It’s Not Just Art

I mentioned in my last post that I would expand on my new art and the process. Well get excited, this is that post! I’ve been sharing some pictures on my Instagram and Facebook that tell a piece of the story, but the art will really have more value if you understand the story in its entirety.

As you know, after Nick gave his life in 2011 I didn’t create art for some time. I was pregnant and had a toddler so art fell to the wayside. Even when I found time to do it, I could not find inspiration. I felt all I “deserved” was a pencil and sketchbook and I’d sit down with it and nothing would happen. Two years later the three of us made our way to CO Springs and I found the art journaling group. Through them I discovered using a gelli plate to make printed papers and I fell in love! But what to do with the papers?

 

Through the process I have realized that making a gelli plate printed paper (monoprinting) is like building a life. From birth we start creating layer after layer, each new one changing the look of the ones before it. You get educated, maybe go on a big trip, are the star basketball player, get your heart broken, follow your dreams, maybe get married and have children, change careers. As it dries you think you see and understand what the final piece looks like. You think every layer is complete and you can just enjoy the beauty of what you created…
Then, for some of us the final piece is changed when your person dies. You are left with ripped up shreds of what you built. You can see colors and details that look familiar but are completely different. It feels like a pile of garbage and you can’t imagine how to put it back together how it was.

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But, you don’t have to. Something new and equally as beautiful can be created from the parts and pieces you have been left with. There is no deadline for this. Once you are ready to actually look at the shreds you may see a new possibility in minutes. Or it might take a long, long time before you see even a glimmer of hope. Eventually you will take the ripped up, cut up layers of your life and create something new to enjoy. It will never be exactly as it was but as you create this new image you will see things you recognize and can take forward with you into a new chapter.

So that is what I have begun doing with my pile of papers. I first spent time cutting shapes exactly into segments. I used the prints to represent spots on a giraffe, shapes in the wings of a butterfly, a seahorse, etc. Then I realized this process could have value to other people who have experienced loss and I began experimenting with landscapes. I didn’t want other people, who don’t consider themselves artistic, to be intimidated by the process. What the final art looks like does not matter, it only matters that you pick up the pieces and create it. Just as there is no wrong way to grieve, there is no wrong way to art.

In March I will begin teaching this method to widowed people in my art studio. It’s my goal that people see it as an experience of hope because it’s not just art.

I have an art studio space!

It has been my dream for as far back as I have memories to be an artist. I have changed my mind about what that looks like a bunch of times. I used to draw house plans on graph paper and then make them out of Legos when I thought I’d be an architect. There was a phase I wanted to be a fashion designer so I’d trace body shapes out of my mom’s catalogues and draw clothing on them. My tenth grade year of high school I changed my fingernail polish every single night in case I wanted to be a nail art designer. I once won a poster-drawing contest for the school play and I thought I won the whole entire world. There was a point I thought I’d write and illustrate books. I had no desire to go to college until I realized art school was a real thing! I attended The Art Institute of Seattle and completed my degree in graphic design because it seemed the broadest degree. I got to take illustration classes, figure drawing, Photoshop, and my favorite letterform design. I used my tip money from my job at Starbucks to buy beads and jewelry making supplies (which I still have!). I worked in graphic design for a few years until I got pregnant and technology out paced my knowledge quickly. Now I don’t desire to be a digital artist, I like to get my hands dirty.

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After girl helper was born I knew I wanted to have another baby so it was only 6 months later I was pregnant again. Nick was KIA during that pregnancy, then we moved to Colorado Springs. I homeschooled girl helper for her kindergarten year while we traveled in our RV. I went back and forth with continuing to homeschool but it became clear that she needed something different. Through all that, time for art was hard to come by. This year both helpers are in school. I remember the day I made my final decision not to homeschool this year. Boy helper was in Montessori school that day so they were both gone. I sat on the couch and looked around my clean house. I wondered what in the heck I was going to do with FIVE days like that? I could only meal plan, shop and clean so much.

Once we had moved to Colorado Springs I had found an art journaling group that I went to a couple times a month. It was enough to gain my artist confidence back and know that I needed to be doing more art. That day as I looked around my house and felt LONELY I knew I had to take action so that the helpers going to school didn’t lead to me going to the funny farm. I immediately called down to the building where I had been taking art classes just to inquire about studio space size and cost. It’s a two story building filled with talented artists of all mediums. To my surprise the executive director took over the phone call and said he had two spaces opening up and would I like to come down and see them? I had just enough time before school pickup to get there and back so I hopped in my car. I swear I was vibrating as I drove down there. Maybe my dream would finally start to come true. I had a number in mind for the monthly rent and I told myself if he came in under that number I was taking the space. Well, I have the space! This was last March. I didn’t even know how I would find the time to get there but I knew there was a wait list for spaces there so I wasn’t going to let it go by. The executive director said he liked my smile and would be happy to have me in the building. It has taken months, some months I didn’t even get to the studio one day, but I now have consistent hours there.

I love being able to start a project and leave it out to dry with no worry of kids or cats jumping on it. I love starting multiple projects at once and getting back to it when I am inspired. I love experimenting with all kinds of mediums (the art pictured above is alcohol inks) and not worrying if the helpers are going to decorate the walls of our house with them. I love that they can come down to the studio with me and everyone is happy to see them! I am finally narrowing in on what I will focus most of my art on and I love that too (more about that in the next post). Putting the helpers in school was a really hard decision for me. In fact I cried every day the first week. Now I can’t imagine anything better! They both love school and are doing so well, I volunteer in their classes one day a week. I think this may be what it feels like to have your cake and eat it too (whatever that even means)?

Three Simple Game Changers

This past week I have discovered three new (to me) things that are life changing. The past few months before that have been challenging, I don’t know why I didn’t handle it well but I have ideas. I haven’t been taking care of myself as well I should have. I have had a stomach ache and been unreasonably tired for a solid month, I’ve gained weight. I have been grinding and clenching my teeth so hard that my neck muscles get sore. There have been new challenges popping up with the helpers. We had some unexpected expenses, mostly on the RV but I LOVE that thing. I have known I was needing to make some changes but it’s overwhelming to know you need to revamp diet and self care, budget, new activities and appointments with the helpers as well as feeling like your normal is changing due to having a new person in your life (which is a super good thing!). Slowly but surely I am turning it around. You know what makes all the difference? A plan, and following through on it. That is all.

One of the things we have done to make improvements is to start seeing a family therapist. It’s only been a few weeks and it’s helping SO much already. She immediately saw things I was overlooking. I also went in to get some blood work done just to make sure there’s no medical reason for my personal symptoms. I’m waiting on those results but I really just think I need to eat better. I made a budget spreadsheet and a specific plan for our past and upcoming expenses. Some people have a no shave November, we are about to have a no fun November. But it’s one month.

That brings me to the three new specific things this past week has brought. First, a properly fitted mouth guard from my dentist. I have slept with it five nights and I already feel a huge improvement in my pain. I hope it also helps with my quality of sleep and irritability during the day. I haven’t had a headache all week.

Second, thanks to the EODWF and David Lynch Foundation, I have discovered Transcendental Meditation (AKA TM). It is a twice a day for twenty minutes meditation. I started one week ago today and again I already feel the difference. It’s slight enough I doubt anyone else will notice… yet. I feel more calm and peace. I thought twenty minutes twice a day would be impossible but I find I really look forward to that twenty minutes of quiet and I’m making it a priority. After I’ve been meditating for about three months we (the TM teacher and I) will explore if it’s a good time to teach the kids some meditation techniques. It’s not guided meditation or visualization, you are given a mantra (from a certified TM teacher) and it comes and goes as you have other thoughts too. It’s very relaxing. I feel like I’ve taken a nice nap when I’m done. It has been shown to improve sleep quality, anxiety issues, focus and creativity among other benefits. If you want to learn more read “Transcendence: Healing and Transformation Through Transcendental Meditation” by Norman Rosenthal, I just finished it. I checked it out on my kindle app from the library! That should count as another life changing discovery really.

The TM classes have been in a town about an hour drive away. That’s eight hours of driving I’ve done last week. I know I’m behind the curve here but my third life changing discovery is podcasts! Specifically I found a financial one I enjoy that has helped me hone in on my financial goals. Listening to it a few times a week will help keep my financial goals in my mind and help me stick to them, instead of my usual “make a plan and forget about it” or “oh! I really need those LuLaRoe leggings” routine.

So to recap:
1. mouth gaurd

2. Transcendental Meditation

3. podcasts

4. honorable mention: therapy, e-books from the library, making a plan

Next up: on November 7 I am starting the Whole 30. Who wants to do it with me? Assuming my blood work is normal the next step is to find out if it’s food, and what food, that is causing my stomach and other issues. I look forward to how great I’m going to feel on December 7! I intend to blog about my progress to help keep me accountable.

Sprotty Memorial EOD Fundraiser recap

I’m typing this from the passenger seat of my RV as my dad accompanies us back home. Since I already had a shredded tire, which led to purchasing four new tires, on the way up I expect the return trip to be uneventful. That whole extravaganza was going to get its own blog post but the second I got to Colville I was busy finalizing fundraiser stuff and ran out of time.

Colville is the place I was born and raised. When people talk about Colville the most often used phrase is “small town.” The population is around 5000 and it’s the biggest town in three counties. I lived all of my first 18 years there and then periodically over the next almost 18 years. Even though I now live in Colorado and am ambassador to the EODWF in that state; I felt it important to take my story back home for my event. We ended up at the Chewelah Golf Course, which is in the next “big” town over.

The helpers and I arrived last Monday and then they were sent off to play as we held our first official committee meeting; the committee being my parents and myself. Before our arrival in Colville I had been feeling rather stressed about the event. This is the first one I’ve ever been any part of planning. Thankfully my parents have plenty of experience and answered questions I wouldn’t have even thought to ask. After our meeting, with some direction of our next steps, I felt so much better. I expected to be up all night every night this past week and around 10:00 each night I realized I could actually go to bed! I hardly felt stressed at all.

I woke up Saturday morning feeling excited! We had our committee of three plus 6 volunteers to get the auctions and golf registration set up. Out of 24 golf teams, 23 were checked in and warming up by 10:30. When everyone actually teed off on our set time of 11:00 am I already felt like a big success! As the teams golfed we made sure everything else was ready. I hopped in a golf cart with my dad to make some rounds and make sure everyone was having fun. I could barely wipe the smile off my face.

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We checked on girl helper who had set up a lemonade stand on hole #4. She made her own signs that said “limonad stand. I will sell limonad” and “opin”, “closd”, and “lunch brac.” She’s only 6 so when she said she was ready to come back in, after only about half the golf day, we let her close up shop. She raised $208.09 all by herself.

As the golfers returned we recorded scores for prize winners and sent them to browse the auction. At 5:00, again right on time, we had a beautiful rendition of our National Anthem and the Boy Scouts posted the colors. I then took about fifteen minutes to share my story of how Nick and I met, how he became EOD, how the EODWF has effected us, and what all they do for others too.

When I stood in front of that crowd and prepared to speak to about 160 people, looked at all the items that had been donated, all the time it took to put this together, I got emotional. I hadn’t been nervous to speak and I hadn’t been stressed all day long, but in that moment I got emotional. I quickly realized I couldn’t make eye contact with anyone in the room or I wouldn’t be able to keep my emotions in check enough to speak. I made it through and hopefully shared with everyone the exact ways their donations help people through EODWF and what it means to me.

As we planned the event we realized we had a few sponsored spots that hadn’t been filled. I reached out to some EOD contacts and we ended up with three EOD techs from the Yakima Training Center. At one point one of them came to me and said he realized he was part of the color guard detail in May of 2012, the year Nick was added to the memorial wall. That gave me chills. EOD is just a different version of a small community.

As the evening went on we had both live and silent auctions, including artwork made by children in honor of a fallen EOD tech. I tried to meet as many people as I could, a lot of them I already knew by name, and a lot of them said they were proud of me and thanked me for hosting the fundraiser. THEY thanked ME! It wasn’t just the words they said, it was the way they shook my hand or gave me a hug, the look on their faces, the tear in their eyes that told me just how much they meant their words. It was one of the greatest days I’ve ever had.

There have been many times in my life I have been proud of my small community. On Saturday, at the first ANNUAL (yes, that means we are doing this again) Sprotty Memorial EOD Fundraiser, I had never been more proud of the “small” community that raised me and the small EOD community I grew up to be a part of. Our fundraiser was anything but small. Based on my own calculations of our numbers we have FAR surpassed my wildest dreams of what we could bring in for the foundation. I hesitate to quote a number just yet. When I finished my spreadsheet and saw our expected net amount I cried with gratitude. I am looking forward to making next year’s event even more fun for everyone involved.

Thank you to every person that attended, donated of time or money in any fashion, volunteered, watched the helpers, and cleaned up. It couldn’t have happened without every single one of you.

Sprotty Memorial EOD Fundariser

Grab yourself a drink and a potty break, this could be a long post but I want to tell you about my new volunteer position as an ambassador to the EOD Warrior Foundation and the fundraiser that goes along with that honor.

If you follow my blog then you may remember my post about the family ski trip we took in April. Or you can go back and read it now… but I’ll give you a recap. The kids and I were chosen to attend a ski trip in Breckenridge CO through the EOD Warrior Foundation. It was five days packed with fun and relaxation with four other EOD families. We were cooked for, cared for, and given ski lessons while staying in a beautiful log house. It was at this event that I finally realized I was ready to start doing more to help the foundation.

The first time I was truly introduced to the foundation was in 2012. I think back then the memorial portion was a separate entity, but now it is all ran by one foundation. It is one of the responsibilities of the EOD Warrior Foundation to maintain the memorial wall at the school house in Florida as well as the memorial event the first weekend of every May. In 2012, Nick was added to the wall and I was considered an honoree family. The foundation covered expenses of getting our family to the event as well as our place to stay. We were provided an escort to make sure we got to places on schedule. The weekend includes an auction on Friday evening, the memorial ceremony Saturday morning where the names of the newly fallen are added, and a ball Saturday evening.

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In November 2014 I was also chosen to attend a gold star spouses retreat in Nashville TN. To spend a long weekend with other EOD widows doing yoga, painting, talking, crying, hiking was priceless. That trip helped me go a long way on my healing journey and I returned to my children a better mom. It was my hope that other EOD widows would take the chance to apply for the next retreat and GO.

Next month the EOD Warrior Foundation is hosting a gold star parents retreat as well. Their motto of “once a family, always a family” is more than just words. It is their mission to keep us all connected and they take action to do that. At each retreat there are staff from the EOD Warrior Foundation present. They listen when we have ideas of ways we need help, they cry when we share our heartbreak, they carry your son on their shoulders when you cannot any more. They are more than just the people from the foundation, they let you know you matter.

The retreats are the biggest ways we have been supported by the EOD Warrior Foundation but we have also benefited from financial education assistance and I know if I need anything I can turn to them. If they don’t know the answer, they will help me find it. What a relief.

So after all of that, and some personal life coaching, I am now in a place to use my powers for good. I applied and was accepted as an ambassador in May of this year, after I attended the EOD memorial event in Niceville FL. It is my position for the next two years to help spread the mission of the EOD Warrior Foundation and help raise funds to support and expand these projects. It is with that in mind that I am planning an event way out of my comfort zone!  There is a saying that says something like I’d rather choke on greatness than nibble on mediocrity, so here I go! I will admit, I’m getting lots of help from my parents and friends as well.

The event “Sprotty Memorial EOD Fundraiser” is being held October 1 2016 at the Chewelah golf course (NE WA). Registration begins at 10am with a shotgun start at 11am. It is a scramble style golf tournament followed by a lasagna dinner and auction. We have prizes including a CAR if you get a hole in one, and goodie bags for every golfer. Non-golfers are welcome too.

Auction items include: a limited edition bronze statue by Jerry McKellar (jerrymckellar.com), a spring bear hunt or fishing trip, signed “American Heroes: On The Homefront” book by Oliver North including the certificate of authentication (this book features our story), a Bill Romanowski signed Denver Broncos jersey, a three night condo stay in Seattle with Seahawks tickets, a one night Davenport stay in Spokane with Gonzaga tickets, $500 in Davenport gift cards,  a limited edition whisky in honor of Special Operations, a wine basket, a large Avon basket, a Seahawks gear basket, a signed Cole Swindell CD (unless I keep it for myself!), a bose speaker and MANY more items. Things are still being added.

As I planned this auction, girl helper got pretty excited about helping. I thought it would be really special for my helpers to make some artwork in honor of their dad and auction it off. Then that idea expanded into collecting artwork from other fallen EOD tech families and expanded again into collecting artwork from any child that wanted to make something in honor of a fallen EOD tech. So if you have a child, of almost any age, that would like to submit a piece in honor of someone please let me know. I will send the child a personal thank you note to let them know how much they helped us raise.

If you are still with me, here is the link to register for the golf tournament or dinner only (which will get you access to the auctions as well). You may also send in a donation if you cannot attend, although you will be missing out! If you have ideas for auction items you would like to donate we are still accepting things for a couple weeks. Thank you for your continued support of the helpers and I, and now for this foundation that has done so much for the EOD community.

Sprotty Memorial EOD Fundraiser

 

A Month of “Widowing”

The last few weeks have been crazy with events. Attending events that are directly related to Nick’s death is exactly how I coined the word “widowing.” I’ve been doing a lot of widowing lately. After the kids and I attended the Breckenridge family ski trip that I posted about, I attended a convention put on by Special Operations Survivors. It was here in town so my lovely sister was able to watch the helpers while I just drove 20 minutes to attend the festivities.

The following weekend was the Silver Star presentation. You may remember I posted about the proper upgrade finally coming through. That event was wonderful and I can’t thank the MARSOC foundation and the MARSOC command enough for taking just about every bit of stress off of me for the planning of the ceremony. When we woke up to a blizzard at the end of April I had to think it was Nick’s way of saying hello. During the ceremony girl helper was a little shy and overwhelmed. She surprised me by crying during the singing of the National Anthem. I asked if she was ok and she just nodded, she didn’t want me to comfort her. Boy helper stole the show by being so proud to show off the certificate from the award. There was a very good turnout and I am happy to have that done.

My mom was able to stay the week after the Silver Star event so she could be with the helpers while I flew to Florida to the annual EOD memorial weekend. I attended in 2012 when Nick was added to the wall and again in 2013. I haven’t been since. I knew the trip would be more successful than the last since I was going sans helpers and with a couple widow sisters. Friday night of the weekend featured an auction and we didn’t intend on staying as late as we did but we each ended up buying stuff! I cried when I got to hug some best friends I haven’t seen in ages. We’ve all been through a lot since the last time we were actually together.

Saturday morning was the actual memorial event. I already didn’t feel well (I may have over celebrated the night before but I’m going to blame car sickness) and I was nervous! The second we got out of the car I thought I was going to burst into tears. We are considered legacy families now and get to sit up front under the canopy. That is very appreciated given the Florida sun! We were in the second row right behind one of the Honoree families. Each of the total 320 names of the fallen EOD is read. I recognize a lot more of those names than I used to from becoming friends with their widows. At the end of the list of names for each branch there is a pause as those Honoree families are given their folded flags. As the process got closer to the family in front of us getting their flag I had the urge to stand up and scream, “This is bull shit!” Not the ceremony, not the people, just all of our situation. I was able to control my screaming urge but at the expense of an ugly cry. Sitting in front of me, receiving a folded flag of his own was a 10 year-old boy being so brave as he remembered his father. I couldn’t help thinking of my own helpers, of all of their futures, of the time that I sat there and received my own folded flag.

Once all the names are read and flags distributed the really hard part comes. It’s always announced that it’s going to happen but that doesn’t ever prepare me for the 21 guns and playing of Taps. The first shot always makes me jump. It’s the like the blast-off of a time machine that takes me back to the funeral. I don’t have clear memories of everything but I remember standing there rubbing my 9 months pregnant belly and trying to contain my tears, my face was shaking trying to keep myself under control. Don’t ask why. As they fired those shots and then played that song I could see the grass of Arlington and the Marines lined up to my right even as I was actually looking at the Memorial Wall in front of me, American flag waving in the wind. This time I didn’t even bother to try to contain myself, the tears fell freely. I was happy that I went but I was happy that part was over too. The rest of the day and evening would be easy comparatively.

 

Saturday evening was the ball; I love a reason to get dressed up. Oliver North was the speaker and had handed out some signed copies of his book that we are featured in. I felt weird knowing some people would know me pretty personally without knowing me at all. But I think I’m hard to recognize because I look pretty different than I used to.

I’ve been home a few days and we are back in our schedule to finish up school. These past few weeks have all been positive things; I’ve seen my family in its blood form and those that have grown to become family. Now, though, I am happy to be home and to have two whole months with no travels or events planned. What will I even write about?! Just kidding, I’ve got something exciting coming up.

EODWF/BOEC Family retreat

A few months ago I got a call from a lovely lady at the EODWF (Explosive Ordnance Disposal Warrior Foundation) to say the helpers and I had been selected to join the family retreat with Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center (BOEC) and IABTI in Breckenridge CO.  I was over the moon excited and a little nervous and had no idea what to expect. I have previously had the privilege of attending a Gold Star Spouse retreat through the EODWF and Courage Beyond and it was life changing. This time I got to include the kids. And there was another twist: this was not purely a Gold Star family retreat. There was one other Gold Star family, two wounded warrior families and one active duty EOD family. I actually think we were all nervous, meaning the parents of each family as well as the EODWF. This was the first “mixed bag” retreat.

We arrived on Monday April 4, what would have been Nick’s 33rd birthday, to find we were staying in this beautiful log cabin lodge. We had our course director and two interns to guide us through the next few days. They were immediately welcoming and amazing with the helpers. They cooked and cleaned and drove us everywhere we needed to be. Some people wouldn’t realize this but just to have someone help me carry the luggage inside was a big deal. Then they played games with all the kids, which included my two helpers plus 5 other younger kids and 3 teenagers. Their patience far exceeded that of we parents in many cases. I was so impressed and put at ease knowing my kids were being well taken care of even when I was no where near them.

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Our first full day was a ski day. I almost didn’t sign up to ski. I haven’t gone in over 5 years and it wasn’t that fun when I did go. I was nervous how I would ski with both kids while none of us had any skills. But I also want to show them to try new things and face their fears. We got there to find that each of one us had at least one instructor of our very own. My first day I skied with Amanda and Joel while each helper got individualized lessons starting on the smallest hill with the magic carpet. I got to watch them learn and then I got to go have my own lessons and every now and then we’d swing back by the magic carpet to see how they were doing. I was surprised to hear them calling to me from the chair lift up above. They graduated to the green hills and were racing and turning in no time. They adored their instructors. Boy helper was with a fun guy named Kevin who understood he would need a snack break. When I got the update Kevin told me my little guy sat on his lap, ate his snack, then grabbed Kevin’s arms and put them around him and fell asleep for about 15 minutes.

Our second day was a ski day as well. I was with Amanda again and Terrence, who is a double amputee due to a virus. I got to graduate to the blue hills. Skiing has changed since I last went, the lessons were so helpful and all the people were just so great. I can’t say enough good things about the staff of the BOEC. The helpers thought they wanted to do a full day but we could all tell they wouldn’t have the energy for it. So instead we went to the little children’s museum and spent the afternoon playing. Basically every moment I was so happy that we had been selected for this retreat. Girl helper told me she felt the same way.

We had a kid free day where the adults went to the ropes course right there by the lodge we stayed at. I haven’t laughed that hard or shook from so many nerves in a long time! The interns took all the kids to the rec center to rock climb and then swim. It was strange over and over again to just leave my kids. We had an adult night out and again the interns took all the kids to “old cabin” which is right next to the lodge and entertained them until bed time while we all went out and played Cards Against Humanity. You really learn some stuff about some people when you play that game. But I won’t tell their secrets. We had a final ski day and then a snow tubing day too. There was something for everyone to enjoy and I got to really be present for it. We had a photographer who volunteers his time and efforts to capture all these moments for us so we could all just really enjoy ourselves. I can’t wait to see all the sneaky shots he got. On our last night the staff gave us each funny little awards. Boy helper got the best smile award and he was so happy! After he said, “mom, I got the best smile. Wanna see and even better smile than the best one?” And then he gave me the biggest cheesiest grin.

I mentioned that I had been nervous to go on this retreat. Part of my nervousness was that there would be “whole” families there with us. My kids would see other kids playing with their dads, how would they feel about that? What conversations would come up from them? What I didn’t consider was how the other children would wonder where my kids’ dad was and how that might affect them. I overheard one conversation where a boy was asking girl helper where her dad was. I braced myself to intercede but also wanted to let them talk it out. She explained there was a bomb and that he’s in heaven. I heard her say, “I miss him.” The next day the same boy was asking me what happened to my kids’ dad and I explained that he had passed away. He realized that boy helper had never met his dad and he said, “that’s so sad.” A few minutes later I heard him tell his dad that he loved him. That’s when I realized how important it is for us to all be together. The kids have a lot to learn from each other too.

Now to the mushy parts. When Nick died I didn’t see that myself and the helpers were still a family. It was incomplete. I felt lost. On our last night of this retreat we were asked to share our favorite parts. I could barely speak through my tears but I shared how it is difficult to ask for help with my kids and not feel like a burden, or even a failure sometimes, but through the whole week never once did I even have to ask for help and never once did I feel like I was burdening anyone. It was such an amazing feeling. Girl helper had some opinions about being in the group photos, she would run away and cry. So in all the posed group shots someone is holding her and she’s kicking and screaming. Her award was “most photogenic.” But even as I felt frustrated and even shed a couple tears that she was being so difficult and I didn’t know how to handle it, everyone else showed patience and kindness. So even though Nick had to leave us, he left us with this family and I love it all. I know where we belong. I love the people that have been there for us since day one and the people that we just met. I love that we could have families of varying backgrounds in the EOD community but we still had this level of understanding and respect. I loved looking around for my helpers to find them playing checkers with one of the dads or playing hide and seek with all the kids, or being carried on the shoulders of staff from EODWF. I love that EOD doesn’t care what branch of the service you come from. I love that the EODWF took a chance and put us all together. On the ride to the tubing hill the last day, boy helper reached over and held my hand. That moment summed up the whole week perfectly. It was everything we needed.

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Finally, I have to say thank you to any of you that have donated in the past to EODWF. That is the reason events like this can take place. Events like this fill my heart, recharge my soul so I can be a better mom, make me feel grounded and home, and make my head spin a little bit that after having experienced such grief and loss I can be happy and thankful. Not once did I cry sad tears this week. I wish I had a stronger words than LOVE and THANKS.