Testaments of Love and Courage
(February 1, 2007)
|"Having the Blue Star Moms reach out is a blessing, and a facility which gave so much to us for nothing in return is a testament to values and helps make things better. It's beneficial and helps to hear others. If we get another invitation, we'll look forward to returning."|
These were the words of Gold Star Dad Jim Simpson when he and I spoke on Sunday morning, 14 January. He and his wife, Maria, were leaving the Marines' Memorial Club and Hotel in San Francisco after attending the second California Gold Star Parents Remembrance and Honor event.
CA GS families journaling through grief workshop
|Jim and Maria are from Chino and parents of fallen hero, USMC LCpl Abraham Simpson, who gave his life in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, November 19, 2004.|
They were two among more than one hundred other Gold Star parents and siblings who attended the second California Gold Star Parents Remembrance and Honor.
The first such event was held September, 2005 thanks to The Marines' Memorial Association Club and Hotel and the Blue Star Moms East Bay Chapter #101. An event I was privileged to attend and one that proved the need to continue bringing together family members of California's fallen heroes.
|Although my husband, USMC Sgt Maj (Ret) David Tainsh and I, parents of fallen hero, U.S. Army Sgt Patrick Tainsh, did not arrive until early Friday morning, family members, greeted by the Blue Star Moms, began meeting on Thursday evening, January 11. They placed photos, medals, other memorabilia, and names next to yellow roses on white clothed tables surrounding the Crystal Ballroom. A room of chandeliers and soft light where through Friday night one could feel the thickness of the spirits of our fallen loved ones and the thickness of the proud grieving as they "remembered the love, celebrated the life, and shared the journey" with each other.|
Not only had my husband and I received an invitation as Gold Star Parents of a California fallen hero, but we were honored to be asked by the Blue Star Moms to moderate what I call "a family grief circle" and facilitate a "journaling through grief writing workshop." These are two activities that Dave and I have had training and experience with through TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors of military personnel headquartered in Washington, D.C. www.taps.org). TAPS is the only national organization to offer 24 hour grief hotlines and networking to anyone grieving the death of a loved one who dies while serving in the United States armed forces. Knowing the help that such workshops provide families at the TAPS National Military Survivors Seminar when we meet annually over Memorial Weekend in D.C, I knew our California families would benefit greatly.
CA GS Family Grief Circle
|At 10:00 a.m., Friday, my heart, although broken for every one who entered, was also overjoyed that over 70 Gold Star moms, dads, and siblings gathered to support each other through talking and listening. After introducing myself and my husband, I assured the group that I understood each and every individual was at a different place in their journey; and that this room where we sat was the most safe, loving place they could be, where they could speak, cry, wail, or laugh (as many of us have learned we have to do) with no judgment from anyone regarding how we each needed to express ourselves. First to speak and give tribute was Travis Hunt and Debra Hunt, brother and mom to LCpl Justin Hunt, USMC, who gave his life on July 6, 2004 at Al Anbar Province, Iraq.|
Dr. Francie Lattimore and Counseling Therapist Jeffrey Jewell, from the Vet Center in Concord, CA., were also present with us and available to any family member who found the need for a professional counselor anytime during the day. Boxes of tissue and water glasses were distributed along the circle in strategic places, and they were used until noon.
At the request of family members we returned to the "family circle" at 1:30 p.m. instead of the scheduled 2:00 p.m. with intention to stay as long as it took for everyone to share. More than 70 soon arrived, many who had spoken in the first session and did not want to miss the stories they had not heard. Although chairs had been arranged for small groups to talk with one another, the consensus was for the full circle because no one wanted to miss hearing a single story and possibly benefit from another's journey.
Gold Star Dad David Jacobson of Vallejo, CA., spoke about his daughter, A1C Elizabeth Jacobson, USAF, who gave her life on September 28, 2005 in Safwan, Iraq. And there were those such as the mom who first said she wanted only to listen because she didn't feel she could speak. But with a voice of love next to her who quietly said, "But you are the only one who can tell me about your son. No one but you knows his story," this parent, too, found her voice and through tears, shared for twenty minutes. Then, 81 year old Ms. Kitty LaPolla, Vietnam Gold Star Mom of Cpl Frank Almeida, after sharing her journey, smiled, lifted her arms and proclaimed, "I did it, I finally did it! I was finally able to talk to others who understand." This was the first time that Miss Kitty had ever had the opportunity to share in such a manner with other military families who shared this common bond of "proud grief."
I wish I had enough space to name every fallen hero and the family member who spoke testaments of love and courage. And I wish I could tell you each story that came from 20 Gold Star family members who, after sharing in the "family circle," participated in the "journaling through grief writing workshop." Here, after I spoke about the importance of journaling, participants chose writing exercises that allowed them to spew their emotions onto paper, speak to their loved one, or draw a picture. We were all blessed when after writing, a sister read aloud a memory she recalled, a dad read his essay, and a mom shared her poem called Tomorrow.
Before the journaling workshop concluded, Mary Shea, Gold Star mom of CPL Timothy Shea, USA, who gave his life in Husaybah, Iraq, August 25, 2005, offered the opportunity to everyone to participate in her new writing project that will offer help to other families. "I want to create a book of sharing stories to help parents who have some of the same questions I had after my son's death," she told the workshop. "I want us to be voices for others." I am one among others who accepted Mary's questionnaire and will definitely contribute to her dream of providing helpful stories to those who walk this path behind us.
After this "emotionally draining" day, we all gathered in a room of candlelight for a five star dinner and slideshow tribute to our heroes. Keynote speaker author Bing West shared with our families, some he personally knows as their sons' courage is recorded in his book: No True Glory, The Battle for Fallujah. I appreciated his words to assure us that our loved ones will not be forgotten, that their military family and others in the foreign country where they gave their life would never forget them. Some parents spoke from the stage to thank the Blue Star Moms and Marines' Memorial Hotel for providing this wonderful day of remembrance. Stacey Holley, Gold Star mom of SPC Matthew Holley, USA, from San Diego who gave his life on November 15, 2005 in Taji, Iraq shared that the balm for her broken heart has come to be that of taking her eyes off herself and placing them on others. I second that and I know this is what we all did on this Thursday and Friday of remembrance and honoring.
To gauge their journey, I had given family members in the journaling workshop a small index card. I asked them to draw a line and write zero through 10. I then ask that they each circle the number that represents where they felt they were that day in their journey of grief and coping, and then had them place the card inside the envelope they were given. My prayer is that when they choose to open that envelope some months down the road they will find they can circle a number higher on the scale, indicating their movement to higher ground in this journey. A journey that none of us would wish upon anyone, a journey that is our "new norm", a journey that brought us together to share our experiences at the Marines' Memorial Club and Hotel on January 11, 12th, 2007.
And although our "journey gauges" will all be different day to day for the rest of our lives, the one thing I'm sure we will all agree on is this: Since we had no choice about being placed on this specific journey, thank God for Major General Mike Myatt and the Marines' Memorial Association, other sponsors, too numerous to name, and the Blue Star Mom East Bay Chapter #101 that had the courage to organize this event and hold our hands. Yes, they, too, are testaments of love and courage, because while they stand on the sidelines of our journey doing all they can, they too know that they could easily be "inside the wire" with us. But yet, they march on, holding our hands, crying with and helping us to: "remember the love, celebrate the life, and share the journey."
By Deborah Tainsh
Deborah Tainsh, Gold Star Mother of Sgt Patrick Tainsh KIA Baghdad, Iraq, 2/11/04, is the author of Heart of a Hawk - One family's sacrifice and journey toward healing, recipient of the Military Writers Society of America's Spirit of Freedom award. Deborah is also a supporter of America's military and their families. She is a national speaker, writer, and peer mentor for TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors and Good Grief Camp for Young Survivors) located in Washington, D.C. She and her husband, USMC Sgt. Major (Ret) David Tainsh live in Harris County, Georgia, near Columbus and their son, Phillip.
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