Sunday, November 20, 2011

Gratitude, Attitude and Angry Beth

Last week the country recognized/celebrated/honored Veterans in a variety of ways. I have to admit that Veterans Day is not usually a big deal in our household – most of the people we know are veterans, and we/they appreciate each other every day. However – a strange series of events made this year a little bit different, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be the same.

Thursday – I was coming back from a business trip and stopped at a restaurant in the Atlanta airport for dinner.  When I was paying the bill the waitress asked to see an ID with my credit card.  I pulled out my military ID and handed it to her, and when she stared at it for longer than normal I reached up to flip it over for her (thinking she might have been looking for my birthdate or some other info that is on the back). Instead, she reached out and grabbed my hand with tears in her eyes.  “Thank you Major” she said. “Thank you so much for everything you do for this country.” I didn’t feel like I could take praise that wasn’t for me. I wanted to explain to her that I was a wife, not a soldier. I even got as far as saying “I’m married to a Major…” but she was not to be stopped. She went on, holding my hand, telling me she couldn’t imagine how much my family had sacrificed and how grateful she was for the chance to thank me. In that moment – even though she was thanking me “by mistake”, I took in all the love that she and most of America have for my husband, our friends, our family.  Teary eyed myself, I whispered “thank you”. We hugged (as well as two women can over a small table in a crowded airport restaurant) and I headed home, filled with gratitude.

Friday – Don was lucky enough to be in the Veterans Day parade in NYC. He was also lucky enough to be in the same room with my boyfriend (Tom Selleck) and didn’t get a photo, but that is a story for another time.  Anyhoo – at one point he needed cash and walked away from the crowd and on to another street to find an ATM. When he told me what happened next he described it as “emotional” (and those of you who know him will be surprised he even knows what that word means) – but as he was walking down what turned out to be Wall Street he was stopped by no fewer than ten people. Wall Street guys in their expensive suits, people coming from the Occupy Wall Street protests, doormen, teenagers – Americans from every walk of life, every political belief, every generation stopped this lone soldier to thank him for his service.  I leave the house and see 20 soldiers before I get to the grocery store. These people may have gone their whole lives without meeting someone in uniform, and when they saw their chance they were proud and grateful to take it. The moment meant a lot to Don, and to me as well.

Then came Saturday.

Don and I attended the wedding of a fantastic, lovely, precious, wonderful couple. The groom (Sean) was stationed with Don in Alaska, so the wedding was also a reunion of some of our other Alaska dudes.  The ceremony was amazing, filled with love and gratitude (not the least of which being that Sean made it home from deployment in time).  The reception was festive, welcoming, filled with laughter and dancing and a coming together of families. While we were sitting around the table I felt a small pang, because it was with this group of men that Don lost one of his PLs and our friend – 1LT Colby J. Umbrell. Just three weeks earlier we were at a wedding where there was no best man, because CPL Benjamin S. Kopp also made the ultimate sacrifice for his country. When you are part of the military family, sometimes festive occasions are also sprinkled with sadness, so I didn’t think my “pang” was out of the ordinary.

At one point in the night two guys at our table leaned forward and told us that one of Sean’s friends (for the sake of this story I’m going to call him Pita – as in Pain In The Ass) had made some incredibly derogatory, ignorant, inaccurate comments about soldiers.  Not the war – the soldiers. To guys he KNEW were soldiers. They had walked away from the conversation but were pointing him out to Don and I as a “stay away from that douchebag” heads up - which was all fine and good until we got on the shuttle to go back to the hotel, and Pita was sitting two rows behind us. Our friend Chris was chatting up the girl sitting next to him, and out of nowhere Pita decided to “cock block” (for lack of a better term) Chris by embarrassing him in front of everyone else on the bus.

People who know me well know a side of my personality called “Angry Beth”.  She RARELY comes out, but when she does it is because she feels like someone she cares about is being hurt in some way. It is NOT pretty.  I am embarrassed about what transpired over the next ten minutes or so, but after what the guys had said about Pita and what I had just seen him to do Chris, Angry Beth appeared. I won’t go in to details, but it started on the bus, continued in the parking lot, and then he was dumb/drunk/something enough to follow me up the stairs trailed by Don and one of our other Alaska buddies, Brandon. Don was literally inches away from getting me in to our hotel room and Pita on his way when Pita intimated that people like Don and Brandon didn’t care about their friends getting killed and that he (Pita) was a better friend to Sean because he DID care.

For a moment I think I actually, literally, lost my mind. Don and Brandon had to physically step between me and Pita and pull me in to the room (like I said – not my proudest moment). Brandon stayed behind to get me under control while Don went back out in the hall to make Pita go away.

Then something happened that I never in a million years would have expected.

I started sobbing.

Most Americans don’t know that when a soldier is killed during a deployment, it is the women who deal with what happens stateside. With the exception of maybe one or two guys from the unit, soldiers do not get to come home for the funerals of their friends/men, so the wives represent their husbands however they can. If the families are local the wives make meals and help with arrangements. If the families live somewhere else the wives still try to help as much as they can, and Don and I agreed a long time ago that I would attend every funeral as long as I was physically able – no matter the cost or distance or heartbreak.  I have had the most amazing and devastating honor of attending five funerals over the past few years. I have stood over five flag draped coffins and whispered my goodbyes. Held the hands of five grieving families who will never be truly whole again. Felt the tremor of five twenty-one gun salutes ringing in my ears as I thought my heart was going to break right out of my chest. Five times I have seen my worst nightmare played out in front of me, and then gone home to an empty house wondering if the next knock on the door would be for me because my husband was still in the place that was sending his men home in body bags. Five weddings we will never go to. Five voices we will never hear again.

Over the last ten years I think America has done a good job of teaching itself the whole “even if you don’t support the war, you support the troops” mentality. I am fine with people who don’t even think about the war and our troops at all.  I have even been ok with knowing that there were a few crackpots out there and have prided myself on knowing what I would say/do if I ever came across one.  On Saturday though, I was blindsided. Blindsided because someone who appeared so “normal” could be so ignorant and hateful.  Someone who claims to support the troops but thinks so little of soldiers that he could look them in the eye and discredit their sacrifice, belittle their losses, and question their loyalty to one another. The realization that there were people like him out there was just more than my war weary heart could bear.

The next thing I knew I was standing in our hotel room, my body wracked with sobs, my face buried in my hands, repeating over and over to Brandon “I watched them put Colby’s body in the ground – does this guy have any idea what that feels like?” Then I started listing off the names of the funerals I had been to and telling their stories as Brandon put his arms around me and let me cry away years of sadness. “Doesn’t he know our hearts are broken?” To suddenly have all of this emotion surprised me, and I’m sure it surprised the bejeebies out of Brandon. Don didn’t know what to do with me either when he came back in the room, but they were both total troopers as I sniffled my way through my apologies and tried to pull myself together so we could go meet up with the rest of our friends.

About twenty minutes after we arrived Pita came up to me and asked if we could talk. He told me that he and Don had been out in the hallway when he heard my sobbing through the door. He’d heard every word I’d said and wanted me to know that he was completely overwhelmed by my grief, and embarrassed that he had been so wrong about “us”. His worst nightmare, he explained, was losing Sean, but it had never even occurred to him that military families like ours have been through it not once, but two, three, four and five times over. Wives bury their friends while laying awake nights worrying about their own husbands. Parents hold their breath every time the phone rings or there is a knock on the door. 99% of America has no idea what it feels like – and I pray they never have to. It is a heavy honor to bear, and a lesson I hope Pita takes with him as he moves back out in to a world void of Angry Beths.

So here’s to the waitress in the Atlanta airport and the people on the streets of Manhattan for honoring this country's veterans in ways both large and small. Here’s to Brandon and Sean and Chris and the other men we love like they are our own kids. Here’s to Don – a man of incredible talent and honor and dedication – to his men, his country, and his wife. And here’s to Pita – for bringing me to the point of no return where I found my grief and let go of years of anger and pain, even if it was in a horrendous, train wreck sort of way in the lobby of a Hampton Inn.  Thank you for the gift of clarity – I hope I have given you just a little of the same.

40 comments:

  1. Well, I think this is the first time I have been brought to tears by your blog. What a powerful, thought provoking way to start my day!
    Love you BK!

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  2. i told you this already, but it's like you snuck into my heart and wrote my most private thoughts. i pray i get to meet you in person soon and hug your neck. thank you for being brave enough to hit publish. xxo

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  3. Kate aka stinkydudetteNovember 21, 2011 at 12:00 AM

    What a powerful post. I'm not an American, nor do I know anyone in uniform. But I do have the utmost respect to anyone who unselfishly sacrifices his/her life for his country. I can only imagine the emotions and life in general for you ladies. All of you will continually be in my prayers. *hugs*

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  4. WOW! My husband is in the Air Force. I use to be in the Air Force. Veteran's Day use to just be a day off. But the older I get it as become a very emotional holiday that I love. So many times we have lived on base where everyone is military. Now we live off base and I see the neighbor kids that come over to play and stare in awe when my husband walks in in uniform. I have noticed my kids watching this and I hope they are always thankful and proud.

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  5. From one military spouse to another..Thank you.
    I think it's sweet when people thank military spouses because I don't think a majority of Americans really do or can know what they go through. In the ten years I have been married to my husband who has been in the military for 12 years someone thanked ME this Veteran's day. Needless to say I was moved to tears.
    Thank you for posting this blog.

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  6. Wonderful post. God bless you and your family.

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  7. Wow. I have no words. Such a powerful post. I am not a military wife but I have many family members who have served. I watch my dad let out tiny, tiny bits & pieces of Vietnam. I lost an uncle shortly after coming home from the same war and wish I could have known him (I was only 4 or 5 yrs old). I can't imagine not only living what you have gone through but then to have to deal with ignorant people. We are all very, VERY grateful for every single soldier & their families & all of the sacrifices you have made.

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  8. Man did you nail it!
    I have lived in a family of military men all my life. I feared for their safety all the time. I didn't let it consume me, but I'll be darned if I'm gonna let someone belittle our soldiers... it is every Americans duty to uphold the honor of our soldiers!
    I was not aware of the burden military wife's carry, but I make a point of addressing every soldier (or their wife if they are not present) I can to tell them thank you. I also make sure my kids understand what those soldiers risk and, in some cases, have to give up for our country. We owe them our lives!
    God bless you, your family and all of our committed soldiers... we will never be able to do enough for them!

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  9. You're awesome, Beth. Thank you for writing this.

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  10. Thank you doesn't begin to cover it, but that's all I've got.

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  11. I came to your blog because of dear Stephanie's post. I am so thankful for your honesty, your genuine feelings and your passion. I have never read your blog before, but I know that I will now. Thank you for sharing what so many wives can't put into words.

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  12. I came here because of Stephanie Howell's blog. Thank you for sharing your heart. As one comment above said "thank you really doesn't seem to cover it" but I mean it from the bottom of my heart.

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  13. Your post moved me to tears. Thank you for sharing this piece of your life. I am so grateful for our soldiers and their families. Thank you from the very bottom of my heart!

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  14. I, too, am here because of Stephanie's suggestion. I am not a crier, and I try to compartmentalize me feelings because my s-i-l is also one of those Rangers. This is the first time in a very long time that I have literally sobbed while reading something. I'm so proud of you for standing up for our soldiers, for getting angry. Please don't apologize for it. Thank you.

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  15. I also came here because of Steph Howells blog. You are one incredible person and I thank you for all the sacrifices you make as a solder's wife!

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  16. Came over after seeing your blog on Stephanie Howells blog...and I am sitting here sobbing. I completely get this. I am a 14 year Army wife, and I couldn't have expressed it better. ((HUGS)) to you, I know that had to be very hard.

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  17. From this military wife...Thank You for your honesty and your sacrifice!

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  18. Thank you for how much you taught me with your post. I am grateful to you, and to your husband and his friends.
    Carmen.

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  19. I came to your blog from Stephanie's and I recognized your name right away. I was in your crafting group in Columbus but was never able to make it to any of the get togethers. I'm also a military spouse, and your post brought me to tears. I understand your feelings 100% and have thought these same thoughts many times. My husband has been in the Army for 14 years and he's lost far too many friends. Thank you for your wonderful post. I hope everyone who reads it gains a little insight about what it's like to be a military spouse.

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  20. Leslee Cotterell-BarrowNovember 22, 2011 at 12:11 AM

    I also came over from Stephanie Howell's blog. I am glad there are strong women like you holding the fort down at home. My husband served in the army, thankfully during a peaceful time. But I have had several family members in the Canadian forces. God Bless you and your husband and friends in the military.

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  21. Beth - I am so sorry that happened to you. As you know, I am not a military wife, but I was a long time ago. To me, though, it doesn't matter if we are military or not, I appreciate and support the military wholeheartedly. We have alot of friends who are active duty and retired military, but living in this military town, sometimes you get a little numb to what is going on. We read in the paper about another death, another deployment and it just becomes normal. After reading your post, I will never just take these things for granted and accept them as normal. Instead, I will remember your post and remember always what just the absence of the spouse/parent is doing to the family - not just a death of a loved one. When I see you next time, I will be giving you a big ol' hug!!! (and I hope to never meet "angry beth"!!!) ;)

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  22. I saw a link to this post at Stephanie Howell's blog and once I finish crying, I'll be adding you to Google Reader.
    Thank you, Beth.
    Thank YOU, and thank your husband and family and friends.

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  23. I just found you from Stephanie Howell's blog. What an awesome post. Thank you! Can't wait to start following your blog!

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  24. I came over here on Stephanie Howell's recommendation. All I can say is "wow" and "thank you".

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  25. Beth, you have always been such an amazing writer - thank you so much for expressing yourself so vividly - and for sharing your story. I am forever in awe of how you live and love - thank you so much for being you. And thank you also for the sacrifices you and Don make for this amazing country.
    God Bless America!
    Love, Dalon

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  26. Beth - kim branson from Alaska, here -- I came to your blog a few minutes ago to check out your post about Sharon Callis/Christmas Bonanza -- but your post title, "Gratitude, Attitude and angry Beth" caught my attention.
    I read the first two paragraphs with a grin on my face, so happy that you and Don received such heartfelt and well-deserved love and appreciation for your service and sacrifice for our country.
    However, as I progressed through your story of Pita, I could feel your anger and later, your grief. I finished reading with tears in my eyes and a warmth of emotion and new appreciation for you and for all military families.
    Thank you for sharing and bearing your heart. I miss hanging out with you at crops and retreats, but am thankful to be able to keep up with you and Don through Facebook and now, your blog.
    Blessings on you both and the doggies - have a lovely Christmas and a joyous 2012 <3

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  27. I love reading your posts. You have a keen way of telling it like it is that I respect and admire. (Big Hugs to you after reading this post)

    As you know, I am not American. But I do have family and friends deployed in the Canadian Forces (and I am a mother to a young woman planning a career in the services) and understand the emotions about which you speak. THANK YOU FOR SHARING this. I can tell you don't like it when Angry Beth "comes out to play" BUT - I'm glad she did in this instance. THANK YOU for sharing, caring and many blessings to you and your entire "extended" family!!

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  28. And here's to angry Beth, standing up for what she believes in.

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  29. Thank you for sharing these stories. These are the things that help us connect and respect and show our gratitude to those who serve our country. Bless your heart and those of the grieving families who lose loved ones and miss them every day.

    Sally Lynn MacDonald
    *see you next month!*

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  30. Thank you for sharing this story! It moved me to tears. My ex-husband was in the first gulf war when we were married and the pain and loss that wives go through and the heartache of not knowing is not widely known to those that have not been a part of it or just don't care. Thank you for reminding American's that we need to keep supporting our men and their wives! Thank you for your husband's ( and friends) continued service to our Country!

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  31. I do not come from a military family and my only experience each year is at the Memorial Day parade in my small town and the speeches which bring me to tears at the sacrifice that the brave men and women in our country made each in every day in our country and abroad. I'm glad that you were able to grieve and I'm sorry that Pita had to be the one to "move" you. Thanks for all you do Beth.

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  32. My gosh Beth. This was so beautiful and moving. (As I am here wiping tears with my husband looking at me wondering what is wrong. Just wait until he reads this) I am not only so thankful for our loved ones and those we don't even know personally that serve & protect us everyday, but thankful to you for sharing this story. Know that you and your words have touched and moved many :) When in doubt share, share, share! Angry Beth reminds me of someone I know well! And "just" Beth is a gorgeous, fun, smart women with a great knack for words :) Luvs

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  33. What a powerful, impassioned post, Beth. I have never felt your pain and joy, honor and heartache however, I thank every military person I cross paths with for their service to our country and for my Freedom because as I see it, that is what they are fighting for. Freedom for our Country and all of us in it. I am in awe of your courage and anger in the face of Pita's ignorance and rudeness and the fact that your "meltdown" as you call it, actually brought about a change in Pita's attitude and that he was able to come to you and admit how you made him feel speaks to your honor and caring and loving nature, especially as it relates to your husband, and your military community and families. I am thankful for people like you and your husband and your friends who sacrifice for the rest of us and I can't imagine your pain or fear or pride but I can say I empathize and recently I started making cards for Operation Write Home as a way to help the military personnel who are deployed and their families who wait anxiously back home. God Bless you all. Thank you for sharing your story. It helps the rest of us to know what you go through on a daily basis. Again, Thank You from the bottom of my Heart!

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  34. Every time I see men and women in uniform, my heart swells. And it breaks. I feel so thankful, and as a mom, I worry. Will they return to their loved ones? Do they know how important they are? I have the utmost respect for our troops. I hate war. I think of the boys and girls who go to bed asking God to bring their moms, dads, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters home. I pray for that too. I pray for a world without war. Your words really hit my heart. Thank you for sharing it with us. It made me cry, and it made me think. I have always felt that our armed forces were truly heroic and outstanding people. (Could be because i was born on Veteran's Day) I have also come to learn that the family they leave behind are just as heroic and outstanding.

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  35. Thank you for writing this, Beth. I'm glad someone else has taken notice of this post and reprinted it.
    God bless you and Don and all the others who serve!

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  36. Thank you and your husband and friends for your service to us.

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  37. Oh great, now I am crying....I'm sorry that you went through such a hard time. As you know, sometimes people say things out of ignorance (I have, I know), thinking that they know about a situation. Usually it's when the person is young--I knew SO much when I was young--now I realize that I didn't really know as much as I thought I did. I understand you being upset. Having someone act like that just adds to hard times, and we sometimes just can't take it. I'm glad that you were so honest. Your blog was good to read........

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  38. Thank you, Beth, for saying this with heart. Both of my husbands were in Viet Nam and had to secretly sneak back into the country. It was a horrible situation for these men that risked their lives for their ocuntry.

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  39. I am not usually a follower of your blog. I found this post because a friend of mine put the link on FB. Never even reading your blog before, not knowing a thing about you, your story brought me to tears. This story says more about you than just the words you wrote. It tells what an incredible person you are and I thank YOU and your husband for the sacrifices you have made over the years for our country. God bless you!

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