This has been a long journey with some clear, well-lit time on wide paths. And there have been plenty of days in the darkness, trying to find my way out of strangling vines of kudzu that have famously overtaken abandoned spaces.
It’s been my journey of why.
Why have I felt such a strong pull in my heart and soul to work with our nation’s Warriors and their loved ones?
I can tell you about the unbelievable impact some of the first Warrior stories I witnessed had upon me. But, I think anyone with a heart and a twinge of humanness would have left feeling the same tug to help.
I can confess that I felt overwhelmed and underprepared when Warriors started to seek me out to help them and how I searched and found expert training to give me confidence in working with this unique population.
I can declare that I’ve lived the last 22 years of my life in a community that has the 2nd highest population of Veterans in the entire United States and how could I not serve this deserving group?
But not one of those – or even all of them combined – ever added up in my mind to equal the inconceivable heaviness I feel to serve our Warriors and their loved ones.
The underlying WHY remained a mystery to me for the most part.
Until a year ago…
A year ago, my dad handed me a large tattered manila envelope. He said, “Maybe this will help someone else tell their story.”
It was everything he had from his dad’s time in the Army when he served in WWII…and it wasn’t much.
There were some maps of where he served in Europe – coming into Normandy 2 to 3 days after D-Day.
There was a Red Cross letter informing my grandfather and his brother, who was serving in Africa, that their mother had died.
Papaw Townsend’s DD-214 was creased from decades of being folded.
His Honorable Discharge certificate was also sloppily stored in half ~ left marred and neglected – which was much like I began to envision how my grandfather was following the war.
Papaw Townsend died when I was 18 months old. He was 47. My Mamaw was 45. My dad was 26 years old, married and had two toddlers.
I don’t have any memories of Papaw Townsend. There are a couple of pictures of me with him and I’ve heard a couple of stories about him. Yet, none of those prompt any memories of Papaw.
So how does someone I have no memories of affect me? What does this have to do with who I am today?
My dad was a hard worker, great provider for our family, and was the disciplinarian. He had some tenderness in him – raising four girls, he was forced into the estrogen ocean more than he preferred. He didn’t really encourage us to achieve at anything in particular – but didn’t discourage us either. He didn’t voice he was proud of me until about 10 years ago.
I hadn’t really thought much about this emotional distance because I knew he loved me. I mean, he’s always told me that at least 3 times before we even hang up following a phone conversation, “Love you, baby.”
In my own emotional growth and professional development, I’ve become more aware of the impact one person can have on a system…whether it’s the angry secretary at the doctor’s office or a teenage son who’s had a disagreement with his girlfriend.
Regardless of how close or how far removed someone is from your immediate social system, there is a ripple effect.
In my quest of curiosity, I found myself asking why…why would my dad not tell me he was proud of me? Why would my dad think I would be ok with him driving through town and not catching up with me? I truly have no doubt he loves me and cares about me.
Could it be that he didn’t know how to do better because he wasn’t shown by his father?
Could it be that Papaw Townsend was disconnected at an emotional level that poisoned the waters of my emotional heritage?
It started to make sense to me.
Maybe I felt so strongly about serving our warriors because the wave of anguish from war washes over me – decades later.
The emotional rupture my grandfather experienced in World War II has aftershocks I’ve been experiencing my entire life.
This clarity became radiantly bright in my own process of therapy. I have a mentor who stretches me and in a group process, gave us an outdoor experiential assignment. In short, we were to walk in nature, gathering a handful of things that were attractive to us. Once completed, we should name them as someone in our past, chose one and then have a conversation with them.
I’d like to share what was uncovered for me.
The smooth rock that fit nicely into the palm of my hand symbolized Papaw Townsend and I wrote a conversation with him.
Me: Papaw, Daddy looks just like you. There’s that picture of you and Mamaw – it may as well be Daddy in the picture. I wish I’d had a chance to build memories with you. I wish I could remember your voice.
Papaw: You know me, sweet Becky. You hear me every time you talk to your dad. His faults are the same faults I had. His love is the same offering I gave him. I was broken before the War and your Mamaw held me together, but I was severely fractured. Your dad often fell into those deep disconnected places.
Me: That’s what I’ve been figuring out. The more I’ve worked with Warriors and their loved ones, the more I’ve discovered about you, your wounds and your heroic try at life after the war.
Papaw: It is no coincidence you work with our Warriors. You are healing me. You are healing your dad. And you are healing yourself as you bear witness, hold the space and give love to the soul wounds of these men, women and children.
I know this calling is not easy. I know you don’t feel good enough or worthy to do this…I’m afraid that’s a wound that is generations old.
When I came home from Germany, my father was no where to be found. He left before my brother and I got home. I told myself I wasn’t enough for my dad to welcome home from the war.
Since my mom died while I was in Germany, I came home to no one. When you don’t feel good enough to be loved by your own father, how do you ensure the people you love feel good enough and deserving? I just don’t know. I didn’t master that and I’m not even sure I knew to try.
Me: Papaw, I love you. I love you for the trials and hardships you overcame. I love you for my Daddy – who you raised to be the Dad I needed for my own journey. Thank you.
Papaw: I love you too, Becky. I know you’ve heard your dad say it to you…please hear it from me now – “Keep on keeping on."
He confirmed my WHY…43 years after he left us.
Believe. Create. Live.
© 2015 Rebecca G. Townsend