“When they arrive at the gates of death, God welcomes those who love Him.” Psalm 116:15 The Message
The first time I talked with Major P, was almost ten years ago. I was having a hard time deciphering the metered speech of a “flat affect,” one of the symptoms of a traumatic brain injury (TBI). The exchange between us has become one of my favorite stories to retell.
That evening I had donned a Tina Turner wig, some outrageous 70’s disco outfit and was doing my best to make the group of wounded warriors and their spouses relax, have fun, and be comfortable with a new set of strangers looking to “help.” I shared an embarrassing family anecdote about my sons seeing me driving down the highway.
“There I was on I-35 with Cher cranked up on my portable CD player. I was happy, I was rocking out, and I was head banging and fist shaking to the hit ‘If I Could Turn Back Time.’ Just as I was really expressing myself, a pick-up truck pulls alongside me. I was not about to let some kids spoil the mood. I refused to look at them (laughing probably). I just kept singing, ‘If I could turn back timeeeeeeeeeee, If I could find a wayeeeeeeeee, I’d take back those things…’ My head was in full-bop mode, and my eyes were squinting just barely enough to stay the course on the road. The pick-up truck stayed right with me. ‘Alright, I’ll look at them and let them have their laugh and poke fun at me, but IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME!’ I turned my head towards the truck driving parallel to my car only to discover it was MY SONS! My youngest (laughing hysterically) was pointing at his cell phone, indicating he was going to call me. I picked up the phone and he could hardly speak for the laughter. “Mom, we knew you were weird, but you’re even weird when you’re alone!”
Afterwards, Major P came up to me and spoke in a halting pattern. “Mam, I need to ask you something.” “Sure,” I replied. “Mam, was that a true story?” “Yes, it was. You met my son earlier, you can ask him.” “Mam, I don’t have any short term memory. I don’t remember him. But I just wanted you to know, that’s the funniest story I’ve ever heard.”
The next day, the Chaplain who had been working the Warrior Transition Battalion and knew Major P and his family quite well, told me it was the first time he had ever seen him smile.
Year after year I looked forward to spending time with them during the retreats and hearing how they were getting on in school and at home. The oldest girl always loved coming in to my Imagination Station and would spend hours dressing up in a variety of hats, wigs, feather boas and makeup! As her younger brother and sister got to an age when they could be away from their mother, she would traipse them in and outfit them with the outrageousness of a big sister’s imagination. It was great fun and they were always one of my favorite families.
It’s now been ten years that I’ve worked in the military community, with wounded warriors, distraught spouses and broken-hearted children. I’m often asked if I miss going overseas to the foreign mission field. Of course, there is a more urgent sense of impact and an immediate gratification of a “job” completed, with an arrival time and a defined departure. But I have no doubt I am exactly where I am supposed to be, and that my years overseas prepared me for such a “time” as this.
The last time I talked with Maj P was this past October. I was busy running errands in preparation for my seventeenth Wounded Warrior Getaway. When I saw his number come up on my phone I pulled the car over and braced myself. I wanted to be fully engaged in the conversation. His speech affect had gotten better with therapy and treatment, but he still hesitated from time to time. I couldn’t tell if it was the subject matter or his TBI. He asked if I knew of an organization that could help get his daughter from the retreat back up to Missouri when it was over. He stuttered, “Our family has been having some problems. I want to see them all be together at the retreat. I think it would be good for us to be happy again.” He ended the conversation by thanking me for my time and shared how much the Warrior Getaways had meant to the family over the years.
I talked with his son driving them down the next day and related I had talked to his father. I assured him something could be worked out and to come on and participate in the retreat. I commended him for taking on the responsibility (considering I have known him since he was just nine years old). What he said broke my heart. “Charlynn, don’t worry about it. It’s not your problem. I’ll figure something out. I’ve been doing it since I was 8.”
A few months after the Warrior Getaway, the oldest daughter of Major P was awarded the Military Child of the Year. She had submitted a heartfelt essay to the organization Operation Homefront sharing the impact of her father’s injury, and how she and the family had persevered and endured. The average entrant has moved four times (or more), experienced at least one parent deployed for over 29 months, volunteered with service groups at least 370 hours during the year, maintained above average grades, often with honors, excelled in sports, theatre, or music, and held leadership positions in school and community groups. It’s an extraordinary accomplishment and national recognition to achieve!
Her father will not be present when she receives the award.
Last Sunday as I was getting ready to leave for church, my phone rang. When I saw the number, I braced myself; Church-folk don’t call each other on Sunday mornings.
It was the Director of the Warrior Getaways bearing the bad news. Major P had ended his life.
She asked if I would pass the information on.
I know each one of the people I called thought the same thing when they saw MY number pop up on a calm Sunday morning. I know each one of them was glad to be surrounded by their faith communities where they could begin to grieve, and to pray. We are all still grieving, we are all still praying.
The government reports there are 20 veteran suicides EACH DAY. That statistic is staggering. The statistic that is not reported are the tens of thousands of children, spouses and loved ones left behind wondering if there was something else, something more, some words, some treatment or some help, that could have made a difference.
If I could turn back time….
“He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good – tears gone, crying gone, pain gone – all the first order of things gone.” Revelation 21:4-5 The Message
Thank you for your support of Sunshine After Rain Ministries. Your faithfulness has equipped the ministry through twenty-two years of service overseas and here at home to our nation’s military. We must continue to offer hope to those who have lost hope and the Light to those lost in darkness. The battle is far from over.