Tag Archives: Marriage

Will you marry me?

By Senior Airman Michelle Patten
Air Force Public Affairs Agency

Some people meet their significant others in public places like grocery stores, restaurants or school. Others create profiles on dating websites to search for their future spouses. My story doesn’t follow any of these examples. Instead, I found my future husband smack in the middle of a busy firing range at Hurlburt Field, Fla.

I’d like to say it was love at first sight, but that would be a lie. It took a little help from the Air Force for us to find each other and realize we’d met our match.

Continue reading Will you marry me?

Lessons in compassion

By Staff Sgt. Jake Barreiro
51st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

“Without mercy, man is like a beast. Even if you are hard on yourself, be merciful to others.” – Quote from Kenji Mizoguchi’s 1954 film, Sansho the Bailiff

On Aug. 20, 2012, I woke up at 2:30 a.m. My bed, usually crowded with my wife, Cece, and two cats, Miki and Lulu, was empty. Down the hallway of the one-floor, three-bedroom house we rented in Cabot, Arkansas, I heard noise from the kitchen. When I went to see what the noise was, I found my 23-year-old wife on the floor and erratically painting on a canvas.

The painting was of an Airman Battle Uniform next to a bottle of prescribed depression medication. Streaks and spots of deep red paint blotched the canvas, which also had gashes and holes littered in it because Cece had been stabbing it with a kitchen knife.

“What the (obscenity) are you doing?” I asked.

She looked up at me, her body shaking, our two cats flanking her sides. I saw a hurt face and fear-riddled eyes, scorched red from sleep deprivation and sobbing. With our little family together in the kitchen that morning, “I’m sorry,” was all she could say.

Lessons in Compassion

Months earlier, Cece was sent to stay for a week at the Bridgeway, a mental health hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas. Three weeks later, she went back for another week for what eventually became a diagnosis of severe anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

An Airman herself, recent military-related stress of deployments, family separation and being over worked, coupled with the loss of her uncle and past personal traumas, led to my wife’s sleeping problems. She lived in a constant state of fear. Unable to sleep at night, she’d only shake helplessly in the bed next to me. These mounting pressures for my wife led to a serious conflict in our relationship for the first time since we met in 2007. I was seeing a different landscape of what had always been a very happy woman.

Strife at work, a splintered relationship at home, being put on depression medication and sleeping pills, being taken from her home twice for treatment, being whispered about by co-workers, being unambiguously accused of faking her condition by her first sergeant and awaiting the upcoming staff sergeant promotion results sent Cece into a severe panic that morning.

After my wife apologized, I talked her into getting up. We picked up the canvas and painting supplies, but I kept thinking about the red streaks of paint all over the floor and that I’d have to clean it up later. I then made Cece lay in bed until it was time for her to get dressed for her 4 a.m. shift.

The rest of that day reverberates in my conscience. The memories echo in my mind like the lingering twang of a released guitar string.

I received a call from my wife’s co-worker at 6 a.m., telling me to get to their workplace immediately. I found Cece pale-faced, shaking and not wearing boots or belt. I remember taking her to mental health and being unable to sit in on the confidential session. Cece was discharged from mental health and sent back to work. Then, we found out she made staff sergeant, but we didn’t feel like celebrating like we did when I made it two years earlier. I remember a silent car ride home.

As soon as we got to the house, I tried to help Cece sleep, but I couldn’t quell her anxiety. We lay in bed, me holding her and telling her to go to sleep while she shook and whimpered in pain. I silently scorned her condition, constantly thinking about how much effort I had to make for her and how her problems were affecting my behavior. It was a sweet relief when Cece finally stopped shaking and slept. When I finally went to sleep that night, I was glad such an emotionally taxing day was over.

Afterward, things didn’t become easier for us. We kept having arguments, and I became increasingly agitated with my wife, who was still suffering, physically and emotionally. Our problems escalated until one night, after getting off a 4 a.m. – 1 p.m. shift, Cece hadn’t come home by 6:30 p.m., and we argued via text message. At one point I threatened to leave her and told her I couldn’t handle her condition anymore.

After she got home, Cece told me she was thinking about killing herself, and that she thought about intentionally crashing her car into a tree on one of Arkansas’ back roads. Talking to a person so heartlessly while they suffered still shames me. We once again lay on the bed, her unable to sleep or relax and me holding her. I remember vividly what she said to me, “I just need you to help me right now. You know I’ll help you when you need it.”

She was right. During our five years together there were times when I was, at best, difficult to get along with and at worst insufferable.

I’ve always had a confrontational and contentious nature. This makes it hard for me to connect with people, and in my early 20s I often felt lonely and alienated, which led to an unhappiness that I often projected onto other people. Yet, even in my worst moods, I remember my wife holding onto me, joking with me, making me smile or laugh. She may have never known, but her signature smile, a beaming, full teeth-baring grin, often elevated me from the depths of negativity. So when she pleaded with me so bluntly, I couldn’t feel anything but shame and compassion.

This proved a turning point for us, and after that night I tried to act with mercy or compassion toward her struggle. For all of us, life has summits and cellars. No one is exempt from adversity and at times we all need kindness. After that day, I was committed to being supportive before critical and being helpful before skeptical. Things started to improve for both of us.

That’s not to imply everything changed right away. Mental conditions don’t evaporate or disappear because of good intentions. It takes commitment and patience to persevere the brutalities of depression, anxiety and PTSD. My wife still has hard days and difficult moments like everyone else. Traumatic memories still haunt her, but our efforts to keep an open, honest, nonjudgmental and supportive dialogue about ourselves helps. Just a year later, I was confident enough in her recovery to volunteer for an unaccompanied tour to South Korea. Cece is now out of the Air Force and going to school full time, and we’re both happily pursuing our goals and supporting each other as much as we ever have.

So why should anyone care about this highly personal story? Because there are many people like my wife and many people like me. There are people suffering, scarred, afflicted, overburdened and unfairly judged — unsure if something is wrong with them or if they can even ask for help. There are also people in a position to help, but unsure of what to do.

For the last 65 years, May has been designated as Mental Health Awareness Month. For a lot of us these monthly observances, of which there are plenty, are easy to dismiss or blithely endorse. It usually takes a personal stake in the issue to really care about it. Not just my wife, but personal experiences with my family have left me an advocate for the accepting treatment of suffering people. That means not only encouraging those who need it to seek help, but also encouraging others to treat the suffering with patience and kindness, even if they can’t understand them.

I’ve seen the consequences when people don’t get support, and while there’s no catchall method to stop someone from hurting him or herself, treating all people with dignity and compassion is the right place to start. Sometimes we don’t understand the influence we cast on others, how a kind action or showing genuine concern can seriously alter somebody’s day for good and how meanness, cruelty or indifference can do the opposite. It’s possible that kindness is all it can take to convince somebody they can ask for help, or that they’re valuable enough to be cared about.

Cece tells me the hardest thing about asking for help is the inevitable stigma that comes with it. She used to be afraid to talk about her feelings and problems because it was embarrassing and perceived as weakness. Also, personal cases of depression are hard for others to understand.

Much effort has been made to promote the truth that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, but this gives little comfort to people when they’re being ostracized at work or being treated different by friends and family. This is why all of us have a responsibility to value and care for the people around us. It’s important to treat those seeking help kindly, because despite progressive efforts, negative attitudes still exist.

However, I’m not writing this to ask you to change your mind about mental health. If you truly believe someone is faking a condition or if you think they’re too sensitive or weak for asking for help, chances are I’m not going to convince you otherwise.

Instead, compassion is my gospel. Treat those who are suffering, even if you’re skeptical, with mercy.

There’s no simple solution to the ailments of mental health. No acronyms, pills, PowerPoint slides, books, slogans or training can cure anxiety, depression or PTSD. There is, however, a universally good starting point, which is being respectful and compassionate to everyone, but especially to those who share their struggles and seek help.

If we do this, the worst thing we can do is be excessively nice. The best we can do may be to bring someone back from the abyss. Kindness, mercy and compassion are traits I value in people above all else. Her abundance of these is one of the reasons I fell in love with Cece when we were dating in 2008, and her enduring and helpful nature has inspired me and helped me be a better person ever since.

Celebrated poet John Donne poignantly wrote: “Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind.”

As human beings, Americans, service members and Airmen, we should not take the suffering of our own lightly or callously, but as a detriment to our family. Every single loss diminishes the whole, and every single person in the world is important.

In our living room, centered above our couch, we proudly display the painting Cece attacked with a knife. Its presence reminds me that we all have flaws and need support in our weakest moments. As individual human beings, the mistakes we make and scars we give and take can’t be undone any more than knife punctures can be erased from a canvas. We can never take back what we say and do. The wounds we endure never completely heal. However, as someone’s fellow human being, we have the chance to help by supporting each other. The most important thing in life isn’t what you did or what you’ll do, but what you’re willing to do now. There’s no nobler impulse in mankind than mercy, and there’s an abundance of people in the world who need it. Help them.

PHOTO: Staff Sgt. Jake Barreiro and Cece Guadalupe Ortiz days before their wedding Jan. 3, 2011, in Dover, Del. They first met in December 2007, began dating June 1, 2008, and got married Jan. 8, 2011. (Courtesy photo by Cynthia Ticas)

Don’t mourn in black, travel well

By Staff Sgt. Alexandria Mosness
81st Training Wing Public Affairs

Alison Miller, widow of retired Master Sgt. Chuck Dearing, sits in her pink painted vehicle as military memorabilia is displayed on the passenger seat during a travel break Jan. 16, 2014, at the Keesler Air Force Base camp site, Biloxi, Miss. Prior to the death of her husband, Miller told him that her intent was to continue traveling in a pink painted car so that he could find her while out on the road. (U.S. Air Force photo/Kemberly Groue)

In her deep blue eyes, you not only see the sadness, you can feel the grief of her soul. The agony within her comes from losing her husband to cancer last year. A moment later, those blue eyes dance and what you see isn’t that grief, but love — intense, raw love.

This love from within has recently started Alison Miller, the widow of retired Master Sgt. Chuck Dearing, on a trek across the United States — revisiting places she and Chuck visited together.

She is on a journey to spread his ashes, but also take in the beauty of what is happening around her — something she calls magic.

“He wasn’t a war hero, but he served with such dedication and honor,” Alison said of her late husband. “And by God, if it is the last thing I do, everybody is going to know about him and know about our love story.”

With a plan to share their story of love and commitment, Alison set out on a tour of remembrance in her pink SUV and attached pink teardrop trailer, both displaying her slogan decal “Happily Homeless.”

Chuck’s cremains and flag sit in the passenger seat next to her.

Her journey to happy homelessness had its beginning with a simple idea. A little less than five years ago, Chuck and Alison sold all of their possessions and their house in New Jersey after they decided to hit the road. At first, the pair thought they would move to a different state, so the first three months consisted of a lot of driving. Both felt they had to get somewhere, Alison said.

One day on their journey, Chuck looked at Alison and said, “Why do we want to stop doing this? We are having the time of our lives.”

Together they decided to travel the open roads and stay primarily in affordable, military lodging. Though it sounds like something people only talk of, Alison said they were living their dream.

Alison Miller, widow of retired Master Sgt. Chuck Dearing, sits in the doorway of her pink painted teardrop trailer during a travel break Jan. 16, 2014, at the Keesler Air Force Base camp site, Biloxi, Miss. Following Dearing’s retirement, the couple sold their home and belongings and traveled the country for four years staying primarily in base lodgings. Prior to the death of her husband, Miller told him that her intent was to continue traveling in a pink painted car so that he could find her while out on the road. (U.S. Air Force photo/Kemberly Groue)

“He was my home and I was his,” Alison said, struggling with emotion. “We didn’t have anywhere else, and that was OK — I reveled in that. He was everything to me in the most wonderful way.” People always wondered how the two could stand being together all the time, but Allison said they loved every moment of it.

“It was an ordinary marriage, but we were so deeply in love,” she said. “We had a passionate and romantic marriage. One friend used to comment, ‘When Chuck walks into a room, your eyes just light up and when you guys say goodbye to each other it is like you are never going to see each other again.’

“He would look at me across the room and just wink,” she said with a giggle.

Finding Chuck was unexpected, Alison said. After her first marriage ended in divorce, she said she was certain she would never meet any man again, especially since she had three children.

But Chuck changed all her views on love, she said.

The two were married in 1990 and blended their families, his daughter and her three children.

“It wasn’t easy by any means, but we made it work,” she added.

There were ‘whopperdoodle’ fights, but mainly there was love, Alison said. The strong bond of love played an important role in getting Chuck through cancer the first time.

In September 2010, they found out about his diagnosis, but with aggressive treatment, he beat the cancer.

Even after five surgeries, the couple would not let the disease stop their life. They planned to have the car packed and ready to go after Chuck’s post-operation appointments.

“We would wait to get to Kansas and open the moon roof, turn on Willie Nelson and blast ‘On the Road Again,’” Alison said. “We would see those wide open blue skies and say ‘OK, it’s behind us again.’”

The moon roof she shared with Chuck is the reason she was so adamant about having a moon roof in her new vehicle, which is painted in a special customized color — Chuck’s-watchin’-over-me pink, to give Alison courage to go back on the road again, she said.

The reason for all the pink in her life is that Chuck told her not to mourn for him in black — it wasn’t her color. Instead, he told her to wear pink in his honor. Before Chuck passed away, Alison told him she would continue to travel and would paint her vehicle pink so that he could find her on the open road.

In what she calls Pink Magic, her SUV and trailer combo, she is a woman on a mission and has received an outpouring of love from those she meets.

“There’s something happening here,” she said. “I use the words magical, but I don’t know what it is. Chuck is connecting with me and putting signs in my path.”

Alison speaks of those signs coming from every direction. One man, who she calls her Highway to Heaven Angel, told her, “Chuck wants me to tell you he wouldn’t leave you without a road map.” After all, Chuck was a flight engineer and his nickname was Pathfinder.

“Chuck is leading me because that is what he did in my life, he supported and loved me and encouraged me,” she said. ”He told me to find my dreams and he would help me make them happen. And, he is doing that now in a way where he is not physically present.”

The things that keep the blue-eyed woman with the short blonde hair going is not only Chuck’s love and magic, but the memories they had together.

One of her favorite memories with Chuck is their Death Valley dance. The sun was setting on the desert as they drove and it was the time just before dusk when the beauty of the day shines through brightly, she said. The song “Inspiration” by the band Chicago came on and Alison knew she wanted to mark the moment.

She looked at her Chuck and said, “Let’s get out and dance.”

Due to his health problems, she said Chuck didn’t think he could dance, but she asked him to try and he did. Alison pulled to the side of the road and turned up the music. The duo got out of their vehicle and met at the front and danced. For a split moment, Alison almost didn’t pull over because she thought it might be silly, she said.

Chuck ended that dance with a dip like he always did because, “I told him right from the first time we danced that I thought that to be the height of romance,” Alison recalled.

She said she is eternally grateful because it would end up being her last dance with Chuck.

“I will always have that last dance,” she said. “Chuck was always romantic. We never took a moment for granted; we made it count.”

Those lasting moments were vital when Chuck was in hospice care. Alison remembered her final conversation with her husband.

“My last conversation with him was saying goodbye and telling him I would be OK,” she said. “I thanked him for being in my life, for loving me and showing me how to trust again. I told him I would always remember him.

“He told me, ‘You know, I love our children so much and it is hard to say goodbye to them, but it is hardest of all to say goodbye to you. It’s hard to say goodbye to us,’” she recalled.

Dealing with the loss of her husband hasn’t been easy, but Alison said she discovered her own fearlessness.

“I have no fear anymore,” she said. “After losing this man and watching him die in front of me, there is nothing left to fear.”

Alison has expressed this to her children as well and her wish is for them not to worry.

“When the time comes and I die, what I want you to picture in your heads and in your hearts … is that I have no fear, and I am picturing myself lying on the bed wherever I am,” she told them. “Chuck is going to walk across the room like he always used to and hold out his hand for me to dance and he is going to take my hand and pull me up, and we are going to dance.”

Until that final dance with her beloved, Alison continues sharing their story to those who listen.

You can follow Allison on her journey by visiting her blog here.

Dealing with family stress through respect, communication

AF Healthy Family LifeBy Lesley Lanier, family life educator
502d Force Support Squadron

It is proven that when dealing with stress, perception is reality. Although we experience stress in many facets of life, the most frequent and intense stressor happens to be within our families. This is usually the hardest form of stress to contend with because of our own emotional investment. There are four main reasons that support the increased turmoil within families. They include:

  1. Different levels of power and status, leading to members frequently challenging each other
  2. Sacrifice and compromise are required for the good of the family as a whole
  3. Children grow, hence more changes
  4. Emotions leading to jealousy, control, love, pride, ownership and privacy

Knowing that stressful situations with family are inevitable, it’s how we manage it that can make the difference. What’s the most effective way to manage stress within your home? A common response would be constructively. But what does that entail? Simply put, identify the stressor, and choose your resolution. This can be achieved by basing your approach on mutual respect, communication and compromise.

Remember, as parents, it’s us who set the standard for resolving conflict. Our awareness of our parenting style will also help us as we go through challenging times. The Joint Base San Antonio Family Life Program offers a great class, called Screamfree Parenting, created by Hal Runkel, a Licensed Marriage and Family therapist. This approach enables you to “raise your children by keeping your cool.” Screamfree Parenting is based on three principles:

  1. Parenting is not about kids, it’s about parents
  2. If you’re not under control, then you can’t be in charge
  3. Growing up is hard to do, especially for grownups

To register for a Screamfree class at JBSA, call the Family Life Program at 210-221-1505.

PHOTO: The Novotny family gathers around the table before brothers, Lt. Col. Ryan and Maj. Reid Novotny, get together for a marathon run. (Air Force photo by Senior Airman Carlin Leslie/Released)

Spiritually resilient

Resiliency is an Airman's internal strength, helping them to overcome adversity and stress.
by Staff Sgt. Travis Edwards
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

We all have our bumps in the road. Some are minor speed bumps and others are gaping potholes. Those are times where it seems there is nowhere to turn. But, it isn’t about what got us there; it’s about what brought us back that counts and makes us resilient Airmen.

Spiritual resiliency is about having a sense of purpose; those values that sustain the sense of wellbeing, not necessarily religion.

So, how can you stay spiritually resilient without religion?

For me, it wasn’t difficult. I found strength in my personal circle — my personal belief in my Air Force, my family and my friends.

It’s hard to talk or even think about not being with my wife, but there were times in the first few years of our marriage where we almost threw in the towel and opted for the big D. We were in a rut; a hard one too. It didn’t seem like we were compatible anymore and having two children did not make the situation easier. Our commitment was being tested.

Things like a “messy house” or dirty dishes turned to escalating verbal attacks, usually ending nowhere. Divorce seemed more and more like a viable option; if things didn’t change, it would quickly become the next step.

This is where my personal circle helped.

I was fortunate enough to have an amazing crew at my first assignment at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. Almost everyone made themselves available to talk with me, but I will never forget the one who helped me the most. Mike was our deputy chief of public affairs. He was also a mentor, a friend and a great listener.

He allowed me to talk to him and put everything on the table. Mike was no stranger to being an Airman, he was closing in on 35 years in the service when we first met. After enduring a few days of my frustration, Mike said to me, “Travis, you need to stop talking to me about this, and both of you need to see a counselor.”

Mike was more known for his soft-spoken voice and daily rants on how the Hoard kept killing his gnome hunter in an online game. But this day I heard him very clearly; he was direct, yet compassionate.

My wife and I used a service provided by our Air Force family and made it to life skills, now mental health, and scheduled an appointment. After a year of bi-weekly sessions, we were doing better than ever and celebrated our ninth anniversary on Valentine’s Day.

Without my friends and mentors there to help push me in the right direction, I don’t think this would have been possible. I found my spiritual resiliency is catalyzed by the opportunities and people surrounding me.

My friends help me unwind and listen to me after a stressful work week, and my coworkers offer that helping hand, pen and shoulder when I need it. This is truly the best I’ve been in my life. I have Mike to thank for his selfless service in ensuring I am a well-rounded, resilient Airman even before the days of Air Force resiliency.

My personal circle is part of my spirituality; it’s those family and friends who are in my life and make a difference daily — those who I get to choose personally sans religion.

These are the things I believe in and have unwavering faith toward. Every Airman needs to find their own beliefs and stick to them, until the point in which they evolve and grow.