Friday, February 14, 2014

The Love Letter Campaign ~ Reuben & Hannah - Our Story



Nearly 2 months shy of 12 years ago, I started noticing this young man, he was cute and had gorgeous brown eyes, but what really got my notice was that he treated me like a lady. He opened the door for me, he was polite, respectful and oh so sweet. Well, I really didn't think he noticed me, after all I was almost 13 and he was 16!!  I will NEVER forget at your sister's graduation, you gave me a necklace and told me you liked me...oh my word was I shocked!!!  We talked on the phone a lot, since we never really got to see each other and you became my best friend. Within a year, you told me you loved me and I knew I loved you, but it took me a little longer to say it.

By the time our siblings got married we were head over hills in love!! :)  We already knew we wanted to get married, although we knew it would be a long wait. I was still only 14 and you were 17 itching for that 18th birthday so you could enlist.  I remember your graduation party and how I couldn't stop staring at you, my word you were absolutely HOT...I couldn't believe that you loved ME and wanted to marry ME...the overweight 15 year old!! We spend some fun times together and not to long after Memorial day, you left for the US Army Boot Camp. This was one of those moments where I was so proud of you but terrified....of losing you. I just knew you would go to boot camp and find someone else...someone you didn't have to wait for.  I wrote you every day in boot camp, I missed you like crazy. Then post pass arrived and ohhhhh man was I nervous!! We got to the hotel on post and I remember the door opening and I swear, my mouth about hit the floor!  There stood, MY SOLDIER and ohhhhh I think I could have married you that instant!! :)  We spent an amazing day together, one that I think of often and you reassured me that you were still in love with me!! You graduated and it was amazing to have you home, you only left for drill once a month, we were back to talking on the phone every chance we could, you were going to church with us, mainly so we could see each other and we were constantly talking about the future, what we wanted and how we wished that life would hurry up


The next year was a year that changed us in so many ways, we were madly in love and had promised each other our lives and knew that no matter what we would get married and belong to each other!  There were a lot of complications in this year, a lot of rebellion and honestly, we leaned on each other to get through something we were fighting with everything we had and while looking back I do see all the mistakes we made...the grown up in me also see's the beautiful memories we have, we were best friends that were madly in love with each other and we didn't want anything to keep us apart. It was also the year I turned 16 and finally got my my promise ring, we started planning a wedding date for after I turned 18 and it seemed so far away!  You searched for a good job, struggled to keep gas in your poor beat up car and despite how hard you tried, you never found a good one.  Temp job after temp job and then you started talking about going active, something we talked sooo much about, it terrified me, I didn't want you to deploy, but I also knew that if it was what you wanted, I would support you no matter what! 

-The next year...our dreams came true...


The beginning of the year went by pretty smooth, you were trying to go active, working on your PT test so you could get PFC and I was working, we saw each other at church, we talked on the phone allll the time and we were 
honestly just enjoying being in love. In April, you came over for my birthday, I was telling you about my wedding dress that I had already bought and you and my parents kept looking at each other and for anyone that knows my dad..he was SUPER SUPER SUPER protective of me, him looking at my boyfriend that way, well, it was NOT normal :) I knew something was up. 


That night you proposed and of course I said YES!! :) We found out your duty station would be Ft Hood, TX. We asked my parents if we could move our wedding date to December and then I would move to TX with you and to our surprise, they actually agreed!! The day you left was hard, I cried a lot, I hated it because there were a million people around and I really didn't get to tell you good bye..lets face it a "hug" was considered inappropriate.  You got to TX and again, that fear crept up inside me...what if you found someone else?  We talked a lot, you mentioned that there was an upcoming deployment, but you didn't think you would be going but within days of arriving, you called me and told me you would indeed be deploying and soon!! You talked to dad and he agreed we could get married before you left. You worked on getting leave and I rushed to plan our wedding in 2 weeks time. I will never forget the day before our wedding, I drove to your parents and picked you up and I can not tell you how amazing it was to be in your arms again and know that within 24 hours...you would legally be mine. Little did we know...that exactly one year later, our lives would change 
forever.  The day of our wedding was crazy but I still remember the moment the doors opened and I walked down to meet you...you looked absolutely amazing in your uniform and my heart felt like it would burst from all the love I felt, we joined hands, looked into each others eyes and promised our lives to each other.


The next 9 days went by so fast...while our honeymoon was a lot of fun, it was also hard as heck, I was sick, we were doing paperwork to get me enrolled in DEERS, everyone and their cousin wanted to see you, which was understandable...but I was a brand new bride whose soldier was about to deploy and honestly, I wanted you all to myself! The day you left...I sat on your lap while you ate, crying into your shoulder, I didn't want you leaving, the fear of losing you terrified me..only this time, I wasn't scared you would fall in love with someone else, I was terrified you would be KIA.  The ride to the airport I spent snuggled up against you. When we got to the airport, well it sucked...watching you walk away was the hardest thing I had ever done. 

You went back to Hood and deployed. This is where things changed...I knew when I married you just how amazing you were or at least I thought I knew...I didn't truly understand until a few years later. The first 6 months were Hell for you...yet I never knew, I knew you were tired, I knew things were tough...but I had no clue what you were going through...you didn't want me to know. You had lost your innocence and protected me from the ugly truth...war is hell and you had seen plenty of it. I missed you so much, each phone call was like a little bit of heaven, just to hear your voice, it made me happy and hurt at the same time..I wanted you home! You came home for R&R and I think we about knocked some people over in the airport trying to get to each other, you held me and kissed me and it was the most amazing moment. You were HOME!! 

But your smile, it didn't reach your eyes..although I could feel the love, I also felt something else, but I didn't know what it was. That night was hard, you fell asleep and that was my first encounter with PTSD. I called Debbie crying, what was going on??!! She soothed me and basically told me to get over it and keep going, I had to be strong. We spent 2 weeks together and while it was amazing, I knew something was wrong, you had nightmares, I was terrified to wake you because I learned on that first night that you NEVER wake a sleeping soldier. You looked haunted when you were awake...I didn't know what to think...I told myself, it must be the fear of going back soon..sure..that's what it is. Telling you good bye in the airport was so hard, seeing the tears in your eyes, I could barely stay in control of my emotions, I kept kissing you, not wanting you to leave, but duty called, you turned and walked away and I knew you heart was hurting every bit as much as mine!  In April we found out that you were being extended another 3 months and man were we upset. July came and I couldn't believe we were only a day away from our 1 year Anniversary...I will never forget when you called...I knew the minute I heard your voice, something was very wrong. You told me about the accident...what had happened, you were in a lot of pain, but alive. I cried...so thankful you were alive, but wondering how "ok" you really were. 

The next 3 months you called me often but were so different, you repeated things, you forgot things constantly and I knew you were in pain..I just wanted you home so I could know that you really would be ok.  You got home on Halloween and man did my life change. I was so happy to have you home, but I knew that you were far from ok. A lot happened over 
the next 12 or so months. Constant nightmares, anger, you forgot so much, lots of medication, profiles, Dr appointments and the list goes on. You slept a lot, kept to yourself...it was hard, but I loved you and I knew that we would get through this! Our little boy was born in December and I saw this new life in you, your eyes would light up when you held him, you seemed have a purpose again. Things were still rough, but we both knew we loved each other and we were making it.  One month later our life took another turn, you weren't feeling well, went to bed and the nightmares that night were enough to make me scared out of my mind, you woke up yelling in pain, your chest was hurting, you were coughing up blood, I called 911. The ambulance arrived and took you away...I packed up our baby boy and went to the hospital. It wasn't long before your lung had collapsed, you couldn't breath on your own and they sedated you and put you on life support...now while they knew you had some form of pneumonia...they didn't know what kind or how to treat it, you were going down hill and fast. The Dr told me I should call your family, they didn't know if you would pull out of it. 

THIS, is when reality hit me, unless God provided us with a miracle, I was going to raise our son alone. It is one thing to know your loved one is in danger and could die, it is another to actually watch your loved one go through this and you can't do anything to help them. Our family arrived early the next day..but a lot of that is a blur...what I remember, is sitting in a chair and laying on the side of your bed, holding your lifeless hand, crying and begging God to save you...you were the love of my life, the father of my child, the man I wanted to grow old with...you were my everything!! Your SGT's came in and we went over funeral arrangements,  I wanted to be prepared for the worst. I barely left your side other than to see baby Tyler in the waiting room.  After several days of fighting, horrible name calling and scary as heck events, you were finally awake again and alert.  

Less than a month after going home, you were back in the hospital with fluids building up in your lung again and the Army also happened to decide that your military career was over. One month later, we packed up and drove away from Ft Hood...it was so bittersweet...we loved the Army...this wasn't what we wanted, but it was what the Army said..so we weren't given a choice.  The next few years were crazy...searching for a job or the ones you got, you were fired...we had 2 more children, it was a constant struggle just to survive, it took 2 years to finally accept that our military life was over and to accept reality...you were never going to be ""  the way you were"  again. The back injury, the PTSD, the migraines, the memory issues, cognitive issues...we both tried to minimize it...surely it would just go away, there had to be a way to "fix it" ....

When i found FOV was definitely when life started making more sense to me...I found out that what was going on in our life...was what many of them were going through, that all the issues...were issues caused by your injuries...injuries that needed to be brought out from under the rug and addressed, our lives and our marriage were at stake.  The next year was hard, the fight to keep things going, I was losing weight, trying to get healthy and your health just kept going down hill, you were working, but we were constantly worried you would get fired, you were told how stupid and worthless you were by your co workers and boss, your migraines were so severe you would throw up at work, I'm not even going to get in to all the issues the TBI caused...it was a hard year. I started attending counseling with you and I hoped that we would get to a better place.  

The beginning of the next year I applied to be your caregiver and got started on getting your VA claim finished. Things were getting worse, we were struggling, the PTSD was rearing its ugly head more than ever, the depression, the other injuries causing more issues, it was hard. The end of March, I got Debbie's email and sat in shock, trying to process what I had just read...CJ was gone. We made the trip happen...we were going to say goodbye and be there for Debbie and for CJ.  Those 2 days were full of tears and flashbacks of things that seemed like a million years ago..I remember laying in bed the night of the wake and you just cried and then you made me a promise, a promise I hold on to. The next few months things grew worse, the depression, the PTSD and all its ugly symptoms, things at your work became so bad that you just wanted to walk away, yet you wouldn't do it, you wanted to provide for your family...something I greatly respected. 

Then another battle began, your boss fired you..we were left with barely any income and no idea when your claim would be finished. For 2 months, I barely slept, I did anything and everything I could do to make ends meet, I called every few days to check on your claim, I pushed and pushed to get it done. Finally, it happened, your claim was complete..only to find out it was much lower than expected, but at least we were in a steady income again. We set the wheels in motion for your new claim. I finally had insurance again, so I decided to go to the Dr, we set up the details and I had surgery scheduled for 3 months later, I was in so much pain and miserable, but had to keep pushing on. They called me a few weeks later and asked if I wanted to reschedule for a month early, they had a spot open, I said yes and started getting things ready. I had my surgery and aside from a drastic blood pressure drop, I was doing well and home recovering. 

Things seemed odd to me, but I figured it was the pain meds. I will never forget the night/early morning when once again, our life took a drastic change, you were walking across the room and suddenly started acting really weird, you laid down and I sat in shock as I watched a seizure take over your body...I was terrified, it happened 2-3 times and it was over. I told my sister, thinking that surely I could have been wrong, that it wasn't a seizure. Then the next night, we were having cake for Tyler's birthday and you looked horrible, we got you on the couch and once again the seizures took over your otherwise lifeless body and then, you stopped breathing. Your breathing finally got better, but you were unresponsive and your brother and I agreed, 911 was the only option. They came, loaded you in the ambulance, your brother helped me climb in the ambulance with my fresh incisions screaming in pain and away we went. For the next 8 weeks, these seizures happened between 10 and 40 times a day...no one could tell me anything...Christmas was beyond hard, we had another ER trip, several VA appointments that led to nurses and Dr's running in the room, rapid 
response called and being transported via ambulance to inpatient with the VA..during this time, I felt cold and numb..my heart was breaking, I was losing you again. We are still going through medication increases and testing trying to figure out why these seizures started after over 6 years and why can't we control them. So our life seems somewhat crazy, the days spent at home making sure you are ok, that I'm there for the seizures and the unconscious periods, making sure you are still breathing, making sure that you are ok...stilling running a household and raising 3 children.  We reach this point and I sit back and think about the question that inspired this "story/love letter".   

Why...do I do what I do? Why do I keep going? Why do I stay?    

Here, is the reason...the easiest way I can explain it is to think of it as being married to 2 very different men, in the same body. First, is the young man I married, my best friend, the man I am am still madly in love with (you have to understand, I was barely 17 when we got married, I was so madly in love, but it was a young love, a love that vowed in sickness and in health, but really never even expected that to be part of our life. A young love that thought life would always be easy, call it an inexperienced love. Did I mean my vows? ABSOLUTELY!!  The man that still gives me butterflies when he kisses me, the man who makes me feel like I am his world...then there is my wounded soldier, from the outside, he doesn't look much different, just older and more worn...but he is the exact opposite of the man I married. This man, I grew to love with a different kind of love, an unconditional, no expectation of receiving anything in return kind of love, a love that smiles when it wants to cry, a love that pushes harder when it really wants to crumble, a love that forgives even when it hurts to breathe, a love that says, I will love you no matter what and even your demons won't push me away, a love that see's more bad days than good...this has made me fall even more in love with him, the person he is now, it made our love stronger because I was willing to be his everything without expecting anything in return...this is what true love really is.  His soul has been through hell and has seen things that scarred him, changed him and have terrorized him for the past 7 years..yet he keeps fighting, he tries to get up, he tries to do things on his own, he tries to be more...the soldier still fights on!  Yes, this life is hard! Yes, there are days when I cry and wonder how I will ever keep going...but those are the days that I look to God to give me strength to be what I need to be.  I look in to my husband's eyes and I know that there is no where else I would rather be...I love my soldier and proudly hold him up when he is weak, I proudly fight for him when his body fails...he has given up almost everything for our freedom, I won't give up on him, he is still my best friend and the love of my life and I can't imagine life any other way!  We have everything as long as we have each other!

Submitted By: Hannah

This blog post is part of The Love Letter Campaign... a project started by FamilyOfaVet.com to encourage those who love a hero to write a letter sharing their story (where they started, what they've faced together, and why their love endures). It's not just for spouses, but also for parents, siblings, caregivers, and friends. It's about telling the "rest" of our stories... stories that continue despite PTSD, TBI, and the challenges of life after combat. To share your love letter or find out more about the campaign, visithttp://www.familyofavet.com/love_letters.html.

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