by visiting either link below.   If you know of someone that would like to share their story for Hope Has a Cold Nose, please have them contact me at ckhred30@gmail.com.

https://www.hopehasacoldnose.com/

https://christinehassing.com/

 

Does It Know for Who It Weeps?

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Unlike others it was resting at half-mast, a symbol of respect to honor a life that has passed.   I don’t heed the news to know who it might be, though I anticipate it is a silent story.  For other flags aren’t lowered as if weeping; this one’s lowering seems to be unique to this community.   A recent social media post communicated November was a month to honor military personnel and their families.   Perhaps this one was paying that tribute; then again, it wasn’t yet November when this flag rested at its halfway point in the chilly breeze.

It’s timing to appear on my path “perfect” in that way every moment of life is not random if we choose to see.   It is whispering “notice” to compliment the dear individuals I’ve been fortunate to talk with this past week.   I know like a magnet we draw to us that which our eyes and ears are listening to best know, our eyes and ears the conduits of what lies in our soul.  I suppose on one hand I should not be surprised that stories of hope – and the realities of its absence – continue to come to me.  My heart yearns to reduce the number of individuals who have lost their will to keep going.

In that way we learn best, I find two more oppositions I stand between.   I continue to have the sacred honor of listening to extraordinary stories.  Narrations of individuals who have let their seed of will grow no matter the droughts, floods, and fires that tried to stop the seed’s rising.   So many people who have utilized their pain and trauma to find purpose out of suffering.

Equally I learn of many who are guideposts for healing.  Organizations and communities of like-minded individuals striving to aid others on their broken-spirited journeys.   A collective wisdom of individual gifts for each unique need.  For each person walks their own journey for what resonates as healing modalities.

On the other end is the search and seek.   How do we aid those who aren’t heard or seen?  Do we hold faith that the ripples cast towards them will eventually reach?  Or is there a collective action that we all share in its responsibility?   To hear that silence that hinder many in their ability to speak.    I think of the childhood game of hide and seek, the fun of being the hider fooling everybody.   I believe we carry that game into our adulthood, only more seriously.   If one feels scared or anxious or not worthy, they retreat further and further into a shell of invisibility.  Instead of the child giggles one stifles in a secret hiding place, their adulthood wills no one to notice or discover where they’ve tried to stifle themselves away. Laughter and joy have been replaced by wearing a mask or disguise across one’s face.

Among the dear individuals as messengers this week, one person shared how they reached a point they knew what they could no longer be.   They could no longer be “a pillar of perfection” as they thought others perceived.   In letting go of what they thought was a brave front brought a liberating release.   The ones they had once feared would judge or not accept were the ones they inspired most with their now visible authenticity.

I can also still hear another dear individual say these words in the sharing of a story.  As he talked of two communications he had received about a person looking for another individual who had went missing “the first one was he feared because a rifle was gone, too…the second one was that services were pending, details forthcoming soon”.

Opposition; one life whose will grew through the hard dirt and clay.   Another whose will wilted, dried up, and could not be saved.   How do we reach those whose will is shrinking smaller in proportion to their voice also fading away?

This I think about as the flag hangs at half-mast in the sea of vehicles driving by.

I can’t help thinking it starts with all of us noticing this flag was not flying high.

 

Hope Has a Cold Nose – October Update

Hope Has a Cold Nose Final Final (2)

 

My dear Hope Has a Cold Nose Readers,

Now every time I witness a strong person, I want to know: what dark did you conquer in your story? Mountains do not rise without earthquakes. – Katherine MacKenett

Recently I had the opportunity to attend two community forums focused not on veterans specifically, yet the overarching message in each of these forums was certainly relevant. The community is focused on establishing a trauma-informed court system. Said another way, instead of the focus being on what have you done? the question is what happened to you?  

Shifting the question to ask what happened to you? has the potential – in the seconds it takes to ask these four words – to move someone from self-shame to dignity, from feeling undeserving to worthy, from rejection to acceptance. And, potentially from hopeless to hope.

Just as I am given the sacred gift of the stories shared with me for Hope Has a Cold Nose, these forums highlighted the same theme. Resilience. As I overheard one person eloquently say to this effect: trauma and resilience are of the same vein. They must be; if there is trauma without resiliency, there is no hope.

This week I was giving the sacred opportunity to listen to someone’s heart who bears witness to the stories of suicide. This person graciously shared with me the stories that have not only left their lasting impression but have moved him into action to reduce the rate of twenty-two lives per day to zero. As I listened to these stories, I thought about many who care deeply and work hard at populating social media with awareness messages about PTSD and suicide.   I couldn’t help wondering for the person whose voice has faded away behind despair and a will to no longer live, are our messages to loud for them – and us?   Are we pausing to listen not from our hearts, but to listen for theirs? How do we reach those who no longer feel seen or heard?

Can it be as simple as pausing long enough to ask what happened to you? Share with me your story.

I am reminded of a story I have seen adapted and posted on social media outlets that I believe originated from a story in Chicken Soup for the Soul. Written by John W. Schlatter, it talks about a boy walking home from school one day who notices another boy carrying an arm load of his belongings. When the boy drops this armload, this observer stops to help him. A friendship forms and years later the one who had stopped to help learns he had saved the other boy from suicide on that day. Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around – Leo Buscaglia

I continue to be blessed to have my path cross with organizations who live this quote in their offerings of a touch, a kind word, a listening ear…a service dog.   Such organizations as this one:

https://www.northwestbattlebuddies.org/

In closing, I ask each of you to continue to generate your positive thoughts as you have been for the publishing of Hope Has a Cold Nose. This month I received exceptional news that a proposal I submitted for financial backing to self-publish this book has been approved!   Though I will also continue to pursue traditional publishing routes, I am excited and grateful that we are steps closer to having this book available to inspire others not to give up. More details will come in future updates. For now, I say thank YOU; because each of you believe in the messages of this book, it is creating the means in which to get these messages more broadly shared.

While we all strive to reduce twenty-two a day to zero.

Sincerely,

Christine

Feel free to share this email and encourage others to subscribe by visiting either link below.   If you know of someone that would like to share their story for Hope Has a Cold Nose, please have them contact me at ckhred30@gmail.com

https://www.hopehasacoldnose.com/

https://christinehassing.com/

Jon and Jaeger

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As the manuscript for Hope Has a Cold Nose continues in its progression, I continue to be equally blessed to listen to extraordinary stories of veterans who have found healing on their journeys with pain, trauma, sorrow, and despair.  That healing has been significantly aided by a soul with paws, fur, and a cold nose.

It is my privilege to provide you another excerpt from Hope Has a Cold Nose.  It is my honor to introduce you to Jon and Jaeger.   Once you read their extraordinary story, please then visit https://thejaegerfoundation.org/.    Pain is Purposeful Action Initiating Next – Author Unknown

JON AND JAEGER

The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away. – Pablo Picasso

Hey dad, tell me the story again, will you please? How your heart called out to me before we would physically meet.   I especially love the part when I came to your side without you beckoning.   How my heart knew it had found where it belonged as soon as I sat paws to your feet.  

 I’m a lover, not a fighter, as you and I both know. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy in my first home. Yet, my purpose wasn’t to be a protector in a K9 guard kind of way. I was meant to be a shield to keep anxiousness at bay. Dad, I think I’m a chip off the ole’ block in having a destiny to try and stop the bleeding.   Though you began fulfilling your calling for patients with physical injuries, now both of us have a mission to stop the invisible flow before a heart stops its rhythmic beat.

Dad, I am always so proud of you when you tell me your stories, about how saving someone from dying was your number one priority.   Dad, I also wish, too, there was more I could do besides listen, snuggle closer, and catch your tears of grief.   I know, I know dad, and I believe you when you tell me how much I help you in those moments you feel hopelessness and are afraid. Yet, because I love you with all my heart, I still wish there was more I could do to take your sorrow away.  

Dad, can I tell you a secret, between you and me? It makes me feel really special that you named your Foundation after me. I mean, shucks dad, you didn’t have to, and its not that I needed to be in the limelight or famous in any way. Its just that because I know how much this foundation means to you, I feel very honored that you thought that much of me to make the foundation my namesake.   I guess we both understand unconditional love in a very deep way.

I certainly don’t begin to measure up to my God given name most days.   I am one of the most imperfect beings who wakes each morning praying I will be stronger than the fears I face. My name means “gift from God”, though I certainly don’t know about all of that. If I can live my life fulfilling even an ounce of that meaning, I will consider myself humbly blessed.

I am grateful to my mother – and not just for this gracious name she gave me. I am grateful to my mother for opening my eyes and my heart to a desire for helping others in need. My mom’s career was in Special Education, providing opportunity for some of the most extraordinary and unique friendships I would have while growing up.   This would teach me that some individuals need others to look out for them because their capabilities may be deemed as inadequate or not enough.   Perhaps this experience came first or perhaps this experience opened my heart to its calling. Either way, a life commitment to stand up for and to help others who cannot easily or fully help themselves is what fulfills me.

I’ve debated where to begin my story. Should I start with how I met hope in the form of fur and a cold nose, aka. Jaeger, who you already started to meet?   Or should I start with the oath I made to serve, protect, and give my all for my country?   One thing I know for certain is what isn’t necessary.   The play by play details of life in combat is not what you need to read.   What is most relevant – and what I believe can help my brothers and sisters in uniform – whether Marine, soldier, police officer, fire fighter, or EMT – is a glimpse into one’s heart who now finds themselves walking with PTSD.

I’ve shared with you my passion to help those who struggle to fully help themselves thanks to my mother and her students with special needs.   My father was also an influencer in my desire to help others when they are in crisis or experiencing a significant emergency. My dad was a firefighter when September 11, 2001 rained evil action on our country.   To witness the toll on firefighters like my father grabbed a hold of my heartstrings. The strings were tugged tighter thinking of innocent lives victimized at the hands of extremists both in the United States and in other countries.   Many helpless individuals didn’t have people taking a stand for them is what I strongly believed.

I joined the Navy because I loved all whom I had at home. My parents, my siblings, my extended family, friends, and people I didn’t know. Perhaps as a reader, you have a perception that someone joins because they loved to play Cops and Robbers as a child, to be a hero, or they can’t wait to shoot a gun and “get rid of the bad guy”.   None of these were my motivators – in fact, I will share with you a conversation between my staff sergeant and I.

It was my first week of training as a combat medic with the Marines when I had a weapon put in my hand and was ordered to point down range.   My immediate response to my staff sergeant was no thanks.   After all, I had joined the Navy to become a greenside corpsman with the Marines; my ultimate goal was to be a combat medic saving lives whenever the need. Staff Sergeant, I’m not here to hurt people, if I may respectfully say.   Of which he responded in turn this way. Marine, whatever you need to tell yourself, do so immediately. If you want to save your brothers, then you must be prepared to take down the enemy. Think of it as preventative maintenance so that you don’t have to patch up a Marine in the first place.   If you don’t learn to shoot first, you risk the Marines you aspire to save go home in a body bag.

In his words was a wisdom I realized I needed to internalize.   Effectively knowing how to use a weapon was part of being able to save my Marine families’ lives. I believe that many brothers and sisters I served with signed up not for heroism nor because of some kind of superman or wonder woman attitude.   Many choose to sign up to stand up for something more important than themselves no matter the personal cost or what they may lose.

No matter the personal cost or what they may lose…every day the reality of this can be hard to push through.   I am a husband, father, son, friend, cousin, uncle, neighbor, church member, to name a few.   I am the person I was before I served in combat, the person everyone sent prayers for while I was deployed overseas. And yet, I am also no longer the same person as I was before Doc, no matter how hard I try or want to be. I struggle as I want to be who you remember was once me, and I struggle to be who I am now for fear you won’t accept who I can no longer be.

I think worse sometimes than deployment memories that want to rewind and replay, is the guilt I feel that because of my choice to enlist my children and wife also experience emotional pain. Life teaches us through opposites, that constant tug and pull between extremes. I joined the service so that I could keep safe those I love the most – my family. And now that I am home, I often feel those whom I am hurting the most are those who I wanted most to keep in safe keep.

Granted, I wasn’t married to my beautiful wife at the point I enlisted in the Navy.   When I became Doc, my “better half” was those I served with as a combat medic with the Marines. Yet, now I am a father of four, and a husband to, quite frankly a saint who has the ability to not take some of my actions personally.   Yet, when I see fear or hurt flash through my children or wife’s eyes, my heart is crushed by the weight of my choice when enlisting. Though I knowingly knew the risk I might suffer post combat, I realize my choice has a ripple effect far greater than me. My wife and my children also suffer each time PTSD tries to put me in a tight squeeze.

I had one goal when I was deployed and that was that no life would be lost under my watch as a combat medic. I am gratefully and humbly proud to say, that was a goal I was able to achieve.   I owe not only God, but a special little girl for the gift she gave me.   This special little girl taught me what a precious commodity life is and that we always have two choices we can make.   Life will bring us to crossroads in big and in small ways. Sometimes it is a life changing event, like it was with this special little girl I knew only briefly.   Sometimes it is several times in a day to keep fear and hopeless from their relentless knocking.

I was working in an ICU in North Carolina, a new medic with an eagerness for learning.   When the ICU had no patients on a particular day, I requested emergency room duty. After all, I wanted to be the very best life saver I could be! In that way that we are shown God will bring us the people we need in our lives at the right time, I was meant to be in the ER on this specific night.

A little girl was brought into the ER with 75% of her body covered in burns allegedly at the hands of those who are supposed to keep children safe and cherished.   Though this special little girl couldn’t experience either outside the ER, under my watch both safety and love she would receive.   The degree of a burn is critical, don’t misunderstand me. Assessing if first second, or third is certainly top priority. But there is also another key component that is paramount to staying alive.   It is all hands-on deck to ensure no infection sets into skin that has been so severely compromised.

When one is serving in a medical or first responder field, there is one driving force that guides every decision made.   Damn any statistics, damn any graveness you might see and face. You will do whatever you can to fight for someone’s survival no matter how bleak things may seem. I would say that if someone is serving in a medical field and they begin to discern based on statistics that indicate probability, it is time for a person to walk away from the field or at least pause until their heart gets back in the driver’s seat.

This special little girl with burns covering the majority of her body was now bringing opportunity for my first experience in a raging war zone.   Though it wasn’t a war with artillery fire, it was a fight against evilness and death standing at the door. We stabilized this tiny body that was wrapping a fighting spirit so very tightly. We ensured she was in a sterile room, with a ventilator to aid her breathing.

I returned to my barracks after what had been three days of twelve-hour shifts, preparing for my two-day rest and reprieve.   Of course, these two days off were not for play as doing nothing felt like idleness to me. I would normally take those two days off to work as a first responder, ever vigilant within me was listening for someone struggling and in need. But anyway, back to this special little girl who was in dire emergency. When your purpose in life is to serve others whole-heartedly, you listen to that inner whisper when it begins to scream do not sleep.   There was a little girl in a hospital room alone except for the medical staff and a social worker who would be checking on her periodically.   I did not want this little girl to lay in that bed having only felt unconditional love fleetingly.   I needed to be beside her so that she would know the feelings of love and safety.

Because of the critical requirement for sterility, I couldn’t sleep in the same room with her, but I could be in the next room available in a moment’s need.   Like a parent – or a Marine – who sleeps with one ear listening, this little girl could trust I had her back while she was sleeping. The primary medical doctor of our hospital came to communicate I did not have to stay. He could see in my eyes and hear in my voice my heart was firmly rooted in place. Without any additional words, he understood I was right where I needed to be as he gave me his knowing head nod and a simply stated okay.

On the second day word had spread to the commanding officer the vigil I was keeping. That earned me a visit, which is a privilege because a commanding officer making an appearance in ICU is a rarity.   Determination and compassion are a powerful duet; the commanding officer can affirm these combined can make one strongly adamant.   He was ordering me to get some sleep for that was not what I had been doing. I was respectfully letting him know I was not leaving.   Not toe to toe and chest to chest as movies like to portray. Heart to heart in a room next to a little girl who was beginning to die, this commander officer and I compromised for her sake. Sir, with all due respect, I will not leave her side. I want her to leave this Earth having known what love feels like. I know she has nurses who are caring for her oh, so gently.   I was one of the first people she could feel safe with after such cruelty. I want to help her as she dies to know that she was worthy.   Please sir, let me stay to be present when her hearts stops beating.

Jacobs, you will not be any good to her if you don’t get two hours rest; that is all I am asking of you.   It is an order, medic and then you can be with her until the mission is through.

Hearts can hear each other across space, at least that is how I believe. This little girl knew I had her back, so she waited before her soul decided it was time to leave. I rested two hours and then I heard the monitors begin to speak. It is time kind Doc for me to go to a better place.   Don’t worry, I am no longer afraid. Thank you for your part on my journey in this life. I am grateful to you for being by my side.  

There is a process medical staff go through after someone has passed – because you don’t need specific details, I will call it post-mortem care of the body.   After I completed these steps, then, and only then, did I allow the questioning.   On the smoke deck of the hospital I asked – no, I demanded to know – Why? Why, God! I hurled these words into the sky. The answer didn’t come immediately, as our greatest wisdom often comes only after hindsight.

I am not sure the impact to my number one priority if I had not crossed paths with this special little girl whose purpose was to teach me. If I had not witnessed what a lost soul can cruelly do when it lashes out at innocence and I had not walked beside death and grief, I am not sure how engrained my mission would have been within me to ensure it was one I achieve.   I would like to think my servant-heart to help others and my value of humanity would have given me the same deep-seeded drive to have none of my brothers or sisters lose their lives.   Yet, because I also believe we must know one extreme to know the other, I know this little girl was very influential in ensuring all whom I served as Doc came back alive.

Whether a medic in the military, a civilian medic, or a first responder accountable to save lives, each of us has that defining moment in which a heart is not destined to continue breathing. Oh, and then how the mind loves to step in and question everything.   Did I do enough, did I do the right things? Why couldn’t I save this person; I think I now doubt what I have believed. We are angry and we step to the edge where we question if we should quit what we signed up to do.   Remember that crossroads I mentioned up above, where we stand poised with two paths to choose?

In the darkest moments of our grief and self-doubt and anger raging I don’t understand why, is when we are giving a choice to make the loss matter by how we choose to step towards light. I will bring all my Marines home alive, this I vow to do! Dear little angel, your death was not in vain and I am most grateful for you.   You taught me that evil is a fact of life and isn’t something we can eradicate in entirety.   It may not make sense, but suffering is a necessity. What matters is not if we can stop evil, but how we can overcome or move through what suffering brings. We can’t get over it, but we can move through it and turn it into positivity. What is truly important is the good we make out of the pain and tragedy.   Dear special little girl, much good came out of yours, and it is continuing. For the rest of my life your life will have meaning.

I would like to share with you about a training experience I went through in an effort to bring understanding to what veterans feel when they return from deployment to civilian life. It may still be hard to fully grasp, but my best I will try. I took part in a simulation of what it would be like when I found myself in Iraq as a combat medic with the Marines. Think desert – Mohave to be specific, think dark of night, and think night vision goggles to help you see. Also think about what it would be like to go outside without the lights of the neighborhood around you, one eye blindfolded, wearing one hundred pounds on your back while carrying another hundred pounds of medical gear for responding to emergency.   I will also share, adrenalin from simulated yells and screams and only seeing with one eye in the night puts a whole new spin on depth perception where you are walking.

In the first simulated round I missed a step while exiting a seven-ton vehicle earning me a landing directly on my back.   To say it hurt wouldn’t begin to describe the pain that coursed through muscles and parts of my body I never knew I had!   Yet, what kicked into gear because of my additional training, and because of my personal standards and beliefs, I must not be taken out of this simulation for to do so would admit I was weak. If I admitted I was weak, my fellow Marines would lose faith in me. They could not afford to start distrusting I have their backs – they need to be able to count on me! After all, we are a team! I have a mission to fulfill – no lives lost on my watch, and that mission I WILL achieve! Suck it up, the pain will subside, you have been through worse things. Come on Doc, get back in that simulation and show your team they can count on you no matter the chaos happening. The need to know they can trust you unconditionally. These the words I continued repeating.

If you are reading this and you are a veteran or still on active duty, I know you can relate to this mental toughness you live and breathe. If it seems hard to understand, think about someone you love dearly like a child or a best friend who you strive to please. Perhaps you have said to someone there is nothing I wouldn’t do for you. Or when you watch your child, you sometimes are so overwhelmed with love you know you would lay down your own life for theirs if you had to.   That depth of caring for the well-being of those we love is the degree of determination and will that fuel a serviceman or servicewoman no matter how hard it might physically seem.   We want to come back alive to you and we want to return to you in one piece, and we know those we are fighting beside wish the same thing. We will do anything we can for each other to ensure your family does not become fragmented and incomplete. We need to push through any split second we perceive weakness is trying to knock so that we survive the times of intense uncertainty. In life and death situations, there is ample space for acting from the heart, but there is no room for being weak. Because there is nothing we wouldn’t do for YOU, who to us are our everything.

We bring this mindset – and the experiences in which we needed to draw upon this mindset – back to you, our families. We miss those who we served beside – being without our brothers and sisters is extremely lonely. Please forgive me for saying that because we know you are there for us and that we are not alone.   It’s just that, well, it’s just not always easy once we return home.

We are replaying and trying to process through so many memories. Not all of them are bad, either, contrary to what you may think. Have you ever had a time in which you had an experience – let’s keep it positive and talk about the birth of a child or a wedding day – and you feel like you are on a cloud and the rest of the world is far away?   You struggle to describe your euphoria when talking to a friend who isn’t a parent or married – there just isn’t adequate words to convey.   You find it easier not to try, and there is a certain sacredness to keeping your feelings tucked away.

It is similar when veterans return to civilian life and their friends and families.   There is this place we are in emotionally that feels far away from where we now find ourselves physically.   We also are still carrying the trained mindset to protect you from things we’ve experienced and seen. And deeper still is the engrained training that brought us home to you still in control of how we think. We are not weak, and cannot be weak, and will fail if we start to show that we are becoming weak, for all of you we have been fighting for need to trust we have your backs no matter the intense uncertainty.   IT IS the difference between life or death our certainty! See, that is the thing about training for life or death and how the human brain becomes the exceptional student in its mastery.   Even when it is no longer life or death, our brains hold tight to what we have taught it such that this mindset does not leave.

And though I struggle to retrain this mindset on my journey with PTSD, I will also tell you I am grateful that it is etched into an essence of me. For it is this training that has helped me win the three-year war against Leukemia that threatened to be a life thief. Dear Leukemia, you can try to take me to my core with your evil poisonous cells, but you will not succeed. For I have my wife, my children, and medical staff who have my back – they have most definitely got me!   You can try to steal hope from me, thinking you are victorious when I cannot become a civilian firefighter or EMT because of my compromised immunity.   But there is something you underestimated when you began attacking me! I will find other ways to serve those in need even if I can’t do so with tangible bandages, physical tourniquets, or tanks of water to douse a burning flame.   The ones who now need me to fight for them don’t have visible wounds or noticeable fires anyway.   It is the cries of souls that now need me to stop the bleeding of their will power that is rapidly washing away.   They need compassion, and hope, and help in the form of a lifeline. They need to trust someone has their back and will not leave their side.   So, Leukemia, you are not stronger than me!   And if you have any doubts, I dare you to take it up with those who keep watch of me. No one stands a chance thinking they are mightier than my dear wife, Kelly.

I will tell people the secret to our marriage can be summed up into one word and one word alone.   Shear stubbornness is a strong foundation that my wife equally knows. I have a fierce determination, but let me tell you, my wife can hold her own, too.   She is tiny in stature, but she is powerfully large in what she sets her mind to do.   In that way that I mentioned above how God puts people into our lives at the right time, this is certainly true for when Kelly re-entered mine. I had known my wife when we were in middle school, though we were in two different circles – think I was so not in her league! Don’t get me wrong – I don’t say that because Kelly was snobby or stuck up or any of those things. I say that with complete admiration that this once chess champion is married to someone who was a model and a beauty pageant queen.

Fast forward to my return from deployment and Kelly experienced working as a tutor for veterans journeying with PTSD. A social media message to reconnect, a detour to work due to construction, and yes, the rest became history. Both of us joined together with a foundation of stubbornness, and a common understanding. Kelly knows her own journey with PTSD on this side of enemy lines, so she can empathize when my pain and trauma begin to rise in visibility. Let me tell you, though, I can’t shake the guilt I feel that she must put up with me. I know, she’d yell right now if she heard me say it this way – that she is putting up with me and my fears and anxiety.   It is just so hard sometimes to see her and my sons’ eyes when I’m struggling to “right-side” my mind’s thinking.   I want to maintain their innocence and let my children be kids laughing and shouting in playful glee. PTSD is not singular even if it is one person’s journey. It ripples and cascades and it…bleeds. I made the choice, not my children nor my wife – they don’t deserve putting up with my hypervigilance and anxiety.

And just like Jaeger, who gently touches me when I can feel anxiety rising high, I am gently touched by the fierce love of my wife.   She will say in a way to get me to laugh and shake off the guilt I carry heavier than that hundred-pound gear I used to wear as a medic: I’ve torn up the marriage certificate so good luck returning me without a receipt!

I am almost to the point in my story where I will share more about Jaeger with you. First, I need to tell you about another dear soul who is guiding what I do. I proudly served beside one of the finest Marines and gentleman you could ever meet. He was a wise old soul who only ever raised one thing; never his voice, and only a positive attitude with each day’s greeting. He was one of my Marines, one I vowed I would bring home safely to his family.   I can still see the smile he always wore, never a time I can’t remember him not smiling no matter how tough the moments of war. A fine Marine and gentleman that I was privileged to fulfill my promise to bring him home alive.   I even have his initials right here on my arm – B.G. – as a way of keeping him by my side. Not that I need a tattoo to keep him close to me.   He has left footprints on my heart that will never fade or leave.

I will not have the honor of walking beside him on this Earth again, though I’d give much to see his smile light up a room. B.G. reached the end of hope a few months after we returned from deployment, his life at his own hands ending too soon.   I didn’t see it coming, in case you were wondering.   I guess it goes to show there is always more to someone’s story then what we may perceive.

I knew it was so very hard and very lonely stepping off the plane without my brothers after we had spent time immersed in death and life. I didn’t realize that it was even harder for a fellow comrade and friend who is no gone at the hands of suicide.   You know how I mentioned up above about the human brain and its learning? I still felt responsible for B.G. though we were no longer deployed together as one team. He was my Marine, my responsibility and somehow, I missed the signs! What did I miss and what should I have seen so that B.G. would not desire to end his life?   Oh, Guilt, now you are knocking like a vampire that wants to suck the life force from my veins!   How could I have failed B.G. by bringing him home whole and safe? What kind of life did I bring him home to if he felt so afraid? I brought him back to a torment that was more brutal than the enemy fire that could get aimed our way.   Dear B.G., I’m sorry I let you down by not keeping your demons at bay.

Since I didn’t see it coming that B.G. was struggling so to choose life, I’m not sure what B.G. felt and can only imagine what was storming in his mind. He didn’t want to appear weak, after all he is the one always smiling. What would his family and those he served with think if he said hey, man, I have these images that won’t leave me in peace? I’m thinking it might be easier to shut them off by permanently going to sleep. He would see the fear in the eyes of whomever he told this to. And once he introduced doubt, then loss of trust with follow suit. And once loss of trust, then those he had vowed to keep safe would now fear he no longer had their back. And if they were now afraid, they could be vulnerable in an attack. If they weren’t up to par, he would be compromising their lives, too. He could keep everyone safe best by ending his own life before he caused others harm or death too soon.

At least I anticipate that was what his mind may have been saying and the risk that others would think he was selfish was far less than the risk they would not be safe. In his mind it was a selfless act for his loved ones’ sake.   I miss you man, every day I wake up and know you are not going to answer the phone if I ring. I wish I had heard your heart when it was struggling. Damn, I was so in-tune to watch out for you if you would sustain a physical injury!   I completely missed that when the artillery fire went quiet, you were at the greatest risk of bleeding to death internally. B.G., I’m sorry, man, I’m really sorry.   You were on my watch for life, and I didn’t keep my vigil for you. I hope you can forgive me as slowly, oh so slowly, I’m learning to also do. I think you would be happy at the mission I’m now focusing on. I’m going to make it matter the life you lived B.G. – your legacy of the fine Marine and man you were, are, and will always be will live on.

I may make you gasp and shake your head when I tell you that I wish I could go back to war some days.   During the war there was black and white and no grey. There was control and order and such things as procedures that guided rules of engaging and when to escalate force concisely and orderly.   I knew what to do when a weapon or bone broke and how to immediately bring calm in emergency.   I knew who needed urgent care and who only had a surface wound that a bandage would suffice. I knew how to encourage or motivate when someone was homesick or missing their wife.   Now I’m not in war and everything around me is grey. I can’t reach for gauze or a tourniquet when my son has his first girl crush heartbreak. I feel helpless when I have to let my son go through and grow through the down moments of life. I feel like a failure when I get in an argument with my wife.   I was trained to repair tangible things, things I could physically touch and see. It is oh so very hard to know how to heal the essence of what enables us to live and breathe.   Sometimes I’m not sure how to help my heart stop bleeding its grief.

Every day I dig deep to overcome the fear that wants to grip every inch of my insides. Come on heart, it’s okay, we’ve got this, breathe.   That’s it, deeply in, deeply out, repeat, repeat. Feel that nudge under your hand and that tap at your knee. He’s here to help you find a steady rhythm again so all you have to do is breathe in, out, and repeat. There, the anxiousness is subsiding isn’t it? The fear is taking a time out, releasing its menacing grip. Hand, reach out and feel his fur and other hand motion for him to come to your lap if that can help, too.   Eyes, you can stay closed if you want to. Feel his warmth and hear his heart whispering to you. He’s got your back every step of the way. Ah, yes, heart, here we take another step forward today.

I believe it is a song by Chumbawamba in which the lyrics include “I get knocked down, but I get up again” that could be words written about me. I have known the depths of despair and hopelessness but stronger in me is fulfilling my destiny.   My heart is a medic, firefighter, and EMT, yet I am being given signs from God that He now wants me to help in healing those whose wounds society cannot visibility see.   I’ll tell you sometimes I wish His signs weren’t so bold, like Leukemia, but hey, I also trust He knows my heart and what is best for me.

I say a prayer of thanks every day for not only the life He has given me and the family and friends, too.   When I was nearing the end of my faith, He held my hand through all the dead-end avenues. As He held my hand, he sent Earth angels to do the same physically. Before Jaeger, hope came in the form of a mentor, and soon-to-become best friend, who met me at the lowest valley – or perhaps I should say the highest edge I stood at precariously.   At the height of my pain, trauma, sorrow, and despair, standing beside me was someone I had known but had never fully seen.   Son, I do not walk in your shoes, but I understand your anxiety, pain, and grief.   Let’s get you away from the edge, you don’t need to leap. My stepfather, a Vietnam veteran, whose quiet demeanor was one of the overarching themes to my youth, was now the one to do what he also did exceptionally well, which was fiercely protect his brood.

Jaeger has given me purpose to rise each day. My wife and my children are also the reasons I keep stepping forward through the suffering and pain. My stepfather is the reason I am here for my dear wife, my children, Jaeger, and the foundation mission to aid others on their healing journeys.   If it wasn’t for my stepfather…well, I don’t want to dwell on what might – or might not have been, for what matters is what is currently happening. I’ll just simply say, someone who is now one of my closest friends pulled me back from the depths of PTSD.

We don’t always see that when we keep receiving no after no, it is because we are being redirected to something much bigger and better than we know. I explored VA programs for a service dog only to have that not be budget nor time friendly. Astonishing costs and a long waiting list do not lend to immediate nor affordable availability.   It became a dangerous spiral down the more I tried to hold on tight; the more I tried to find a service dog, the more I found no hope in sight.

Until a local business founded by a retired Airforce K9 handler became my lifeline. A willingness to train a dog for a cost more in the range of possibility I was being guided to find. This handler knew someone who had a dog for me to meet.   A meeting was arranged at Pet Smart and it was an instant connectivity.   Jaeger and I were now this Airforce handler’s trainees. Now the next step was to obtain funding.

God wasn’t done bringing His greater plan together for He had additional people I was meant to meet. On a random day at a not frequented store my path would intersect with a President of an organization interested in providing funding. Jaeger and I now had everything we needed to become a formal team.

Fast forward to today, and this tribe of “helpers” have aided Jaeger and I in crystallizing our purpose into a reality.   The Jaeger Foundation is now an approved non-profit entity. Our mission is to provide funding for veterans and first responders who will benefit from canine hope. To aid others in obtaining service dogs is mine and Jaeger’s WILL BE achieved goal.

God heard me in those moments I cried There is no help! I cannot believe there is no help for people in need! In these moments what I wasn’t hearing yet was that God was responding. Jon, my son, I hear your cries. Trust I have sent you as a gift to the world to save lives. In order for you to do the job I have given you to the best of your abilities, I need you to have a sound understanding. Because you know the depths of hopelessness you can empathize. Because you know what it is to feel alone, you will be a steadiness at others’ sides. Because you have known fear and a waning will to keep going, you will be hear the hearts that are crying out silently. You will ensure that others do not hang up a phone wishing the person on the other end could help ease their agony. You cry out that people don’t have someone to turn to. Dear Jon, they do for I have sent them you.

It is hard for me to hear that for I am not sure I am worthy of His faith, for what I am best at is being so imperfectly me. Yet, to save lives when they are experiencing emergency is my reason for being. I guess I’ll end my story here, but I would like to share one more thing. When I have to tell you not to pet my service dog, please know telling you no is not easy. I love animals, too. And I would love for you and your children to be able to snuggle against Jaeger as I get to do.   Yet, he has a job to perform when he is beside me, and distractions impact him being able to do so to the best of his ability.   If you see someone with a dog and the dog is wearing a vest marked “service”, your kind smile is welcome as you let us pass on by. Know that we will be able to feel your compassion and care even if we don’t stop to say Hi.

What is it Jaeger? What are you thinking?  

That I’m proud of you dad, for sharing your story.   Hey, um, dad, about that special little girl when you were first a medic?

Yes, what about her Jaeger? You know you can ask me anything.

It’s not so much a question as a thought I had that may sound silly. You know how you think of me as a kid in a fur coat for that is the depth of your love for me? What if this special little girl was a canine in skin, so to speak? What I mean is that I think – actually I know I would have really liked her for she sounds like she had an ability similar to me. She could hear hearts speak without words; unconditional she was in her listening.   I can’t help thinking she wasn’t harboring anger or judgment at what had happened for her heart was pure in its love. Like me, something deep within her knew she had been sent from above.  

As the quote reads from an unknown author “Kindly the Father said to him, I’ve left you to the end. I’ve turned my own name around and called you Dog, my friend”.   I think perhaps God whispered the following to this special little girl the day she took her first breath. He wanted her to know that He gave special jobs to the best. “You, special angel will help someone save many lives as a result of meeting you. Trust how much I will love you in the pain you will go through. Your life on Earth will be shorter than some but your light will shine brightly as if you lived to be one-hundred-and three.   Thank you for your willingness to make the world a better place my special angel. God speed.”

Dad, we are lovers of humans and we are fighters, too! We are fighters for the human soul to keep pushing through. Like you I wish I could remove suffering, but then again, we probably wouldn’t be the dynamic team we are if people weren’t internally hurting.  

Hey dad, two more things.

I got your back. Trust me.

It is my honor to fulfill my mission and vow I have made. That you will find peace at home and many more lives to save.

Hope Has a Cold Nose – September Update

Hope Has a Cold Nose Final Final (2)

Dear Readers,

That’s the thing about pain; it demands to be felt. – John Green, The Fault in our Stars

During the month of September, I was blessed yet again to have my path intersect with two extraordinary and wise teachers. Both gentlemen are veterans, and both gave me the sacred gifts of their trust, as well as the precious commodity of their time. Both reminded me not only of the power of hope; both reinforced that in pain, trauma, sorrow, and despair can be found purpose. That when there is suffering, there is also opportunity to build something greater.

As one dear individual shared in his wisdom about bad things that happen in life: What matters isn’t if we can stop it or not. Eventually bad things happen. Our ability to overcome and move through them – not to get over them but move through them…[to] garner…and make it into something good is what is truly important.

The other dear individual wisely shared how we have forgotten in our culture that many things which have been made better are a result of suffering that has occurred. We can think of cures for diseases or technology advancements that we would not have had if it weren’t for the suffering that demanded improvement. Out of suffering comes strength… [It is] learning to overcome and adjust to suffering. We try to escape suffering. {We forget that} suffering has a point!

And both wise teachers reinforced the role that each of us can play in reducing the suicide rate to zero. When we listen, when we truly listen to understand, we create the space in which someone can feel a sense of acceptance and belonging. It is not necessarily about accepting someone else’s viewpoint as our own, but it is about accepting that the person with a different narrative has a story and a perspective worthy of being heard. As one wisely shared, we are social people.The majority of human coping is [done] socially. The spiral of disconnection spins faster and faster when someone feels they are not worthy of being connected.

Or said even more powerfully to an audience recently it is not necessarily that veterans find it hard to ask [for help]. We got through the service by asking for help. It depends on who we are asking. We test the waters to see if those we tell will not reject the way we feel. Will someone listen to try and understand from the teller’s point of view? Or will the person be listening to try and fit it into their own understanding?

Repulsive. A word spoken to the audience. A word that fits into my own pre-conceived understanding of such synonyms as “ugly” and “disgusting” and invokes personal feelings that whisper, “push away” and “reject”. And yet, such truth in how this word was used for the audience. It is repulsive, evil to talk about suicide or the reasons why someone would think of suicide.

What if we strived instead to swallow our uncomfortableness and listen?    

I read this quote recently by Sue Monk Kidd: I have noticed recently that if you look carefully at people’s eyes, the first five seconds they look at you, the truth of their feelings will shine through, for just a second before it flickers away. How many eyes do those struggling with pain, trauma, sorrow, and despair look into and see in the first five seconds DO NOT SHARE?

What if we could open our hearts so that our eyes began to read, I may not know what it is to walk in your shoes, but I am willing to listen because your narrative matters?

I can’t help thinking we would create a sense of belonging and acceptance.

And a suicide rate would decline.

Sincerely,

Christine

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https://www.hopehasacoldnose.com/

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Dear Guardian

For HHCN January Update

 

Dear Guardian,

We first met in early March 2014. You inspired my first blog for the public to read. Though a moment in time, you have imprinted my heart for keeps. In that way that a moment can continue to pay forward meaning, a key puzzle piece to our life. Once again, I am reflecting on the gift you gave me when your path crossed with mine.

When you and I met dear Guardian, I wrote this of your story I had perceived.   You were the image of one of the words on the sign that lay by your feet.   You were a MIRACLE for the dear soul beside you on that busy New York City street. I wrote of how you laid on that blanket, protected, insulated, a thin layer of endurance against the bitter cold of the cement. I wrote of your feet wrapped in make-shift booties from a coat remnant.   I pondered if the booties were hiding scars from your miles of walking. My heart whispered truth in that contemplating.

I watched you as your head watched, and watched, and watched further, the people walking by; to your left, to your right, perhaps you were wondering who might pause to say Hi.   No body movement using only your eyes as your mechanism to speak; a true guard of the one you were vigilantly protecting. I wrote of your role as Guardian and not just physically. For your wisdom knew that those passing by were also judges and jury. You could hear the words not spoken for your heart holds the ability to hear what others feel but do not say. You must help yourself first or Why did you pick here to show yourself, their expressions conveyed.

You and your best friend were the teachers for us the students walking to your left and to your right. All of us being given the opportunity to see the miracle before our eyes.   We were given the opportunity to learn compassion and to witness the purest form of love. We were given the opportunity to see how friendships and family-ship give us hope and purpose and a reminder to at least one, we are always more than enough. We were given opportunity to hold the space not in pity; we were given the chance to give to the one you loved respect and dignity. We were handed the sacredness of the most precious commodities life does hold – to look past our own perceptions to see the beautiful light held within souls.

Dear Guardian, earlier this week I bear witness to another fur soul holding safe keep. Four days later, the image of a dear man and his dog still replays in front of me. This time I was unable to offer a small act of kindness to these two dear souls who caught my eye.   I could only bear sacred witness to a bond of deep love and guardianship as I drove by.   it was not fully obvious that they did not have a home to return to once they decided the grass beside the sidewalk was no longer comforting.  Yet, the cart beside them and the way the Guardian lay resting nudged my heart in need.

A man and his dog sat at the edge of a sidewalk taking a break from a journey that only they know as their story.   They weren’t striving to be noticed and they certainly weren’t requiring pity.   They may have been hiding pain or trauma and they may have been in hunger’s embrace.  Yet, they were together, each other’s reason to step forward through the day.   Like the day my path crossed with you dear Guardian and my heart overflowed with gratefulness that you were there to give your companion hope, love, and to keep him safe. That this man who sat beside his dog on the grass comforted me the same way.

I’ve been reflecting on seeing this man and his dog waiting for the message that should accompany their story. That reflection first led me back to you dear Guardian before I would experience another moment that brought clarity.   Just as I felt the weight that the drivers in front of me and behind me did not see the two dear souls sitting on that grass last week. In the same way that I felt the gravity of the people walking hurriedly past you and your best friend on that busy street. Today I experienced a fraction of what the four of you feel as your daily reality.   We have evolved to a society that has lost the ability to see each other – to truly see.  We have lost touch with looking for inherent goodness in humanity.

We are replacing kindness and respect with certainty that someone else is “wrong” or “bad” or “to blame”. We are no longer listening openly for the value in what someone has to say. We have forgotten we have made agreements with each other for what we could learn when we entered life.   Our focus is on the physical and cognitive within others and how that does or does not fit with our own perceptions we hold tight.   We have stopped seeing that each person has within them a soul that is of the purest love and light. We have started to see people as tin men, absent of hearts that beat strong and wise.

As we are inundated with reasons that test our ability to choose trust over fear and to keep hopeless at bay, we step wholly into the lesson yet amidst the teaching we lose our way.   We step fully into the human experience our souls desired to know; as we lean into it fully, we forget what we sought to learn for our growth.   Instead of stepping towards the opposite of the lesson, we take the lesson at face value as truth.   We often make a choice not to look at alternate options we could choose.

Dear Guardian, you were not on that street that day to break my heart in two. You were there for me to make your story matter in the steps I choose.   I write to you today to let you know that I am making your story matter in reminding others hope does in fact have a cold nose and that the same cold nose has other messages, too.   That we as humans can learn unconditional listening and compassion from teachers like you.   If we are open to hearing and seeing, you will lead us back to a missing link. You will lead us back to our soul’s rhythmic beats. You, and all dear souls like you can lead us to better see, that right in front of each of us is a most precious commodity called humanity.

Joy and Sara

For-April-22-Blog.jpg

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 breath
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.

 

The Succulent

For April 15 Blog

The disclosure of each moment is of such great value because it is for us personally – Jean-Pierre de Caussade

Continue to mine the sculpture he wisely reminded us through each presented case. A classroom of students using the wisdom of our bodies to intuitively portray.   One individual presents a case study of something they are struggling with and we as their case coaches reach in into our intuitiveness. We aren’t there to fix or to offer advice. We are simply there to hold up a mirror based on what comes to our own hearts and minds.

Continue to mine the sculpture for it contains wisdom – it speaks.   Without words, a group of individuals move from an individual “stuckness” into a collective harmony.   As we share our journey of why we moved from point A to point B, we reveal the power of life when we presently “be”.   We have set down the need to verbally communicate our knowledge and expertise. We begin tuning into an alignment of our mind, body, and heart for what all three – together – would like to say. Without verbalization we begin speaking possibilities in how someone can unclear their stuck-ness to step towards a future state.

This, my third time experiencing what can happen when we are in synchronicity with our mind, body, and soul.   Human flourishing can abound when we trust what we innately know. It requires us to slow down, let go, and relinquish the pull of our mind’s thinking. It requires us to open our eyes, ears, and our hearts to relationship-building.   It requires us to view our body not as an object that keeps us moving or rebels against us when we are aren’t feeling up to par.   Instead we can see how our bodies are our eyes and ears to speak what is held in our minds and our hearts.

So much easier to say – or to write, certainly.   Ah, but that is the gift and the joy of living. It is in our dance with life, in our paddling with the river as it goes, that we learn how to trust and be in harmony with the current’s flow. We can let go in trust and we can step back to better see.   We can take a higher view to better see current reality.

As I was in a classroom each day, in parallel an orchestration was taking place. Unbeknownst to me I would soon play a part in an essence of humanity. Compassion and kindness can soothe fear and worry; a gentle outstretched hand can hold out peace and dignity.

On Tuesday when buying a birthday card, I was drawn to the blank inside card with a vibrant colored, succulent plant the card’s face. A card to have in my stash for someone, “someday”.   Fast forward to Friday, a layover in the airport, and no seating at the gate.   Fast forward to someone I recognized, though I didn’t know his name. Since I am blessed to write life stories of veterans who are finding healing and hope with the aid of fur souls, that I was privileged to be standing next to such a team I did know.

The opportunity to talk about my honor in writing veteran life stories led to the chance to pet this guardian wishing he didn’t have so many people to watch on behalf of his dad.   He was performing his job well as he longed for this large crowd to dissipate fast.   He couldn’t speak verbally to me, yet I could hear what he had to say.   I listened to my heart, let my body respond, and as I kneeled this guardian found a comfort sitting by my legs. Together his dad and I could block the strangers’ energies so that this dear guardian wasn’t in-tuning to many people in need. He had one person to support though his heart was open wide to know many others struggle, too.   Oh, this dear guardian with an unconditional loving and listening heart – what he was going through!

Ae we boarded this team proceeded to their assigned aisle seat. My inner whisper spoke help them get an economy plus where it is quieter seat. Now, for one more person who would complete this story.  Someone “simply” doing her job, so wonderfully. Needed by a few, I became the center of her focus so attentive to me.   Before fully knowing what I desired to do, she was completely listening. She gently asked others to wait their turn while she followed me to a quieter space. Her full support I had helping me with my wish in her most gracious and beautiful way. A natural at exceptional customer service, second nature to her my certainty. With her help we could then give to someone who had served his all for our country.

Discreetly we made our way back to this wonderful veteran and fur team.  With a motion of a hand, he heard follow me.   To a row of seats in which he and his guardian could sit without others nearby, this team made themselves at home for a peaceful flight. This dear stewardess lives well an additional truth of the essence of humanity; the jobs we “do” are merely catalysts for us in being angels for others when they are in need.

Hello, my card stashed away for “someday”. I am so excited I get to utilize you in this way. I wrote a note to this dear stewardess who happily serves all of us to our next stop safely, another guardian to guide our way in our traveling. She loves succulents she exclaimed as we struck up a conversation during flight. Ah, yes, another orchestrated thread the moment I was urged to buy that card for when my path would intersect with a beautiful light.  We talked of her daughter – another beautiful soul with a passion for writing. We talked of our shared value in hearing the voices who struggle to speak. We talked of our love of fur souls, and of our gratitude. Both of us crossed paths at the exact moment we were meant to.

The disclosure of each moment is of such great value, most definitely, indeed! My life growing in such immense value through the people I meet.   I often pay forward to people words what were wisely shared with me. We have a Divine appointment with every person we meet; we honor that Divine appointment when we fully show up as ourselves, authentically.   I am grateful for all these Divine appointments I couldn’t foresee.   My life made richer through the gifts of extraordinary souls – human and fur – I am privileged to meet.

What Does a Voice Show?

 

If pictures can speak a thousand words, what can voices show without pictures for us to see?   Can we “see” such things as joy or sorrow when someone speaks?   If we don’t hear laughter or we don’t hear crying, would we still understand if happiness or sadness was what someone was feeling?   Do we catch hesitations, pauses, and the rise and fall of tones in someone’s voice when they communicate? How often are we listening to another’s voice for its pause only so that we can voice what we wish to say?

Have you ever closed your eyes when listening to someone speak? How often do you talk with a stranger on the phone in which what they look like is known only through your own imagining?   Some of my responsibilities in the past involved talking on the phone to the same customer service representatives week after week. When I was fortunate to meet one of them in person, they never looked like my mind’s belief.   I anticipate they felt the same when they saw me.

I’ve had an increased awareness recently to the sacred honor of listening to voices speak. We are taught that communication includes non-verbal cues such as body movements when someone is talking. We are also taught the importance of eye contact to convey we are listening.   In last week’s blog I wrote about making sure we look into someone’s eyes should their smile be a disguise.   But what might we hear when the only “view” we have is the voice on the other end of a phone line?

We may not have eyes to gauge if the smile is a disguise matching the masked reply, I’m fine to the question, how are you? When we can only hear a voice and not see someone, what is our cue? If we can’t see body language or look into someone’s eyes for the “total” story, what are some things we can do on this end of the line in our listening?

Can you answer this easier if you know the person you are talking with not face-to-face? Do you think that having a relationship with someone makes it easier to be in-tune to how they say what they say? If it is a stranger, do we then rely on the meaning of the words they speak? Ah, but then how do we make sure it is their meaning of the words and not our meanings in how we are listening?

On my runs I can hear a squirrel scampering through dried leaves or a woodpecker drumming in a nearby tree. I might hear a mourning dove or a sandhill crane. Lately, I can hear all the birds joyously singing with the warmer weather change. Today I could hear the red-winged black birds and the stream as its water was flowing. All sounds I can hear without a sight to see.   Sure, you may be right, like our dialogue we just exchanged about the difference between those we know and those we just meet. Because I have formed a relationship with these dear sounds of nature, I can better hear when they speak.

Yet, I am not fluent in the differences – at least, yet – in the songs birds sing. I don’t always know when they might be alerting their friends, for example, to Ginger and me.   I am not always certain when it may be one calling for its mate for life, or when it is one simply singing a song in celebration of warm sunlight. The best I can do is to listen from my heart, with my heart, openly. For it always tells me when it is time to pause, listen more closely, and perhaps look up into the trees. I may then see along with the sounds, or I may only have my imagining.   Ah, but then again, imagining fills our minds with the most beautiful imagery.

And shouldn’t that be how we best listen to that which we can’t see?

 

Jack, Sassy, and a Family Whole

I have been sharing military veteran life stories of brave men and women who have found hope and healing on their journeys with PTSD in the form of fur. Translation – service dogs. I have shared these sacred stories with the intent that the stories can reach others who struggle on their journeys not to give up.   I have also shared with the intention that the stories become a bridge. These stories can create a platform in which those who struggle to share their voice for fear of judgment and rejection are met with those who are setting aside their negative perceptions to listen and listen more. Yes, stories that contain pain, trauma, sorrow, and despair, and the moments that created one of or up to all four of these, are not easy stories to listen to. Yet, they are extraordinary stories that matter. The more we listen, the more the story becomes reframed into something that becomes a tender scar and no longer an open wound. For the story teller, the loved ones of the story teller, and us as story listeners; for when we give, we also receive.

This week’s blog is a military veteran story. It is of bravery, hope, and a service dog who brought healing to a family.   It is not necessarily a story of diagnosed PTSD. Yet, it is a story of pain, of sorrow, and in some moments despair.   And how from that pain, purpose was found and every day since a family has found gifts in the journey with autism.   Judge tenderly, if you must. There is usually a side you have not heard, a story you know nothing about, and a battle waged you are not having to fight – Traci Lea La Russa

 

JACK, SASSY, and a FAMILY WHOLE

Here is my secret, a very simple secret.   It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.   What is essential is invisible to the eye. – Le Petit Prince

The world would soon be shaken to the core when I was being shaken to mine in pain.   The world didn’t know what was coming on this particular August day.   I didn’t know my family’s world, nor the larger world in which we belonged, would soon be turned upside down, sideways, and then begin spinning relentlessly round and round.   I only knew this moment in the ambulance in which my body was screaming at me.   And I, in turn, was screaming inside, please, oh please, let nothing happen to my baby.

I was a lawyer in the Navy, I was a wife, and I was a mother of a daughter not quite two.   And I was carrying her baby brother, our son, with two more months until I was due.   I was strapped to a gurney unable to move while the bumpiest road known to mankind was unmercifully scrambling my body. The medicine to alleviate the pain from my kidney stone did not seem to penetrate the acute agony.   I was being transported to a hospital with a natal ICU just in case it would become a need.   Three hours travel on a good day, now five hours because of traffic was my journey.

After arrival and tests, I became another who stands at the crossroad needing to decide. Would I like good news first, or would I prefer the news that stops time.   My kidney stones had dissolved, the grace and gift of roads that jostled every inch of me.   Yet, my son did not meet “standard measurements” of where he should be.   His brain, his lungs, his kidneys – all at risk of deformity.   Excess water on the brain meant our son had hydrocephalus or he would be a Downs Syndrome baby.

In this moment the world began turning at angles I had not experienced before now.   So incredibly quiet as time stood still, yet my ears pulsing from a most deafening sound. Was this my reality or was it happening as if I was watching a movie? Surely, the medication had left my mind foggy and this couldn’t be happening.   The medical staff seemed to think my husband and I needed time to decide if our son was meant to be.   Without hesitation, there was only one option – our son deserves to be on this Earth! the staff heard unanimously.

An ultrasound four weeks later revealed no change.   No additional risks, yet the first prognosis the same.   My family was on high alert awaiting my due date.   We were no longer alone, though, in this vigilant watchful state.   The world had just received a jolt unlike anything it had known before, too. New York City, the Pentagon, twin towers collapsed, brave yet non-surviving passengers and flight crews. September 11, 2001 and suddenly my purpose was not only guiding one soul through his transition from the womb into life.   I was now writing hundreds of wills for soon to be deployed soldiers preparing that they may not come back alive.

Jack entered this world approximately one month after 911, “normal” with no signs of the concerns once seen.   No excess water on the brain and no Down’s Syndrome as his soft spot revealed “healthy”. Of course, true to a parent, my high alert did not ease.   Ultra-sensitive that Jack meet the medians for his age my priority.   His walking, his height, his appetite, and his speaking.   His motor skills were right on point, though at twelve months momma and daddy were not yet his vocabulary.

A wellness check at eighteen months revealed his speaking was not a defiance or a slow start. Once again time froze as my breathing stopped while my blood coursed through my rapidly beating heart.   It is not definitive, but we have a high degree of certainty.   Your son is autistic, your son is “special needs”. It is said that when time becomes before and no longer the same, hindsight can reveal something deep within us knew something would soon change. We were dancing between protecting ourselves from the sting of reality and preparing for inevitability.   Tantrums and “acting out” had already became part of Jack’s coping. In the throws of these moments, our hearts desired to believe. It was nothing that couldn’t be “fixed” with more nap times or the foods he would eat.

Imagine being a mother of a near seven-year old, a five-year old with autism, and a newborn baby.   Imagine physical tantrums so forceful, one wasn’t sure there would be strength to keep both mother and son from injury.   Imagine medical and alternative health appointments multiple times in one week and driving to these appointments all for one child, while wrapped tightly in that natural maternal guilt for neglecting his siblings.  And now that you are imagining the lack of sleep wishing for a few hours reprieve, and then when sleep is available, instead it is insomnia as you lay awake worrying.   If you are a parent or a care-giver you can empathize with me.   Yet, you know what was hardier than feeling helpless to my son’s needs.   It was how people saw Jack for what he was not instead of seeing him for all that he could be.

I don’t say that to judge strangers who saw me in a store with a child screaming until he could barely breathe. Their eyes communicating “can’t you control your spoiled child who is clearly manipulating?” I don’t say that in anger at day care providers who would nervously say your son is too disruptive, taking away from the other children, so we will need to ask you to respectfully leave. I don’t say that to make you feel guilty that I swallowed back many a tear when you turned the other way shaking your head in disgust at my family.     How can I blame you when there aren’t visible signs to communicate disability? And, I understand for my husband and I had moments we had to learn to better see.   To notice what our son was and not only look at “was not” has not always been easy.

Our son, a runner, and an escapee.   More than once he would leave school bound for home with only two things – his running feet. His emotions crested hills and soared to valleys faster than a roller coaster careening through loops, twists, and rapid falls. No longer a baby, and yet, swaddling him tight in my arms sometimes his only sense of calm. And even then, if he had passed a point of no return, my arms were incapable of keeping his raging storm inside him at bay. The only safety Jack could then find was riding out what he felt but had no words he could adequately convey.   Being on high alert had new meaning now for me; would it be the school calling in crisis needing my presence immediately?

And then North Star Dogs became a lighthouse shining a beacon to the East.   They were presenting opportunity for another alternative therapy. We were feeling we had exhausted multiple holistic healing avenues to give our son the best chance of flourishing.   Perhaps a service dog could hear Jack’s torment better than all of us who tried our best to understand his cries he couldn’t always explain.   Perhaps a dog would be able to soothe Jack’s fears and inner pain.

A waiting list and unconditional love of grandparents to give Jack this furry gift.   Then notification one of ten puppies were destined to be his.   Sassy joined our family and once again life became before and no longer the same.   Only this time, the storms that often swirled our home were now kept at bay. Sassy had brought new beginnings. Sassy provided service to not only Jack; she brought comfort to our entire family.   Sassy, the intervener, distractor, calmer, and paw to hold.   Immediate calmness she would bring Jack as soon as the emotional thunder started to rumble and roll.

An unknown author writes and then my soul saw you and it kind of went “Ah, there you are: I’ve been looking for you”.   It was an immediate best friendship when four furry feet joined our family brood. Jack was the first to say Sassy was his best friend to anyone he might meet.   I am certain Sassy would have said the same words if English she could speak.   Her eyes ever watchful of when Jack was in need; unconditional love in the most calming manner her immediate responding.   Sassy didn’t bat an eye when the torrential storms of his emotions were at their peak.   By his side until he felt at ease, day and through his entire nights of sleep.   Sassy was not able to attend school with Jack, for this was before service dogs were more accepted into a school’s routine.   That Sassy was waiting for him at home enabled Jack to manage school with a semblance of ease.

While Jack was at school, Sassy would tend to my needs.  Though she was Jack’s primary service dog, she was also in-tune to my emotionality. She would remind me I had the strength to keep going and that I was doing okay.   She would be my calming force through each of my fast-moving days. Her fur caught my tears when I didn’t want anyone else to see. Her brush against my leg would whisper you are not alone on this journey.  I can’t explain what it meant to have Jack find comfort in someone other than me.   Somewhat indescribable that instead of my swaddling, placing Jack’s hands against Sassy’s fur lightened a weight I had been carrying.

Sassy has retired as service dog, though her heart is still the wholeness to our family. She is still Jack’s companion while he sleeps.   And though now her fur captures far more laughter than my tears, by my side she also brings her serenity.   Our son is flourishing with a creative spirit, a caring heart that desires to work with children when he graduates, and a passion that perhaps could lead him to movie script writing.   Who knows what the future holds for Jack, but this we have as certainty. What ever Jack decides to do in life, we will all owe much to beloved Sassy.

Little ole humble me, I’m not sure I deserve all these kind words in which you speak. I’m “just” Sassy, fulfilling my purpose and doing what I love to do.   To provide comfort and unconditional love to Jack, and to all of you.   Some puppies may have been nervous to leave a familiar place and then enter a really large and loud machine.   I knew I was boarding a plan to travel from Connecticut to Washington for an important destiny.     There was a little boy that had been crying for a friend who understood him when the world around him was a scary place.   I could hear his heart across the stars and through space.   I could also hear his big sister, his little sisters, his mom and his dad, too.   I knew this was a big job I was receiving to serve not just one but a six humans crew.   I also knew there was no better job that to become your hope and faith.   To remind you that no matter how hard certain moments were, it would get easier and better “someday”.

I know you are proud of Vanessa, as I am, too.   How beautifully she is making Jack’s story matter in what she is setting out to do.   There will be no teacher more compassionate and equally strong in her leadership as she guides special needs students to their own flourishing.   I like to dream of Jack teaching beside her someday.   Even if he isn’t a co-teacher, I believe he will be influential in the lives that, together, they will positively change.  

I know I never told you, either, that I find my big, talkative, sometimes pushy, sometimes silly, yet always loveable fur brother a good addition to the family. Clive has brought laughter and joy into our home, along with another important quality. Clive is a guardian, too, keeping watch on everyone’s needs. He may not act exactly like me, but as you already know, visual looks don’t show someone everything.   He acts like a young lion, poised to react if need be.   Don’t be fooled though, that his calmness is also present as he listens attentively.    

When we give, we receive, so my dear family. Please know that as you so kindly say I helped each of you, you have given so much to me.  You have lovingly said I came into your family to help make you whole.   Know that because of all of you, I’ve known no better home.   I love you unconditionally, and I thank you for giving back the same to me.   Jack, Vanessa, Josie, Colette, Clive, Cathy, Mike – my family.   Because of you, I am complete.