Sunday, July 26, 2009

One Hundred and One Days

One hundred and one days ago I learned of my Army Veteran son’s untimely death.

One hundred and one days ago my bride, daughter and loving family had our hearts ripped out and our lives turned upside down. One hundred days have passed and I think we are slowly entering into the final stage of grief, which is Acceptance. I sure hope so. The last stage was a bummer.

One hundred and one days ago we entered the darkest days of our lives.

One hundred and one days ago I learned that my bride, daughter, our loving family and yes, even me are loved so much more deeply than I could have ever imagined. There has truly been a silver lining in the darkest of clouds. It hasn’t all been bad believe me. Our friends have suffered also, but spread their wings of love to comfort us in our time of profound desperation.

One hundred and one days ago my aging Dad, whom I had never seen shed a tear, looked at me, and with eyes over-flowing muttered, “Nick is the first one of us to go” and he is correct – but who could have predicted it, or even prevented his demise. I will not torment myself with conjecture.

Many hundreds of thousands of war veterans live out their lives in silence with untreated depression, taking each day as a challenge to make sense of their lives. Some are even successful in turning it around – some aren’t. I think back on comments my Iraqi Freedom decorated son made leading up to this fateful night and realize a lot of signs were there to be read and I mostly missed them.

The fourth and worst stage is Depression and it has horrors of its own. We are slowly rising above it, each of us at our own pace. My son Nick once looked at me and said point blank “I have trouble with depression”. Another time he said in a monotone “Dad, you don’t know what’s like to be in combat” and then he fell silent. Mostly he was silent and ninety per cent of what we learned about our son’s war-life came from the stories of his friends and fellow soldiers after his funeral.

One of the standout characteristics of depression, I now know well, is the inability to carry on as before. Sufferers row in circles and many times they don’t even care. Untreated, as in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be and many times is fatal.

In my own case, it has been impossible to resume my life pre-funeral. Forgive my ignorance please, but up to this point, I personally had never lost someone close to me, let alone my own child.

I have always been self-sufficient as an adult, never imposing my needs and desires extravagantly on friends, or even my own wife. I attempt to make daily progressions, both physically and mentally, studying constantly to improve myself. I work very hard at what I do. I am also my own worst critic.

One hundred and one days ago I drifted into the doldrums of progression and today I felt a slight breeze. Up until now I was fighting a downhill slide occasionally casting a last-ditch anchor to arrest my descent, but I believe I have now bottomed out. In fact I bottomed out about 2 weeks ago and that’s how I know it’s time to put on my sweats, tennis shoes and make like Rocky training to fight Apollo.

I haven’t slipped deeper in the last two weeks and that’s a good thing. I have a feeling there are more good things in my immediate future. I’m ready. It’s all up from here on out and I feel like climbing.

Folks, I have a piece of advise for you and yours concerning depression from the loss of a loved one. If you are suffering from it, understand this is normal, but not permanent. Then realize it can and does get better, but it takes determination and most of all - time. Time is the great healer. One hundred and one days so far.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Garter Snake Eats Toad 7 25 09

I filmed this today in my yard in Baytown, Texas.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Baytown Bert lets Kahns Bavarian Brand braunschweiger take him down memory lane

Braunschweiger (named after Braunschweig, Germany) is a type of liverwurst (pork liver sausage) which is nearly always smoked and is a heavy favorite of Baytown Bert, as is Dutch Lunch. Kahn's Bararian Brand is my personal favorite.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Geee-ronimo, She Said!

My Bride announced she was going to jump out of a perfectly good airplane and would I like to join her, my brother TJ Bustem and his son, RJ? I felt a moment of panic and controlled the urge to lose my cookies, so to speak. “Do I have to” I whined?

“Of course not” she replied and I immediately began my plan to stand on the ground and watch, video and record the whole episode. I would brave the tarmac. I would stand for seven hours under the brutal sun at the private airport of Skydive Houston near Waller, Texas and not utter a disparaging word. I would be a trooper. My sister-in-law and her other son would also endure this self-abusive and death-defying act by our loved ones. He is LT and he has four jumps under his belt already and since he is under another group of aerial jumpers, he decided to observe his Dad and brother this time instead of jumping.

My Bride also told me she intended to sprinkle a portion of my son’s ashes over the Texas sky, something he would have wanted. My son Nick died suddenly this past April 16th and was a victim of posttraumatic stress disorder associated with his combat missions in Iraq. We had him cremated and I have his ashes in a container in my closet, for lack of making a decision on his final resting place.

The day came July 3rd, 2009 and we made the relative short drive to Skydive Houston near Waller. To my surprise the place was “jumping” with activity. We were instructed to arrive by 9:00 am, but our party didn’t actually board the plane until 3:15 pm. After the obligatory video and safety instruction they were placed in group “Otter seven”. The groups were called “Otters” because the airplane being used, was a DeHavilland Twin Otter (DHC-6).

Repeatedly, I was asked if I would like to jump and I answered as candidly as possible and said, “No, I’m scared”. I figured this was as close to the truth as I could make it. I’ve done plenty of stupid and dangerous things in my life to prove myself (to me) without adding jumping out of a moving airplane while flying at 14,000 feet. One of many possible examples was walking down an overgrown jungle path in the Cobra Triangle of Central Thailand, because it was closer to my destination than taking a bus – by myself – at night – without a flashlight. In my feeble logic, this seems like skydiving would be a welcome exchange of bravery – or stupidity.

We watched the Otter taxi away and since this was the seventh group of skydivers, we knew the fly pattern. About eleven minutes later I watched as the chutes began to magically appear high above us. We had questioned each member of our group as to what color of chute each had and my Bride’s was blue with one large red stripe on the end. Within a minute or two they were all on the ground safely, smiling and showing no signs of wear other than a sweat shine.

We bought the video. Buy the video and if you can get Stacey as your videographer, she will do you right, I promise. My Bride's tandem instructor was named Aaron and he couldn't of been better.

I asked my Bride how it all went and she told me she had successfully released our son’s ashes and she felt a sense of relief.

As we left the airfield, I noticed all three skydivers were slipping off into a state of relaxation. I was simply hungry. Will they do it again? Who knows, but I will remain grounded, if I have my wishes.

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