The song “I’ll be Home for Christmas (if Only in my Dreams)” always brings a tear to my eyes. The song is sung from the point of view of a soldier stationed overseas during WWII, and it initially was rejected by the music industry for being so sad. Bing Crosby recorded it in 1943 and scored a top ten hit, and the melancholy tune remains a Christmas tradition, especially for families missing loved ones.
Every year, thousands of American families will have an empty chair at their holiday table. Some families will leave up their trees with presents wrapped until their loved one comes home. Over the years, family members waved bravely as their sons, daughters, husbands, and wives boarded airplanes to begin their deployment overseas with the US military. Many family members promised their soldiers that they wouldn’t cry…
My son Harrison joined the Army a year and a half ago, at age 19, after his brother left for the Marine Corps, at age 18, in 2011. Our holidays have been incomplete every year with one of the boys always on deployment, for the past six years.
Through their active duty, I have learned how to cope with my own anxiety while offering them positive reinforcement and support. Here are a few suggestions to help families endure the long months of separation:
• Utilize the family services provided by the military; there are many web sites full of useful information about our military personnel. Examples include: Military Family Network at www.emilitary.org and Military One Source at[NG1] www.militaryonesource.mil . Most of the units have their own Facebook pages and groups where you can find photos and important dates. Remember you are not alone, and thousands of families have loved ones stationed overseas.
• Regular contact is essential for our morale at home and theirs overseas. Most of the troops have access to email, but a handwritten letter from home is always welcomed. It’s not easy to get through on the telephone, so try to arrange, in advance, the best time for your soldier or Marine to call.
• Remember special occasions, such as birthdays and special anniversaries. It’s important to mail months in advance if you want to ensure the package arrives by a certain time. Check with your loved one’s unit, they usually have important shipping timelines available.
• Troops always appreciate a package of homemade cookies. Treats for Troops is another great Halloween option at www.soldiersangels.org/treatsfortroops. Pack them in protective padding and throw in several pairs of new socks for extra cushion.
• Don’t criticize military conflicts to your soldier overseas. While many Americans are quick to judge the war efforts, don’t let that criticism get to your family member.
• Tune into their emotions as much as you can. It’s a national tragedy that so many returning veterans commit suicide or suffer from other physical, mental, and financial problems.
• Don’t panic if you haven’t heard from them!!! They are often busy and unable to make contact for lengthy periods of time. Stay and strong and busy.
• Final caution: I once made the mistake of crying when my son called; he had been stationed in a dangerous area. He didn’t call again for a long time, and eventually told me I hadn’t helped his situation acting distraught and emotional. Be concerned but not hysterical, and try to end all conversation on a positive, loving note.
During this busy holiday season, keep in mind the sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, spouses and others who are part of a military organization attempting to bring peace to the world. Having a loved one in the military during the holidays encourages us to focus our priorities on more important issues and not get caught up in the holiday hype. This year we’ll continue the tradition of lighting candles and offering prayers for the safe return for the thousands of military members who serve for our freedom. Someday they will return home, remove the yellow ribbons, and take their seat at the table.
As both my son’s have promised me, “I’ll be home for Christmas.”
It has taken me awhile to write this post, as I am still grieving the loss of our Camouflage Girl "Cammie". In fact, I have started and stopped writing several times.
I know everyone thinks their dog is the best, but Cammie was THE best dog ever!
The name of my coaching business is Tactical Brown Dog because of the effect our beautiful, chocolate lab had on our family. She taught us how to live and in her death we will find life. I always had a unique ability to help others with everything from being a good listener to analyzing options, setting goals and holding my friends accountable. Cammie did the same for me. She was my best friend, my ally and my conscience. This led me to my desire to help others... to pay it forward. I became a Life Coach to honor my dog and to make a difference. My passion has turned into a dream with realization. Helping people find focus and direction, while gaining physical benefits... with the help of nature and dogs. If you stay with me on this journey, you will soon see accessories and bags for purchase. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to provide research, education and awareness of Lyme Disease and Lyme Nephritis in Dogs... in memory of Cammie.
Cammie was only four years old when she was diagnosed and she "hung on", with A LOT medications and food restrictions, for approximately three months . It was heartbreaking to watch her fight a losing battle. I researched and found a vet who seemed to be the foremost authority on Lyme Nephritis. She was affiliated with Penn Vet. I sent her an
e-mail desperately pleading for her to help our dog. She answered with genuine concern and was willing to listen to our current course of treatment, even though she was on sabbatical, overseas.
Cammie was always happy and loving. She was the most loyal dog I have ever had and she was my best friend. My oldest son, Chamber 1, left for the Marines and I will admit, my life was moving way to fast and I just was not ready for the kids to grow up and out. In my search to find peace and get ahead of the anxiety and heartbreak, we got a puppy. That puppy had many "military related" names before we settled on "Camouflage Girl", Cammie for short. She quickly became the heart and positive energy in our home. While she was always loyal and loving with all of us, my middle son seemed to have a special connection with her. He took her everywhere and she slept in his room. My daughter went away to college and another Chamber of my heart was feeling empty. Chamber number 2 had cracks for some time before she left, because she was always "leaving" in some way. Then my middle son joined the Army. Chamber number 3. There are 4 chambers in the heart and I always say that each of my children represent a chamber. Chamber number 3 was a tipping point, now with greater than a 50% compromise, my heart was really struggling. My once open heart, was slowing emptying. My youngest son, thankfully, is only 10 years old and is still home for a bit. That 4th chamber is full! Cammie was always the constant, with unconditional love. She filled the chambers intermittently when the older kids would be away.
When I woke up one morning in April 2016, and she did not get up with me, I knew something was wrong. As the day went on, she seemed to be more lethargic and not herself. She tried to be a good dog and she would rally to follow any commands. She looked at me with an apathetic and concerned look. I knew in my heart and my gut this was more than just an odd bad day. We went to the vet where she was very quickly diagnosed with Lyme Disease. Damn those deer in the backyard! I had always enjoyed seeing them, as I grew up in Florida and we lived in the "concrete jungle", with no wildlife to be found, with the exception of alligators. Moving to Pennsylvania, I always admired it's picturesque beauty with the changes each season. I was always wide-eyed with amazement when I saw all the deer in our yard. I fed them, in fact. Cammie would chase them... and inevitably always come back after they outran her. We followed the recommendations and she was vaccinated per protocol. How could she get Lyme Disease? I was now beginning to not like the deer. My oldest son had also been diagnosed with Lyme Disease several years back. He recovered without incident, thankfully. The vet told me that the vaccine does not always cover the complete 12 months and that is how dogs can get Lyme Disease even if they are vaccinated. The vet said she came up positive very quickly and that she needed to stay there for a few days to receive IV fluids. I was alone and scared. I didn't want to leave her, but I wanted her to get the care she needed. I left her there and I went home to cry. I feverishly scoured the internet for answers and support. I would visit Cammie 2-3 times a day while she was in the hospital. It was very quickly explained to me that she had a very poor prognosis. She did not have a straight-forward case of Lyme Disease, but rather a very complicated case of Lyme Nephritis. Her kidneys were were failing. My heart was broken. Lyme nephritis is seen in <1–2% of Lyme seropositive dogs, with an average onset at 5–6 years. Labrador and Golden Retrievers are predisposed to this condition.
I became determined to find a cure and that she would beat the odds. Over the next several weeks, she would have good days and bad days. Our days revolved around her medications and diet. She was taking 8 pills each morning and 7 each evening. We researched nutrition and followed every holistic approach that we could. Grandma, the kids and I all would cook her fresh chicken, rice, ground turkey, vegetables, etc. All low sodium, low phosphate, protein was a balancing act, etc. She would not eat the special kidney care dog foods. Her medications were very costly and getting her to take them was definitely a process of trial and error, along with trickery and variation. Cammie was eating better than the rest of the family. She was hungry and was still eating, albeit she became very picky. She became addicted to ice... in particular the crushed ice from Sonic that came in the blue coconut water slushy. She also started to only drink from the toilets, which she had never done. Keeping the lids closed became a new norm. When we would go to the vet to have a urinalysis, I would hold my breath. Some days the vet seemed cautiously optimistic. The Penn Vet tweaked some of her medications and she too was somewhat happy with the days when her BUN and Creatinine levels (kidney function studies) were improving, but overall cautioned me that this disease is fatal and has a poor prognosis. The roller coaster ride was becoming nauseating and dizzying. Sleepless nights from my gripping fear that I would wake to find her unresponsive. She was not alone in this fight! But as the weeks drew on she could not keep anything down, no matter what we tried. On July 22, 2016, she was more lethargic than previous days. She was craving ice water only, but then would not even keep that down. We filled the puppy pool with water to let her have some splash time, which she loved. She climbed in and did circles before lying down. She looked at me with pathetic and heart-wrenching sadness. I knew when this day came, I would just know. But my heart was not ready...
I loved my Cammie and could not imagine our home without her, but I did not want her to suffer. I called the vet and took her in that evening. I still held out hope that she would come home again. It was a very short visit. Our vet was very empathetic and honest that "she was ready" and that her body was shutting down. The decision to put her to sleep was the most difficult decision that I have had to make since my divorce. (I am thankful that my cousin met me at the vet to hold Cammie's paw and support me during this horrible moment).
I could not get up off the floor. This all seemed surreal and unfair. The thought of going home without my best friend, the dog who saw me through my children growing up and out, relationships, anxiety issues, all the losses that have chipped away at me... this was unbearable. It was as if 3/4 of my heart were instantly empty. I sat in my car in the parking lot, sobbing hysterically and unable to breath. After what seemed like forever, I drove home in a fog and could not go inside the house with just a collar and leash. I sat outside on the Adirondack chair, watching cars drive up my street, for what seemed like another forever. My daughter came home with my youngest son. I had a brief moment of peace that I was not alone. Cammie will forever be in our hearts and she will always be the strength that carried me through. She was always there for me. My fears were calmed with Cammie by my side, but now she is gone because of some tiny tick. Ticks Suck!!!!!
Tactical Brown Dog's mission is forever changed and we are committed to donating for research, education and awareness of Lyme Nephritis in Dogs.
My heart seemed to have stop that day, along with Cammie's. I felt paralyzed and unable to move. It became a year of losses that were simply too much to handle. In my concerned search to find myself and my purpose, I have been busy getting my coaching certifications, researching life coaching strategies, planning and executing specific realistic steps, studying human behavior, educating myself on the dog/human connection and dedicating myself to helping others who are feeling "lost", in a unique way that includes fitness, outdoors/nature and our beloved friend, the dog... using the life lessons my dog taught me. Walk and talk "off the leash".
LIVE A BROWN DOG LIFE