Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Twilight Years of Life (07/02/09)
TITLE: The Brave Men in my Life
By Coleene VanTilburg
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"Mommy, do we have horses?" Jack asks inquisitively.
"No, Jack. We don't have horses. Why do you think we have horses?"
"Because Grandpa is always telling me to hold my horses and I think he thinks we have horses."
"No, Honey that just means Grandpa wants you to slow down a little."
"Grandpa said that I shouldn't cry because the milk spilled, but I never spilled the milk.
"Don't cry over spilled milk." Grandpa is trying to tell you not to get upset about things that you can't change."
And so it continued; "Grandpa-isms" as I would call my father's idiom-laced language to my six year old.
Pregnant at seventeen, Justin was eighteen and enlisted in the Army right out of high school. His was one of the first battalions deployed to Iraq. When he came home, we quickly married and within 6 months he was shipped out again for his second tour of duty. In his second week back, Justin was killed by a roadside bomb. It has been almost five years now. My Father, as a widower himself, has been the best role model he could possibly be to my son, but I began to see the physical toll life has taken on him. Dad would suffer a stroke. We were lucky and my dad was able to get to the hospital quickly and get the help he needed. He was hospitalized only two weeks and needed to go to physical therapy twice a week. Jack would accompany us on these trips. He thought it was so much fun to go to "Grandpa's gym." On one particular afternoon, I left the room while Grandpa was working with the therapist, leaving Jack with Grandpa. By now, my dad had regained most of his speech, but it was the depression that had me concerned. I was thankful Dad had Jack to keep him motivated.
Later that night, Jack would have a new "Grandpa question."
"Mommy, is Grandpa an angel now?"
This confused me. "Jack, why would you ask that? Angels are in Heaven where your Daddy is. Grandpa is still here with us."
"No they aren't Mommy. I saw him today with Grandpa in the gym room. It was the same one I saw when they took Grandpa to the hoss-a-bull. I think the angel is my Daddy."
I didn't know what to say. Was this my son's over-active imagination? Was he suffering from some sort of post-traumatic stress after seeing his Grandpa get so sick? When the right opportunity came to talk to my dad, I told him what Jack had said. With his mouth still drooping to one side and tears welled up, my Dad would share with me something he thought was only a dream.
"When I was loaded in the ambulance, I saw Justin (my husband)...watching over. I thought I had bought the farm and here was my welcoming committee. He looked at me and gave me an A-OK sign and then was talking to Jack. That is all I remember. When I am doing my physical therapy, I feel an unbelievable peace, a strength...I thought it was because Jack is with me. "
The next day I would ask Jack more questions about the "angel" he had seen with Grandpa. Jack said he knew Grandpa would be OK because, "the 'Daddy Angel' told him Grandpa had 'wings of protection' for me that still needed to be used and that I was brave and needed to help you and Grandpa."
"Well Jack, I said as my tears overflowed, I couldn't be prouder of you!"
"Mommy, Grandpa said he wasn't going to kick the bucket yet...but he needs to do ALL his exercises so he can get better."
"Yes Jack, he does. But we will wait awhile for that one."
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