Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Day Our World Stood Still

Four years ago today, our world stood still for a while. Hearing a knock at the door, we opened it to two uniformed military officers; immediately we knew. ABN's son and only child had been killed while serving in the U.S. Air Force in Afghanistan. The next 24 hours were somewhat of a blur as a steady stream of friends gathered at our home while we made arrangements to meet our daughter-in-law and granddaughters in Dover to receive his body and to travel to Navarre, Florida to make funeral arrangements. With the help of the USO and Fisher House, we made it through the fog of those first 48 hours.

While waiting for his remains to arrive in Florida, friends and family came in from throughout the country. We could tell hearts were breaking for us and for his wife and children; not only in Florida but also at home. A couple of our dearest friends chose to not make the trip to Florida but to stay in our hometown and comfort ABN's father who was confined to a nursing home and could not attend his grandson's funeral. Our minister held a memorial service at the exact hour of the funeral, when we saw the video and read the notes left for us; we felt the love of our church family and our community.

We have learned so much about grief these past four years. And we have learned we have so much for which to be grateful. We, especially ABN, will often hear comments about our strength. As we reflect on the past four years, we would like to share some of the things that we feel gave us strength and allowed us to once again feel joy.

We were fortunate to begin our grief journey in good mental health. Unlike those dealing with chronic depression and anxiety, we know that when we find ourselves in sad, dark moments, it is temporary, and we can ride it out knowing that it will be better tomorrow.

We are fortunate that our family bonds are strong. Meeting other surviving parents through TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) we know that is often not the case. We have met parents who were not invited by their daughter-in-law to participate in funeral and burial arrangements and some are now estranged from their grandchildren.

ABN's son lived a full 44 years, he chose a wonderful wife that values family and he gave us two beautiful, talented granddaughters. So many of our fellow TAPS parents lost their very young sons and daughters, leaving no offspring; they do not have the privilege of seeing their child's spirit in his/her children.

ABN's son loved his work; he felt he could make a difference in the lives of the people of Afghanistan. Except for being separated from his family, we feel he was happy. Not so for so many young folks that succumbed to PTSD and drug addiction after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Through TAPS we learned the magnitude of military and post military suicides. How hard it would be to live with the knowledge that your child was so unhappy he chose to not live.

We had an abundance of support from our family, friends, church and community. Although we always valued these relationships, we did not fully appreciate them until our darkest hours.

Our faith in God was already established; through our grief it has become stronger.

As we continue on our grief journey, which we understand will never end; we have so much gratitude in our hearts, especially for our family and friends who are learning it is okay to talk about Darin. In fact we want to talk about him. Our eyes may water and you may notice a few tears; they may be because we feel a bit sad or it may be because we are feeling gratitude. We hope our tears won't keep you silent.

Being a Gold Star family, we have advantages that are not available to civilians under similar circumstances. We would be remiss if we didn't mention the ones that have helped so much during our grief journey. These are all NGO (Non-Government Organizations) supported by true patriots.

Since we have mentioned TAPS, let us start there. Tragedy AssistanceProgram for Survivors was started by a surviving widow 25 years ago. Their purpose is to bring all families who experience military loss together through grief workshops, retreats, camps for children and through online chats. In 2013 we attended a retreat for parents, many with whom we have continued to be in contact through Facebook and our travels.

Snowball Express is a four-day event for children of the fallen held every December in the Dallas/Fort Worth area made possible by the generous support of American Airlines, Niemen Marcus, the Gary Sinise Foundation, the Patriot Guards and many other organizations and volunteers. Seeing our granddaughters having a grand time while making solid friendships gives us a great deal of peace.

The Special Operations Forces are dedicated to taking care of the children of their fallen comrades. Through generous donations to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, our granddaughters will have the opportunity to attend whatever college to which they are accepted.

Our oldest granddaughter is benefiting greatly from the Gold Star Teen Adventure program. She has participated in two week long backpacking adventures on the Appalachian Trail, became a certified scuba diver last summer and has attended an all-girls retreat in Virginia (all expenses, including transportation provided by donations to GSTA.) The Special Operations Forces volunteer their time to raise money for the program and use their leadership skills to work with the teens. Through this program she is learning leadership skills, gaining self-confidence and making life-long friendships.

So, in answer to how can we be so strong after having such a devastating experience? It is because of you, dear friends and family; you and our military family that are dedicated to caring for one another. And because of the patriots throughout the country that understand our loss and demonstrate their gratitude.

This week ABN is re-reading the many notes sent to us four years ago, many are from you. When you wrote your heartfelt note, you probably knew it would give us a measure of comfort at that time. What you may not know is your messages continue to provide strength.

Since most of the readers of our blog are family and close friends, you know our Darin's story. For others that are interested, you can find links on the J.Darin Loftis Memorial Scholarship page.

Sending our love from College Station, TX to all our family and friends.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Texas, we are back!

Leaving Mesa, AZ, we decided at the last minute to take U.S. Hwy 60 instead of I-10. What a beautiful route right through the Tonto National Forest and the Pinal Mountain Range.

We continued on toward Texas via through the Guatalupe Mountains. 
(come ride a spell with us)
(The video may not appear in your email, of course you can go to the blog site if you wish.)

Stopping for a couple of days at Carlsbad we climbed down into the Carlsbad Caverns, about 700 feet (the elevator was out so we had to climb back up 700 feet.)

While we were down there, we took a look around.

Okay, enough of the distractions, we must be on our way to College Station.

But not without stopping to see our good friends, Steve and Wendy in Andrews, TX. We enjoyed a delicious dinner and a wonderful evening comparing travel notes, sharing grandchildren stories, discussing a bit of politics and catching them up on the changes in our hometown since they left nine years earlier. Afterwards we retired to The Wanderer which was parked for the night in front of their home.

Avoiding the interstate highway in Arizona was such a treat we decided to nix the interstate highways as we continued across Texas. Not as picturesque (actually pretty boring) with miles and miles of flat terrain, oil rigs and windmills. Of course if we were on the interstate it would still be boring. We found the secondary highways to have very little traffic, most are four-lane and with plenty of opportunities to pull over and take a break. Driving through the small towns gives us more of a sense of exploration.

Half-way between Andrews and College Station, we found Lake Brownwood State Park a good place to spend the night.

Who says you can't go home again?

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Sunday, February 14, 2016

Warm at last!

Mesa welcomed us with warm sunshine, much more like we expected when we chose Arizona as our winter get-away.  The Wanderer rested in the Desert Vista RV Park while we explored the Mesa, Chandler and Scottsdale areas. The small RV park is very clean, quiet, and everyone was very friendly. Parked next to us was a lovely "young" couple (Debbie and Scott) from Michigan. Scott is a retired Air Force F-16 pilot, who served in Afghanistan at the same time ABN's son, Darin, was stationed there. 

We were so excited to finally get on the tandem!

Bicycling in this area is great; all the major roads have bike lanes and at busy intersections there are push button signals within easy reach of the cyclists.(The terrain is flat, not that that is important, mind you.)
The attitude of the motorist seems so much more relaxed, even on a busy street no one seems to be rushing.  We were able to ride four days this week.

There are a lot of citrus trees in the yards of homes. Often one will see surplus placed by the street for anyone that is interested to help themselves. We scored some lemons and grapefruits.

As suggested by some friends, we embarked on a Sip and Sample Tour in Old Town Scottsdale.

Our first stop was at Su Vino Wine Bar where we sipped their house white, bubbly and merlot served with a cheese plate. To be honest we were a bit underwhelmed.  The white was too sweet and the merlot too thin for our palate.

Next we strolled over to The Bootlegger where we were served a very nice Apple ‘n Spice moonshine and a top-notch brisket nachos plate.

Next stop was Malee’s Thai Restaurant. We both enjoyed the coconut base with chicken soup and the egg roll we were served. The soup was especially good. To accompany the food sample, we had a choice of beer or wine, we both chose the house cabernet; again it lacked the full body flavor we enjoy in a red wine.

Continuing on the food tour, we stopped at 5th and Wine, a neat wine bar that we think would be a fun place to hang out with friends. We enjoyed a nice selection of bruschetta (ABN especially liked the fig jam, brie and apple.) Our drink was an interesting white sangria.

How does a food tour finish, with chocolate of course! What can we say, dark chocolate cocoa, a bite of a Belgium waffle and a piece of dark chocolate. What’s not too like!

Our overall impression of the Arizona Food Tour Sip and Sample, the food met our expectations. Except for the Apple ‘n Spice moonshine, the libations not so much. We expected we would be introduced to some of Arizona’s best wines and craft beers, in reality we feel we were served the least expensive.

We had a grand time catching up with ABN’s sister, Mary and husband Steve. (They threw quite a Super Bowl party.)

Now it is time to pack up and head toward Texas. We have experienced record highs in the 80's this week. We hope the trend continues in Texas! It appears we will be celebrating Valentine's Day in a Walmart parking lot (does anyone see a trend here?)

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Friday, February 5, 2016

Greetings from the Tucson Area

Our view this week has been that of the 1500-ft. Picacho Peak

Since the temperature warmed a bit we hiked a trail part way up the mountain. It was perhaps one of the most rugged trails we have hiked. We don't really know the elevation or distance, but we ascended for an hour and it took about 90-minutes (and a couple of tears to ABN’s pants from scooting) to descend.

We also did an easier hike in beautiful Catalina State Park located almost in the backyard of ABN’s cousin, Lin and her husband Fred.

With Lin and Fred, we toured the “world-renowned Biosphere 2, a conceptual and engineering marvel created to better understand how natural environments generate conditions appropriate for life.” In 1991 a team of 4 women and 4 men lived for 2 years in the sealed facility. They lived off the food they grew in their garden, eggs from their chickens and a few fish from the simulated ocean. As one of the women stated, they had excellent nutrition but not enough calories. Currently the massive facility is run by the University of Arizona for environmental research.

Lin and Fred took us to their favorite restaurant in Tucson, Paco Casa. Our meals were outstanding!

Hanging out and remembering the times and people of bygone years with Lin and Fred, well it's just fun.

ABN got her creative fix taking a workshop on resin at the TucsonMineral, Gem and Bead Show. The workshop was taught by Susan Lenert Kazmer, who developed the product, Ice Resin. For ABN, it just whetted her appetite to return next year.

Next week's weather promises to be beautiful in the Chandler/Mesa area. We will wander on up there to spend some time with ABN's sister and husband and hopefully do some cycling.

Note to email subscribers, hitting reply to the email notification of a new post will send your reply out somewhere in cyber space and we will never know of your comments.  If you wish to comment, please do so in the comment section on the blog site or send a note using the email address you have in your contact list. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

A Bit of Wandering

While we were in Bisbee last week, we wandered over to Sierra Vista to meet up with fellow Gold Star parents, Heather and John. We met them at a TAPS retreat for parents of fallen heroes a few years ago. They graciously took time out of their busy schedules to show us around Fort Huachuca. An old army cavalry post, it is currently home of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and the U.S. Army Network Enterprise Technology Command. 

As we often mention, meeting up with friends as we travel is food for our souls. This is especially true of spending time with friends sharing a similar grief journey. (We forgot to have our photo taken until we were about ready to part, so we did a selfie; sorry to say it was not flattering to any of us, so no photos here.)

Tombstone is only about 20 minutes from Bisbee, so we drove over one afternoon to check it out. As one can imagine the historical town is now a tourist attraction with re-enactments and lots of souvenir shops and other enticements to get in the tourists' pocketbooks.

However, Boot Hill was rather interesting. 

We noticed most of the graves were dated in 1881 and 1882; deaths were most 
often due to murder, shootings, hangings with a few due to diphtheria, over dose with chloroform during child birth and suicide.

It is quite windy, cloudy and cool here at PicachoPeak State Park, so we are being quite lazy today. ABN is having a pajama day, doing arts and crafts. Captain, well so far Captain is catching up on sleep. The 30-40 mph wind last night rocked The Wanderer and sleep for him was hit and miss. The weather is supposed to improve over the next few days, making it much more tolerable for exploring.