The Home Sweet Home Campaign

T-Shirts 4 SoldiersPlease welcome guest poster Beth VanHoose from the Home Sweet Home Campaign. Be sure to read below the fold for a special discount for military families!

The Home Sweet Home Campaign was born from a genuine motivation, inspired by Tim and Nicole Little, who reside in Queen Creek AZ.  Tim, an Army reservist, has served two tours in this war, touring in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Like many soldiers returning home, he found himself unable to return to his pre-deployment job, due to his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI).

These injuries are the ones we cannot see, but are very real and are affecting thousands of our soldiers who have served in the Iraq war.  For months Tim and his wife struggled, working their way through the VA system to get the appropriate help. It took over a year for Tim to be evaluated and rated for his disability. Enduring countless doctor’s visits and forms, this became a full time job without pay.

As a reservist, Tim was no longer receiving an income from the military and they had to rely on Nicole, who is a full time student at Arizona State University.  Needless to say, they had to make some tough financial decisions on how to pay their monthly bills; they fell 4 months behind in their mortgage.  Desperate to not lose their home, they looked for other avenues to help them get by.  They found USA Cares, a nonprofit organization that provided them with a grant to cover their past due mortgage payments.  Helping them to keep their home and focus on the future. Continue reading

Spouse Speak: Recently Deployed

This post originally appeared in the August 19, 2009 edition of The Flagship.

By Vivian Greentree

My husband recently deployed (I say recently because my donut of misery still has too much green on it to say anything else … still it feels like forever!) and I have been doing all the typical stuff for trying to keep my kids connected with their dad through our normal routines.

For instance, we are on a care package schedule now, wherein my oldest, MJ, practices his writing skills in telling dad what he’s done and the youngest, Walker, displays his ability to draw circles and color them in. There is always a golf magazine that my oldest saves from the mail with a reverence that is almost comical – “I get to be the one who puts it in the box,” he says. And, I think the only sacred box of cookies in the house, the only box that isn’t in danger of being raided by grubby little hands on the sly, is the one that has been earmarked for dad. Always Chips-Ahoy (not enough chocolate to melt but enough to make a good cookie). Oh, and his special hair gel. My military man knows how to look good even in the desert thank you very much!

So, thinking about what to put in our care packages has become a running point of interest with me and the boys – “NO! Daddy does not want you to send him that frog. NO! Not even if you put it in water on the way over!” We also read We Serve Too! (www.weservetoo.com) before bedtime a lot. I found that particular book when an organization I’m a part of, Blue Star Families, held a Books on Bases, Smiles on Faces program here in Virginia Beach for our local military families. The National Guard representative who came had a slew of books aimed at helping military children cope with the challenges of having a deployed parent. I have found it to be invaluable in starting conversations with MJ, who’s 5, about his feelings of missing his dad. And, it shows him that he and his brother are serving in their own way – as children in a military family – which allows him to replace some of that anger he has towards missing his dad with the pride of being a military child who is working hard in his own special way.

And now, I have just added another tactic for getting through this deployment (while retaining my sanity!) which has proven to be quite the hit in our house. A few weeks ago, I was introduced to an idea by a military spouse friend in Florida who told me she has a friend who has been carrying her deployed boyfriend’s picture around on a stick. I know, sounds odd. Like a warped version of a blow up doll date. However, she has been taking pictures of herself with her “flat Stanley” at all the fun places she goes and then puts them up on her blog for her friends and family, and most importantly, Stanley, to see. Flat Stanley has been to baseball games, a friend’s baby shower (probably glad he actually wasn’t there in person for that particular one!), out to dinner, and to the pool. I decided to try it out for myself. So, MJ and I picked a picture of my husband and enlarged it. Given my lack of craftiness (though surely I must be given points for ingenuity) we used what would otherwise be known as a barbecue skewer to tape his picture to. Oh yeah, and given our tendencies towards water play, we laminated it.

MJ calls it ‘dad on a stick.’ And, since his creation, DOAS has been biking with us, on a picnic, and to the pool. He’s peered over MJ’s shoulder while MJ was working on his letters, gone to Habachi with us, and he’s even tagged along to “George Washington DC” on our trip to the Smithsonian (he was the only one in the car who didn’t complain during the six hour trip home, when we got stuck in traffic).

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The pictures we take I send to Mike. It gives him a pictorial of what we are doing and allows him a window into our world. He says it is bittersweet – obviously it makes him wish it was he who was actually here helping MJ with his school work or even here being trapped in the car with us during horrible traffic instead of a paper version of himself. Still, he says he enjoys the whole process and seeing what we are doing, even telling me new places he wants DOAS to go (to a Pearl Jam concert is one that has been mentioned). And, MJ and Walker are all about finding outrageous new scenarios for DOAS to be involved with, especially as they try to show dad what they want to do with him when he gets home. Last week, when I had class, MJ asked our babysitter if DOAS could help make Mac and Cheese with them. Accordingly, in this most recent care package, there is a picture of MJ holding DOAS while he helps stir the macaroni with the carefully printed message of, “We’ll eat Mac and Cheese when you get home! You can use my Spiderman bowl!”

So, if you have a deployed spouse and are looking for a fun summer project to do with your kids, why not make a DOAS (or a MOAS)? While he doesn’t compare with his living, breathing counterpart, at least he’ll be able to invoke some of the comical, yet poignant moments that help get us through these long separations. Plus, unlike his real-life counterpart, my DOAS agrees with everything I say!

Vivian Greentree lives in Chesapeake, VA and is the Membership Director of Blue Star Families. She is also on the Governor’s Commission for Nation and Community Service. If you’d like to get involved with BSF, contact Vivian at vgreentree@bluestarfam.org.

Reintegration – Phase 11 (excerpt from 400 Days)

400 DaysDanette Hayes is the BSF Co-Director for National Guard and Reserve Outreach and the author of 400 Days, a book about her National Guard family’s deployment journey.

Rich and I have immersed ourselves into civilian lives once again. I wish I could say it’s been easy, but the reality is, it has not.  We renewed our wedding vows on August 30, 2008.  Our best man eighteen years ago was Rich’s brother, John, so we found it quite fitting that he officiate our renewal.  It was a casual affair on the deck, surrounded by our family, who each did a reading.  Unlike the church wedding we had before, this was all our doing, words that we chose, readings and music that didn’t have to be approved by the church. It was a true representation of our life together.

Our best friends, Greg and Shari Merritt, assisted John as officiates of the ceremony, and we loved having them stand with us. We’ve all been through this separation, and this almost felt like we all renewed a vow to continue being there for each other.  We bought each of the children an Irish wedding band and exchanged them during the ceremony.  David and Susan read from Lord of the Rings about change. Makayla read from the Velveteen Rabbit about how growing old and being real doesn’t hurt, it just happens. Kelly sang “What a Wonderful World.” She practiced for weeks with our friend Jimmy who played guitar for us and sang Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You,” something that never would’ve been approved in our Catholic ceremony eighteen years ago. This was the most memorable wedding I’ve ever been a part of, and I wish I had videotaped it. Shari and Meredith, being the crazy ladies they are, made us a heart-shaped cake with a Barbie and Ken dressed in Parrothead attire. They even cut Barbie’s hair to resemble my haircut and shaved Ken’s head to reflect Rich’s crew cut. True to form, my crazy ladies brought my favorite tequila, Patrón, and the evening ended on a happy note.

I’ve spoken about ceremony before, the military need to preserve these worthwhile celebrations. Renewing our vows brought closure to the separation the last year brought us and allowed us to renew our commitment to each other and our children for a bright future, no matter what may come. My, how I’ve grown!

I’m still searching for employment, but feel lucky that I can be home during this time of transition. After the welcome home celebrations end and we try to pick up the pieces, it’s then that I see and understand how hard it is to feel good about what he’s done as a soldier. Rich returned to work in August, but there was no one there to welcome him back. He had no office, no phone, no computer to return to—it was as if he had never been there. He had to track down facilities for assistance. He had notified his boss he’d be returning thirty days before his arrival back at the office, yet he wasn’t there to welcome him back.  To the contrary, when he did see Rich, he seemed surprised he had returned to work at all.

I’m dumbfounded that his boss would think he wouldn’t return to his civilian job. Just what do employers think the Guardsmen or Reservists do that enable them to walk away from their futures when they return from war? From the stories I’ve heard at the reintegration meetings, this is common for the Guardsmen.  He’s still struggling to get his employer to honor USERRA. To some, it’s just enough to sign up to be an employer who supports the Guard and Reserve soldiers. It’s an entirely different matter to actually follow through with that commitment.

Let’s face it—life moved on without them. I don’t think Rich ever received an e-mail from anyone at his office, except maybe at the holiday time. It’s not that people don’t mean well. They’re just caught up in their own lives. No one knows what to expect or how to act around someone who’s sacrificing a year of their own life so that others back home can get on with theirs. It shouldn’t be a thankless job.

Rich is one of the lucky ones.  He came home to a family.  I’ve met so many who didn’t have a family to come home to. At the meeting this past weekend, during one point in the schedule, they asked married couples to stay in one room for “dialogue,” and those whose spouses or significant others had left because of the deployment to adjourn into another room.  Almost one-third of the room left.  It left me sad and angry.  The cost to military families is taking its toll, and I search for answers to end this cycle.   Seventy-five percent of the suicides in the military are due to relationship troubles.   It’s so hard to put my fingers around such numbers, but seeing the room split as I did, it’s hard not to recognize how it happens.

I think Rich saw himself in the meetings. They gave a presentation/film on battle fatigue and the symptoms.  I’m grateful he saw himself so that I wouldn’t have to start at ground zero.  Invalidation they call it. “They” meaning psychiatrists and the VA dealing with Post Combat Stress and Battle Fatigue.  It’s a subtle symptom that, left untreated, can lead to alcoholism, drug abuse, withdrawal, seclusion, and ultimately suicide.  The soldiers feel so disconnected from their prior lives as civilians and unappreciated for their commitment that they start to question their own ability to provide a future for themselves or for their families.  We’re learning more and more about post combat stress, but we’re not reacting fast enough as a society. They describe invalidation as mocking, ignoring, judging, or minimizing a soldier’s feelings.  Sounds simple, right?  And it shouldn’t be a big deal, right? Wrong.  Invalidation goes beyond mere rejection by implying not only that our feelings are disapproved of, but that we are fundamentally abnormal. This implies that there is something wrong with us because we aren’t like everyone else; we are strange; we are different; we are weird.  Psychological invalidation is one of the most lethal forms of emotional abuse.  It kills confidence, something sorely needed by returning civilian soldiers.  When we tell a soldier who has just returned from deployment, “Oh, don’t worry, it’s okay, you’ll feel better soon,” we’re minimizing their emotions. After days or even weeks of this minimizing behavior, the soldier eventually becomes more depressed and capable of self-harm.  These situations do not go away on their own.  Soldiers learn to isolate themselves because they’re not “normal” and turn to alcohol or drugs.  I find myself guilty of this same invalidation and quickly redress how I phrase the emotions Rich is going through. After all, who am I to say he’ll feel better soon?  I have no real idea what he’s going through.

The Guardsman or Reservist isn’t benefiting from active duty life, and they are different from their civilian counterparts.  The businessman behind the desk can’t relate to putting his life on the line for his cubicle mate while a soldier spends 24/7 ready to sacrifice his life for his fellow soldier.
The law reads they can take up to 90 days off before returning to work. Generous it sounds, but totally unrealistic.  The Army won’t pay them for 90 days, and I don’t know anyone who’s been deployed for over a year who can financially afford not to return to work within 30 days of return. The business partner can’t relate to the transition issues the civilian soldier has to deal with daily.  The recourse is to isolate themselves because no one knows what to do with the soldier who just returned.  Soldiers pick up on this quite fast, and it feeds the feeling that they are not “normal.”

Of course the VA will say services are available to the Guard and Reserve, and they are.  But at what cost?  What officer is going to risk their military career because of depression? And what becomes of their civilian career if labeled “unfit” for duty?  It’s a risk that too many Guardsmen and Reservists are not willing to take.  So the families try to manage on their own, treading carefully, yet all the while realizing that what they thought would be a return to normal life is starting to look like a bad dream that won’t end.

A Peace Sign

IMG_6831Welcome, Allison Buckholtz, author of Standing By: The Making of an American Military Family in a Time of War.  She lives in the Washington, DC suburbs with her two young children; her husband is currently serving a 12-month deployment in the Middle East. (Originally published at Alison’s Deployment Diary on Double X.)

“What are you drawing?” I asked my son Ethan, as he swirled paint on paper one quiet afternoon at our house.

“A welcome home sign,” he answered.

“For who?”

“For Daddy.”

Ethan is 6 years old, and though he has a sly sense of humor, he doesn’t yet appreciate irony. So I couldn’t laugh, even though my husband Scott, an active-duty Navy pilot, left for a year-long assignment in Iraq just two days ago. With training and travel, Scott will be away close to 14 months, so Ethan’s welcome home sign comes about 410 days too early. I didn’t tell him that, of course. If he can find solace through art, or anything constructive, I’m thrilled. It’s better than crying for four hours straight, as he did the night Scott left.

There are, of course, many well-developed, crafty strategies for military kids to count down to a parent’s homecoming from deployment. In my circle of moms, the paper chain is popular: Basically, you and your kid cut out one colorful strip for every day of the servicemember’s absence, tape each into a link, then connect all the links together and string them across the room. You remove one link every morning to mark the approaching homecoming hug.

My husband got home barely a year ago, and his last stint lasted seven months. Before that deployment, the idea of a 216-link paper chain horrified me; the last thing I wanted to do was enumerate the endless number of days. I felt strongly that my kids’ emotional health rested on precisely the fact that they didn’t know exactly how long they’d be apart from Daddy.

I did briefly consider the jar of chocolate kisses, a new tactic for getting through deployment that’s making the rounds among military wives. You buy several bags of Hershey’s kisses, count out one for each day of the deployment, and place them in a jar. Every morning when you and the children wake up, start your day with a kiss, as if your deployed loved one was there to greet you.

But even that one seemed suspect to me. Ours is the kind of house in which Halloween candy doesn’t last ‘til breakfast the next day. I didn’t doubt my capacity to devour 400 kisses on a lonely night, so I did myself a favor and discarded this feels-a-little-too-good strategy before I ended up like a Cathy cartoon.

Since I’m a writer, I thought that perhaps Ethan might discover an outlet for his feelings by putting them on paper. I tried this during my husband’s last deployment, when Ethan, then 4 and a half, was in the throes of classic dad’s-on-deployment symptoms: depressed, angry and withdrawn, a mockery of his best self. As I wrote in my memoir, Standing By: The Making of an American Military Family in a Time of War, I asked him to draw his feelings, and he tore the pencil through the paper, ripping it to shreds. One morning, I told him that I would write a letter to Daddy from him if he told me what to say. Here’s what he dictated:

Dear Daddy,

I wish you were home right now. I really miss you. I’m crying right this second and I’m holding my shirt over my face. I wish you were home right now. I really really love you. Please tell the driver of the aircraft carrier to stop the boat.

My dream was about you leaving home. You were in bed and other people rang the doorbell and took you away and me and Esther [my daughter] were pulling you back and you had to drive away and we followed you but couldn’t find you and I cried and cried and cried.

That is all done.

love,

Ethan

Multiple military studies detail the experiences of military children with deployed parents, and the way that parents’ stress levels affect their children. Although one Army-sponsored study concludes that “military children and adolescents exhibit levels of psychopathology on par with children of civilian families,” it acknowledges that military children face “significant life challenges” not shared by their civilian peers. Boys with a war-deployed father may suffer especially frequent “emotional, behavioral, sex-role, and health problems,” according to one particularly influential Army study.

I wasn’t a military kid, and both of my parents were deeply involved and ever-present in nearly every aspect of my childhood, so it’s daunting for me to put myself in my son’s place. I know he misses his father, and I know he’s in pain, but at his age, he doesn’t articulate the details. Instead, I just have to watch him closely for the changes in his behavior. Like amateur sleuths, we military moms constantly scan our kids for clues to their state of mind. Is he acting up? Throwing food? Saying odd things? If we suspect deployment is the source, we start calling therapists, or carving out more one-on-one time, or searching for appropriate books to read. These strategies work for some people, but I haven’t yet found the foolproof one.

This welcome home business is coming entirely too early. So how do I break it to my kid, fresh blue paint splattered on his cheek, that our countdown hasn’t even reached the one-year mark yet?

Turns out I didn’t have to worry.

Ethan was quiet for a moment as he surveyed his swirls, which had morphed into something considerably more abstract than a homecoming banner. I wondered, as I so often do, what he was thinking.

“I changed my mind,” my boy finally said. “It’s not a welcome home sign. It’s a peace sign.”

Photograph of Ethan courtesy of the author.

400 Days by Danette Hayes

400 DaysBlue Star Families’ Director of National Guard/Reserve Outreach, Danette Hayes, has written a book about her National Guard family’s experience with activation and deployment.  We asked Danette to tell us about the publishing experience and how the book came about. You can purchase 400 Days now and 5% of the proceeds will go to support military families.

I was approached by a local newpaper columnist to do an interview shortly before September 11, 2009, based off a letter I sent to the editor. Turns out the letter was too long to publish as a letter but they wanted to do an interview.

The day after the article appeared my blog received thousands of hits. It was then the columnist suggested I turn my blog into a book. I didn’t have a publisher, nor did I have an agent. Publishing has changed so drastically from the days of old when a publisher and agent were needed. Today, Amazon.com offers publishing on demand or (POD). I enlisted the assistance of a qualified and experienced editor, Tammy Barley, who helped me take the blog and weave a personal story through the blog entries so that any reader could find themselves entrenched in my story as if they were also there.

My story isn’t typical but no military families story is typical. The book highlights the everyday life of any family but also shares the personal feeling of loss and separation through deployment. The final chapters deal with reintegration, this “new” normal that’s been coined by professional staff to define what military families are now experiencing. It’s funny but at the same time raw. It doesn’t matter where our soldiers serve, whether it’s Iraq, Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa, Korea or stateside. All deployments bring uncertainty and families are learning how to maneuver this ever changing landscape we now call “new normal.” Not all families can have an adventure like I was offered, but for my husband this was a way for us to deal with our separation, looking forward.

It’s been a nine month process but the CreateSpace website makes it easy and professional. The book cover was illustrated for me by a family artist who was able to take a photo of my husband and his troops as they canvassed the mountains in Kosovo for drugs and human trafickers and draw it for the cover. Because CreateSpace is a division of Amazon.com, the book will also be available through Amazon.com and featured for 30 days.

I was approached by a local newpaper columnist to do an interview
shortly before September 11, 2009 based off a letter I sent to the
editor.  Turns out the letter was too long to publish as a letter but
they wanted to do an interview.

The day after the article appeared my blog received thousands of hits.
It was then the columnist suggested I turn my blog into a book.  I
didn’t have a publisher, nor did I have an agent.  Publishing has
changed so drastically from the days of old when a publisher and agent
were needed.  Today, Amazon.com offers publishing on demand or (POD).
I enlisted the assistance of a qualified and experienced editor, Tammy
Barley,  who helped me take the blog and weave a personal story
through the blog entries so that any reader could find themselves
entrenched in my story as if they were also there.

My story isn’t typical but no military families story is typical.  The
book highlights the everyday life of any family but also shares the
personal feeling of loss and separation through deployment.  The final
chapters deal with reintegration, this “new” normal that’s been coined
by professional staff to define what military families are now
experiencing.  It’s funny but at the same time raw.  It doesn’t matter
where our soldiers serve, whether it’s Iraq, Afghanistan, the Horn of
Africa, Korea or stateside.  All deployments bring uncertainty and
families are learning how to maneuver this ever changing landscape we
now call “new normal.”  Not all families can have an adventure like I
was offered, but for my husband this was a way for us to deal with our
separation, looking forward.

It’s been a nine month process but the CreateSpace website makes it
easy and professional.  The book cover was illustrated for me by a
family artist who was able to take a photo of my husband and his
troops as they canvassed the mountains in Kosovo for drugs and human
trafickers and draw it for the cover.

Because CreateSpace is a division of Amazon.com, the book will also be
available through Amazon.com and featured for 30 days.

How to Prepare for Deployment

DeploymentThis article originally appeared at MilSpouse.com.

14 Pointers to ease the tension.

by Vivian Greentree

While there is no real way to emotionally prepare yourself or your family for the long separations of deployments, we can certainly do a lot in the way of logistical and organizational planning to help facilitate the situation.

For me, no matter how much I prepare and arrange, the fact that I’m sleeping alone for the next 6 to 12 months isn’t real until the first night after he’s left.

Here are a few pointers I’ve managed to accumulate through personal trials and tribulations.

The Legal Stuff

  1. Make sure all your legal documents are in order.
  2. Make sure you have access to any joint or single accounts that you’ll need to pay bills.
  3. Make a spreadsheet with accounts, passwords and the bills you are responsible for and when they are due.
  4. Create a document with the contact phone numbers, email addresses and Web sites for base representatives, your spouse club, FRG, or other people who have information that you’ll inevitably want to have sometime during the deployment.

The House/General Maintenance Stuff

  1. Fix Things. Don’t wait until things break to discover they need work. Gutters, roofs, tires, etc.
  2. Know your limits.
  3. Have a running list of services you use and the corresponding contact information. Try to build yourself a good list before you actually need them.

The Family Stuff

  1. First, resign yourself to the fact that nothing you do to prepare is going to lessen the loss of not having your soul mate, the father/mother of your kids, and best friend.
  2. Find ways to mark time.
  3. One friend gets a map of the world and uses push pins to show where his wife has traveled with her ship.
  4. Digital picture frames are awesome. You can continually upload new pictures or mail a removable mass storage device, like a flash drive with new pictures on it.
  5. Stay connected.  This can be done both ways, for the deployed spouse or the family waiting at home.
  6. Another idea is to buy/download computer cameras and software (like Skype) that allow you to converse through an internet connection. This, of course, is dependent upon the type of deployment and your spouse’s access to computers.

War, yellow ribbons and Gatorade

yellow ribbonJust a quick intro about me. I syndicate a column about military living called Out of the Blue and have been trying to live this lifestyle with my five daughters and my Special Ops-always-gone-hubby. I’m involved with Blue Star Families and hope to help this community in many ways. I’m originally from Italy and can cook some mean Italian dishes. I look forward to sharing this journey with you and to learning from one another. The post below appeared last week in my column and is titled, War Yellow Ribbons and Gatorade

My 6 year old daughter Anna rolled on the ground screaming and clutching her stomach as my other children pulled on my arm, covered their eyes and cried. She screamed that the pain in her tummy was too much to take. I tried to touch her, she rolled away, threw up and passed out.

I called 911 and while on the phone Anna came back a little bit, but the dispatcher told me not to take her by car but wait for the ambulance.

My next thought was whether I should take my other four kids in the ambulance, and could they even ride in it?

Quick note: my neighbors aren’t quite on the deployed wife bandwagon. Whenever my husband deploys, they just tell me I need to mow my lawn more often. I tried a few other friends, but no one was around on the weekend. Finally, I sucked it up and called our $15 per hour baby-sitter, who fortunately was able to come.

When the ambulance came, they put Anna on a stretcher, and one of the EMT’s told me to ride in the front, while the other stayed with Anna in back.

As I was leaving I reassured my kids with a confident smile, and told them that most of the time people who are taken to the hospital by ambulance are just fine (really?), and that I’d call them as soon as we got there. My oldest daughter’s eyes were filled with tears and I hugged her, and whispered that Anna would be fine.
I stared at my kids watching the big ambulance go, feeling so small. I clutched my purse with my hands and turned to look at the driver thinking that maybe I should make small talk. He was looking straight ahead and when I asked him which hospital we were going to, he answered in a curt voice, signaling he didn’t want to chat.
I rummaged in my purse, unrealistically looking for strength, but found none. I was scared, and I was angry. I saw cars in my neighborhood with bumper stickers that said ‘we support our troops’ and was upset that I didn’t feel this support in the least bit. I truly wanted to talk to my deployed husband.

My thoughts cleared only when the doctor looked at Anna and said she was fine. Her blood pressure had dropped quickly and he hypothesized that her stomach may have twisted – that’s what he said – and gotten back to place on its own.
The doctor was kind, and the nurses compassionate. I wanted to get a drink of water but didn’t want to leave Anna who was scared of the needles that hid behind every corner of the hospital, so one of the nurses gave m e Gatorade out of the staff’s fridge. She squeezed my hand and told me how grateful she was for all that my husband was doing and that a Gatorade was a small gesture compared to our sacrifices.

And that made all the difference in the world to me. Whatever anger was left dissipated and my eyes welled with tears. That Grape flavored Gatorade (not even one of my favorites) meant more to me than any yellow ribbon magnet. I don’t expect my neighbors and friends to take care of me just because my husband’s gone, they’ve got lives and problems of their own. But little gestures of kindness can go beyond big slogans, and make a real difference.

And sometimes, that’s all the help I need.

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