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Every family has problems – I suppose that’s why I started writing my Team of Angels poems and designing a little gold angel pin for each one. The idea became my “pass along a team of angels” mini crusade.
My mission was to look around for someone in need and give the Team of Angels pin to him or her. What started out as “Mom’s little angel pin project” led to more than 50,000 being given away. When someone needs help, my little angels simply say, “I am thinking of you and praying for you.”
I decided to visit wounded soldiers at military hospitals, bringing thank-you notes from the Altar and Rosary group of a local church and angel pins donated by the Rotary Club.
I expected to give a little bit of hope and gratitude.
What I wasn’t expecting was what I received: poignant glimpses into the incredible faith of mothers and wives whose hearts were broken and inwardly pleading to God for strength. I learned that freedom comes with a price…. what families do to piece together not only shattered bodies but also the broken pieces of their dreams.
Life changes when the phone rings, “Your son has been injured.” A family’s worst nightmare becomes a blur as they hear the words – head injuries, swollen beyond recognition, outer layer of skin burned, infections…. they pray for a miracle.
Oh God, why do you let all of these good people suffer? I wonder silently to myself.
Despite their own pain, these families reach out to help each other.
Some people are mad at God, but I am happy. Her gentle eyes lowered and her voice trailed to a murmur. My son is alive. God looked over him and He brought him home. How could you be mad at God, because God saved him? He has a C6 spinal injury, lost his left arm and has shrapnel in his neck. He is in a drug-induced coma and doesn’t know that his arm is amputated. It killed me to go in and see that, not here (She pointed to her elbow.) but all of the way up here. (She pointed to her shoulder.) The doctor told me today that he would probably be paralyzed. I said to him, “Doctor, do you believe in miracles?” He said, “No.” I said, “Well, my son is going to be your first one.”
“My son asked me to help him buy a doublewide trailer across from mine — before he went to Iraq. I didn’t know why, but I did it…now I know why. God was preparing us for what we were going to need. He may need my daughter and me to care for him for a lifetime.”
“It was his 21st birthday, Memorial Day, and I was just putting the dishes away after the barbecue when I got the call. It was a day I will never forget.”
I can’t even imagine the family picnic ambushed into family panic. Gasping for oxygen, surreal, trying to think, continuous ripples of denial, hoping for a refuge from the crisis, beginning a drive of hundreds of miles to be at the bedside of a loved one, shaking and praying, trembling, finding someone to care for the other kids or the family pet, losing an income from a forsaken job, coming up with the money for hotels along the way, hoping the minivan would make this unexpected trip without breaking down. … How many of us would have an emergency cash fund for the airfare to take us to the bedside of our loved one?
I saw a beautiful woman on the computer. I went over with an angel pin. “Her husband is in here,” the Captain told me.
“He has burns on sixty-two percent of his body.”
“He lost his arms and legs.”
“We have a little boy.”
How could I let myself tear up…. she asked me, “Are you all right?”
I felt so ashamed of myself, letting her comfort me.
Eldon was originally from the Honduras and is now an American citizen. He has been in the United States Army since 1989. A bandage poked out from the back of his T-shirt.
“I thank my mother for all of her prayers and Masses. When I got shot, I was holding my rosary in my pocket. That is the last thing I remember.”
“I just got shot. I was thinking I must try to stand up. If I am going to be paralyzed I want to enjoy trying to stand up. I can’t go back to my mom and tell her I can’t walk. I have two daughters, 14 and 5. The first call was to my 14-year-old telling her that her dad was shot in the back. Thank God the bullet stopped because I have a hole this big in my back. Mom, it was all of your Masses and praying and the holy rosary in my hand that protected me when I got shot. It’s nothing but a miracle. I couldn’t feel my toes. I couldn’t move my legs. I was bleeding. They had to work on me without anesthesia, because they had to see what I could feel. They thought I might be paralyzed. Cleaning up was more painful than being shot. I could feel the scalpel going through my skin. When they said that I tried to stand up. They told me to lie down – I told them if I was going to be paralyzed, I wanted to stand up one more time. You come to a point that you are here now and you pray to God and just give God time. The wound was one-inch by ¾-inch. Mom, it’s all the praying that you’re doing back in my country”.
I met a Gold Star mother, a mother with a gentle face, a mother whose child died in Iraq in 2003. She asked me “Do you know the country song by Kenney Chesney, ‘Who You’d Be Today’? I listen to the words of that song and that is what I think about my son. He was 19. He had only been deployed for a month. It happened so fast. He had just left. I told myself that this could either bring me all the way down or build me up. I had to make a decision to go up.”
“Who You’d Be Today” by Kenney Chesney
Sunny days seem to hurt the most
Wear the pain like a heavy coat
I feel you everywhere I go
I see your smile, I see your face
I hear you laughing in the rain
Still can’t believe you’re gone
It ain’t fair you died too young
Like a story that had just begun
The death tore the pages all away
God knows how I miss you
All the hell that I’ve been through
Just knowing no one could take your place
Sometimes I wonder who you’d be today
Would you see the world?
Would you chase your dreams?
Settle down with a family?
I wonder, what would you name your babies?
Some days the sky’s so blue
I feel like I can talk to you
And I know it might sound crazy
Today, Today, Today
Today, Today, Today
Sunny days seem to hurt the most
I wear the pain like a heavy coat
The only thing that gives me hope
Is I know I’ll see you again someday
Some day, Some day
November 23, 1970. Where were you then, one of the darkest times in our country’s history? Thanksgiving Day. That was the day that Jim was shot in the neck in Vietnam. The bullet went in one side and out the other. When I visited Texas he was there. He lay in the Audie Murphy Memorial VA Hospital, waiting to undergo more surgery. I stood beside his hospital bed. He said something that surprised me. “I’ve had a good life. I went to some college. I have a lot of photos with my hunting awards in the front of the picture album over there in the top drawer and my military awards are in the back.”
Hunting awards? Over thirty trophies? How could he do that? A special platform with a tripod for a rifle was built to accommodate his wheelchair. He had awards for hunting game and an award for the handicapped was named in his honor. I looked at the good times gone by — photo albums of the handsome young man, a pretty mom with a bouffant 1970’s hairdo, and a great looking dad, brother and sister, all pre-Vietnam. I turned to the page with a black and white photo of a pretty Vietnamese woman.
“Was that your girlfriend?”
He nodded “Yes.”
Another young man I visited was probably about 22 years old, probably just beginning to find his way in the world. Now, in a wheelchair, paralyzed, he will never walk again. He looked at me with vacant blue eyes. He was too “all clichés”:
It is what it is.
You have to do what you have to do.
You just have to suck it up.
It’s a dog-eat-dog world.
It’s no big deal.
The toughest battles are buried deep inside this young man; yet unseen opponents in personal wars yet to be fought.
A shiver of awe passed through me. I could never do this. Yes, every family has problems, but the American public has no idea of the sacrifice of the families. On televisions and in the newspapers, reporters try to communicate the cost of war…but I see now that is impossible to do.
The gazebo outside the medical center is the place where families sit and encourage each other. But they are not playing cards or board games like in some hospital waiting rooms.
He took a step.
He moved a little.
Such remarkable feats are considered small gifts amidst great struggles, and are discussed in great detail among the families. They are spoken in words attached to seeds of hope, some as small as a mustard seed. The pain of grief shared by only the loved ones so deep in the trenches are shared each day by the families waiting in the gazebo, the gathering place of encouragers.
I looked at the beautiful face of the mother, wide-eyed with faith, who was confident that God will provide. I searched her eyes for her source of comfort. “There are prayer chains all over the world praying for my son.” I found a scrap of paper on a table.
From Isaiah, 43:6-7 “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
How I long for faith like the mothers of these wounded soldiers!