My Red Cross Experience

One thing I feared most was that one or both of my boys would be unreachable if something happened to Ned, or any of us for that matter.

I feared and dreaded the “red tape” I might endure with the American Red Cross. I never had reason to contact them.

On Wednesday, October 25th, that changed. Facing the reality of the depravity of Ned’s illness, I could no longer hesitate.

I was given instructions and the number to call from a lady at the Elizabeth House. She informed me that it may take a little time giving the information but assured me the process was easy.

The initial call consisted of giving information about Matthew. It was easy. After about two hours, our nurse Jen, told me she had talked with Red Cross to validate the information about Ned’s condition. Within 8 hours, I received a call from Diane. She would be managing my case.

She informed me that if I had not heard anything within 8 hours to call her back. I did. She knew Matthews boat had been notified. However, we had gotten no response. So, she put out another plea.

The next day she called and assured me the boat had received notification. She said, “Hopefully, you will hear something from Matthew soon! Please let me know the minute you hear anything.”

Later in the evening, a call came through. I knew immediately it was Matthew. Our connection wasn’t ideal; but, I was able to tell him his Papaw was still alive. Our call was dropped.

Upon returning to the Elizabeth House, after my brief conversation with Matthew, I found out that he had been able to talk to Ned and Mom. What a blessing.

I immediately called Diane. She was thrilled to know we had talked with Matthew. I thanked her profusely.

A few minutes later, I get another call from the Red Cross, informing me that if Ned dies, I am required to open up a new case.

In the wee hours on Sunday, October 29, I received the call about Ned’s passing. Needless to say, sleep was not on the radar after that call. I cried. I prayed. I cried more. Then at 3:45 AM, I once again called the American Red Cross, only this time I had to open two case files, one for each of the boys. Although, I could call and talk with Ryan directly the proper channels have to met for emergency leave. It’s the process.

Several hours later, Diane called. She wanted me to know that she had sent notification to both commands.

The following day, she called again. Just checking to see if I had heard from either boy. Fortunately, later in the day, I was able to inform her Ryan had been granted leave. He would be home.

Tuesday came and went. Wednesday morning she called again. She said, “I have verification that command received the message but they haven’t replied.” I explained that I was very aware of Matthew’s importance on his boat and also aware he may not get to come home.

I told her several times how instrumental she was and how her continual communication with me was much appreciated. I cried while thanking her for going the extra mile for me.

Then she said, “I normally don’t share my story but I will share with you. The reason I became a volunteer is because I had the same situation happen to me. My son was deployed when my father died. I called the ARC. They didn’t follow-up. I even held up my dads funeral for 10 days waiting to hear from him, which caused issues with other family members. When I finally received notification, I was told that he was on special assignment and they could not even deliver the news to him, much less allow him to come home. Due to the lack of communication, I was determined not to allow this to happen to other families.”

No wonder she was so remarkable communicative, She knew. She understood. Instead of being angry and complaining about the system that failed her, she did something about it.

But her story continues.

Diane is a Gold Star mom. She has buried one son. Diane has another son who was shot at Fort Hood in 2009. She has not just sat around mourning the loss of one son and the substantial damage to another. She gives and she gives. She goes way beyond the call of duty. She’s just a volunteer.

Diane’s story is only one of many whose families have lost loved ones fighting for our freedom. This family, like so many others, is the reason we celebrate Memorial Day. These men and women have placed their wants, desires and needs aside to defend and protect the United States of America. Let’s say to the families how much we appreciate them for supporting their loved ones decision to become part of something bigger than themselves. Just like Jesus says in John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lays down his life for his friends” For years and even now men and women have been called to give up their lives for our freedom.

What is it about Charleston?

Several weeks ago, Terry and I ventured on a little getaway to Charleston, SC. I'm always happy to go and always sad to leave. There's really nothing about the "Holy City" that I do not like. For me it's like a lighthouse on a hill beckoning this ship to come. It calls me and I go!

Why is my heart so excited and happy to go? I've pondered over the past few weeks and I keep coming back to the same conclusion.

Charleston is where life really began to take on a new meaning for me.

I was a young, silly 19 year old who had lofty ideas of what being married would look like. In fact, over time, I've realized I was most likely more in love with the idea of marriage than I was with the man I married. I was committed, nonetheless.

We married in August of 1988 and moved to Goose Creek, SC, a community right on the outskirts of North Charleston. Since we only had one car, most often, I would take him to work or he would ride in with a buddy.

He was in the Navy, a submariner and Nuke. His work hours were long and taxing. Giving me plenty of time and reason to explore my new home.

Time and again, I would find myself walking the streets of history in downtown or daydreaming of living on the Battery, while walking through Battery Park. Other days, I would find reason to head to Folly Beach or Isle of Palms to soak up some rays and put my feet in the sand.

Only after 2 months of marriage, he was deployed for six months. Suddenly, I found myself in a place where I knew very few people. With the encouragement of my back home support group, I decided to sublet our apartment and go back home to Columbus, NC.

Retuning wasn't difficult because I could still go to Charleston whenever I wanted. It was a good setup.

Frankie, my first husband, returned in early February from his 6 month deployment. Like a few others, within 6 weeks, we were expecting our first child.

I wish I could tell you there was great elation in such good news. There wasn't. A part of me felt excited and the other part of me was wondering what in the world am I doing.? I'm enjoying life. I love the parties, the nightclubs, taking dares to jump in pools fully clothed. I knew I would have to give up, at least a portion, of my lifestyle. Truthfully, I wasn't sure I was ready.

Little by little, I gave it up. Funny how I didn't really miss it once I was removed from it. This was my first notion and inkling that God was pursuing me. No, I'm not one of those who turned on a dime instantly. I'm just saying, I knew I wanted something more for my child than the lifestyle I was currently living. It was about my move away from being selfish and only thinking of myself and putting someone else's need above mine.

Not only do I love everything Charleston I'm also deeply humbled and thankful for the lessons Charleston taught me. It's really where my heart still calls home and sometimes I must go. One day I may stay.

Dear Matthew

Today is no different from any other day. I think of you often, maybe more than I should, but being your mom gives me that right and privilege.  Besides, I can just because I can.

As I was walking along this morning, I noticed squirrels playing around trees and one took off, scurried up a tree with the other one not far behind, climbing another tree.  Determined the one was not going to do something without the other. Watching them scurry about reminded me of when you and Ryan were little.  You always wanted to be where he was and doing whatever he was doing.  You actually contrived in your little noggin that you were as big as he was and you should be able to do everything he could.

For example, when you were barely 4 and he was almost 6, you were angry because be could tie his own shoes and you couldn’t. Boy, did you put your heart and soul into learning how to tie your shoes. One particular morning,  you promptly descended from the car as normal and headed up the stairs to go into preschool. As I looked back to watch you walk up the stairs, I noticed you stopped abruptly. Plopping yourself smack in the middle of the stairwell because your shoe was untied and you were determined to tie it. Knowing full well how this would end, I pulled my car into a parking space and headed over to you.  The frustration meltdown had already begun, tears bursting from the sides of your eyes and the look of sheer defeat on your face.  You said, “I’ll never learn how to tie my shoe.  Never. Never. Never.”  Finally, when you calmed down and took your time, you were able to tie your shoe. Sobs of defeat had turned into cheers of jubilation.  “I did it.  I did it.  I can tie my shoes just like Ryan.”

Sometimes, I didn’t know if it was your stubbornness or sheer determination that always propelled you to excel at anything you set your mind to, maybe a combination of both.  Your stubbornness gave you the drive and your determination saw it through completion.  So, it’s no wonder that you are where you are today.

You have such a big kind heart for people, especially your family.  You have always made time to cultivate and maintain relationships with all you love. I remember last year when Papaw found out he had Stage 4 lung cancer.  You knew you were going to be out to sea for awhile and you also knew his prognosis wasn’t promising.  You struggled to decide whether to come home or just wait it out.  During one of our conversations you said, “Mom, it’s Papaw.  He’s a fighter and I know he’ll fight this but statics are not in his favor.  So, I’ve decided that I am going to come home because I won’t regret it either way.  If something happens to him while I’m gone, I’ve seen him.  If it doesn’t that’s even better.”  Thankfully your XO pulled all the stops and got leave approved so you could come home.  What a blessing it was for us all.  Your presence is like a soothing balm or like a warm blanket on a bitterly cold day.

You have such a gift for bringing joy and entertainment.  As a child you constantly wanted me to entertain you because you were always bored.  In your mind, you fashioned me as your ticket for entertainment.   Remember that one time, when you were probably 9 or 10  and I looked at you and said, “Matthew, God put me on this earth to entertain you.  He put me here to love and take care of you.  If you want to be entertained, go entertain yourself.”  As always, you took me very literally because that how your mind works.  By the time you were 15, you were entertaining folks with your amazing magic card tricks.  You worked hard and diligently to train yourself.  In fact, you entertained many folks at Ci-Ci’s pizza on Monday evenings, landed a few gigs for Relay for Life and even got yourself a nice write-up in the Times-News.  Ironically,  the one who wanted to be entertained became the entertainer.

Your passion for God and people always fascinated me. You always took up for the underdog.  You always sought out those who seemed helpless. You were always, always comfortable in your own skin and you never shied away from sharing your faith.  You didn’t have to follow the crowd.  You could lead one.  I don’t even think you realize the difference you made in the life of others.  I sure hope they tell you one day.  I know you’ve made a big difference in mine.

You always had a knack for seeing beauty in everything, you always took time to smell the flowers.

Your adventurous spirit has taken you to many places in Europe and even Australia, not on Navy time.  You even took a helicopter ride to the Great Barrier Reef and swam with the sharks and bungee jumped at one of the scariest places I’ve ever seen.  Survived it all. Fully anticipating the next great adventure.

And now, you’re on one of the biggest adventures of your life.  A deployment.  I don’t even know where you are and probably don’t want to know.   I know you’re in deep, deep waters and I know there is a level of safety there.  Here’s what I am sure of….”You will never go where God is not.”  Max Lucado  Deuteronomy 31:8 says, “The Lord himself goes before you and he will be with you; he will never leave you or forsake you.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”  Which is the reason for my hope.  I’m not just clinging to a lofty idea, I am hanging on every word of God because I know it to be Truth.

So, while I wait and hope and pray, believing that God has you “engraved in the palms of his hands” Isaiah 49:16 and , “The Lord himself watches over you!  The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.” Psalms 121:5

When you read this, which won’t be until you’re in port or finished with deployment and wonder why in the world I didn’t send it directly to you.  First, it’s far too long for an email.  They’re suppose to be short.  Second, I could simply print it off and mail it to you, but who knows how long that would take to get to you.  Simply put, I want to make sure as soon as your feet hit dry ground you know how deeply loved and special and unique you are and it’s really ok in book, if others know that too.  Besides, let’s go back to Ryan’s infamous quote, “Because I can.  That’s why.”

Also I want to give to hope to other mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, children etc that there is this crazy mom in North Carolina who prays for their loved ones the same way I pray for you.  Not only do I pray for their loved ones, but I pray also for them because I know what it’s like to want a word.  One word just to know all is well.  It’s called praying strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.

And so today, will end like every short version of my email.  Guess what?  Today is one day closer till I get to see your face again.  That makes my heart very happy.

I love you,