Brothers and Sisters, … and Veterans?
Even from the most grievous loss comes hope. Twenty years ago I lost 4 children secondary to the trauma of military service. At the time I went into battle mode trying to stop the damage from occurring to them and to myself. Being as damaged as I already was, it didn’t accomplish much in the short term. I had to make choices to accept the losses and focus on what I could accomplish at the time. After 3 years I had regained my oldest son Lynden, 2 years later I was called to rescue my oldest daughter Monique. Only to lose her a second time 2 years later, she was also badly damaged from my military service and the unprecedented and over reactive response of Child and Family services. It took another ten years after that to restore that particular loss and restore a relationship with her. Interestingly enough it is that relationship that would become the catalyst in restoring my relationship with my youngest two children Jordan and Camille. This past weekend I had the immense pleasure of walking Monique down the aisle and giving her away at her wedding. This is the first time I actually felt good letting one of my children go. Several years ago her and her brother Lynden with the help of their step sister Emily reached out to my youngest son. The outreach was not to be, as there were still a lot of 3rd party interventions keeping these siblings apart. I have two children from one relationship and another two children from a second relationship. They are brothers and sisters that have never been allowed to connect share or love each other. Nor were they ever allow a relationship with their father. None of which was ever their choice or mine.
Despite this, social media connects much of what we seem to lose track of, despite some of its negative impact on intimate relationships. In our case it helped restore a family. My younger son Jordan took a chance and reached out for help to meet his sister Monique on this very joyful occasion and it was clearly not an easy thing for him to do. We had a few awkward moments and conversations, and I had to curb my desire to grab a hold of my son and not let him go. But we also laughed a lot and cried a little. Much the way I felt so many years ago, only this time I had all those feelings plus a few new ones stewing within my damaged brain. The weekend itself was a flurry of activity with family coming and going, late nights and travel. Not the most ideal environment to be meeting someone for the first time in 20 years. I can only imagine the experience from his point of view. He was 3 at the time he was taken and has no memory of anyone or any event, but everyone he met family wise knew him and greeted him like an old loss love (which he was). Then there is his sister Camille. I have still not met her but a few days ago she reached out and asked to get to know me and her brother and sister. The process will begin again, and by the grace of her brother we will be more skilled this time around when we do meet. Perhaps something less chaotic than a wedding and a little more relaxed with more time to admire and share with each other.
The experience was not unlike jumping into events and training with other veterans over the past few years which I had done with Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur or True Patriot Love. That brotherhood I trained and lived with for 17 years in the military and was separated from for pretty much the same length of time brought very similar emotions to bare. When I saw my colleagues Brian, John, Dave, Kelley, Craig (but to name a few) for the first time in 25 years I felt very overwhelmed. It was like a part of me that had been missing for an eternity had just been returned. Meeting my son and talking with my daughter via text messenger was very much the same. Military veterans need to remain connected with each other. I never understood this until recently or to the extent that we need this extended community to heal and convalesce.
Yesterday while texting with my youngest Camille; I set up a messenger group for her and her brothers and sisters (and myself) to get to know each other. I left a single message “Let’s start getting to know each other” I then left and was engaged in a course for a few hours that evening, when I returned 20 plus messages popped up one after another in rapid fire as the conversation loaded. For the first time as a parent I knew what it felt like to sit back and watch all your children play together while you sat back in a chair and watched. My children had never played together (at least not all four together) in their lives. Well, technically they still haven’t as it was only on messenger. But the banter is very reminiscent of my own brothers and sisters when we gather, and at the moment I find it hard to sit still knowing that the day we gather physically will come very soon.
Brian and I got together just last Friday and sat on my porch enjoying a cigar and catching up on each other’s success and failures. It was the same nervous “I can’t wait” feeling for him to arrive. It was the same meeting Kelley, Dave and John up in Ottawa, I guess we really don’t know what these lifelong relationships mean for us until we experience moments like this. Old men gather to tell stories on benches in the park and old ladies collect to gossip in the kitchens (or so we picture in our minds) for just this reason. To know where we came from, whom we are and where we are going. And as much as we need to do this as parents, brothers and sisters, we need also to do this as veterans.