The bliss of my childhood was interrupted in 1973, when I was five years old, and my father and I witnessed the tragic, accidental death of my older brother. He died in the street one fall night, and I began my dance with PTSD. Back then, you were either “crazy” and went to a state institution or you were “fine”. There were no grief support groups, no counseling services in our area, nothing to make it better. So, my parents just clung to me and each other and we survived. We were alone together, each with our own pain and grief, trying to help each other. My dad, the Marine, was often away with the military and with his own mixture of grief, anger, and PTSD, so my mother was our rock.
As a young woman I decided I wanted to be the support for others that my family never had. I wasn’t really sure how this was going to happen, but I began my journey by studying theology and biblical studies at a tiny bible college. While working in churches with youth groups I was surrounded by deeply wounded teens and families and ultimately chose the path of professional counseling.
I earned my Master of Science degree in counseling and therapy and my first professional job was in a residential setting for drug and alcohol dependence. I vividly remember one afternoon spent with one of my favorite pastors and the life changing conversation we had. I was just about to graduate from college and Pastor Phil Hansen asked me, “What is it that you really want to do?” I told him this was a difficult question to answer because I knew my answer was strange. He said, “Tell me what it is” and we sat there for a while and finally I said, “Pastor Phil, I just want to love people.” He smiled and we sat and looked out the window for a long time. After a while, he said, “Then go find a way to do that every day.” And so, I have. My dad, the Marine, is my hero. He was my best friend and my favorite human being on this planet. And I was his. He’s with Jesus now. He was stolen from me quite tragically one June afternoon. He was mowing the bar ditch alongside his beautiful land in the country and a careless, speeding car slammed into his tractor. I wasn’t ready to let him go, but I guess we’re not ever ready. Dad had a childhood and adolescence filled with violence, abject poverty and exposure to the alcoholism and drug abuse of most of the men in his life. He met my mother when they were just fourteen years old, and she was his foundation for the next sixty-one years. He told me often that my mother’s love and joining the Marine Corps are the only reasons he amounted to anything. He was not a perfect man, but he was man of great integrity. He was the kind of Marine, and man, who runs into fires to disarm bombs to save lives when others were running away. He never gave up. He earned his bachelor’s degree at age sixty-one, his MBA at sixty-eight and his black belt in mixed martial arts at sixty-nine. He was the very definition of a badass. He was the best of the best. He lived with PTSD most of his days but still made every moment of his life count. He loved his God, his country, and his corps deeply and he loved his family and friends outrageously. I learned to approach life as he did. Full tilt boogie. Balls to the wall. No plan B. If he were here today, he would be a champion of Warriors Heart and would be so proud of its mission and the passion that fuels it. In his honor, it is my privilege to serve other warriors, to help in their healing and breathe life back into those who have given up hope.
Til Valhalla, my Daddy. With my last breath.