I spent this past weekend in New Orleans with 14 other military widows.  I have had some time to process the whole weekend. and just wanted to share with you a little bit of what I have come away with from the AWP Give Back Getaway.

I was interviewed by CNN while we were doing work on a house for a woman named Tanya, who literally lost everything because of Hurricane Katrina.  She lost her home, her health, her financial means, and her community, all because of the devastating affects of a storm, and a breaking levee.

During the interview I was asked several questions, but the one that stood out was...How does coming and serving this community with the AWP help you with your loss?

At the time it was a difficult question to answer.  I knew the two were tied together, and I know that serving others helps to take my burdens away, but it was so much more than that.  Here we were...a group of 15 military widows, helping rebuild the life of another person.  We did not lose the roofs over our heads, but we did lose our sense of home, our sense of belonging and our sense of safety, when we lost the person who we love the most.

By helping Tanya rebuild her home together, we were rebuilding ourselves as well.  We were working together for the common good of humanity, and trying to get a sense of that goodness back as well.

When we went to a homecoming celebration for a family moving back in to their rebuilt home it all came together for me.  One of the St. Bernard Project volunteers was saying a few words and what he said really struck a chord.  He said that it was amazing that volunteers like us, nearly 6 years later were continuing to come to New Orleans and that we are the true heroes.  We are the ones who have not forgotten the people of New Orleans and their struggle.  In reality, it is not even myself or the other volunteers, it is the amazing people who envisioned the organization for volunteers to be able to continue to come make a difference with direction.  They saw the need, and their vision and heroic efforts made the St. Bernard Project what it is today. 
It made me think of how people so easily forget devastation.  If they are not directly affected by it, their lives move on just as they always did.  They might add it to their prayers, or just see it on the news the week afterwards, but then....Nothing.  It is tucked away in their minds and forgotten.  Even I do that, and did do that with Hurricane Katrina.  It took seeing it with my own eyes, the continuing struggle of the people there. 

Sometimes it feels the same way with the wars that we are fighting overseas.  One of my biggest fears is that people will just simply forget Frankie, and will not talk about him 5, 10, 15 years down the road.  And even though no one can heal me, or rebuild a home for me...they can mention him, talk about who he was when he was alive.  That is healing for me.  And the best people I have found to talk about him with are other military widows.  They have brought me back into this life, and taught me so much, and have made me realize that my journey is my own.  They have helped to sand away some of the rough edges that built up in my soul after Frankie was killed, and I know they will never forget, because they have experienced a loss as big as mine....

So, how did this weekend help me with my loss? It reminded me to keep hope, and to be positive, and to always look for the good in people just how Frankie always did, because somewhere along their path in life they have known struggle.  It reminded me that humanity still exists, and there is so much good to be done in this world...we just have to keep our minds and hearts open to it, and not forget about those around us.

I am so thankful for the American Widow Project.  It was truly inspired by love...true, unconditional love, that continues to be shared by all those who choose to be involved.


Megan said...

Once again, you're just an amazing person Brooke! Thank you for reminding us all why service is so important. Obviously service has so many facets, I see that on your behalf as well as Frankie's. Keep it up love :)

Anonymous said...

You are amazingly strong and I know you may not always feel like you are but Mrs. Toner, you are amazingly, amazingly strong. You radiate so much positivity and love; you should be so very proud of yourself.

Anonymous said...

I'm not going to lie, I broke down reading this. You're a beautiful person inside and out. I completely agree with every word you wrote, as well as feel the feelings. My biggest fear is that we will just fade off in the distance and no one will care anymore. It's nice to know that at least I have the ladies that have been through the same to always remember. I will never forget your story, it touched me. And I will never forget you, you are an amazing person and you give off a light that is really hard to come by. Just wanted to comment, hope you stay in contact. :) Jennifer Hunt