Memorial Day: Sales -VS- Sacrifice…Which Is More Important?

Make the sacrifice of NOT SHOPPING today…..

Johnathan Guillory,, age 32, War Veteran. Suffered for years from PTSD and was denied care at the Phoenix VA. He was shot and killed by Phoenix Police on January 20, 2015

Johnathan Guillory,, age 32, War Veteran. Suffered for years from PTSD and was denied care at the Phoenix VA. He was shot and killed by Phoenix Police on January 20, 2015

As we watch them stride confidently toward the big carrier plane, the one that will take them away to a place we can never really get a true understanding of…..tears slide down our faces. We choke down fear filled sobs…. Shove aside any notions that they will not return to us intact. Or that they will not return to us at all.

A year goes by— and its painfully slow. You’ve written letters. Once a week. Twice a week. Sent care packages. Hoped and prayed as hard as you could. Bargained with God…promising to give up anything and everything if it meant your loved one would be one of “the lucky ones” to come back home to you intact…alive…so that life could go on as normal and joyous as it had been before they were called up for duty.

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…..The day finally arrives when you, your family members, and friends stand together in a crowd of other families…cheering together and waving flags as the big jumbo jet lands on the tarmac. The party has been lovingly planned for weeks, every detail has been attended to, and all their favorite foods are prepared.

Relief sets in for everyone as the soldiers begin making their descent down the steps of the plane….each one stopping to look up at the sky in disbelief as they take their first steps back on US soil….some of them kneel down to touch the tarmac with their bare hands for a moment. Now, you know it’s all going to be okay. Everything is good now. The pause button can be released. Life can go on as it was.

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Until it can’t. Until it isn’t OK. Until…as the days and weeks go by, you discover they have changed and something is definitely not right, not the same, and you have no idea what to do…or say….to begin to figure it out.
But that “connection….”   Your way of “being” with each other has changed—

dramatically….

The person who is sitting next to you watching a football game isn’t the same person you sent off to war one year and a handful of days ago. They are distant. Distracted. Easily agitated. They appear deep inside of themselves, far away from you….the realization sets in that this isn’t the same relationship you were in…. This isn’t the person you remember…

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On the eve of Memorial Day weekend 2015 its important that we not just memorialize those who were lost in the line of duty over the decades while defending our flag and our freedom….but the thousands of men and women who are still serving and making the ultimate sacrifice every day: the sacrifice of self in the most personal and devastating way.

PTSD and concussive TBI have emerged to the forefront as more and more of our service men and women have come home forever changed not just physically….but emotionally. We are just now learning how much the veterans from previous wars like Vietnam have suffered for decades without a definitive diagnosis. As a nation we left them flailing out there, without support, without understanding, in a sea of judgment and peril.

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A relative of mine who returned from a 5th deployment described his frustration with people who casually observe he made it back “without a scratch.” “It’s the most frustrating thing, and its irritating, because they have no idea what my life is like, what it feels like, and that just because the marks aren’t there for them to see it doesn’t mean I came back just fine.” Vets often struggle with an acute identity crisis while trying to go through the steps of reintegration in the days and months after returning from a combat setting. Their life roles are different. Their motivations for making every movement throughout the day —have changed.

Our soldiers may make it home from a “place,” but as now deceased Daniel Somer’s put it in his last letter: “I can’t find peace when my mind is still in a war that I can’t even go back to.” Yes, they are HERE, but their minds…their hearts….their identities are still entrenched in the desert terrain overseas. In fact, many vets will endorse a sense of “not feeling normal here.” “I feel more like myself THERE.” They also experience a sense of guilt for being away from their brothers and sisters who remain in theatre. Perhaps they even feel a sense of guilt for surviving an incident one or more of their comrades did not.

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Those of us with Veterans in our lives should be reading up on PTSD, Combat Loss, Combat Bereavement, TBI….learning what they are, what they mean for our soldiers, and what one or more of these afflictions can mean for the day to day self -perception and quality of life of our loved ones.

Its crucial we get reacquainted with our soldiers WHERE THEY ARE TODAY and not where they USED TO BE YESTERDAY. With every deployment….they may come back a little less who they used to be before they left for another tour….reminding them of that does nothing to help them reintegrate back into a family, a home, or into society. You see, no one knows MORE THAN THEY DO, that they are different. NO ONE is more painfully aware that they can never go back to that “normal person” you used to know and love…but who is now forever changed. For many, the guilt and burden of that is just as overwhelming as their efforts to please you and be the person you want them to be.

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If you stop and think about it, all of us go through personal growth and change in our lives….changes that will make us a little bit different as we get older and wiser and as we live and learn our way through challenges.

Veterans are expected to go through these changes and adjust to them at lightening speed. They also have to try and and reintegrate and relearn who they are—at lightening speed….in fact, some vest state that they do it more for you than for themselves. They try hard to be who you remember them to be, who you used to love them for being….and who you hoped would step off that plane.

If you want to honor your soldier….let go of expectations. Love and honor the person that is standing before you in this moment. Stop what you are doing and give them an unconditional message of love by telling them they are perfect as they are right now, today. Reassure them that they will be just as perfect —if not better—each day that lies ahead. It’s what many of our soldiers so desperately need to hear. The gift of knowing that the pressure is off of their shoulders…that they can put down the burden of pretending to be someone they just cant get back to being anymore, that they cant seem to reach any longer.

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Think about it for a second. If you had just emerged through a catastrophic health crisis that left you changed physically, emotionally, or both—would you not want your loved ones to love you just as you are and not hold you to the impossible standard we call “the past?”

I think one of the most precious things we can do for our vets is give them hope and the knowledge that no matter what lies ahead for them, no matter how they may change, there is always that special person or family that will be there to love them, grow with them, remain steadfastly patient with them, celebrate them, and stand by them not just under the best of circumstances….but some of the worst.

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These men and women go overseas to fight for our freedom. For our right to “be” who we are and do as we wish. It just seems fair, and just, that we afford them those same basic rights—to return back into our arms and our hearts just as they are…and where they are on their own journey. Believe it or not, it’s the expectations we impose on them that can do the most harm….and push them farther away into a dangerous, dark, and lonely place.

To me, that is what Memorial Day should be about. Finding ways to reach and hold on tight to a connection with our Veterans. So they always know they aren’t just remembered or honored for their service and sacrifice on a single day…but that we as a nation, alongside their loved ones… will fight just as hard for them as they did for us—every day of the year.

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About the Author: Amanda L. Trujillo BS-MSN is the daughter of an Army VietNam Veteran who has suffered from PTSD and TBI for decades. She also has many friends who are veterans.  A passionate advocate for veteran health and PTSD/TBI Awareness, she is also the Director of Nurse and Patient Advocacy with the Humanitarian Advocate Coalition in Phoenix, Arizona.

 

Horse Sense: Twenty Years Later, Tricia’s Gift To Me.

Tricia introduced me to the world of horses. When I say “world” I mean the amount of it that I would allow my hands to get involved in. She was my best friend in high school, and she both irritated and mesmerized me because she just floated in and out of the real world at will. On her terms. At just 17,  Tricia had already lived an extremely full life, and only now can I understand why she died so early, so suddenly. She established her legacy and had done the work she was supposed to here.

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She was bold, passionate, courageous, vivacious, and unconcerned with worldly things. As long as she could perform and be with animals as much as she wanted, Tricia was happy. By the age of 17 she was both training AND showing world class Arabian Horses in competitions all over the state—and she had no problems taking home awards or ribbons either. She trained beautiful white laborador puppies to be guide dogs for the sick and disabled. She prepared them for their testing and certification…..aaaaaaand if one or two didn’t pass, that was okay with her and her mother Joanne, because they’d keep the ones who flunked.

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My favorite part of going over to their house was being greeted by both their favorites., I can only remember the name of the big black one, Magic. But they loved me. And, I, adored those dogs to no end. One of the memories that always remains with me is watching both of her big dogs take turns diving into the pool during the summer time.

After persistent prodding,  Tricia eventually got me on the back of “Bud,” a stubborn old man of a horse. But once I climbed atop his strong back and felt his energy, it seemed to match mine. I felt like we were both this moody pair….and all of a sudden horses weren’t so scary. Basquadar on the other hand, well, he was a different story. HE KNEW he was an award winning ARABIAN, and he only had eyes for his trainer and master, Tricia. I only rode Bud a few times, back then animals weren’t such an integral part of my life as they are now and I wish I had participated more before Tricia died. Though she was my best friend, we were on different “planes.”

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There were things I couldn’t quite grasp about her, something deeper, something about her was older than me. And I could never quite get what it was. But, I was content just watching her do what she did with animals and what she did on stage. She was glitter when she performed. She sparkled. She was the same way with animals.  I never could quite understand why she never cared what people thought about her…..now, I get it…..

I look back and remember Tricia each time I pass this huge ranch property off of 59th avenue and Thunderbird Road. I think they board race horses there. Each time I pass the property I feel this “pull” toward those horses. So much so, I park across the street and cross the road just to sit and watch them. Ill sit there as the sun rises on the way home from a night at Fuego, watch them run free first thing in the morning….and I will do the same at sunset too. I watch them preen eachother, nip at eachother when they get annoyed, stand up on their hind legs when they get startled by something they don’t like, tend to their babies, and do all sorts of other things horses do. Snort, stomp the ground, eat grass for hours on end…….

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 When I get stressed out, my usual destination (aside from the gym) is to get to the place where the horses are, and the big lush green trees with lots of shade…and my favorite place to be with the horses from a distance.

The horses have gotten used to my presence now. So, this week being an exceptionally weird week, a week in which I had two very life altering things occur, I felt I wanted to get nearer to them. As I walked the few miles it took to get to the big ranch I stopped alongside the gate this time. Six of them were clustered together off in the distance but they immediately sensed me standing there with my fingers curled in the fencing, peering at them….wondering If just this once, theyd give me the chance I had been hoping for. To connect with just one. To pet just one.

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On this day it appeared I was in luck. All six slowly made their way toward me, but stopped suddenly, looking at a caramel colored horse for what appeared to be guidance. It was the caramel colored one who came alone to visit with me first. I held my breath, anxious with anticipation and raw with emotion…..what was this guy going to think of me? Would he hate me? Would he stomp around and snort and show dismay? Would he report back to the others that I was “bad people?” My energy wasn’t exactly the best after all……but I took off my sunglasses for good measure so he could see my eyes.

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I wasn’t prepared for how deeply he looked into me. It was as if this big beautiful animal knew everything about me already. He sniffed my head, then the hand I stretched out to him….Suddenly, without warning, he put his face next to mine and held it there for what seemed like at least ten minutes. He didn’t move….I didn’t move. We were both in one space, inside this one moment in time.

My hand rested on one side of his face as he held his position next to me. I felt his warm energy, his light, his calm, his peace. It was like feeling his vibrations seep into my own spirit. And the tears…they spilled instantly…. they were hot, and they came so fast, but they felt good. I felt a spiritual release. This “its going to be fine really” kind of vibe coming from him and it was one of the most memorable moments Ive ever had with an animal. He felt my spirit….and I felt his. We were strangers to eachother but to him I was no stranger. He just “knew.”

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With a sudden jump he turned and galloped back to the rest of his companions and they appeared to commiserate for a little bit, each one of them looking up at me..their heads together. My curiosity piqued, I stayed in my position so as not to startle them. After a moment or two, all six of them came sauntering over. Each one stood before me, so incredibly big and shiny in the sun, so magnificently sweet and honest. They all took a turn dipping their head next to my cheek and I caressed each one with my hand telling them “thank you” as they looked into my eyes. Three ran back to a patch of grass after coming to meet with me. Three remained. Each one taking turn after turn getting affection from me, until, the caramel colored one nipped at the other two, causing them to run away reluctantly.

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He bent his head down once more so I could reach him, and this time I put my arms around his neck and gave him a hug and told him thank you for giving me a chance……that I needed this so much. He looked up and put his forehead to mine for a moment and at that second it was as if there were no cars racing by the side of the road, in fact there was no city noise at all. It was just me and this horse and his spirit, both our heads touching eachother…..This horse that did more for me in just a small amount of time than he will ever know…

Or maybe… he did.

 

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