Monday, September 24, 2012

Loving a veteran

I flew to Albany, New York last Thursday, and spent the weekend at a retreat in the deep countryside with ten other women. The attendees were wives, mothers or daughters of veterans - from Vietnam to Afghanistan - or active duty military Afghanistan. I was the oldest by less than a year; the youngest was probably in her late 20s. It was an education for me.

My husband has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) from his time in Vietnam.   He has sought and received help for the PTSD, returned to Vietnam in 2005 as part of his psychological healing, and lives a busy life today - but neither of his diagnoses will ever go away. I can sometimes observe the impact of his war experience on him, but there's not much I can do about it except listen if he wants to talk - and leave him alone if he doesn't.

The other husbands have PTSD at least. They also have amputated limbs, scarred or mutilated body parts, and/or traumatic brain injury (TBI), which manifests in headaches, dizziness, memory loss or insomnia. And even though the men have injuries making them ineligible for deployment, most of them want to go back to the war zone - even though they may have been deployed half a dozen times or more in recent years.

The family members of these injured veterans carry much of the burden, both at home and as they do what they can do get help for their men.  For a veteran with TBI and its associated memory loss, the requirements of filling out a multitude of forms to quality for medical help are overwhelming; that duty may fall to the family member who is also keeping the family home together and may have a full-time job as well.

I felt honored to spend the weekend with these women. I wondered whether I could cope with the challenges they face. 

When I got the email describing the retreat I knew I was supposed to go, but I didn't know why. Now that I'm back home, I feel changed in some way, but I haven't identified what that change is about. Maybe it's knowing more and realizing how very lucky I am. Maybe it's a connection with other women who love veterans. Maybe it's the beginning of some new commitment on my part. I remember my commitment to say "yes" in my life and I wonder what the next "yes" will be.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

It's in the air

Fall, that is. And the crows. And maybe smoke.

The weather is still warm, but with a cool tinge, if that's possible. The afternoon shadows are longer. And the bunches of grapes - first time for these guys on our three-year-old plants - are turning from green to lavender and sweetening up, but the grape leaves are getting yellow. It's like the fruit is racing the fall to ripen.

Every evening at dusk, hundreds of crows take wing from their trees in these several suburbs, heading southeast. Apparently they're all heading for a convention or gathering of some sort.  This evening Art and I tried to follow them. Maybe to an open area on a golf course? Maybe to trees along a slough? The crows were so numerous we figured it would be easy to find where they landed. We were wrong, though. At a certain point they all just vanished. As we drove back, we saw another hundred or so still headed to the gathering place. It must just be their secret. We decided that next summer, when the days are very long, we'll take bicycles and see if we have better luck.

Fires are burning in Central Washington. Art told me the sun rose flaming red this morning. And his eyes are itching. I said the wind never blows from east to west where we live. He said it did this morning.

We have a dozen apples on our two-year-old tree. I thinned them early in the summer and dumped a hundred or so of the gumball-sized apples into our yard waste bin. They were growing too close to the healthiest apple on the branch, so they got removed. I think I should make some applesauce. But I'll need jars and lids and about a case of apples. Maybe I'll do that next year at about this time.

Today I sent emails to three radio stations, reminding them that Veterans Day is coming up in just a couple of months and telling them I've got the perfect book to remember the day. I feel exposed, sending my name and phone number and email out like that. But no more exposed than in the book.

Next Thursday I'm scheduled to fly to Albany, New York, to attend a retreat for women who have a veteran in their life. It's just for us, this time. I wonder if anyone will remember to pick me up at the airport when I get there. I wonder if I'll be the oldest woman. I wonder if I'll remember the weekend as a life-affirming experience or as four legs of a five thousand mile flight.

Lots of wondering. Maybe that's what's in the air.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Home from Maine

I love Maine! I love arriving by rental car, or regional bus, or nine-passenger Cessna. Especially in the late summer, when we sometimes go on a six-day schooner cruise. That happened last week.

We board on Sunday night. We set sail on Monday and arrive back at the dock the following Saturday. In between, we sail, and eat, and visit small towns, and have lobster on a "desert island". At night, we climb into narrow bunks in our tiny room.  We share a marine head with 10 other people, and we use the hand-held shower in another head. We sail under blue, blue skies and in summer storms. We get sunburned and then tanned. We relax, and we talk to new friends, and we relax some more. And then eat again. And maybe nap, or help sail, or read a book.

We had a 17-hour travel day on Monday: six hours on a bus from Searsport to the Boston airport, a four-hour wait for our flight, and nearly six hours in the sky. I love Maine! But it was great to see our beautiful Seattle out the window of our descending plane.

Here are a few pictures sent to us by a new friend. You can find out more about our sail on

Art helping to tack
Waiting for the picnic

The crew dances behind the cooked lobsters

Captain Doug Lee with Pirate Art

New friends