I may not be in Iraq or Afghanistan, but I serve here. To face it trembling is not productive. This was one such time.
I first met Molly, a soldier's wife, on a Spring day sitting on a patio at BAMC. She looked broken and exhausted, as I approached her with my 'mostly' blind therapy dog, Gracie. I took a deep breath and knew that this little clown of a dog has an intuitive way of making people smile and setting aside their pain, if only for a few moments. I decided to let Gracie take control.
Molly whispered to her, as she held her and listened to her famous 'cooing' sounds. Gracie snuggled into Molly's chest. This warmth and comfort seemed to awaken long denied tears and an almost urgent need to release the words of pain and fear - finally. She had held it in as long as she could. Gracie had become the catalyst.
Molly left the hospital at BAMC only two times while her husband was in ICU for thirty eight days. He had been in Afghanistan. "A triple stacked land mine IED packed with purple phosphorus 'got' two soldiers and the interpreter. He was thrown from the vehicle. On fire, but ran back into the vehicle to get his guys. Both died." Molly needed to talk, she needed to share. I reached for her hand, and she held on tight. This is a war also fought on the homefront. This is life. These are our soldiers. This is what I do. This is what they sacrifice.
She continued, "My husband had no eye brows and severe facial burns." She recalled bracing herself for the first time she was to see him days after he arrived from Landsthul, Germany. She took a deep breath before entering his hospital room, smiled and said, “You’re a sight for sore eyes.”
"I lied through my teeth when I told him his buddies were okay and then told him 'he was the best thing that ever happened to me.' I couldn’t look at his face, because I wouldn’t have recognized him. All I could see were his beautiful blue eyes."
"I learned quickly that severely wounded soldiers are worried their wives will leave them. I knew I couldn’t be that kind of wife. Parents have it ten times worse. If it had been one of my kids, I would be dying."
I asked her how they survive it day after day after day. "Wives take on other wives and their kids, as their own family." It helps the wives to talk. It is the quiet ones that are dangerous. If they didn’t marry for the right reasons, they won’t make it."
As for her husband, "what he looks like on the outside is unimportant. It is what is on the inside that is."
I watched Molly as she never took her hands off of Gracie. She played with her muzzle, fondled her ears, and quietly and gently ran her index finger up and down her spine. Gracie would then turn over and expose her 'pretty pink belly' for a little tender scratching. On this day, on this patio, a young woman found an opening and a place where she felt safe to finally 'let it out.'
Little Gracie had initiated this 'relaxation response' taking Molly's focus away from her pain and temporarily lightening her mood. This could be considered a coincidence or synchronicity. But there is a scientific reason. It is proven!
When we pet a dog, within minutes we get a massive release of the beneficial hormone, dopamine, and a decrease in the stress hormone, cortisol. Physical anxiety goes down when a therapy dog is present, which almost always results in lessening depression. Initiating this relaxation response takes people’s focus off of their pain and brightens their moods.
Well, the following day Molly and her husband were to celebrate their 16th anniversary at BAMC.
As I struggled to leave her, I remembered that there is an inward greatness in the human soul. And I knew beyond a doubt we have to love those we love for every moment we are given. For tomorrow is not guaranteed.
We must leave room in our lives for the angels to dance - if only for a moment.