(171) Even a Bird: Ultimate Hope for Veterans and Their Families

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Golly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)


Spring Cleaning

My broom whisked into corners of the garage, kicking up dust and last year’s insects. With a broad sweep, the beak of a hummingbird peered out of the collected rubble. Apparently, this tiny creature flew into the garage, losing it way back to freedom. My heart broke twice during my spring cleaning, as I found a second bird beneath a garage vac. The thought of losing even one of these precious creatures leaves me weepy.

hummingbird in flightI am not alone in my love for hummingbirds. My Veteran scoops the sweet creatures into his hands when they fly into our home. He speaks gently to calm them and releases them outside.

If we love hummingbirds and weep when they are lost, imagine how much more the Creator of all life feels about us, His creation in His image. Whether one believes in His existence or accepts His gift of eternal life, He still cares for us. He offers hope.

“Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds?” Luke 12:24

Embattled Families

Returning home from battle, the warrior carries the burdens and grief of the battlefield. Reintegration into family life presses the warrior with hopelessness. Despair erupts, swallowing the family. Soon, family members feel lost or trapped.

There is nothing too great for our Father to handle. He asks us to give Him our burdens. What a great comfort to heap our problems on the God of the universe. When inviting Him into our life, He does not promise our life will be easy but He does promise He will walk with us through our problems—and we will get through them. With Him, PTSD, TBI, or other losses from war become manageable and we become victorious just as our warriors were victorious in battle.

When despair threatens you or your family, envision yourself as the hummingbird cupped in caring hands. Open your heart and invite Jesus in today. He will help you find your way to freedom from despair and hopelessness.

Post your Comments: 

What do you do to bring relief when despair and hopelessness seeps into your life? Please reply below. 

About the blogger 

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her grandchildren.

(156) Discover Something Wonderful in 2016

Miss Molly profile

Golly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)

Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing. Now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

Isaiah 43:18-19

Celebrating yet another year, I want to go forward but often get caught in the past. Memories of past wrongs, an ill-spoken word, or a fractured relationship haunt me, sending me into a frenzy of turmoil. The new year represents putting those things away—out of mind.

Many people I know suffered losses in 2015 deep enough to shake their foundation of life. Even as a society, we witnessed hurricanes, floods, fires, and mass murders. For many, life became forever changed with circumstances too brutal, too harsh to just get over.

The song, which begins, “Should old acquaintance be forgot,” should be our battle cry, as we head into a new year. The new year is much like spring. It is a time of new beginnings, unbridled possibilities, and the ultimate time of the ‘do-over.’

When I am tempted to wander into the past, I remember Isaiah 43:18-19. Even our Creator desires us to put the old self and the past behind us. He cleanses us from our sins and washes us clean to start a new slate through His Son, Jesus Christ.

While we may never let go of or forget what we lost, there is comfort for us. Life brings us a new day and fresh hope.

God can make rivers in the desert. Can He not also give us a new beginning?

Molly Begins Anew

Molly spent the past two weeks at doggie camp while William and I traveled across country to visit family for Christmas. Although she did fine on her first stay a couple of months ago, she appeared traumatized when William picked her up this time.

“She walked right past me. She visited with everyone in the lobby except me!” William arrived home heartbroken, tugging a reluctant Molly on her leash.

Molly giving William loveJust a couple of hours after returning home, Molly rushed to William’s side. She offered him her usual sliming and kisses. Clearly, she forgot all about being left behind at doggie camp.

I suppose there are advantages to having a small brain and a big heart. Every day, every hour her slate is clean and she begins anew with a love that only a 120-pound Saint Bernard can offer.

Molly, William, and I wish you a Happy New Year filled with good memories, new hope, and lots of blessings.

Just a reminder that Miss Molly now blogs on Fridays only.

Post your Comments:

If you could have one great thing happen in 2016, what would it be? Please reply below. 

Photo credits: pculbrethgraft

About the blogger

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her granddaughter.

(63) Fly Fishing and the Turkey Chase

Molly, the service dog

Golly, Miss Molly

A blog about a service dog and her veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the veteran and the family caregiver)


About Project Healing Waters

Are you a veteran, who enjoys fly fishing? This week, William and I spoke to a fellow Vietnam Veteran, who told us about a non-profit program called Project Healing Waters. The program mission “. . . is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and disabled veterans through fly fishing and associated activities including education and outings.”

The program started with the compassion of Ed Nicholson, a Vietnam Veteran, for his fellow disabled veterans. The program serves veterans throughout the US. The program is home based in Maryland.

Several years ago, William decided he wanted to fly fish. He purchased the equipment and sought out people and companies to help him learn the sport. A month later, surgery on his foot made it impossible for him to walk on rocky terrain. That surgery led to three years of convalescence. His fly fishing equipment remains boxed in the closet.

Dreaming Big

My husband dreams big. Most dreams he chases end up like the turkeys Molly chases—scattered and elusive. In William’s case, dashed dreams slap him in the face, leaving him depressed and frustrated. While I want to help make his dreams reality, most of his dreams are bigger than what I can help him attain.

When we heard about Project Healing Waters, a spark ignited. William’s excitement spilled out, as he listened to the veteran describe his connection to the program. The veteran we spoke with shared that he, too, lived with fleeting dreams but that his dream of fly fishing really happened. He shared how he developed deep friendships with other veterans through the outings they took. Although he moved to another region, he still returns to the local program because of the friendships he made.

We emailed our regional representative listed on the Project Healing Waters webpage and William looks forward to participating in the program. Even if he lacks the strength to participate, the excitement of being so close to one of his dreams gives him hope. Almost giddy, my veteran waits impatiently for a reply. He wants to fish!

Turkey Chasing 

We tether Molly out front, which is on a steep hillside that merges into forest. Flocks of turkeys feather the hillside. The birds’ daily migration through our yard starts around 7:30 am and ends with the migration back home before dark. Molly gets two chances to chase them. Of course, on her tether, she cannot go too far so she barks. The turkeys move slowly and stumble on the rocks in their path, teasing Molly into believing she will capture her prey. Nonetheless, they get away without a scar. Each day Molly chases the turkeys, knowing she cannot catch them. Unlike her master, she never shows frustration or anger at never catching a turkey. I think her dream is the chase.

As for William, I think he always enjoyed the chase and often that was enough. As his PTSD worsens, the chase no longer satisfies. He wants results. I am hoping that at least his fly fishing dream comes true.

Time will tell who the best dream catcher is—Molly or William. I am hoping William wins. If Molly ends up snagging a turkey, plucking fowl falls on me. Wait a minute. If William wins, will I have to skin the fish?

Post your Comments: 

Do you or your veteran have a dream that is within reach? What can you do to get results and capture that dream? Please comment below. 

About the blogger

 Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her grandchildren.

 

 

(60) Are You A Character? Trials for a purpose

Molly, the service dog

Golly, Miss Molly

A blog about a service dog and her veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the veteran and the family caregiver)


Special Notice

The VA offers a special FREE, on-line webinar tomorrow for veterans and their caregivers. See the details to register in the highlighted box at the end of this blog post.

 Whimpering Molly 

Moping MollyNow in his second week of shingles, my veteran confesses the pain rises above his usual trauma levels. During our hospital visit last week, we made a decision to leave Molly at home. Trained for brace and balance, she leans against him. Any touch sends shocks of pain through his body. She whimpers away with the command, leave it, or find your place. Rejected, Molly mopes in a corner of the room where she eyes William, seeming to feel his pain.

Whimpering Wife 

After seeing the doctor, my husband conducted unpleasant business with VA staff. Although the staff member displayed sympathy and kindness, the information upset William, triggering a panic attack. He struggled to gain control and not offend the clerk. I placed my hand on his shoulder—a gesture that usually helps.

“Don’t touch me,” erupted from his mouth.

I jumped back. My spouse never tells me not to touch him. Shocked, I reeled from his rebuke. Embarrassed and hurt, I whimpered to my corner of the small room. No action I could take would help so I prayed and kept my distance.

PTSD Strikes Again 

Everything piles up on my veteran. His path to restore health traps him with obstacle after obstacle. Sometimes I am that obstacle but mostly the barriers appear from nowhere. As a warrior, he fights his way through each one. This time, shingles stands out as the culprit compounded by PTSD and his overall health. Even without PTSD, I believe my touch might ignite a reaction, as shingles makes life miserable.

What is Your Character? 

We remind one another that trials produce perseverance, perseverance produces character, and character produces hope. PTSD leaves one feeling alone in the world. It creates isolation and tells our veteran he/she is alone in the world. The truth is that hundreds of thousands of veterans and warriors suffer from PTSD and the trials the disease presents. As well, spouses, family caregivers, and their children suffer, too, from the impact of PTSD.

Each episode of a PTSD attack or any illness is a trial in life. As families, we can survive this. Each episode survived becomes a rock on which we build the perseverance to survive another day and be stronger.

When I see how difficult my husband’s life is with PTSD and by talking with so many veterans, who face overwhelming trials in life, I think that our veteran population must be amazing characters.

Mary—Quite the Character

At a previous visit to the VA Hospital, waiting for my husband at the travel kiosk, a woman sat next to me. She asked me how I am doing through chemo.

“How did you know?”

She pointed to my chemo hat and pinched back a small corner of her hairline, revealing her wig. She shared with me that she is on her fifth round of chemotherapy. She goes to the oncologist three days a week for treatments and has been doing that for seven years. She pointed to her husband, standing in line behind mine. Her husband appeared feeble and lost. My husband started a conversation with him and helped steady him. Mary told me she is the caregiver for her husband and shared with me remarkable stories of his challenges. I choked watching her husband, thinking his lifespan is short. Despite trials far beyond mine, she spoke positively.

“I have today with him. I’ll be with him every day we’re alive.”

Pikes Peak Mountain topTwo years later, her story still inspires me. If you measure character in altitude, Mary is taller than the 14,000-foot Pikes Peak Mountain that rises from the floor of Colorado. She left me with hope.

 Dog Character 

Molly’s character developed as a puppy when her family could no longer afford to feed her. Turned over to a rescue pound, I can only imagine feelings of abandonment and fear of the future. As a Disney character, she most closely resembles Winnie the Pooh—calm, helpful, innocent, and sweet. Molly helps William. Anything that helps make the burden for my veteran easier is hope.

Post your Comments: 

Is there a cartoon character that you can identify with? Please comment below.

Photo credits: pculbrethgraft

About the blogger 

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her grandchildren.

 

#Explore VA Google Hangout: Veterans’ Stories of Successful Transition

Don’t miss the opportunity to hear from Veterans like you as they discuss their transition experiences during the #ExploreVA Google Hangout at 7 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, Jan. 28.

What: #ExploreVA Google Hangout: Veterans’ Stories of Successful TransitionWho: #ExploreVA campaign Veterans, VA representatives, and the Veteran communityWhere: VetNet HQ Google+ pageWhen: Wednesday, Jan. 28, 7–8 p.m. Eastern time

Hear from Veterans Chris, Natasha, and Jason, who used VA benefits to get healthy, earn degrees, and jump-start their careers.

Learn about the physical and emotional challenges they faced separating from service.

Ask these Veterans about their experiences, and submit your own benefits questions for VA experts.

Register Now

This event is the third in the #ExploreVA From Service to Success online event series showcasing how Veterans and their families are using VA benefits to earn degrees, start careers, buy homes, stay healthy, and do so much more in life after the military.We look forward to your participation on Wednesday, Jan. 28. Encourage the Veterans you know to join this Google Hangout by sharing this email.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs | 810 Vermont Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20420

(58) Just Like a Puppy: Retraining the service dog

Molly, the service dog

 

Golly, Miss Molly

A blog about a service dog and her veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the veteran and the family caregiver)


One Step at a Time  

Molly ages in front of our eyes. She moves slowly, we believe because of the cold and hurting joints. We discovered Miss Molly’s joint problem for the first time a couple of weeks after she came to work for William. We believe her joint pain keeps her from enjoying the snow and causing her to do her business on our carpet instead of under a pine tree. Molly’s behavior requires retraining in basic tasks and commands. Her remedial retraining reminds me of training a puppy from the beginning—one step at a time. Her retraining moves more slowly than the small hand on a grandfather’s clock.

Retraining the Human 

People need retraining, too. I am a perfect example. I whined to William that my writing career stalls more than it moves forward.

“I want to finish my novels. I want to publish. I can’t find the time when I’m blogging, taking care of the house, doing laundry. . .” The list of reasons for my failure goes on.

“Have you harvested the wheat?”

I look at him and shake my head. Bewildered but curious, I said, “huh?”

“Have you even cleared the rocks, plowed the field, planted the seeds, and watered the field? Have you cleaned the thrashing floor and thrashed the wheat?” He smiles because he knows I’m getting the message. “First you have to learn to write and that’s what the blogging teaches you.”

I got the message. I wanted to snap my fingers and claim a successful writing career. I should know enough from working in management that it takes one step at a time to build the skills to be successful. In my case, it requires retraining because my ability stopped with local government management and teaching. I am learning an entirely new set of skills and need retraining from writing passively to writing actively. It feels like I am learning to walk all over again.

When Losing Everything 

Yesterday I met a young soldier from Fort Carson. I asked him what work he does for the military.

“Explosives, ma’am.” He hesitated. “I take apart explosive devices.”

I wanted to drop to the floor and grab his feet. No. You can’t possibly do this. What about the danger? He showed no fear only confidence despite his youth.

“Be safe, please be safe.” Those were the only words I could muster.

I have seen so many young men and women return from war harmed by explosive devices, affected by toxic exposure, or changed forever by PTSD. As they deal with their injuries, it strikes me that they must begin life anew. Often they must relearn the basics such as walking, speaking, and even thinking. They restart life as a child—just as Molly must relearn as a puppy or I must relearn writing to be an author.

No Instant Fixes

My husband’s journey has taken him 48 years to relearn how to live in society with PTSD and his physical disabilities. After each victory, he is stricken with another malady. He fights through each one and learns to manage the problem. There are no easy fixes for any of them. It is a life-long struggle. This is life—with or without PTSD, TBI, or any other disability.

Whether we must relearn the basics such as walking or talking or learn new skills for a change in careers, life will always demand from us more than we think we can give. We always go back to the beginning so we can be better at being ourselves. Even though it seems as though we are moving backwards, we always move forward. We progress and become someone remarkably new.

One day, no matter how remedial our training seems, a transformation occurs and we walk again and stand confident like the young man I met, who disarms explosives.

Molly’s Relearning

As we watch Molly regress, we work with her to strengthen thoseMolly and William with fur everywhere areas needing retraining. If she becomes unable to do what William needs in a service dog, we will accept her limitations and one day let her retire. We will always love her and accept her for what she can do and for who she is—even if she drools and leaves wooly fur blobs all over the house.

 . . . We also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Romans 5:3-5 NKJV

Post your Comments: 

Have you had to relearn a basic skill or be trained in new skills as an adult? What was your biggest challenge in learning or retraining? Please comment below.

 Photo credits: pculbrethgraft

About the blogger 

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her grandchildren.