Tag Archives: family

When the Curtain Closes


ACT ONE:

After fours years  of memorizing  lines, countless costume changes, and friendships formed, Pat took to the stage of Pamlico HS for the last time.  He often took on roles that would envoke barreling laughter and cheers from the audience. As we have all come to experience, laughter brings great cures for what ails us. “Good times” he recalls in playing a precarious kid named Thor in the play The Nerd written by playwright Larry
Shue.  Certainly, what’s not to love playing a terror of a kid  stomping about a bowl full of potato salad atop the dinner table? Good times, indeed.

The Nerd Pat

As the curtain drew closed on his high school acting days, another one opened in the form of a full acting scholarship to UNC. He had raw talent and  others took notice.  This was the Golden ticket for a kid who grew up in a modest rural community along the coast of Carolina.

Pat’s future path of sell out crowds and standing under the lights of stardom quickly dissipated as his father, a Vietnam Army veteran began to plant the seeds of service. Visions of a new kind of costume filled his green eyes- that of United States Marine.  “I liked the uniform” he proclaimed.  Albeit the true reason for signing his name on the line wouldn’t be revealed for years to come.

ACT TWO:

At seventeen as with most–  all young recruits hoping to earn their Eagle, Globe and Anchor, they stand upon the yellow footprints with great certainty that life is about to change hoping they don’t crap their pants before the day is done.


At the age of twenty-four, Pat was deployed to Iraq and found he now stood on a different kind of stage in the war torn cities of Fallujah and Ramadi. A far cry and worlds away from the quaint coastal town where the smell of bonfires and fishin’ filled his nights and days.  There are no words of comfort nor empathy that can be expressed to one who is exposed to such carnage, hatred and  injustice unless you are among the quietly brave souls who pledge their lives for their brothers to their left and to their right and for the country they have vowed to defend.

Yet in this place far removed from all Pat had ever known, his sense of purpose and belonging was revealed. As is the case with all men, they are born to provide, protect and die if they must for their family. It is how all societies judge and determine their worth. It is the scale by which they measure themselves as worthy Men- their legacy written.

There is no distinction as a sheepdog  between those whose blood runs through their veins and that of Brother who runs the miles and  stands shoulder to shoulder with them in the fight.  Sgt. McQueary affectionately known as Mac Dougle made the nights in the sandbox bearable. Many twisted jokes and shuffling of the cards were shared.  On the day Mac was killed by an IED, the stage lights of which Pat stood under,  began to dim.

ACT THREE:

Once stateside,  Pat  became a proud father to a healthy boy in a rocky marriage- survivor’s guilt still ever present by his side. He pressed on and immersed himself into his new role as a Recruiter.  It was a challenging role but one he had committed to play. On top of his game professionally, his personal life began to crumble.  He and his wife made the decision to legally separate and she moved back north with their son.   The loneliness- filled with booze and other transgressions. The pinnacle of despair came in 2011 when his Dad in stoic fashion passed away after a lengthy illness.

Honor, Courage and Commitmentthe core values by which all Marines are defined and most importantly it was the lens in which Pat’s father saw him. He died with his soul at ease knowing  that his son had become a better man than he.

Never look down on someone unless you’re helping them up. 

ACT FOUR:

Pat’s career with the Marines came to an “other than honorable” end amongst allegations of adultery; demoted to Lance Corporal and discharged before his 30th birthday.  The pivotal moment came knocking when it was time to turn in his uniform.

“It was the hardest day of my life and is my burden to bear.”

Pat now has a second young son with his girlfriend. The laughter he once shared on stage is all but gone. His days are filled with social isolation, taking odd jobs to make ends meet and pay child support for his first born son he rarely sees. Therapy up to this point has not been  effective. While well intentioned, the counselors can’t relate.  He is “going through the motions” as he proclaims while heading off to school.

On rare occasions, he will meet up with an Army buddy of his which offers a brief respite from the challenges he faces on a daily basis. His girlfriend bears much of the financial burden of the daily living expenses as he often shells out what money he has for a cupboard full of anti- anxiety and depression medications. With the exception of the local university where he attends classes, he feels there is little support for veterans transitioning back into civilian life.

He dreams and strives to  provide  a good life for his family, of belonging and serving a purpose higher than himself.  His scars run deep but carries on.

There is a disconnect among those in the community of which these young veterans live and work.  Their service to our communities and country must continue.  They possess unique skills  as Leaders that must be utilized in keeping this nation and our neighborhoods strong. They must hear from all of us that they are valued in spite of their flaws.

We must educate our children of their sacrifices to this country. We must call upon our business leaders to offer jobs and  opportunities to become entrepreneurs. We must call out corrupt organizations and politicians who wish to use veterans for their own personal gains.

When asked about his relationship with his young son Gavin, his face lit up for the first time in our conversation.  “I hope that one day, my children will read this and be proud of me.”

And when the  curtain closes at the end of his days, his soul will  be at ease, knowing his boys have become better men than he.

Pat with his boys

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

Tough Mothers

In Steven Pressfield’s book the Gates of Fire, he tells the story of how the Spartan King Leonidas selected the 300 hundred Spartan men who were chosen to fight the enemy at the Battle of Thermopylae.

“The King didn’t pick his 300 champions for their warrior prowess… he picked them instead for the courage of their women…for the strength of their wives and mothers to bear up under their loss”

Leonidas knew that death at Thermopylae was inevitable.  So why then, would he send his men into die knowing their fate?  He understood that Sparta would face other battles and if it were to  remain standing, it would be because the wives and mothers would hold Sparta up on their shoulders  and not give way to despair as this would mean death to  all of Greece.

“The Spartan women did not break nor give way.”  

Spartan women

A year later, the Greek fleet was able to hold back the Persians at Salamis and Plataea hence ensuring the survival of the West because of their women.

And it remains true today, that the survival of our families, communities and culture  in large part is due to ‘tough mothers’ and wives and daughters.  I give my love and all my thanks to the selfless woman who adopted me and raised three children on her own a  Tough Mother award.

May we be one or may we know one.  Happy Mothers Day!

Proving Impossible Wrong

Portrait

When I was twelve, I wrote President Reagan a letter asking him to help me find my birth family.  Several weeks later, I received a letter from the White House.  The response was not what a young girl hoped to find inside. It stated they could not help due to closed adoption laws in my home state but directed me to a couple of organizations that may be able to offer assistance.

With no identifying information whatsoever about my birth family, I set out on a journey to find them.

Turns out, I didn’t need his help. All that I needed was already inside of me-sheer determination.
It took me another twenty-five more years before in 2008, the impossible became a reality.

“Difficult things take a long time, impossible things a little longer”

 

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Never ever give up!

 

 

 

How Big is your Brave?

“Mom, how big is your brave?”

These were the only words my ten year old son muttered to me on the long drive home from his neurology appointment on April 20th in 2015.  As my heart sank into the pit of my stomach, and with a crackling voice, I responded, “As big as you need it to be, Honey.” He turned his head back towards the passenger window and closed his eyes. 

After almost a year of numbness, tingling in arms and hands, multiple syncope episodes and other symptoms, ER visits, a wrong diagnosis, countless medical tests, and appointments,  he was finally diagnosed with a rare brain disorder called Chiari Malformation(and Syringomyelia); a condition that causes part of the brain to protrude into the spinal canal causing csf blockage, nerve damage and paralysis if left untreated.

 How could this be?  My son!  The sweet, kind-hearted, fun-loving gentle soul.  After talking with the neurologist about what was going on and options for treating it, my son finally forced the bottom line… “So what you are saying is that I need to have brain surgery, right?”  “Yes, that’s right” replied the doctor.

How does a parent prepare their child for this?  How do they steel themselves to such a medical condition?

The first week after we discovered what was the root of his medical issues, I was an emotional wreck.  6-the number of hours of sleep I got that week while my happy-go-lucky boy carried on with his days and normal curious nature; his nights filled with baseball practice, homework,  and games.  At the end of that week of extensive internet research, reading, multiple phone calls and medical opinions; I finally decided to check my emotions at the door and put on my Super Mommy cape and BE what my son needed me to be; strong, positive, and supportive.

Two nights before his surgery as I tucked him into bed and with tears in his eyes, he quietly asked me, “Mom, am I going to die?”  The only thing I could manage to get out of my mouth was, “No, and no matter what, I will be right there  every step of the way.”

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Morning of surgery

A month and a half after his initial diagnosis, my courageous son was wheeled into brain surgery.  On his second day post-op, the physical therapists were astounded at how motivated he was to get up and moving about the halls.  They obviously didn’t know my son as he rarely stops moving!

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Not a great day but still got a thumbs up!

With months of physical therapy, side effects of necessary medication, heavy restrictions on physical activities and getting back to “normal” life, I was reminded of just how resilient kids  are.  While he continues to recover and understands that life has to be lived a  bit different than before,  my hope is that he will embrace his scars as evidence of his strength, courage and inspiration for so many.

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When starting back to school now as a middle schooler, he was a bit apprehensive as to how he   would be received by the other kids when they saw his scar.  Upon entering his first period class, the teacher prompted the students with the question, “So what did you do this summer?”  As any courageous lion would, he quickly stormed in and replied “I had brain surgery!”  I’m pretty confident that topped all.

“Life doesn’t happen to us, it happens for us”

Though the ride on this journey has been a bumpy one for sure, we are beyond grateful for the gifted hands of his amazing neurosurgeon and so many extraordinary strangers who also live our story and to whom we now call friends.

When life taps you on the shoulder in those crucial moments – be sure to pay attention and ask yourself, “Did I allow this experience to  make me bitter or use it to make me better?” 

A Blessed Mom