Monday, November 28, 2011
A simple phrase, "You don't treat us like we're children. Thank you." A warrior petting our Train a Dog~Save a Warrior ambassador, 'Colonel' found himself vocalizing some thoughts and feelings, as we sat quietly on a bench watching Kelsie and Colonel chasing balls, flies, rope toys, and taking time to roll in the grass two days after Thanksgiving. Feelings he had not expressed in a very long time began to open up. "You treat us with kindness and compassion and with respect. That's what we need. We don't need to be treated and talked to like we are children or stupid."
At first I didn't understand, but then it became abundantly clear. These guys and gals went to war at a very young age and had no choice but to grow up quickly. They come back, without exception, different people. They do not come back a child. I tried to explain to him that perhaps some, quite simply, didn't know how to treat them. I told him that I have friends, life long friends, who will not accompany me to any of the military facilities to visit with my warriors. Why? Because they don't think they could handle it or didn't know what to say. Well, that might be another blog, but suffice it to say it is in the same realm of unreality and useless absurdity.
A great lesson was learned this breezy, cool November afternoon. A lesson of gratitude, as this young man expressed in a very few words something we all should take note of.
As Kitty Kelley said, "A hero is someone we can admire without apology." Nicholas taught us that he has character, patience, love of country, and the ability to touch out with human feelings. He was a brilliant teacher, for which I personally am enormously grateful.
Nicholas will be released from the hospital this Friday. He shall be missed. Greatly missed.
I will leave you with a note he handed to us in a sealed white envelope....with strict instructions to not open it until we left the building.
"Thank you so much for coming to our unit on Saturday afternoons~it means the world to me. You have no idea how great it feels to be so many miles away from family, but yet still know that you and the Colonel and Kelsie will still be here.
As a token of my appreciation, I would like to donate $50.00 to help a fellow soldier to have the opportunity to come to San Antonio and train with their service dog. You told me last week you have no problem asking 30 people for $50.00 each to help with hotel costs...now you just need to ask 29 people.
Thank you again for everything and I look forward to my own service dog one day."
We try to not ask for money in this venue, but in honor of this young warrior we are asking for 29 people to donate 50.00 so that we can tell Nicholas that "You did it!" He is a Battle Buddy for TADSAW (Train a Dog~Save a Warrior), but he is also a Battle Buddy for a warrior with severe PTSD/TBI that he most likely will never know...but wants to help.
Please consider honoring a friend or a loved one this holiday season with a $50.00 donation to TADSAW. A card will be sent to them notifying them of your generosity to a wounded warrior!
Nothing would make this warrior feel better this Christmas than to feel he accomplished something remarkable, by helping a fellow warrior to get his service dog. These guys and gals take care of their own. They are neither selfish nor looking for reward. They love each other and care for each other passionately. Remarkably, in so doing, they teach us how to live.
Please send donations to:
For Nicholas' Fund
13423 Blanco Road, Ste. 218
San Antonio, TX 78216
How far your candle throws its beams!
Sunday, November 20, 2011
I went to the beach, Mustang Island, out of desperation. Desperate to see if I could breathe again, to find my life, my future, and my ability to remember to take care of myself first, and to more importantly find the strength to continue.
I relaxed. It is impossible not to with the waves crashing onto the shore, the sound of the surf, the time of year when see you are the only person on the beach and nothing is more important than that moment, when you find you are not thinking, not worried, not pressured and not overcome by life and the burdens it is constantly dropping in your lap.
The purpose became real. The lesson poignant and vivid.
It is on the island that finding what truly is important, when you are completely and totally exhausted and in constant pain, it isn't all that difficult.
In highschool, I was required to memorize "Invictus" by William Earnest Henley. For some reason, watching the waves roll in and out, as the sun was about to rise, and I sipped my coffee, I remembered this poem. And recited it aloud.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be,
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance,
I have winced but not cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance,
My head is bloodied but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade.
And yet the menace of the years,
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul."
As I sat on the top floor of the 12 story condo at 6:00 AM , inhaling, exhaling, the sea, the salt water, the peace was all a gift of life. Suddenly, my very special gift from the sea appeared on this warm November early morning. A gift so vibrant, unexpected and so forceful, I couldn't help but shed tears in abundance.
You see, just days before Thanksgiving, I was sent a messenger. This most unusual messenger flew onto the ledge of the balcony, as I was setting up to take photographs of the sunrise (always a powerful moment for me). But little did I know how powerful and forceful the message this time would be.
I have recently questioned my life, my purpose, my decisions that need to be made and my constant yearning for adventures and journeys yet to be.
Here on the island I have slept nine and a half hours in a row, undisturbed. My anxiety and depression, as least in this time and place, vanished. Medication was not necessary. I found myself, for however brief a time, once again. The real me. My soul found its way to the surface.
And then the messenger appeared.
As most of you must know by now, I work with wounded warriors, amputees, burn survivers, and warriors with horrific invisible wounds of war. Their PTSD and pain has inbedded inself so deeply inside of me that I too experience Secondary PTSD. It isn't pretty, nor was it invited. But it is inside of me nonetheless. Perhaps this allows me to assist them in a more understanding way. I get it! They see that I do and trust me.
I understand their horror of flashbacks and a pain unspeakable. These are men and women who were just trying to stay alive. Who witnessed the death of their battle buddies, their friends, children, women. They never had time to grieve, as they were just trying to stay alive.
So who was the messenger? The messenger was a black bird. A bird brought to me by another far greater messenger to teach me abundant lessons. For you see, this bird had but one leg. He too was an amputee. He too, had somewhere along the way, paid the price for his freedom.
You might think this odd or I am reaching too far. But this was the only bird on the beach for as far as I could see. None in the water, none in he sand, nore the air. He came alone. It was then that I understood. As he ate a breakfast of French bread on the ledge, so close I could have reached out and touched him, I realized I need to take care of me first, so that I can take care of others. The turbulance I live with daily is demolishing me. I have only this moment, sparkling like a star, then melting like a snowflake. The moments are slipping away much too rapidly. But what more was this messenger trying to tell me? I remembered a quote from Marie Beynon Ray. It put it more into perspective.
"Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand and melting like a snowflake. Let us use it before it is too late."
My life's chaos and turbulence is troubling, exhausting, and taking its toll on me physically and mentally. It has become my life force and my demolishion all at he same time. Okay Mr. Bird what am I to do? Where is my list of things to do? Florence Nightengale said, "I think that feelings waste themselves in words; they ought to be distilled into actions, and into actions which bring results." But I still had no concrete answers.
The messenger came out of no where. But what is the answer. If I begin doing what I want to do now, I let others down ~ my warriors. Would not life become insipid and empty. If I continue, I jeopardize my life. So perhaps the lesson lies in taking a break, as best I can. Letting go of the less important things, and listening to the message brought to me by a bird with only one leg. You can continue, you can go on, but first you need to take care of yourself. Perhaps the bird was saying rest and then return to your warriors. Do what they were unable to do. Find the time to grieve those things in your life that you haven't grieved. Let go of those people and things and times that you have no control over. Let go. Let go. Let go. Do it. Do it.
The second morning at the beach, the bird returned. Same time! I fed him. I thanked him and wished him well. As I felt certain in some very real way he understood. I also thanked a messenger much higher up for teaching one of his children a lesson she very much needed to hear.
"We dread being wounded or beaten. We are tempted to give up. Yet if, despite these difficulties, we engage in some form of action, whether we are beaten or not, we will have won a victory."
Sunday, November 13, 2011
Hell. It is in many of the faces of our combat warriors returning with PTSD and TBI ~ a result of the experiences endured during combat! But an antidote for this horrible and debilitating anxiety is often found when a PFHF therapy dog walks into Laurel Ridge Military Resiliency Unit in San Antonio, Texas!
I wrote about it last week and didn't think there was anyway it could be topped this week. But it just keeps getting better. As we entered the unit with Kelsie and Colonel, it was as if Santa had just arrived with the gift that they had been asking for all year. Faces stoic and solemn, quite suddenly are brighted with smiles and glistening eyes. The whole demeanor and attitude in the room changes. Movement begins to take place. The television, card games and dominoes are abandoned, as these dogs are solely responsible for taking control of the room.
You would think the warriors would rush to them, but they are so overwhelmingly respectful of their battle buddies that they wait patiently for their turn to spend just a few moments with either or both or these therapists in fur. If one feels he has been there too long, he will tell a buddy he is sorry and gets up for the next to have their turn.
I laid a soft blanket on the sofa for Kelsie to lay on while the guys/gals came one at a time and sat next to her. She would roll over on her back, snuggle up close, or gently lay her head in their laps. They would pet her back, under her therapy vest, rub softly between her eyes, or fondle her ears and talk softly to her. For many of them, they had waited for this the entire week! At least that is what more than one warrior told me. "I hoped and I prayed you'd be here today. It helped me get through the week."
For these men and women, who have endured hell, these dogs are a journey into their hearts. A letting go, a freeing of their souls from the torment they continue to endure on the battlefields they return home to ~ a battlefield in their minds. There is an inability to forget what they saw, witnessed, felt, and smelled, that at least for now is trapped inside of them. But for a few moments they become boys again, human again, alive again. They become aware that there is something outside of themselves and their medical team that is able to erase some of the hell. First they learn to crawl and then slowly they begin to trust again. To trust and undo the feeling that the enemy is around every corner and disguised in a myriad of ways. As they pet the dogs for a moment, hell is released and they catch a glimpse of warmth, honesty, and compassion and more importantly unconditional and nonjudgemental love and best of all how to trust again.
As for the dogs and their benefits, there is no real scientific evidence, nor data. We only know it works! These guys learn to connect more closely with each other, with themselves with the magic and the mystery of it all. How something so simple can obliterate something so horrible and devastating to a human has yet to be determined. Perhaps there is no need to know. But for 30 warriors in lockdown for PTSD, we will be there. We will not let them down. We will not let them become a statistic. A sad statistic that 18 warriors kill themselves each and every day. That is more than have died in combat.
So we embrace the power of our therapy dogs and open our hearts to these young men and women who are on a very rough journey to return to a semblance of the life they had before war. With these dogs they are able to surrender to the fact that they do have feelings and that there just might be power in powerlessness. And they might just become aware of the fact to pass through the feelings of what they have endured, rather than avoiding them, just might be an answer. And if it takes a dog to guide them, then so be it.
Therapy and service dogs for our warriors with PTSD/TBI/MST just might become a mantra that will heal their hearts and their minds and align them with peace. These dogs will give them all the attention, devotion, guidance, and grace they might need, to find the only way out is through.
It might sound odd and Pollyanna to some. But some doctors are now writing prescriptions for service dogs for our warriors. God bless them. They understand. They understand that our emotions and past experiences often can keep us away from the present moment. But with a dog, something happens. With a dog the warriors begin to focus again, to hear a heart beat next to them that is consistent and unflaling and that becomes hidden in their soul and stored in their body when they need it the most. With their canine battle buddy by their side to help them get back on track, whether in a day, a week, or months, they will have advanced on their paths. And a new cycle and life will have begun. And hell just might be a very long way away, as they learn to connect back to a place of peace.
As for next Saturday, we will celebrate Kelsie's sixth birthday with the warriors. They have requested hot wings, and a cake! Can't get much simpler than that can it?
Donations are gratefully accepted!
This holiday season please give the gift that will save a life! Help support Penny's From Heaven Foundation, Inc. with a contribution.
Monday, November 7, 2011
Moments come and go in our lives...some willingly forgotten and some leaving footprints in places we didn't even know we had.
Saturday I spent several hours with about ten wounded warriors home from Iraq/Afghanistan. There was no applause, no parade, no flag waving. Each had witnessed horrors too awful to speak about. All were facing a new battle, the battle of an invisible injury called post traumatic stress and/or a traumatic brain injury. They were hospitalized in a lock down facility, so they would not cause injury to themselves, as they were treated and attempting to resume some part of a life they once knew...before war, before hell.
I was instructed to leave my purse and cell phone in the car. I could take nothing in with me but a German Shepherd therapy dog named Colonel and his handler. It had taken literally months to gain approval to be admitted to this secure unit. But perseverance paid off. And it paid off in a very big way.
When we first entered the 'day room', it was easy to sense the listlessness, the boredom, the lack of life, and faces staring into space, into a time and place they are not able to forget. Staff was first to say, "Oh look, the Colonel is here!" One guy turned, as if he needed to stand and salute, but upon realizing 'the Colonel' was a dog, he smiled, leaned over to pet him and said "He outranks me." Tortured souls and eyes turned to see exactly what he was talking about. It was then the magic occurred.
Stephen King is quoted as saying, "Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes they win." This I personally and sadly understand all too well. But on this beautiful South Texas afternoon the monsters and the ghosts and the horrors of war didn't win!
Before two minutes had passed one blond headed slender young man wearing gray rubber slippers just stood and stared at Colonel and then at me as he said, 'Until this dog walked into this room, I had nothing! Thank you. Now I feel like I can breathe again, I can live again. My life has changed. Everything has changed."
Every word I write at this moment, everything, every effort, everything I have ever done in my whole life comes looking back at me. It is almost as if nothing prior to those heartfelt words from these soldier meant anything, anything at all. In those words, I realized suddenly what it all comes down to is love. Unconditional, non judgmental love. A choice to commit to something, someone, no matter what the obstacles or temptations might be that stand in our way.
This was further affirmed when we were preparing to leave after three hours, and one soldier came up to me and asked in almost a whisper if I could give him a hug. I said I would be honored. As I did so, I whispered "thank you for your service and sacrifice." Barely audible, as if he were almost afraid to say the words, he asked if I would be back. I told him absolutely. With tears in his eyes, he said, "You have been my only visitor in the four months I have been here. Thank you." I told him that hugs are vital and that we need that connection to live. I hugged him again and had the sense he never wanted to let go. Perhaps because I felt the same.
Maybe, just maybe, the choices and decisions and roads I travel and make day in and day out, year after year, say more about love than never having a choice to make at all.
So today I ask you to "listen to your heart. Because wherever your heart is, that is where you'll find your treasure." ~ Paulo Coelho
On this day I became more clearly myself. On this day I understand that God is inside of me, showing me the direction to take and who might need a hug more than anything at all. Offering hope and healing and hugs and understanding just might change a life, save a life. On this day I realized who I am, where I have been and most importantly, where I am going.
It was interesting to observe each of the dozen or so warriors allowing their comrades to have some private time and space with Colonel. Then the next would come up and snuggle and give belly scratches and utter private words that only the Colonel could hear. This is all that was needed. They would ask his name and about what had happened that he had had to have a leg amputated. "I want a dog like this, a dog that has been injured and rescued and one that I can love." Then they would just sit on the floor, rubbing Colonel's ears, softly and tenderly stroking his fur and for a while forgetting. Forgetting war, and death and fire and screams.
Perhaps on this Saturday afternoon two prisoners were freed by something as simple, and as necessary, as a hug.
"A great silence comes over me, and I wonder why I ever thought to use language." ~ Rumi
"The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why." ~ Mark Twain