Lessons in Cadmium Red

When my father died, I learned the value of heritage. When I was assaulted, I learned I was so much more than my body. When my young friend took his own life, I learned forgiveness. When my unborn babies died, I learned a boundless capacity for love. And when my husband died, I learned that my life was blessed. Of course, I did not recognize any of these lessons until long after the experience had passed.

This is the story of one life lesson…

At midnight on my 45th birthday I was knee deep into a bottle of Ménage à Trois wine and fascinated with my birthday gifts – tubes of oil paint and soft sable brushes. I dipped one brush into my favorite color – Cadmium Red – and made one long curved brush stroke. Proud, I held up the canvas and said, “Look at how beautiful! What does it remind you of?”  Cadmium Red Poppies

Steve looked at the canvas for a long serious moment and said, “My extraordinary patience… and the audaciousness of you.”

“Huh… I’m not sure you and the word patience belong in the same sentence. But I’ll give you extraordinary,” I paused, slightly confused, “Also, when I asked the question, I was thinking of those red poppies in the pasture.”

“I know.” His face was partially hidden behind a book, but I saw the grin in his eyes, “Think back… that exact flavor of red, o’dark-thirty, twenty years ago…”

“Oh.” I poured another glass of wine.

We spent the rest of the night wrapped up in memories. Specifically, this one:

I had not seen or talked with Steve for three months, so at 4:00 in the morning when he woke me from a sound sleep to let me know he was home, I did exactly what was expected; I rolled over, stuck my hand under my pillow and mumbled, “Forty-five, finger on trigger… you feeling lucky tonight?”

He said, “That’s my girl.”

Years earlier, we agreed on this exchange just in case it was not him sitting on the edge of the bed. The truth is I always knew it was him. His presence changed the air. But once, just after we were married, he returned home in the middle of the night and met the wrong end of a shotgun at the bedroom door.

I do not like to be scared. He did not relish being shot. Fair is fair.

Correct verbal response received, I welcomed him home, got up and made coffee and in hushed tones told him about the moments I saved.

“Sheri took her first steps, Stephen discovered baseball and Lego’s, I jerry-rigged the bathtub faucet to work around the stuffed Lego piece I could not dislodge, I was hired to ghostwrite for a psychologist, and… an 18 year old Danish Au Pair is asleep in the guest bedroom.”

He held his coffee cup suspended midway between the counter and his mouth and asked, “What’s asleep in the guest bedroom?”

Before I could explain further, the 5 foot 11 inches, legs-up-to-her-ample-chest, blue-eyed-blonde Hella, sauntered into the family room wearing only a Cadmium red tank top and matching bikini underwear. She stopped in front of him, did a full model’s pivot, placed her hands on her hips and said, “I am Hella. You are Steve, yes?”

Steve glanced at her, swiveled on his stool, leaned across the bar until his face was inches from mine and whispered, “You are the finest woman in the universe. Now that you know that, I’m going to kill you, slowly. What the fuck?” Then he turned back around and without preamble said, “Go put some clothes on. Now!”

It was the beginning of a hate-hate relationship between the two of them that lasted just over two months.

I should mention here that Steve did not ever mince words, his normal voice was at a volume just under a roar, and he did not flirt with women if I was anywhere in the vicinity.  He was both a gentleman and very good looking, so there was never any shortage of women trying to turn his head. But his head never turned because I am who I am and he was who he was. You can doubt that if you wish, but there truly are men and women who do not stray.

That said, I took a moment to absorb what I’d just witnessed: A young, beautiful woman had just presented herself to my husband as though I had moved her in solely for his pleasure. I gave the unsettling development half a thought and then dismissed the behavior as a cultural difference. I tend to be an optimist. Steve was a realist. I took a deep breath and explained why she was now in our home.

Hella had come to America two months earlier as part of an Au Pair program. I was told she wanted to increase her English skills, help with housework and provide child care in exchange for room and board. What wasn’t perfect about that? I needed someone to play with the kids while I was writing and we could not afford a babysitter. We could help her, she could help us. And okay, details were lacking as to why she did not get along with her first American family, but our neighbors – sponsors of many of these young ladies – asked for my help.

Steve’s sigh was room deep, “Babe… we need to talk about that “help” thing you have and… I do not think she’s here for the same reason you think she’s here.”

“Maybe not, but can we give it a try?”

He rubbed a hand over his face, gave me a weary smile and said, “Yes, we’ll give it a try.

Steve told me once that coming home was often more adventurous than his day job. I took it as a compliment. In reality, it was a testament of his fortitude.

I’ll admit this now. I used to collect people. Other folks collect coffee mugs or teaspoons. Not me. I amassed people who asked for my help without weighing who they were, where they came from or what they wanted from me. In the beginning, Steve was charmed by this quirk, then exasperated, and finally, resigned. Out of necessity, he became my scoundrel detector and I counted on his keen ability to “sense” a person’s demeanor and motive in minutes. I had this gift too, but I leaned toward giving scoundrels a chance. When Steve intervened, they were sent on their way before I had time to protest.

This worked well when he was home. Not so much when he was away.

Hella’s stay with us became a battle of wits and wills. She did not like housework, enjoyed cooking even less and during her third week in our home, she lost Sheri. Granted, Sheri was a pistol, but to this day I am not sure how a baby wearing only diapers can open the front door, cross a busy street and manage to toddle four blocks from home without a caregiver noticing her absence. Apparently, Sheri wanted a cookie and was mercifully intercepted by a kind neighbor who had both a cookie and my number, which is how I found out she’d gone missing.

I relieved Hella that day from all duties having to do with our children and, much to Steve’s delight; I set about working with her sponsors to have her sent home. It would take four more weeks.

bags packedIn all fairness, I still believe Hella was essentially a good girl, but terribly misled by two of her Au Pair peers. They advised her that American men tended to be weak and malleable. So, for girls who wanted to stay in America, but did not want to watch children, clean house or cook, the game plan was to win the man’s affections and thereby have all their wants and needs fulfilled. Wants and needs included an established man, a car to drive, money to shop and no rules and curfews.

When she finally broke down and admitted the game plan to both of us, Hella’s behavior made more sense, but I had to admit how badly I’d been duped.

Righteously, Steve only rubbed it in for the next twenty years.

It took me that long to learn how to balance my unrestrained capacity to see good in people with my own gift of discernment. And longer still, to notice that no matter how outrageous, traumatizing, unexpected, or agonizing, every experience we live through teaches us a lesson about ourselves or others.

How absolutely blessed I am to have been cherished by a man who knew my heart, endured my lessons and loved me still.

Lynnette Bukowski © 2013

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…. 

Autumn Again…

You know how it is. Sometimes we plan a trip to one place, but something takes us to another.

Autum at LZ-Grace

Grace arrives

a cool ribbon

of crisp air to embrace me

like you used to do…

So for a moment

I am still wrapped

In your love

A warm blanket

between dreams and the

real wooden floor

where my bare feet

step lightly at 3:00 in the morning

and on this path

I can tip-toe my way

to the cool breeze and

breathe you in

just enough air to return to this life radiant

with the light by which I serve.

I am like the autumn leaves now,

Falling again

As though we are all passionately

In Love

with sacred ground.

September 6, 2013 © Lynnette Bukowski

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)

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

Healing With Love… And Other Assorted Details

Love is not static: it is a living, dynamic force that melts down all barriers and boundaries. 

LZ-Grace Veterans Retreat will be a place of healing with love, which is a simplistic explanation for a complicated undertaking. After a recent and hysterical conversation with a woman steeped in wisdom, it seems the perfect time to share a bit more about who I am and what my vision is for LZ-Grace. To that end, I present a radio interview I did just over a month ago with Rob Dubois, author of Powerful Peace: A Navy SEAL’s Lessons on Peace from a Lifetime at War on his radio program Powerful Peace Blog Talk. I continue to be honored and grateful for the opportunity.

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WeldersA few days ago I found myself in conversation with a 93 year old woman named Grace. Her eyes glistened with tears as she told me about her husband returning from World War II and how difficult it was for both of them, especially because she was still working at night. She was tiny and limber and could crawl into small spaces so her service as a welder on war ships was in high demand. She was proud of her husband and proud of her service and reminded me that there was a time when the citizens of this country – young and old – worked together to defeat the enemy and heal our own.

When I began to talk with her about my vision for LZ-Grace Veterans Retreat the conversation took a turn I did not see coming.  Her wit and wisdom is too precious to keep to myself.

Grace:  LZ-Grace. I like the name. L a z y Grace. Suits. What exactly is this place going to be?

Me: A Veterans Retreat. LZ is an acronym for Landing Zone, not Lazy. It will be a safe place to land… a place for Warriors to come home from war and heal with love.

Grace: Now, that’s nice. That’s a fine thing for you to do for the boys coming home. In my day they called that kind of place a Brothel. She looked me up and down. Well, you’re young and pretty… should do just fine, but you don’t seem the type. She put her hands on her hips, grinned at me and asked, You hiring?

Me: Oh dear. I choked back laughter. It’s a Veterans Retreat where men and women returning from war will come for a few weeks to rest, renew and reconnect. I want to help them return with confidence and purpose to family and civilian life.

Grace: Well now, that’s a relief. That other business is difficult and thankless work and I’m not sure I’m up to it anymore.

We both laughed until we cried.

I hired her.

Lynnette Bukowski © 2013

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