Finding My Place In The Healing Process

Jessica Allen was at her desk working when she got the call. It was January 22, 2011 and the voice on the other end was telling her what happened to her husband Chaz. While on a dismounted patrol in the Zhari district of Afghanistan, he stepped on an IED, instantly lost both legs and broke his elbow. Nothing would be the same.

The Allen Family at Ground Zero.

The Allen Family at Ground Zero. (photo credit, Team Allen)

When I hear about something like this, my heart aches and then I hope and pray the family does well in their recovery. That’s generally the extent of it. I mean, I’ve never met them in person. I don’t live in their town. I’m not a doctor. I can’t build them a wheelchair-friendly house. I don’t have a place in the healing process. Or do I?

The movie and more

When I found out about the documentary Comedy Warriors, (famous comics teach wounded warriors how to do stand-up to help them heal) I thought that was something special. I wrote about it. Jessica saw the post and emailed me. She said in part, “I wish you could meet all the Heroes I have been blessed to meet. They are so inspiring…. Rob Jones, the double amputee featured in the film, was at Walter Reed when my husband was. We were able to see him run for the first time.” Jessica also shared the links below about her family:

www.facebook.com/GoTeamAllen

AdventuresOfTeamAllen

I’ve been following along since July and I’ve learned a few things. I’ve seen Jessica and crew cheering Chaz and others on. I’ve seen an, “off-road” wheelchair that looks pretty amazing. I’ve read some of the hard parts too in her blog. Then there’s a whole separate category of stuff I just never thought of, like body temperature. You lose both your legs, that’s a lot of biological real estate. Your body is used to maintaining 98.7 for a bigger area. It takes years to adjust. In the meantime, Chaz feels like he’s burning up.

I found it inspiring that Jessica did more than just try to heal her own husband and family. She tries to help as many families as she can through her work at Yellow Ribbon Fund (YRF.) So after reading, learning, and cheering them on, I wanted to know more.

My questions

ME: What 3 things do you wish people knew or understood?

JESSICA:

-Just because someone is missing limbs, they are still quiet capable of living a great life. Do not pity them for what they’ve lost. Instead celebrate them for what they have overcome.

-Caregivers are the silent heroes of our war. They sacrifice so much and so often go unnoticed.

-There is so much left to be done. It takes a nation to heal a hero. We must find our place in the healing process and help them heal.

ME: What is your biggest challenge now?

JESSICA: Balancing everything. I work full-time for YRF. YRF alone is a lot. We help so many people. As soon as one project is complete we are hopping to the next one. In addition, I still run my tax business. We homeschool our girls. I am a Girl Scout leader. And I still try to volunteer where ever I can. It’s a lot to juggle.

ME: What is the best thing to come out of this?

JESSICA: We are finally a family. Chaz missed our oldest daughter being born. Then he was gone for over half of her life. She never really had a chance to get to know him and threw up walls every time he came around. Our youngest daughter accepted him from the beginning. But the oldest was just a little different. Now we are together all the time. We have truly been able to get to know each other. We have had more fun that I ever knew you could have. We’ve gone on so many adventures together. The gift of time together has just been amazing!

Chaz playing with the girls in the park.

Chaz playing with the girls in the park. (photo credit, Team Allen)

Team Allen reaching the top

Reaching the top! (photo credit, Team Allen)

My place

Jessica’s response about all of us healing a hero struck me. I never thought of having a place in this process. So I tried to imagine what that could be.

I believe strongly that awareness and empathy matter. No one wants to feel misunderstood or alone. For our wounded warriors and families, this is especially true. So maybe I could try to help increase that kind of healing by sharing their story. Maybe this is the place I could serve.

© Gina left the mall, 2013

Call In Your Battle Bunnies

Every soldier has a battle buddy. They don’t go it alone. That’s also a good idea when you volunteer for an Easter/military kids project that turns out to be bigger than you expected.

My heart said yes

I was busy at work and home when I saw the request to send Easter baskets to kids of deployed troops. My heart said “awwww” and I signed up to take one family. I figured I could swing that. My little Sofia was 5-yrs-old and would “help.” Then I got the info and it turns out the family had five children. At that point, I should’ve asked a friend to join in. Having another mom and child do it with us would make it easier. Also, the more love that goes into something, the better. But I had to do this myself. You know why? Me neither.

Mistake #2

I let Sofia pick out ALL of the contents. I didn’t have names of the children but I had genders and ages. In my daughter’s mind, she KNEW them and knew exactly what they would like. I was touched that she wanted to look out for these kids who were missing their dad. In fact, I was so mushed out that I didn’t have the backbone to say no to anything. We wound up with heavy baskets.

Mistake #3

This is actually a repeat of my first mistake- thinking I have to do everything on my own. After Sofia and I made the baskets, we had to get them to the shipping store. I live in Manhattan and do not own a car. The shipping store was both too far to be convenient and too close to take a cab. I could’ve called my friend with the double-stroller and it would’ve been easy. Instead, I did this:

I got two large black garbage bags and put 3 baskets in one and 2 in the other. Because of the irregular shape, the only way I could carry them is with my arms straight out to the sides. If you met me, you’d see how petite my arms are. So I’d walk 15 feet then put the bags down for a second. Then walk 15 feet and put the bags down again. Picture this on a New York City street. I looked like I had an odd attachment to my garbage and that I was taking it out for a walk with my daughter. Hip and cool. That’s me.

filling easter baskets

Sofia, in her Little Mermaid phase, filling the baskets.

packed Easter baskets

Five finished baskets

 The good news…

Despite my production mishaps, the good news was that five kids and their mom had a nice surprise that Easter. It meant a lot to Sofia to do something kind for these children. And a deployed soldier knew that complete strangers cared about his family. That’s what matters most. A bonus lesson for me was realizing how ridiculous it is not to ask for help. People are kind, my friends are awesome, and others will be there for you if you let them. But you have to ask. In this case, I should’ve called in my battle bunnies. After all, no matter what the situation, we’re stronger when we’re in it together.

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© Gina left the mall, 2013

 

It sounds funny to say “thank you” for…

the hugs un-hugged and bedtime stories unread,

for the school plays you didn’t attend,

for not changing the oil,

for skipping date night and taco night,

for not playing with the dog,

for every single everyday moment you’ve missed with your family and every single moment they’ve missed you right back.

Troops stand in harm’s way on holidays and all days to protect those they love as well as the millions of us they will never meet. They raised their hands to serve and this is their job. But the families sacrifice as well. They’re in this together.  And when we understand and appreciate what they endure, we’re in it together too.

© Gina left the mall, 2012