Monday, January 22, 2018

You Don't Know What You Don't Know

by Monica Bobbitt

It was recently brought up in a group I belong to that said group should be exclusively for spouses of currently serving members of the Canadian Forces. No spouses of veterans or military widows like me.

The conversation morphed as online conversations tend to do, and took on a nasty and somewhat ridiculous tone, and I had to walk away.

I've been thinking about it ever since though.

Because the whole thing just made me so sad.

Sad that instead of holding each other up, they were pushing each other down.

Sad that it became your one of us and then your not.

And sad that they don't know what they don't know.

And what they don't know is that we were them once.

The fact is, as a military widow, I have become used to being marginalized. Of not really fitting in. I'm neither the spouse of a current member of the CF or of a veteran.

I don't fit into any neat category. I am an Other.

Your spouse dies in service to his country and you become an Other. We're referred to by Veterans Affairs Canada as a Survivor, although sometimes their own staff doesn't even know what that means.

Personally, I like to call myself a thriver, because I've done a heck of a lot more than merely survive these last three years, but I digress.

One foot in the civilian world, the other in the military community, we are trapped in a nether land in between. A place we never wanted to be, with the last posting message anyone ever wants to receive.

And yes, I have been told I don't belong in the military community anymore (never mind I'm the parent of an RMC cadet).

But for the most part, overwhelmingly, I have been treated by all as one of their own, as still part of the military community.

And I am.

It's taken me a lot of soul searching (and walking) since I've become a widow to figure out just where I fit into this world. And to realize that I belong exactly where I want to belong.

And I also know that I have so much to offer, not just to my friends and family, or to other widows (military and civilian) or to anyone else who may be facing a difficult time.

I have so much to offer to those very women who don't want me in their club, now that I belong to that new club, The Others.

Just as the spouses of veterans also have so much to offer them.

But they don't see that. Because you don't know what you don't know.

Their attitude is a common one. There are so many that think like them. We see it all the time all across society, not just in our CF one. It's a throwaway world.

Someone retires and they suddenly become obsolete. They no longer matter. And the wealth of experience and knowledge they have to offer, well suddenly we don't seem to need it anymore.

When in fact we actually need it more than ever.

But we don't know what we don't know.

Take the time to sit and talk with any veteran, veteran's spouse or widow, and you will learn so much.

If you listen to really hear what they have to say.

They can teach you so much about life and grief, service and sacrifice, and even regrets.

When you exclude them from your community, when you close your ears to what they have to say, you miss out on so much.

Knowledge, support, guidance.

And then one day, when you suddenly find yourself the one in need of that support and guidance-- from the spouse whose husband has PTSD; or the one whose husband had the critical brain injury; or the military widow who buried her husband, well it's not there. Because she isn't a part of your club anymore.

And so I read what those women had to say yesterday. And I was sad.

Because that spouse of yesterday?

She is the veteran's spouse of tomorrow.

And she could very easily be the military widow of today.

The doorbell rings.

And the wife who belonged yesterday is the other of today.

This I know to be true.

Because it happened to me.

I was them once. I never thought it would happen to me, but then we never think it will happen to us.

But it can. And it does.

It happens when we are twenty-three and when we are forty-three.

It happens when our husband is a young gunner. And it happens when he is the CO.

It happens when they are deployed and it happens when they are on exercise.

I hope they never have to learn the hard way what they don't know, but if they do, I'll be there for them.

Because though I might not be a part of their spouse's club, we are all part of the same military family. No matter how long our spouses served. No matter when our spouses served. No matter how they died.

I will help them stand up.

And I will help them carry that flag.

Because I know just how heavy it is.

And I know it's far too heavy for one person to carry on their own.

You don't know what you don't know. Until it happens to you.


Chat soon,

Monica 

Click here to learn 25 Things I Didn't Know About Being A (Military) Widow 

To learn more about grief, resiliency, and life after loss, follow Monica on Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/agoatrodeo/

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

So What Do You Do?

by Monica Bobbitt

Someone asked me what I do today.

I've always hated that question. Because for many years, my answer was "stay at home mom." 

As if that was somehow less than.

But I often felt it was. For far too long, I felt I wasn't enough. As if somehow my value was tied to the amount of money I made or didn't make.

The raised eyebrows, the snickers, the "oh you're one of those" reinforced my insecurities.

Yes, I am one of those.

And that was inevitably followed up with what does your husband do? And then I would explain he was in the military and then it was another "oh you're one of those."

Yes, I am one of those too.

And then I was widowed, and I have come to dread that question even more. Because I no longer have a husband to "support" me.

Now I really am "one of those"

A military widow.

"I hear you're rich"

Really? I wish somebody had told me that.

So when I got that question today, I admit I hesitated.

Like deer-in-a-headlight-here-we-freaking-go-I'm-not-enough again hesitated.

What do I say? Do I say stay at home military widow part-time student mom?

Because I don't have a glamorous job with a nice office and pay cheque. My office is my kitchen island. And I don't get paid for what I do.

When can I actually call myself a writer? Can I call myself a writer if I've never been published or paid for one single word? Am I poser if I say I am? And will I get another "oh your one of those?"

And then I took a deep breath. And I thought about all that I've written over the last three and a half years. And all the writing courses I've taken.

When do I get to call myself a writer?

Now. The answer is now.

What I do is actually part of who I am.

I am a writer.

I am a speaker.

And so much more.

I am enough.

I'm a writer and a speaker.

"Wow, that's so cool. I've never met an author before! What do you write? Fiction? Nonfiction?"

Nonfiction. I write about the hard stuff, the funny stuff, the sad stuff, the grateful stuff.

My life, basically.

"You are so brave for writing the story of you. Do you have a website I can check out?"

Be brave enough to walk through the wilderness of uncertainty, criticism, and judgment as who you really are, not who you think the world wants you to be.

Decide who you are and then be you.

I'm Monica.

I'm a writer.

I'm a speaker.

And I'm more than enough.

And I always have been.

And so have you.

Chat soon,
Monica

Read more of Monica's story here:  Finding Monica 

To learn more about grief, resiliency, and life after loss, follow Monica on Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/agoatrodeo/
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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

C-Sections and Deployments

by Monica Bobbitt

Twenty years ago today this baby girl was born. A week later her dad deployed for the first time.

That first week post-partum pre-deployment is a blur to me now. I remember I was exhausted and apprehensive. And scared.

Not that anything would happen to Dan, I was too naive for that but scared to be alone with two children entirely dependent on me.

Scared I would mess it all up. Scared I would mess them up.

A few days after we brought the baby home from the hospital, I came down with a severe case of mastitis. Two days after that, Dan deployed.

I was alone with the responsibility of parenting a 23-month-old and a newborn, while sick and recovering from a c-section.

I felt so much mom shame. I'd had a c-section, again. I struggled to breastfeed, again, before finally switching to the bottle, again.

I felt like a failure.

My house was a disaster, I couldn't vacuum for several weeks post-op. And my toddler refused to eat anything but Mini Gos and canned mandarin oranges.

I was supposed to be this strong, resilient army wife. But instead, I felt anything but.

I could have (should have) asked my friends for more help, but I didn't want to be a burden. They helped me enough as it was. And besides, it wasn't their job, it was mine.

And I wasn't so good at asking for help back then.

I had never felt so alone as I did in those winter days of January and February.

I was so tired and so overwhelmed.

I would sit up at night, feeding the baby, feeling sorry for myself and lamenting on all the things I had to do alone. Dan was missing so much: time with the baby, Connor's second birthday, my birthday, Easter.

All I could see was how miserable I was and how lonely I was.

And how hard deployment was.

I thought it was the hardest thing ever.

I couldn't see outside of my postpartum deployment haze. All I could see was how hard my life was, I couldn't see how good it was or how fortunate I really was.

I focused on the negatives, not the positives. I didn't realize I was making a difficult time even worse.

Fortunately, as the months went by, I adjusted to single parenting. We got into a routine. I got more sleep. The snow melted and spring finally came. And eventually, the deployment came to an end.

Age, experience, widowhood have given me a perspective I couldn't have then. It's easy to look back now and see that that deployment wasn't the worst thing ever. In fact, there are many things far worse than deployment.

But to the Monica then there wasn't, it really was the hardest thing she'd ever been through. That was the only frame of reference she knew.

I sometimes wish I could go back and reassure her as she sat there in the dark feeding the baby, tears streaming down her face. I wish I could hug her and let her know that everything would be okay... eventually. To tell her that despite the c-sections and bottle feedings and Mini Gos, her kids turned out okay, much better than okay. That they grew up to become amazing young adults.

But then, I'd have to tell her about the really hard stuff too. Because you can't have the good without the bad. And so I'd have to tell her that there are actually things far worse than deployment. I'd have to tell her about folded flags and granite headstones. I'd have to break her heart sixteen years too soon.

There are just some things you can't take a shortcut through, you have to experience them and live through them in order to grow.

And really, there are no shortcuts through hell.

Twenty years ago today a vibrant little girl was born via cesarean section. She was bottle fed.

A week after she was born, her dad deployed.

He deployed twice more before she was ten.

Twice he moved for several months before her family did.

Sometimes her mom fed her boxed mac and cheese and hotdogs. Sometimes her house was a mess.

When she was sixteen, her Dad was killed in a training accident.

Her mom has made all kinds of mistakes since then. She once even epically threatened to quit being the only parent.

Her mom no longer feeds her Mac and cheese, though. And the house is a lot cleaner now.

Today that baby turned twenty. She's a Dean's List Scholar at the University of Toronto. She speaks three languages and will spend the summer studying in Germany.

As it turns out, her Mom didn't mess her (or her brother and sister) up after all.

Last year that baby girl sent her mom a text,

"You're a good writer oh mother of mine. I feel like I don't tell you enough, but I'm really proud of you."

Not half as proud as I am of you Elizabella. I wouldn't trade one single day, not even that terrible one, of the last twenty years of being your mom for anything.

But I am awfully glad you don't wake me up at night anymore. If only I could say the same about your dog.



To learn more about grief, resiliency, and life after loss, follow Monica Bobbitt on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/agoatrodeo/


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