Fifteen months ago life changed forever for me and for my family. My son, Derek, then 21 years ago, was injured in Afghanistan.
At the time of his injury, I was an attorney with a mid-size law firm practicing family law, and I loved it. The cases were difficult, but I felt as if I was helping wonderful people get through the hardest times in their lives. It was fulfilling and rewarding. I was also a single Mom of five kids, raising my children alone after their father left the state. My oldest, Michael, had just arrived home after serving four years in the US Navy. My twins, Kellina and Ryan, age 16, and my son, Sean, 14, were in high school. We didn't have a lot of money, but we had a small, comfortable home, pets, and a good life.
I walked away from it all for nine months. My employers were understanding for the first two months, but then I was let go. Derek was still "in the woods," and I was needed at Walter Reed Bethesda. My children moved in with my sister, who took over for me.
Would life ever be the same again? Could I return to my prior life after this ordeal was over? What would be left of my prior life when I did return? Could I go back?
What followed over the next few months changed all of us forever. Not only did I find myself out of work in a terrible economy, but we all saw how quick and easy our lives could change.
On the plus side, my children became more self sufficient. They learned to rely on themselves and not look to Mom to solve everything. All three are now employed part-time while attending school. Their incomes help with the little, extra expenses. But, as a Mom, this is hard to accept, at times. I still want to be Mommy.
The medical staff at Walter Reed is top notch, most of the time, and our wounded warriors heal and move on with their lives. It's a long, hard road, but there is a lot of support to get them through it. They have non-profits, federal programs, and so much more to help them rebuild and move on.
But what about the Moms? I am working five part-time jobs at present, and I am still not making ends meet. I write, substitute teach, and sell Mary Kay. In addition, I just hung my own shingle to open my own law office, and I am taking a mediation class so that I can mediate disputes. We still might lose the house. All this because of one incident, on July 23rd, 2011, that changed everything forever.
While at Walter Reed Bethesda, we all have access to non-profits and other organizations and programs that will help us, but when we return home, what is there for us? Where can we go to pick up the pieces? Can we ever really go back?
At times I feel so disconnected. In speaking with other Moms who have also gone through this, my plight is not unusual. For months, we devote ourselves to helping our sons heal. We spend all day, every day, enmeshed in medical procedures, therapy, life altering decisions, etc. We are surrounded by people who have "been there, done that," and they understand what we are going through.
When we leave the safety of the "Bethesda Bubble," can we adjust to real life again? There are no more wounded warrior games on the porch of Building 62. There are no more spontaneous gatherings of caregivers to chat, drink, shop, whatever. We are thrown back into the real world without a net.
After nine months at Walter Reed Bethesda, Derek was well enough for me to return home. But I left a piece of me behind. I am not the same person I was before. Part of me has changed for the better, but there is that other part.... the lost part.... the confused part. One day, I know I will have myself back together. Just as others have done, I will pull on my big girl panties and deal, but for now, I am still longing for something that was lost. I am still wanting to go back to life as it was before the boom.