I still can't believe this.
No one who has ever taken my class will believe this.
My Mom is going to Cuba tomorrow.
Which means I'm going to Cuba (soon).
I know, I know.
This changes everything.
It's like the Berlin Wall separating our family (and its history) has
been lowered enough to tiptoe over.
He isn't himself; he isn't laughing or dancing or building intricately balanced bridges blocking access to the toilet and all exits.
I'm halfway through my first cup of coffee and now ready to be kind, so I ask my freckled first grader what's up.
He exhales and looks up, a heaviness falling on him.
"I had a nightmare...."
"Oh?" I notice a clump of Key Lime Pie in his newly shorn hair, behind his ear, and want to shout at his sister immediately (or at least send her a well-deserved stern look) but I hold my urge and sink back into his tearful green eyes.
"I dreamed....that....(he looked down, looked at the wall, then looked back at me) Daddy ordered Ranch dressing on my Subway sandwich...."
Zack took a step closer to me, vulnerable from his confession.
I don't laugh; I make a compassionate sad face, and he blinks back tears from his already wet eyelashes.
Instinctively I held my arms out and he climbed up cuddled on my lap, his skinny newly long legs and arms folding like the tines of an umbrella.
"What an awful nightmare, good thing it was only a dream!" I say, rocking him in my lap and kissing his head, pretending to stroke his hair but really plucking pieces of pie out of his hair.
Supporting Those Left Behind By Military Suicides
by Sarah Gonzalez
- October 21, 2010
A spike in military suicides has led to a renewed focus on prevention efforts by the Defense Department. But the surviving family members often have an uneven network of support that allows some to work through their grief, while others are left feeling angry and confused.
The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors -- TAPS -- is trying to fill the gaps by bringing together families from across the country to share their grief and learn.
About 250 adults and children recently gathered at a hotel in Arlington, Va., to share their stories at the TAPS seminar for surviving family members of suicide by service members. Some traveled from as far as Alaska and Hawaii.
Adding Guilt To The Grief
For many, like Denise Coutlakis, the grief is still raw. Her husband, Col. Todd Hixson, committed suicide in October 2009. The 27-year Marine veteran of several wars had been home just three weeks from his only deployment to Iraq.
When Coutlakis got the phone call saying that her husband had committed suicide, she says she did not know what to do. "I didn't know ... how to get my husband's body. I didn't know what to do next, so I called the Marine Corps," Coutlakis says.
She made the call on a Sunday, and Coutlakis says it took a while for anyone at the base to respond. "They showed up at some point and ... started talking to you about, 'This is what you need to do to move on. [Here] are the things you need to do. Here are the services,' and it gives you a sense ... [that] you have a list of things to do," Coutlakis says.
But Coutlakis says the list did not help her heal, and the suicide only added guilt to her grief.
When a service member dies in combat or in an accident, Coutlakis says, "nobody looks at the family and says, 'What was their responsibility in this? What did they not do?' "
Maintaining Mental Fitness
Families are often the first witness of a soldier in crisis, according to Bonnie Carroll, the executive director of TAPS. She says that while military families need to know the signs of suicidal behavior, the military also needs to do more to encourage soldiers to get mental health treatment -- just as a coach encourages an athlete to see a trainer.
"We've gotten off track in that we don't allow our service member to do that for their mental fitness in the way we insist they do that for their physical fitness, and that has to change."
A Suicide Prevention Task Force was formed under the Defense Department last year to make recommendations on how to decrease military suicides.
Maj. Gen. Philip Volpe is co-chairman of the task force, and he oversees Army treatment and medical facilities. Volpe says one way to help prevent future suicides is giving service members more "dwell time" in between deployments "to reconnect and re-establish some of the bonds that may have been weakened and [to] get back to a sense of normalcy before they start training for the next mission."
One Of The Lucky Ones
In 2007, Army Spc. Jeremy LaClaire returned from his first deployment to Afghanistan distant and unable to relate to his family. His widow, Megan LaClaire, says the Army diagnosed him as bipolar. Less than a year later, he was scheduled to be deployed to Iraq.
"And he was not going to go is what he told me," LaClaire says. "He said he didn't care what it took, but he was not going back."
LaClaire's husband shot himself in the head on their living room couch the morning of their daughter's seventh birthday. LaClaire refused to cancel their daughter's birthday party. She says her military family helped her through the grief and enabled her to be strong.
"The Army has been amazing for me. They have done nothing but support me in every way possible. I was one of the lucky ones. A lot of people weren't that lucky," she says.
LaClaire lives near an Army base and always has access to the support resources offered there. Others, like many who attended the TAPS seminar, travel across states to get that same support. [Copyright 2010 National Public Radio]
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(I'm the one in the green Santa Fe, right in the middle.)
Zoe is turning cartwheels on the front yard (not an easy feat on a hill).
Zack is riding his bike in lazy circles and figure 8's.
They chatter at each other, and I fall into my screen, into revising, cutting, deleting and then I notice its quiet.
My kids are still like statues in this awkward thing little kids do when older kids go by their yards, pretending not to be self-conscious while holding their ground.
From the side of my eye I see three teenagers approach. One girl says to the other (loudly, as though to impress the boy it seems like they might be following around the block), "You KNOW, our feet aren't actually touching the ground. They never really do...."
Her friend agrees with her giggling, "Yes, yeah, I've heard that...." and they turn the corner, out of my sight, and the conversation goes with them.
I've broken my sunglasses been thrown up on and spilled coffee all over myself. Then I locked my sweater in my car door so as I tried to walk away, I was caught.
So why then, am I writing a book in the dark, trying to hide it from the world until it is good enough, done enough, perfect enough to tie with a ribbon and say "... here it is I, THIS is the best I can do!"?
I'm tired of trying to write a perfect book.
I'm back to doing what I like to do, what I've learned how to do.
I'm telling a good story, piece by piece.
Right now (and for the last two weeks) I'm in the process of rewriting lists of exam bloopers into chapters, and placing them (and moving them, and replacing them, and revising them) between the story chapters which are already written.
So here I am, blogging about this, after I announced to myself and the world that I would turn off facebook, turn off my blog and shut myself off from the world to finish the book.
I'm remembering now, on this chilly Sunday morning in October that I wouldn't be telling stories if it wasn't for you, my invisible friends, who read them and laugh (and cry) along with me.
.....back to the book!
Actually, two things.
And one of them is about Mexico, so don't get distracted halfway through this.
First. Blogger has statistics now, including a map of readers. Below is the list of countries by # readers. (NATO and her allies?)
Second. This semester I'm giving my classes "pretests" to find out what they know (or think they know) before we cover it in class. Yesterday I asked the students in a pretest, "When was the Vietnam War?" and a student responded "1940-1950" then added, "(it was in Mexico)."
Have a nice day!
relent and open the door.
I expect to hear his sister is bleeding or the house is on fire.
He is standing in the bathroom doorway, feet tapping so impatiently he
"Guess what? Guess who's on Family Guy tonight?"
"Spongebob?" I guess, and he frowns audibly.
"No, Mom, this is good! Guess?! GUESS!"
His feet continue their tango and I suspect he has to go to the
bathroom but I don't dare ask; he is six now, it's embarasing for his
mother to mention such private matters.
I play his game. "Better than Spongebob?! Who can be better than
He nods, feet twisting below him, and before I can compose a thought
he blurts out, "Oh my God! Mom!! Its Rush Limbaugh! Rush Limbaugh!
Tonight! On Family Guy!"
I adjust my towel and thank him with a motherly kiss on his forehead.
He looks up at me, completely still for a minute, then races away.
After that, I lock the door, turn the radio back on and get back into
the shower to finish shaving my legs.
Zoe tells her brother about infant mortality, and that "every time you blink your eyes, another child dies."
Incredulously he asks, "Really? I'm killing people just by blinking my eyes? Cool!"
Zoe shakes her head and exhales visibly, tired from a long week of being a big sister.
I'm up early because today is the big day, the day I thought would never come, secretly hoped would never come.
In just a little bit over an hour, my son has his first soccer game.
Like it or not, that makes me a soccer mom.
And I'm not sure that's who I want to be a soccer mom, so I consider sneaking back to bed, letting them all sleep late, tangled in their sheets drooling (happily).
I have a few more sips of coffee left, so I sit here in the almost silent house considering soccer, Saturday mornings, and other life changing things.