Unstoppable Souls

There will always be a reason why you meet people. Either you need them to change your life, or you are the one who will change theirs.

Firey WomanThe story I’m about to tell you is true. It is the story about an inspirational man, his equally inspiring and beautiful wife, and his son, William, who surpasses all of us with his will to overcome, thrive and live.

None of the names have been changed to protect the innocent or the guilty. The guilty would be me. I’d like a pass because I was in mourning, but the truth is, that’s bullshit. Each of us decides every day to live or give up, to make excuses or take responsibility. It sucks that the love of my life died on me. I’m still a little mad about it.

The difference now is this: I no longer use his death as an excuse, but as my driving force.

Exactly a year and a half after Steve died; I packed up my home for the 22nd time in 34 years and moved to Virginia Beach to feel something familiar around me. I don’t have young Navy SEALs traipsing through my house at all hours like I used to, but the community of Steve’s living Brothers is close enough to me here that I feel their comfort. Still, less than a year ago I was still in a deep fog, barely unpacked and still driving around from point A to point B without knowing how I left or why I arrived.

On one such day while driving down Virginia Beach Boulevard, I heard a distinct recognizable voice telling me to turn and check out a small gym close to the corner of Great Neck. I made a U-turn, pulled into a parking space and laughed aloud at the (then) name of the gym: “Face the Pain”.  Clearly, Steve lived (and died) for sarcasm. Ironically, had I not heard his voice on that day – at that exact moment – I would not have turned, I would never have noticed the gym, and I would not have met Billy Yancey.

You should probably know that for 31 years Steve was my built in personal trainer. He designed programs to suit me, challenge me and piss me off. I never trained exactly the way he thought I should, but he never stopped believing in me or my abilities and to thank him for that faith, I (mostly) did what I was told. I was not, however, his BUD/S student and I made that clear in no uncertain terms every chance I got, which somehow encouraged him to buy a stupid little bell and taunt me with it. I admit here and now that I may have caused a certain “bell” to fly across the room a dozen hundred times or so, but I digress…

The ugly truth is this: When Steve died, I quit everything. I was breathing, barely, and I would have stopped that too if I could have figured out a way to do it without hurting my children. I lost my mind and I didn’t care. I lost my health, my magic and my self. I didn’t care. Grief is a skilled liar and I came to believe there was no point to anything. I sat down and did not move for an entire year believing that Steve was gone and I was done. Purposefully, I paid no attention to my health. I gained “mourning weight” and a “screw it” attitude and I did not care.

And then I met “Mr. Pain,” a.k.a. Billy Yancey. Billy is the creator of Anabo, the owner of Anabo Nutrition and Fitness and my friend — not always an easy task. Since that fateful day, I have come to know him as a stellar husband, an extraordinary Papa, and yet another man in my life who takes absolutely not one ounce of shit from me, which is fairly unbelievable because I can hand it out with mighty force.

I am now back to being a healthy, beautiful woman with all of my magic and self  Determined_Woman.jpg_preview_327x500right where it needs to be.  And I maintain bragging rights because damn, even in death, Steve knows how to pick ’em.

Billy is no ordinary man and no ordinary personal trainer.

Meet Billy Yancey, #2 Corner-back, United States Naval Academy. During his Navy football days he had three (3) interceptions against the University of Toledo and one (1) against the Quarter Back of Notre Dame, Rick Mirer, at Giants Stadium.

I hear there’s a Navy – Air Force game tomorrow, October 5, 2013 and it’s on! I thought this might be an appropriate time to brag about my personal coach.

Billy #2

FEAR THE GOAT!

FEAR THE PAIN!

And oh yes, did I mention he was also Mr. Virginia 1999.

Billy Mr. Virginia 1999

So damn glad to know this man, his gorgeous wife, Lisa, and his beautiful son, William.

Be inspired by William here: http://www.wavy.com/news/local/va-beach/virginia-beach-boy-defies-the-odds#.Uk8R2_pTLIg.email

http://www.zombierunva.com – Register and run to support William!

And… GOOOOOOOOO NAVY!!!!!!

If you are in Virginia Beach and you need a workout program that will kick your butt backwards, forwards and sideways… check out Anabo Nutrition and Fitness Gym at the Corner of Great Neck and Virginia Beach Boulevard. For more information contact Billy@TheAnabo.com or open this flyer: [ANABO – Billy Yancey]

 By Lynnette Bukowski © October 4, 2013

My Elegant Mess

The only time I actually cared about my age was when I was 16 and wanted to be 21 just so I could sing at a piano bar in an elegant dress. No kidding.  I accomplished that at 17 and it wasn’t all I dreamed it to be. Drunk people talk loudly, and Billy Holiday songs were not all the rage in the ’70’s. So I moved on to college and an all-girl band, fell madly in love with a Frogman and tripped through this fairly extraordinary life with the idea that a surprise should be behind every corner.

My husband dubbed me his Perfect Mess. I told him I was his Elegant Mess. Believe it or not, we discussed the terms for two days. I won. That was long before “hot mess” was vogue.

He thought my need to be surprised was silly… but I was never disappointed. Not once.

In fact, the year before Steve died he kidnapped me, blindfold and all and I ended up at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina on the back of horse for two days. The man had his ways…

My birth date each year becomes more precious because I gather these memories and use them to push me and guide me and look forward in a way I’ve never done before.

This year I’ve decided that I am all the ages I have ever been…

I wish this for all of you…

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.

This video was produced and directed by Sheri Bukowski, with Stephen Bukowski and Aaron Bukowski. Pure Love…. 

Sunrise With Grace

Delphinium_cv2We finally find her sitting in a cluster of delphiniums, eyes closed, smoking a cigarette. Wisps of her silver blue hair blend so beautifully with the flowers that the only way we know she’s in there and alive is by watching puffs of smoke spiral up through the lavender blue blooms.

The young man next to me leans forward and in a deep lyrical voice says, “The sun is nearly up and I brought apples. May I help you, Grace?”

A slight, wheezy sigh emanates with a puff of smoke, “Is that you, Shelly?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”  The man is a foot taller than my 5 foot 6 inches.  His stature is massive, but poised, as though he stands at attention, except for the apple he holds in each hand and the flush of color in his cheeks when his bearded face looks down at me and says, “Sheldon. The name is Sheldon. Will you hold these?”

I nod, take the apples from his hands and watch as he reaches into the blooms and effortlessly lifts one hundred pounds of Grace into his arms.

“I dropped my cig,” she says.

“Life’s a bitch,” he says.

She throws her head back and laughs while he carries her like a young lover down the walkway. I follow behind, apples in hand.  Gently, he places her in the middle of the bench and sits next to her. I sit on the opposite side and exchange a knowing smile with Sheldon. I’m not sure what we both know, but it feels to me in this moment as though we’ve known it for a long, long time.

We both know Grace.  She is saucy, short; 93 years old and befriends those of us who are brave enough to approach.

I was sitting on this exact bench thirty minutes earlier when the stranger, Sheldon, walked out of the dark and stood close enough for me to see he looked frightened. When he spoke his voice crumbled into panic, “I cannot find Grace. Will you help me?”    bench at beach

I had a moment with God, then.  O’dark-thirty, I am alone with no gun and no dogs and not afraid. Explain, please? It was not outside the realm of possibilities that I was seeing a man who was not there and talking to myself, but suddenly I knew exactly of whom he spoke.  Also, he had an apple in each hand. It was a woman, not a state of being he needed help finding.

While we searched, he told me that he sat with her every morning to watch the rise of dawn. He could not remember how many days or weeks or months now, but it had been awhile since he’d arrived back in CONUS. He says this as though I simply know what he’s talking about. I do, but I keep it to myself. He’s distracted, but methodical, looking under trees, behind fences, sweeping his hands through thick rhododendron bushes.  I ask, “Have you checked her house?” He stops and looks at me for a long moment, and then he shakes his head; continues the search. His voice ebbs and flows as he tells me that sometimes he stays awake all night just waiting to leave his empty house and make it here – to the bench. She is his saving Grace and he is the deliverer of treats. This morning: apples.

Grace squeals like a delighted child, “Here we go!” I am back in the present moment and cannot help but smile at her enthusiasm. Her feet do not reach the ground. She crosses one ankle over the other and swings her feet to and fro while the three of us sit and watch the sun rise and send bursts of light over the water.  She chomps down on her apple and talks with her mouth half full. “Shelly,” do you know my friend, Lynn? She’s a writer and building a place for you boys to find a little love when you’re home.”

sunrise beachSheldon leans forward on the bench to look over at me. One eyebrow is raised, but he touches the tip of his ball cap and says, “Nice to meet you, Ma’am.”

I open my mouth to respond, perhaps clarify her statement, but Grace interrupts, “Oh, don’t be so darn formal, Shelly,” She scolds, takes another bite of her apple and talks while she chews, “Shelly here – this young strapping Navy man – fancies killing himself. Damn fool if you ask me.”

I audibly catch my breath; hold it.

Sheldon leans forward, puts his face in his hands and mumbles, “Grace… I don’t think… ”

“Don’t you shush me, young man. I’ve had just about enough of this balderdash. I’m old. I hide in flowers to sneak cigs. I need to tell someone else about you …” she takes another huge bite of apple, chews for a moment and continues, “…because I’m not leaving this earth until you find your footing again. And I need help.” She takes her tiny hand and smacks it on his thigh. It sounds like a painful pop, but he does not flinch. “How many ways to kill yourself are we up to now…. ten, twelve?”

“Grace,” I begin… I hardly know what to say, but I see Sheldon lean further into his hands and I can feel his discomfort.

“And you be quiet too, young lady. Let me have my say.” She giggles, swings her legs, licks apple juice off her wrist and continues, “You never show up here without your dogs. Ever. Why today? I’ll tell you why today. I need some damn help. As if the hand of God delivered your pretty butt right to this bench. That’s right… I asked for you and not five minutes later I watched you walk by those delphiniums, head hanging, deep in thought.”

She turns from me and leans her body against Sheldon. “You are a dear young man and too full of life to give up. I don’t need you in Heaven. I’ve got plans… and they don’t include some young swashbuckler. I need some damn rest. Now… you tell Lynn right here about your panic attacks. Go ahead…”

“Grace, too hard… you’re being too flippant about something so difficult… “My words stumble out and catch on a sob. I have no idea where the tears came from or when they began. I wipe a sleeve across my face and look up to see Sheldon staring at me, tears rolling down into his beard.

The 93 year old sitting between us tosses her apple into the sand and with far more strength than I think possible, she grips my thigh with one hand and his with her other hand. “Look here, you two. There is no time left to talk about the weather and trip over words.”

Sheldon nods, resigned, and begins, “Other people imply that they know what it’s like to be like this… to be home from the hate …but not home at all, to go through a divorce…fuck me, I was barely married… ” He takes a long, deep breath, “Sorry…bout my language.”

“We’re not worried about your words. Say them all,” Grace says. She pats his leg, rubs her tiny hand on his arm. I swear she’s making clucking sounds to comfort him.  I am so taken in by his words that I cannot move. I let the tears drip down over my lips and watch as he physically rocks forward, then backward. A self-comforting move that comforts me.

“… Except maybe that other people are generally caught up in their own lives,” he continues, “They don’t see. My wife didn’t see what she did not want to see.  Gone. Left. I can’t make her stay or make her come back and I don’t think I want to. Not afraid… I’m not afraid of dying. I want back out there. I want to work. I don’t want to live, I want to go, work, do.  I’m afraid of living, not dying. Afraid of sleeping… when my heart starts to pound in my chest and my fingertips go numb and my mind starts this rapid movie and my vision blurs and there is not enough air. Never enough air and the entire space collapses into a single thought… all the thoughts swirl into a single thought and there is nothing else but that thing – as if I were seeing it through a gun barrel…”

“… and I’m tiresome. People cannot abide being around me. They think they ought to, and they try, but I know and they know that I’m tedious beyond belief. I’m irritable and paranoid and humorless and lifeless and critical and demanding and there is no reassurance good enough. And I’m scary as hell. Look at me. People don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about, and those who do… they’re still out there doing what I need to be doing and just so you know,” he glances at Grace, “they too have their own 12 ways of dying.”

He stops talking as suddenly as he started and stares at me. Dares me with his eyes to get up off the bench and run. I don’t. I stare back. I think I might get up, walk to him and hold him for whatever time it takes for his heart rate to ease, but that seems too bold in the moment. We’re strangers – emotionally glued together now by an incredible woman named Grace. I have nothing to say because every single word he said is true. It’s the truth. And the only thing I know to do – honestly do – is sit with the words and him and Grace and let the sun fully rise.

Grace claps her hands together and chuckles, “Good. Now I can die in peace.”

Her words break the spell. Sheldon turns his full body towards her and smiles, “Old woman, you better have your fine self right here on this bench tomorrow morning. I’m bringing cherries.” He leans a bit towards me and grins, “And you… if you’re brave enough to show back up, I’ll bring tissues. You have snot all over your face.”

And just like that we go from death and despair to laughter while Grace sets a meeting time for tomorrow. We exchange phone numbers and awkward smiles and then Grace hops off the bench like a teenager and says, “Bring me some cigs tomorrow morning. I think I’m all out.”

“Not in your wildest dreams, woman.” Sheldon laughs. He hugs me quickly, sincerely, and then takes Grace by the hand to walk her home.

I’ve been aware from time to time of finding new corners in my mind and heart. Some of those corners are incredible and take my breath away with the beauty they store. Others seem too dark to wander through alone.  Perhaps that’s the point. We are none of us alone when another soul is willing to walk into the dark corner with us, hold our hand for a moment and turn on the light.

Lynnette Bukowski © 2013

Grace.againThere are so many reasons to be alive… Please seek out and find some Grace.

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/  1-800-273-TALK (8255) http://www.veteranscrisisline.net/1-800-273-8255 – Press 1

 

Sharing Strength

holding_hands-1418(The original Sharing Strength was published on August 6, 2012. I share it here today for those who have not read it… with the hope that all of us can join in prayer and support for the Families and Brothers of our Fallen) 

Iron sharpens iron. As one man sharpens another.  (Prov. 27:17)

This is the miracle of human connection: we do not need to be in the same room, the same state, or the same country to reach out our hands and lay bare our hearts and say, I stand with you stunned – in silence and prayer, I will hold your hand, I will share your tears, I will take the impact of your pain as my own and bear it with you. We are all one. I feel this loss because this too is my brother, my child, my beloved. And I will stand with you – the left behind, the living – and share my strength.

Five years ago the world lost 30 brave men and Bart, a Warrior Dog – all heroes – aboard Extortion 17 in Afghanistan. The families, friends and loved ones of the fallen are scattered across the country and globe and while it is impossible to reach each of them in person or by phone, entire communities have come together to raise funds, show support and share in the grief of loss.

There is such comfort in knowing we are never really alone.

It is a poignant reminder of the first time in my adult life I learned this lesson.

On September 25, 1978 I began my drive to work from Coronado to San Diego.  Half-way across the Coronado Bay Bridge, a perfect 230 feet above water, sun glanced off my windshield and created a tunnel-like view of a small plane as it clipped the underside of a passenger jet and dropped from the sky.  I slammed my foot on the breaks and stepped out. As cars on the bridge screeched to a stop behind me, I stood and watched with horror as the jet banked away, paused, and began a nose down dive.  The sky shrieked wildly until it didn’t.  For one brief moment I imagined the plane was landing, until it hit the earth and exploded into a pluming black cloud.  Movement around me slowed to half speed, then quarter speed, as if the air in the blue sky had thickened with sorrow.

Those of us watching from the bridge began to scream; the sound inhuman, swallowed whole by the eerie howl of a sudden hot wind.  The heat roiled in my stomach and I bent over where I stood and vomited.  A man, a complete stranger, came to me and held my head, smoothed my hair back.  He made kind sounds, non-words that echoed through the blood buzzing in my ears.

I don’t remember the drive to the crash site.  I do remember following my stranger’s silver Mercedes as though it was a lifeline, a reality I needed to stay with.  We parked blocks away, but we felt the heat, even then, as he took my hand.  We ran, or he did.  I stumbled beside him, keeping pace with the sirens, praying, passing stunned people who staggered into the streets.  A wall of heat and smoke stopped us and we stood, useless.

My stranger fell to his knees then, pulling me down with him, crushing my hand to his chest while he wept; long crawling gasping sounds.  We huddled there in the street on our knees, and between sobs he told me that he’d been running late, on his way to the airport to pick up his daughter.  She was 25, working in LA and coming for a visit.  Surely, she’d forgive him for leaving her stranded.  He whispered the last words and I put my face close to his, looked into his eyes and took the full impact of his words.

I felt then like elderly people must feel when they forget who they are, where they are, what shoes are for, when each gesture calls meaning into question, unbuttoning a button, breathing.  I was 20, a mere child, but I forced myself to understand we were taking turns, as people do, in sharing strength.

I learned later that the 727 was carrying more than six tons of fuel, much of it in the wing tanks.  The news reported that from the moment of impact with the Cessna, it took just 17 seconds to transform PSA Flight 182 from a fully functional airliner into a mass of burning wreckage encompassing four city blocks.  The crash destroyed 22 houses in North Park, and killed 7 residents, as well as all 144 people on board the jet and both pilots in the Cessna.

Jeff told me later that he knew his daughter was on the plane the moment he witnessed the impact, but that tending to me and having me with him gave him the strength he needed to “keep the fist out of his gut long enough to know, without a doubt, that he couldn’t save her.”

Jeff and I remained friends from that day on. He was finally able to go home to his daughter in September, 2002.

“Nothing is so strong as gentleness. Nothing is so gentle as true strength.” ~Sales

Aboard Extortion 17 that day were 17 of my husband’s Brothers – U.S. Navy SEALs. It is this brotherhood of men and their families who sustain the families of the Fallen in any way they need. That support will last a lifetime. I know this because they sustain me today as the widow of a veteran Navy SEAL. Without a doubt, on August 6, 2011, my husband Steve and many of his Brothers welcomed all 30 – and Bart – into a brotherhood that lives on in Heaven as a Platoon of Warrior Angels. Grace meets us where we are.

“There is tenderness in the presence of true strength; it fairly grips the soul and stays long after the moments fade, years I think. Perhaps even a lifetime.”

inspirational_grieving_quote_for_healing_bumper_sticker-r24459e39097b4fc4b677e64cbe9904d2_v9wht_8byvr_512

Lynnette Bukowski ©2012

Lynnette Bukowski is a freelance author and artist and the Founder/Director of LZ-Grace (Landing Zone Grace) Warrior Retreat. (www.lz-grace.com)

Make a Promise – Pass it On

“We are not taught to be thinkers, but reflectors of our culture. Let’s teach our children to be thinkers.” ~Fresco

My friend, Brenda, showed up in my dreams last night seriously concerned about the state of the World and the disease of divisiveness infecting our youth.  I agreed with her but argued that I alone cannot change the world. Her response: Nonsense. She’s a force to be reckoned with, even in spirit. 

There is a tremendous call right now for adults across the globe to step up and teach the children that they do not need to continue the legacy of hate and division that today’s leaders perpetuate.

This is a story about a promise I made and my memory of Brenda and all she held dear. It seems especially important to share it again as one example of how each of us can start where we are and do what we can. The book I’ve chosen again this year for the “older” kids on my list is Powerful Peace: A Navy SEAL’s Lessons in Peace from a Lifetime at War. Copies of the book can be purchased at all the normal places, but signed copies are available through http://www.powerfulpeace.net. Also visit http://www.sealofpeace.com and help us make a dent in the world toward Peace.

lovely bookTwelve hours before Brenda died she called to tell me she was in Heaven.

“You’re there now?” I asked, slightly distracted with scissors in one hand, tape in the other. I tucked the phone between my ear and shoulder thinking I’d continue to wrap Christmas presents while we bantered about the gorgeous male nurses who administered Chemotherapy in Colorado Springs Medical Center. The young men were a favorite subject for Brenda and the tales she weaved were hysterical.

A weak, throaty laugh echoed through the phone, “I do believe I am.”

The words, although breathless, hung in the air like a solemn, heavy mist. I dropped the wrapping paraphernalia, held the phone tight against my ear and walked outside to our deck. For just a moment, I tilted my head and looked into the cloudless aqua blue sky – a mirrored reflection of the water – expecting to see my dear friend waving. “Hey…” I began, stumbling over my thoughts, “everything okay today?”

“Picture this,” she began, “I’m tucked into an over-sized arm chair by a big picture window watching fat white snowflakes silently fall from the sky. Next to me is a fire blazing in a huge stone fireplace and I’m holding a steaming mug of that jasmine tea you sent me and…” she paused, took a short breath, “I’m surrounded by books and books and books.”

“Oh, it really is heaven, Bren,” I closed my eyes against the wheezy softness of her voice. Just last week her voice had been robust and full of laughter. The tropical paradise before me disappeared and I imagined I was right there with her.

“I’m choosing books for my kids,” she sighed, “well…the proprietor is choosing books; I’m just describing the children. I can’t seem to find my strength today. But I called… I called now because I need to ask you to promise…” The words faded between us.

Brenda’s kids were not actually her kids. Rather, they were her friends’ kids, at last count –18 in all — including mine, from ages 2 to 17. Each year at Christmas and on respective birthdays and graduations, each child would receive an age appropriate, award-winning book with Brenda’s personalized inscription. It was in my kitchen that she’d thought up this tradition. “Books,” she beamed, “are the doorways to the world!” I could picture her, eight years earlier, her smile lighting the room. Now, the enormity of her courage – laced with Chemo, fighting cancer, yet still concerned about her kids – it bruised my soul.

I cleared the sob from my throat, “Brenda, whatever favor you need, consider it done.”

“Lynn, I can’t tell you what the favor is just now. There are too many parts, but I’ll have Michael send it to you in an email.”

“Okay…” I could hear the whine in my voice and willed it away, “but how will I know what….”

“You’ll know,” she interrupted, a slip in comportment so foreign for Brenda that it stunned me.

A fear of imminent loss closed around me like a dark tunnel blocking the sun. I wanted to fight with her, chase the seriousness from her voice and words. Hadn’t we talked endless hours over the last eight months about her strength, her will to live, her young age of 60 and the importance, or lack thereof, of breasts? What about the pros and cons of shopping for new breasts and the fun she’d have interviewing men on the perfect size and shape? Our weekly phone conversations always included the future, her pending visit to our home on Sunset Beach in Oahu as soon as she had the strength to travel. I wanted to scream at her, “Buy the ticket now, Brenda!” but the words stuck in my throat.

“Hey beach broad… you there?” This was her new tag name for me and hearing the wheezy voice attempt humor made me laugh.

“I’m here. I’m here… just rolling over to tan the other side,” I choked out, “So… what are you reading?” This was always the absolute second question of every conversation.

“Reading?” she sighed audibly, “Everything I possibly can.” A long, silent pause filled the phone line and seemed to stop the breeze. “I have to go now,” she continued, breathless, with just a slight laugh that felt like a kiss against my ear, “I’m on someone else’s phone, and the angels are restless. Plus,” she coughed, “God invited me to dinner and I have to decide what I’m going to wear.”

“Funny. Sticking with the theme of the day, I see. I love you, Bren. Hey…I’ll call you tomorrow morning… see how that dinner date went.”

“Yeah,” she laughed, sweet, full, hearty; the sound of Brenda, “Love you too.”

beach-sunsetI held the phone close to my chest and let the dial tone drone into a maddening beep. Even then, I was reluctant to disconnect, to give in to the sense that I would never speak with my lovely friend again. Instead, I sat down on the steps with my memories.

On the day we met, I was busy corralling and cajoling four young children and a baby at a fast-food restaurant. Brenda was at the table next to us reading Ralph Waldo Emerson Essays. The fourth or fifth time I apologized for the noise level, Brenda got up from her table and sat down with us. She spoke very quietly until one by one; each child – even the baby – stopped chattering, and sat captivated as she recited a Hans Christian Anderson story.

Days later our home became her second home and she visited often at odd hours. We talked books, analyzed the work of the masters, laughed over love scenes. Her weakness was a good romance novel, but she grew serious when she talked about the importance of children knowing the magic of sitting still with a story and letting their imaginations soar. She loved all of our children, but paid special attention to our foster kids and spent endless hours engaging them in conversations about books or organizing special reading days where she would sit with them in a circle and read with all the gusto of a skilled actress. When those children left our home, Brenda made sure each of them had their very own book to take on their journeys.

We were unlikely friends, Brenda and I. I was a military wife, a young mother, a struggling author, full of creative energy and love and not much else. Brenda was nineteen years my senior, held a PhD in Philosophy and Education and Masters’ Degrees in Computer Technology, Theology and Mathematics. She was also the mother of a grown son and the widow of a Navy pilot who took his own life.

I was fascinated with Brenda, but I often felt inadequate as a friend. In quiet moments, usually over wine, I would allude to our differences. What did she see in me? The first time I broached the subject she waved her hand through the air and referred to her varied degrees as an addictive hobby. She was philosophical with the sorrow aspect, stating simply that our lives are pre-planned and this was her lot. “You teach me about being real and how to hurt and how to love. Everything else is pointless,” she announced. After that one speech, the subject was off limits. Then she stared at me, straight on, with serious, thoughtful eyes and asked me what book I was reading.

This was our glue then and now: books, words, and children.

I sat on the porch step until the orange ball of sun set and the ocean glittered into the night.

When the phone rang at 4:00 AM the next morning, Michael, Brenda’s son, apologized for the early hour and went on to explain that his mother insisted I be the first one he called. Through my tears, I told him how sorry I was and asked if he needed anything, but the conversation was blurry and surreal. Just before he hung up he said, “Check your email.”

This is what it said:
My dearest friend, the promise I asked of you has to do with the long document attached to this email. Here it is: please continue sending books to my kids. I’ve written a little something for each year, for each child, with all the pertinent birth date information and addresses, but please find more children to add each year. Everyone at age 18 or upon graduation from high school should receive Dr. Seuss’, “Oh! The Places You Will Go!” Thank you, forever.
P.S. my dinner date was heavenly. God says hi. All my love, Bren.

Most of the original kids are grown now, but I continue to keep my promise and send books to a growing special list of children each year.

In loving memory, pass it on. children-reading-1940

by Lynnette Bukowski
© 2000 (revised 2013)

Here’s to Not Crying… by Sheri Bukowski

Written by Lynnette Bukowski’s daughter, Sheri Bukowski

ChampagneMy dad died three years ago today. Unexpectedly. He went missing on a bike ride and hours later, my mother was visited by two young Deputies who didn’t quite know what to do. So they handed her a sticky note with my dad’s name on it. Steve S. Bukowski, D.O.A. He’d collapsed from a massive coronary. It was the day after Father’s Day, the 21st; though the date now is sort of just a number. I didn’t get to talk to him on Father’s Day. He was taking a nap when I called, so I said I’d call again tomorrow. He didn’t pick up. He didn’t arrive to get my little brother, which were the scariest moments. Because if you knew my dad, you knew that he would crawl to you on broken hands and feet, over glass, blind, and somehow make it. Somehow let you know you’re okay, he’s okay, everything’s going to be okay. Things weren’t okay. Things pretty much sucked after that. By the Grace of God our family had people near or around us able to catch us as we one by one collapsed in shock. Literally, and figuratively.

I don’t know why I went into this long story. It wasn’t intentional. I guess I just sat down to say a little something in his memory and this is what came out. I guess I just saw this photo and started laughing. It’s more appropriate for me to drink champagne and dance on a tables, but God-forbid sit around and be sad. Cry a little, sure. Let the memory sink in and hurt a little, fine. Because I’m not some impermeable emotionless rock. But if he was standing in front of me right now he’d sure as hell not let me sit and feel sorry for myself.

My dad had a low tolerance for feeling sorry for anything. There was a sort of running joke in our family that if you were sick, you got 24 hours of sympathy and then you needed to get the “F” over it. There were other things to do. Not that he wasn’t compassionate, God knows he was, one of the most compassionate men I’ve ever met. But he saw tragic and sorrow different than most of us do. So I’m dead, he would probably say. Alright fine. He would hug me and let me cry for a little bit. He would probably hand me some tissues, wipe the hair out of my eyes and kiss me on the forehead like he always did.

But the second my tears crossed the line into excuses, his eyes would have turned into blue fire and he’d be yelling at me. “Get your ass up! Get the Fuck over it and do something. Clean your room for God’s sake. There are worse things to cry about. There are babies who don’t have parents, there are children who don’t have food in their cupboards. There are grown ups who need families, make some dinner. There’s a little kid down the street who’s been dreaming of an Xbox. Go buy him one. Make him smile. There’s a little girl who’s never been on a pony. Do something about it.”

I can still see his crystal blue eyes turning into fire and I can hear his voice. “Do whatever you can to make sure they have what they need. And when they have what they need, do whatever you can to make their dreams come true. At the very least I did that for you, because I sure as hell didn’t raise you to sit around and cry.”

So here’s to not crying… for too long.

Sheri Bukowski © 2013

No Matter What…

girl on beach

The dogs and I came upon a young woman lying on the beach this morning.  Selah did a puppy bounce around her waiting to be adored, but the girl did not stir or move or react.  In the predawn she looked like a slight shadow, very young and curled around herself, but as I kneeled next to her I saw the distance in her wide open eyes. She stared out into the surf and might have been dead except for the intense shivering.

I took my sweatshirt off and put it over her and sat down in the sand.

In this beginning of the second half of my life I have learned to listen more to my intuition and my heart, than to my head.  So I did not dial 911 or yell for help. Lights were on in a few of the oceanfront houses, but it was just us on the beach. It felt more right than not to just sit in silence and let the dogs play and the winds calm and the sun rise.

I reached out my hand and brushed a bit of hair from her face. The long strands were stiff with sand and damp and I knew.  Instantly, I knew. I thought then about the exact right words to say to someone hell bent on suicide. But there are no right words.

So I said, “You don’t need to be underwater to feel like you’re drowning, do you?”

She did not answer with words, but my hand was still smoothing her hair when I felt the nod.

Penetrating sadness vibrates low and moves slowly.

I moved closer, gently placed her head on my lap and waited.

Both dogs, tired from romping, lay down beside us and she begins to speak in agonizing whispers about not being good enough, smart enough, pretty enough for her husband who just last week returned from war. She does not know who he is anymore and he does not know who she is anymore and she is sure it is she who is inadequate and why they are done.

“Are you done?” I ask.

The question makes her weep and she nearly crawls into my lap.  I consider this a good sign.

Softly, I tell her that hearts opening themselves to one another are a bit like anticipating the shiny thing that comes in a tiny box that is hidden inside a dozen larger boxes. So often we think the large boxes are just empty packaging.  Except they are not empty, and they never contain what we think they will.

Love must be slowly unwrapped and fallen into each day without expectation. Expecting changes the air… and it is always those things you don’t see coming that can crush you.

My words make her cry harder and leave me breathless and I begin to cry too. I have a silent argument with God. I can’t ever figure out why He places me in situations I feel ill prepared to handle. Seriously, it’s like arguing with a damn rock. He wins without words and I am left cracked wide open and raw.

I do not notice the shadow of a man running full out up the beach until the dogs alert. I just barely hear him yelling into the wind, “Oh my God, oh my God. Carly…” when he is upon us and sweeps the woman in my arms into his own. She wraps around him and holds on and something inside of me gives way.

Spike is suspicious, Selah is frantic and long moments of unadulterated emotion hold all of us until the young woman reaches out to me, squeezes my hand and smiles through her tears.

I manage a deep breath and say, “You are not done.”

 

Young women, listen please…

A man worthy of loving you will love you unadorned, smart or inexperienced, dressed up or dressed down, laughing or crying, frightened or brave.  Let him be who he is and love him for what he is each and every time he walks through the door.

Unwrap your love slowly and know this: you are enough just as you are and the allure of a woman in full possession of herself and her powers will prove irresistible.

The only thing you need to be is unafraid of finding out exactly who you are and then step straight in, hold your head high and carry the universe in your heart.

“Love is not a because, it’s a no matter what.” ~Picoult

Lynnette Bukowski © 2013

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)Love never fails

Be Willing to Wait

I present a repost of James’ story. His name has been changed to protect him, and he is grown now with kids of his own. We have recently been in touch, which is a blessing all on its own. He works in the Tech Industry and on his own, trains service dogs for traumatized foster children. Not all military children are born into the family. Some come to stay for just a while and leave an imprint of love on our hearts forever.

boy and dog

At 11:42 pm on a Wednesday night I opened the front door to a weary-eyed social worker, a police officer so rigid he looked to be vibrating, and a two, perhaps three-foot tall blanket that may have been light green at some point in its history.  I stepped to the side to allow them entry.  No one moved.  Red, usually attached to my hip, stayed in the doorway in a sit position, but his front paws crept forward until the tip of his black nose nudged the blanket. A tiny hand appeared, touched the top of Red’s head, and then quickly withdrew. The movement snagged a silky frayed edge and the cloth fell away to reveal a mess of brown hair, round blue eyes and a perfect spray of freckles across cheeks and nose. The boy stared straight ahead, jaw set, lips rigid, “I not talk,” he said.

I nearly smiled, but this felt like a test, so I nodded once and said, “Good to know.” I ignored the woman’s raised eyebrows and instead, turned and walked down the hallway, as though welcoming a frightened child and two strangers into my home with five children asleep upstairs and my husband deployed was simply another day in the life.  It wasn’t.  But I had trained for and signed on to be an emergency therapeutic foster parent, and it was far too late at night to admit I might be in over my head.

A piercing, rigid scream coincided with me flipping a switch in the kitchen; the brightness igniting the sound and the child until both dissolved onto the floor, skittered across the tile and came to rest as a steady choking sob in the corner of the room.  I glanced toward the sound of whispers in the hallway, heard the baby cry, heard the upstairs floor creek with footsteps and nearly missed the words from woman to officer, “I thought I mentioned he doesn’t like to be touched.” Still, my focus was on the dog huddling peacefully next to the trembling boy in the corner of my kitchen.  My first thoughts: Who the hell touched him? Then: Dog is fine, boy is breathing, floor is clean.  Really, this is my brain in crisis-mode.

I’m sure I heard God chuckle as I ushered the adult people out of my home with a quiet, thank you.  To my ears I sounded like a crazed Ms. Manners.  I just barely controlled my urge to laugh aloud at their relieved smiles, the promise that the child would be placed in a permanent foster home by the weekend; and the pitifully small paper sack in my hand with the name “James” scrawled in black marker.  It was weep or deal time so I closed the door, found two pillows and a large quilt and settled in for a long night on the kitchen floor.

Until that night I thought I knew what was in the next room, what kids like for dinner, what grass feels like on bare feet.  I was comfortable with the orderly mess I orchestrated each day. It was crazy and hard and joyful and it was mine. Until the night of James — when I discovered that in three years a child can be so badly abused that his small world is reduced to a corner in the kitchen and an old soiled blanket.

On day two, James and I compromised with a makeshift bed upstairs next to Red’s pillow at the end of Aaron’s crib.  He dressed himself, but only while underneath the blanket draped over his head.  He ate with his hands, brushed his teeth and appeared intrigued by the maneuverings of the older children in the house. They spoke to him, answered for him, proclaimed his cuteness and ignored his quirks.  Still, he did not talk.  He paid no attention to Aaron, or so I thought, who, for most of the day remained strapped to my chest in sling. One morning, in the midst of a chaotic (our norm) breakfast, signing papers and packing lunches, James tentatively stepped very close to me and with the edge of his soiled blanket, reached up and wiped a bit of spittle from Aaron’s chin.  For an instant all activity stopped.  A collective deep breath filled the space and then – through the guidance of angels perhaps – we all knew not to react to this tender moment – instead, we resumed chaos as usual.

Baths were out. Since I drew the line at Red and the blanket in the bathtub, our first attempt at bathing ended in shrill screams and a brief regression to his safe place in the corner.   Sheri – in all her eight-year-oldness, cleaned out the plastic baby pool and with Red’s patient cooperation, a bar of soap and a three-year old at the end of a hose, we had a semi-clean boy and a sparkling, if not matted, Golden Retriever  every other day.

James’ two day emergency stay turned into two weeks, four days and three hours – this according to James –and not duly noted until the day I received a phone call notifying me of a permanent home move, to which I responded with a simple, no thanks, he’s already home. The social worker was still speaking when James took my hand (a touch miracle of its own) and pointed with glee to his tiny drawings on the wall in his safe corner.  This was the first smile, the first initiated touch and the first emotion I’d seen from this child.  After some confusion (he still wasn’t speaking) I came to realize that he had drawn meticulously neat small dots to represent hours, circles around exactly 24 dots to represent days and squares around each set of circles to represent weeks.  Also, he was partial to blue crayons, which oddly complimented my yellow flowered wallpaper.

Patience is not one of my virtues.  I tend to set my course and go, obstacles be damned. James, though, elicited a calm in me I cannot to this day explain.  I was content to watch him watch life, soak it in and return to his safe place in the corner as necessary.

Red was my Godsend and as it turns out, James’ confidant.  Shortly after the baby pool baths began – and out of necessity – I showed James how to brush Red’s coat.  Our back deck was about a foot off the ground and built around a large oak tree.  Each day, James would sit on the edge of the deck next to the Oak trunk.  Red would cuddle up to his left side and as the brushing began – a methodical, tender child stroke – James would quietly talk.  Usually, I sat in a glider on the other side of the massive oak rocking Aaron, but James never seemed to notice that there was anyone else in the world except for him and Big Red.  He told Red in vivid detail about his broken arms, his round scars from “retts” (cigarettes), his mommy’s bruised eye, how Man #3 was more mean than Man #2, but wrestled better until he got mad.  How touching meant hurts and talking was trouble and how he thought maybe Man #1 might be his dad who went to Heaven but mommy didn’t tell him for sure.

On the forty-second day of James, a sunny, breezy day, James asked Red if he ever wanted to be a cowboy some day.  I heard hope in the question and I so wished Red could just this time… answer the question with a hearty Yes! I was still smiling to myself when I heard Red’s sigh from the other side of the Oak, heard his nails scratch the deck board as he stood and shook.  James – holding on to Red’s collar – appeared at the side of my chair.  He reached out and patted Aaron’s head, touched my hand and asked, “Could Red and me please have a butter jelly sammich, Mommy Lynn?”

Exactly one year, thirty days and two hours from the first moment we met – and I have the wallpaper saved to prove it — James left our home to live with his natural grandparents in another state.  From letters and phone calls I know that James learned to ride horses – to be a cowboy – and in high school he began to train dogs specifically to work with abused children.

That was the year I learned to listen.  Really listen.  I kept notes – The Journals of James – I wept in the shower each night for the pain this child endured, I testified in court to make sure Man #3 saw the inside of jail cell, I learned to listen to small words, small gestures, tiny movements and night terrors and wait with baited breath for the moment when a simple request for a butter jelly “sammich” rocked my world.

We have to be willing to wait.Big Red

Lynnette Bukowski © 2010

Neptune’s Child ~ Thoughts on Life

In honor of the Month of the Military Child, I present an essay written for a Reader’s Digest Contest in 1991 by our daughter, Sheri Lynn. Children were asked to address their feelings about family values, thoughts on life, what their mom and dad did at work and what they wanted to be when they were grown. Sheri did not win the contest, but she certainly melted our hearts. Steve carried a copy of this with him wherever he went. I found it yellowed and creased in his wallet when his personal items were returned to me the day after he died.  Love Dad

About my Bukowski Family 

By Sheri Lynn Bukowski – Age 7

My mommy can do almost everything except throw a mouse away when it’s on a sticky thing and except when daddy’s home, because then she pretends she can’t do everything so he can.  My daddy knows this secret.

My mommy and daddy probably know as much as God does, but mommy says they don’t because they’re just a mom and dad and we all, even mommies, learn something new every day. Also, we’re not supposed to put people on pedestals because we are all equal.  I don’t know about that because I don’t think anybody is equal to my daddy.  Mommy says pedestals are “thinking” things, and we should all try to be nice and say we’re sorry when we’re not nice. I suppose it’s like when she goes crazy and yells at everybody, even the dogs, and then says, “I don’t know what I was thinking.”

I think a pedestal is a wooden box.  I think it must hurt really bad to fall off so I will never put myself on a pedestal.  My brother says mommy and daddy don’t know anything about nothing.  He’s 10.  I think he should fall off a pedestal.

My mommy tells us we should talk to and listen to people every day if we can because every person and every day is important.  Mommy says this includes my three year old foster brother, even if he is a pain.

My daddy always says, “Never give up!”  And my mommy always says, “How do you know if you don’t try?”  Sometimes I really, really hate my parents because they make me do stupid things like wash my face and wear dresses.  Daddy says it’s okay because he will always love me anyway.  Mommy says it’s not nice to hate but I can not like her if I want.  I hate Philip, the boy who sits next to me at school, but I’m trying not to like him.

My daddy works in the Navy SEAL Team and does things that only special daddies like him can do.  He knows how to jump out of airplanes and shoot loud guns and dive under ships and crab-crawl through jungles and climb rock walls.  When he’s home we crab-crawl through the back yard and climb rocks and jump on the trampoline and he lets me wear green makeup on my cheeks, but mostly he’s gone and he writes us letters.

I think you have to know how to be lonely for your family and to write letters to be a Navy SEAL.  I love my daddy more because I think he needs it.

My mommy used to work at a place writing things for attorneys because attorneys don’t know how to write like she does. We had a nanny from Denmark named Hella, like hello except with an A.  Now mommy stays at home and gets her story money from the mailbox.  She works as a mommy for free because she loves us and because she takes care of us and sick babies and helps mommies and daddies of foster children to know how to love when they have sad hearts or angry feelings.  Mommy says she has enough love and I believe her, so it’s okay that I love daddy a little more since he’s alone a lot.

When I grow up I will probably be a Navy SEAL and a dancer.  I will try to be a nice person and watch out for pedestals.  I will also probably be a gymnastics girl in the Olympics because I’m pretty good so far.

If I win, will you please send this to my daddy.  Mommy knows the address.

Our Family

Sheri Lynn Bukowski © 1991

The Power of Sharing Strength…

helping(Sharing Strength was posted on August 6, 2012. I have revised the original in light of recent events because… much of it bears repeating)  

Iron sharpens iron. As one man sharpens another.  (Prov. 27:17)

 This is the miracle of human connection: we do not need to be in the same room, the same state, or the same country to reach out our hands and lay bare our hearts and say, I stand with you stunned – in silence and prayer, I will hold your hand, I will share your tears, I will take the impact of your pain as my own and bear it with you. We are all one. I feel your pain because you too are my brother, my child, my beloved. And I will stand with you – the left behind, the living – and share my strength.

Today, a dear friend, Rob Dubois, Author of Powerful Peace: A Navy SEAL’s Lessons on Peace from a Lifetime of War told me a story about a young girl who felt lost and hopeless and left her life up to one last event. Rob spoke from his heart with far more detail than I share here, but these words as I remember them bruised my soul: She wrote a long note to her parents, and the last sentence said: “I’m going to the mall. If one person smiles at me I will not kill myself.” Not one person smiled at her. Not one.

I came home to read an article shared by a friend on Twitter. Matthew Hoh wrote in The Huffington Post that a study released by the Department of Veterans affairs in early February, states that Veteran suicides have now reached twenty two (22) per day. Nearly one soul per hour every single day! Mr. Hoh writes, [Our recent] “…wars did not kill 6,500 Americans, but rather 13,000 or 20,000…”

It is so easy to turn away from this and say, with compassion, we just cannot save them all. We have lives to lead, places to go, things to do. But in my heart I hear this truth: What if a gentle touch of our hand, or our willingness to stay and not turn away from their pain, or the moment it takes to pick up a phone, send a text or a Tweet or a Facebook message was the exact moment that changed a life?

What if we passed a broken soul and shared a smile…

Because there is true comfort in knowing we are never really alone.

It is a poignant reminder of the first time in my adult life I learned this lesson.

On September 25, 1978 I began my drive to work from Coronado to San Diego.  Half-way across the Coronado Bay Bridge, a perfect 230 feet above water, sun glanced off my windshield and created a tunnel-like view of a small plane as it clipped the underside of a passenger jet and dropped from the sky.  I slammed my foot on the breaks and stepped out. As cars on the bridge screeched to a stop behind me, I stood and watched with horror as the jet banked away, paused, and began a nose down dive.  The sky shrieked wildly until it didn’t.  For one brief moment I imagined the plane was landing, until it hit the earth and exploded into a pluming black cloud.  Movement around me slowed to half speed, then quarter speed, as if the air in the blue sky had thickened with sorrow.

Those of us watching from the bridge began to scream; the sound inhuman, swallowed whole by the eerie howl of a sudden hot wind.  The heat roiled in my stomach and I bent over where I stood and vomited.  A man, a complete stranger, came to me and held my head, smoothed my hair back.  He made kind sounds, non-words that echoed through the blood buzzing in my ears.

I don’t remember the drive to the crash site.  I do remember following my stranger’s silver Mercedes as though it was a lifeline, a reality I needed to stay with.  We parked blocks away, but we felt the heat, even then, as he took my hand.  We ran, or he did.  I stumbled beside him, keeping pace with the sirens, praying, passing stunned people who staggered into the streets.  A wall of heat and smoke stopped us and we stood, useless.

My stranger fell to his knees then, pulling me down with him, crushing my hand to his chest while he wept; long crawling gasping sounds.  We huddled there in the street on our knees, and between sobs he told me that he’d been running late, on his way to the airport to pick up his daughter.  She was 25, working in LA and coming for a visit.  Surely, she’d forgive him for leaving her stranded.  He whispered the last words and I put my face close to his, looked into his eyes and took the full impact of his words.

I felt then like elderly people must feel when they forget who they are, where they are, what shoes are for, when each gesture calls meaning into question, unbuttoning a button, breathing.  I was 20, a mere child, but I forced myself to understand we were taking turns, as people do, in sharing strength.

I learned later that the 727 was carrying more than six tons of fuel, much of it in the wing tanks.  The news reported that from the moment of impact with the Cessna, it took just 17 seconds to transform PSA Flight 182 from a fully functional airliner into a mass of burning wreckage encompassing four city blocks.  The crash destroyed 22 houses in North Park, and killed 7 residents, as well as all 144 people on board the jet and both pilots in the Cessna.

Jeff told me later that he knew his daughter was on the plane the moment he witnessed the impact, but that tending to me and having me with him gave him the strength he needed to “keep the fist out of his gut long enough to know, without a doubt, that he could not save her.”

Jeff and I remained friends from that day on. He was finally able to go home to his daughter in September, 2002.

“Nothing is so strong as gentleness. Nothing is so gentle as true strength.” ~Sales

Share a smile today, reach from your soul and touch a life.

There is tenderness in the presence of true strength; it fairly grips the soul and stays long after the moments fade, years I think. Perhaps even a lifetime.

The Veterans Crisis Line is 1-800-273-8255. Please call if you or a loved one needs help.

Lynnette Bukowski © 2013