Remembering My Dad As A Hero

IMG_0009I considered saving this post for Father’s Day next month, but after much thought decided this post was most apt for Memorial Day, because it was my dad’s participation in the First Special Service Force, during WWII that shaped his life more than anything else. Called the Devil’s Brigade, by the Nazi’s because of their dare-devil bravery and skills, this American-Canadian commando unit was organized in 1942. You can learn more about them here.

1st  Special Service Force Patch.

1st Special Service Force Patch.

The day after marrying my mother on February 14, 1942, Dad enlisted and was sent to Helena, Montana, where he trained as a paratrooper, learned to ski, and fight in winter conditions. On completing training in 1943, his unit was sent to Kiska, in the Aleutian Islands, where he and his comrades were to take down the Japanese forces gathering there. But finding that the Japanese had evacuated the island in anticipation of their arrival, the force was sent to Italy. Dad was dropped over Anzio, and worked his way up the boot of Italy into Southern France and eventually to Germany, where he and his men opened up the gates of German concentration camps, to set those who had survived the Holocaust free. He remained in Germany after the war, working in intelligence for the army. Mom and I joined him there in 1946 and my brother, Zed, was born in Munich, Germany, in November of 1947.

As Dad worked his way up to the rank of Major, he was part of numerous catastrophic battles and traumatic events. After his drop over Italy, he became aware that the plane scheduled to drop troops in the same spot after his, tragically dropped them into the Mediterranean, due to the same bad weather conditions my father’s plane had encountered. The entire load of soldiers drowned.

Never physically wounded himself,  Dad found himself to be the last man standing, as his unit worked at taking out a nest of Nazi’s. After another battle, he saw his best buddy’s head blown off as they stood together overlooking an area they believed they’d cleared of German troops.

Dad rarely talked about his experiences or his medals for bravery, but it was evident that the war had brought about huge changes in him. Mom always said he wasn’t the man she had married when he returned home after the war.

At the time, a returning soldier’s constant mood swings and violent behaviors were blown off as Shell Shock, something he and others in his position would grow out of. If they didn’t, they were thought to be lacking resilience and were poor soldier material, despite their heroic acts during the war.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is the result of participating in war, being a victim of abuse, or being witness to, or affected by a traumatic event. It came to everyone’s attention during the war in Viet Nam, and as our knowledge in the field of psychiatry has expanded, troops returning from the Middle-East are checked for this debilitating syndrome that can take down families if left untreated.

Throughout his life, Dad fought a war within himself. He ran our family as a military unit, inspecting the way we polished our shoes, made our beds, and kept ourselves. Finger nails had to be clean and trimmed, and our ears were to be without wax or dirt.

Our rooms had to be organized and spotless. If he observed a book out of place on a bureau he would sweep the book and everything else onto the floor, demanding that we clean up the mess he made.

He could be very silly.

He could be very silly.

He was big on punishment and beat my brothers and me with a horse crop. We never knew what to expect from him and rarely felt completely safe when he was at home.When my parents fought, which they did frequently, I feared Mom would leave and I’d spend the rest of life living alone with Dad.

When he died in 1982, I began working through my inner turmoil and recovery from my own PTSD. Yes, the children and spouses of those with that disorder often have it, too.

Writing a memoir and keeping a journal have helped me to recall even the special moments I spent with with my father. That when I was small he’d collect a big bowl of snow after a storm, drizzling it with maple syrup and orange rind as a special treat to celebrate a day when we could all stay at home.

Without yelling at me, he taught me how to ride a bike, water ski, and drive a car. He sadly gave me away to my husband, Bill, at our wedding, and when my own kids arrived, he became my friend, as I watched him soften and play with his grandchildren.

I remember the last time I saw him alive in the final stages of bladder cancer. He told me he didn’t want to live any longer. Upon advice from his doctor, I told him that he could make his exit by simply pulling out the IVs and lines keeping him alive. Several nights later he died, having pulled his own plug.

Dad and Mom with Zed and me.

Dad and Mom with Zed and me.


Though I’ll never forget how he abused me, forgiveness and love have taken the place of hatred and fear. He did the best that he could with what was available to him at the time. For that alone I see him as a hero. Unless you’ve been in the shoes of someone who suffers from flashbacks, panic attacks, and all the rest that goes along with PTSD, it is impossible to understand the pain and fear of living in world where trauma and stress seem to be around every corner.

Recovery and forgiveness are possible. The Body Keeps The Score, by Bessel A.Van der Kolk, MD, and Michele Rosenthal’s, Your Life After Trauma: Powerful Practices to Reclaim Your Identity, are two books that have helped me gain an understanding of how trauma changes the way our brains operate and how to begin the road to recovery. If you or a loved one suffers post-trauma, give them a read.

Has trauma shaped your life?

You’ll find out more about my own journey through trauma and PTSD in my upcoming memoir, ME, MYSELF AND MOM, My Journey Through Love, Hate, and Healing.

Writing Memoir Is A Mixed Bag


Check out my guest post on Madeline Sharples, blog, Choices.

It’s about the difficulties of writing the hard stuff and the final reward of being able to see life in a new way.

A Letter to My Mother: Posthumous Reconciliation? And A Book Give Away

bonnetstrings-1Always interested in reading about other writers’s spiritual journeys, I recently picked up a copy of Saloma Miller Furlong’s second memoir, Bonnet Strings: An Amish Woman’s Ties to Two Worlds. I just finished reading it and highly recommend you take a look at it.

Next week, one of my readers who leaves a comment on this page, will have a chance to receive a free copy of that book. Just leave a comment. I’ll pick a name at random and perhaps you will be notified that Saloma’s book is on it’s way to you.

Currently, Saloma is at work on a letter to her mother in book form,  in which  she tries to reconcile with her mother, who is now dead. Both Saloma and I have had difficult mothers to deal with during our lives. It is through this new writing, that Saloma is working her way to understanding and forgiving a mother, who like mine, used her children as scapegoats.

Without further ado, I welcome and thank Saloma for being my guest today and sharing her story. 

I have seen Joan around the online world several times. I decided it was time we “meet,” after reading about her incredible journey. Though I have not cared for an aging parent, I can relate to Joan’s story in many ways. I eagerly await the publication of her book. I am honored to be here today. Thank you, Joan, for hosting me.

We’ve all heard the bittersweet stories of people reckoning with their mortality when they are about to leave this world. They took stock of their lives and asked to speak with someone with whom they’ve not spoken to for years. In their waning days or hours, reconciliation and forgiveness happen. The bitter of the story is all those wasted years when reconciliation could have happened. The sweet of the story is that reconciliation did happen.

When my mother was dying, I kept hoping she would come to the place of needing reconciliation, when she would gather her sons and daughters around her and deal with any unfinished business with each of us, alone.

I was hoping there would be a time when she would let her guard down, so that I could tell her how I’ve had a hard time reconciling my memories of her when I was small and innocent from those when I was in my teens.

I know Mem loved me when I was little. I remember her bathing me in the galvanized tub in the living room in winter. After the bath, she would sit me on her big, soft lap, wrap me in a warm towel she had warmed by the woodstove, dry me off, and then dress me in the fresh-smelling clothing she had laid out for me. I remember standing on a stool, helping her knead bread. I remember being terrified of leaving her when I started Kindergarten.

I also remember the sound of her solid footsteps from the time I was a six, and had just said something she perceived as backtalk. Those footsteps would go to the china cabinet, where she would take down the latest whip or leather belt. She would stand there and in her most forceful voice, demand that I, “come here.”

I could not run. I could not hide. I could not resist that voice. I had to step over to her, where she would raise my Amish dress and slam that whip or belt across the backs of my legs, until I thought I would lose my mind from the overpowering pain.

When Mem lay dying, I wanted to hear her admit that she had been taking out her own frustrations on me when she whipped me. That she had harmed me, instead of “doing it for my own good.” I wanted to hear her say, “I am so sorry.”

But that is not what happened. Mem told us not to cling, and said it was her time to go. It seemed that she couldn’t duck out of this world fast enough. There was no chance of reconciling with her. Even before that day, she did not want to dig into the past. “For what good would it do?” she would say.

When I said my last good-byes to my mother, I told her that I would think of her in her heavenly home, and love her always. I wrote her a letter the night she was dying, because I could not be by her side. When I read it now, it sounds like I had no unresolved issues with her. However nine years later, I realize I’ve never reconciled the mother who was so nurturing and caring, with the one who was so harsh and cruel.

In an attempt to reconcile with Mem, I am writing a letter to her. I sift through memories and reflect on them. I do this, not knowing “what good it will do.” I don’t know if I will have a better understanding of her, but that is my hope. I like to think that there is still time to find resolution, even though she is not here in person.

So far, I find the act of writing to be powerful. Instead of sitting down in the inner reaches of my unconscious, I am recalling the past, allowing it to surface, one piece at a time. I am examining my memories of Mem, my relationship with her, and ultimately, my life.

As I write this, I don’t yet know who my audience is. Right now, that is not as important to me as doing the writing. Maybe I will decide to publish it. Or maybe someday one of my sons or grandchildren will find it, and at least learn something about their lineage.

I cried when I read the quote, by Christina Baldwin, that Joan uses at the top of her home page. I recognized it as the compelling reason for why I feel the need to write down my memories. “Making story of our family history doesn’t mean we change the realities of our forebears’ lives … we don’t turn a thief into a pillar of virtue … but we learn to carry the story differently so the lineage can heal.” What a beautiful thing to hope for: “for the lineage to heal.” What more is there?

Are there issues with your mother you wish to come to terms with? Do you think it is ever too late?


dsc_0017Saloma Miller Furlong is the author of two books, Why I Left the Amish and Bonnet Strings: An Amish Woman’s Ties to Two Worlds. Her story is featured in the PBS documentaries “The Amish” and “The Amish: Shunned” on American Experience. You can read more of Saloma Furlong’s biography by following the link.



A Close Look At PTSD


IMG_0714Over the last twenty or so years, I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD, three times. Though I was never sexually abused, my father who suffered from PTSD himself, beat me and my brothers, and made growing up into healthy adults, almost impossible. His experiences during the Second World War, screwed up his brain, and like so many other soldiers in every war that has ever been fought, my father brought his “invisible wounds” home with him. At the time, veterans such as himself, were said to have, “Shell Shock.” There was no treatment for what would later be called, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Those warriors just had to get over it by themselves.

My mother, was abused as a child herself, and later by her husband, my father. She rarely, if ever laid a finger on me, yet her psychological abuse of me made an already difficult childhood, even more challenging. She was also loving, and at times an ally in my never ending struggles with my father. But she’d also threaten me with, “Just wait till your father comes home! He’ll get you to behave.” I was left to pray that she’d forget what I had done to anger her. Mostly though, I simply had to face the music when Dad came home from work. When he turned physical and brought out the leather horse crop he sometimes used to beat me, my mother would completely disappear, never protecting me from who we all, including Mom, called King Kong. Her behavior was confusing to say the least, and her constant betrayals did not help me to build trust or confidence in her.

I’ve struggled with extreme anxiety, depression, and flashbacks most of my life. When I became my mother’s caretaker during the final seven years of her life, my symptoms grew worse. She lived with me, for most of that time, and because I was there, I became bore the brunt of her sadness and anger. We were constantly at war with one another, making my intention to help her to be as comfortable as possible through her waning years, impossible.

I knew that I needed help after my mother died, and for the third time, I was told I was struggling with PTSD. I finally let go of my denial, and sought treatment with a therapist whose specialty was dealing with Trauma. With her help and a village of other supporters, including my husband, I began a slow recovery, pulling together the lost and broken pieces of my life. Writing my memoir about those difficult times has been the act that has most helped me to celebrate who I am and have become. I look forward to it being published soon.

I’m happy to say that eight years later, I feel like a new person. Though I’ll never be perfect, I no longer struggle every day with anxiety. When depression tiptoes in, I know who it is, and it makes a hasty retreat. Yes, I can still react to certain triggers, but now I usually catch myself before I react and cause extensive damage to my own ego and those around me.

Living with the likes of PTSD has an extremely steep learning curve. Just a few weeks ago, I learned an important lesson about dealing with those nasty triggers. I was sitting in the dentist’s chair, being fitted with a new mouthguard which I need to use at night, in order to keep myself from grinding my own teeth away. It was a new product, much harder and stiffer than the mouthguard that I had been using. My dentist, who is the kindest and best of them all, was struggling to get it seated properly. Suddenly out of nowhere, I had a panic attack, and started struggling against him. I was in tears and for a few moments didn’t understand what was happening.

We took a break from the fitting and in a few minutes I realized that I had been reacting to some unremembered trigger event. I confessed to the doctor, that I have a history of abuse and have struggled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had never considered telling him about it. What does dental care and PTSD have to do with each other? Having been a military dentist in Iraq before opening his practice here, he knew exactly what I was talking about.

At the time, I had to admit that there is still a bit a shame involved in owning my PTSD. But it is nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing I did caused it. And just because it isn’t on the list of ailments we’re supposed to check off when we see a new caretaker, doesn’t mean it should be ignored. True self-care is learning to accept ourselves as we are and honoring our own minds and bodies.

Finding my center amidst the panic, I learned that it is important to let caregivers of any kind know about the problem I have. My general practitioner has known all along, but being upfront about PTSD with everyone is important.

Is there anything in your life that you’re ashamed of owning?

Why Vulnerability is a Gift in Memoir Writing

Flicker Creative Commons

Flicker Creative Commons

This week I’m honored to welcome, Kathy Pooler,  my very first guest blogger. Her upcoming memoir, will be published next month.  I’ve enjoyed reading Kathy’s blog posts for over a year and when I discovered that she was writing a memoir about abusive relationships, I wanted to get to know her better.  Abuse is also an important topic for me as well. Last month I got to read her final draft, an uplifting story about emotional, domestic abuse and the two failed marriages she left behind.

A huge problem in our society today, domestic violence, both physical and psychological, destroys lives and families all around us, every day. Many women, and men, too, stay with their abusers, afraid to leave them, believing that he or she will mend their ways and become the dream spouse they thought they had married.

Kathy’s courageous story is about her journey through hell and back in order to protect her children and herself.  She transforms from a submissive, naive young woman, into a mature, take-charge  adult, willing to take risks in order to become the confident and loving wife and mother she is today.  It’s filled with lessons for those among us who find themselves in similar relationships.

Do keep an eye out for Kathy’s book next month.  You won’t be disappointed.


 Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” ― Brené Brown

Kathy Pooler

Kathy Pooler

How do you write about pain that was so deep, you don’t even remember how you felt?

You blocked it, buried it, stored it away for another time, then went about the business of your life. Going through the motions, Doing the best you could . Trying not to think about it.

Too. Darn. Painful.

That was me at age thirty with two small children, knowing I had to leave their father. And again at age forty when I had to flee in broad daylight with my children from a second marriage for fear of physical abuse. I had no choice. It was a matter of survival.

For years, I lived with guilt and shame when I faced the reality that my choices led to two emotionally abusive marriages and years of turmoil for myself and my two children. That shame hung around me like an uninvited guest who taunted and harrassed. I journaled my way through it, went to counseling sessions, prayed, cried, shared with friends, but all of that did not change the fact that I could not un-do the damage that had been done. I lingered in a sea of self-doubt, confusion, regret that was too painful to confront head-on.

In my upcoming memoir Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse, I expose my vulnerabilities and flaws in order to find the answers to the question that plagued me for years:

How does a young woman from a loving Catholic family make so many wise decisions about career, yet so many poor decisions about love that she ends up escaping with her two children from her second husband for fear of physical abuse? 

 In order to write this story, I had to revisit the past I kept hiding from. I had to dig deeply and keep digging. In doing so I had to be willing to look at my mistakes and failures.

I had to allow myself to be vulnerable.

None of this was easy or painless.  Many times, I put the story aside to give myself some breathing room.

When I was in the midst of the writing, I didn’t even know what my story was. I just kept writing whatever came to mind.

I began searching. I looked for pictures from the mid-70s of a young father reading to his children who were nestled in his lap. I listened to 1970s music. “Jeremiah was a bullfrog, from Joy to the World took me back to the night we were engaged. Happy faces. Hopes. Dreams.

The marriage that couldn’t be started with the same hopes and dreams of any twenty-something couple in the 1970s then took a turn down an unfamiliar road, a point of no return. And again, in the 1980s when a second chance marriage at the age of thirty-nine left me fighting for my life.

Through the vulnerability—the raw, searing pain of self-discovery—I slowly began to feel compassion for the young woman who tried so hard to have a loving relationship and provide her children with a stable home.

Writing helped me to heal. After a while, I began to experience compassion and a spirit of forgiveness toward the men I chose to marry.

I embraced my inner strength and developed insights into my motivations and decisions.

I forgave myself.

The guilt and shame melted away as I realized I acted in good faith. In writing Ever Faith ful to His Lead, I discovered that I had become a stronger person as a result of all I had endured and it has left me feeling transformed and empowered.

Vulnerability is not a weakness. It took courage and perseverance to break down the tight shell I had created around myself to protect myself from the truth.

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful that the risk it took to blossom” Anais Nin

I had to face the darkness before I could see the light.

In writing my memoir, I have let the pain go with a spirit of forgiveness, compassion and understanding. Ever Faithful to His Lead provides a message of hope, resilience and courage that I want to share with those who need it the most—women who need to claim and honor their own strength within to find freedom from abuse.

Vulnerability has been a gift that has allowed me to heal and share a healing message.


 Kathleen Pooler is a writer and a retired Family Nurse Practitioner whose memoir, Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse and work-in-progress sequel, Hope Matters: A Memoir are about how the power of hope through her faith in God helped her to transform, heal and transcend life’s obstacles and disappointments:  domestic abuse, divorce, single parenting, loving and letting go of an alcoholic son, cancer and heart failure to live a life of joy and contentment. She believes that hope matters and that we are all strengthened and enlightened when we share our stories.

She lives with her husband Wayne in eastern New York.

She blogs weekly at her Memoir Writer’s Journey blog:
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One of her stories “The Stone on the Shore” is published in the anthology: “The Woman I’ve Become: 37 Women Share Their Journeys From Toxic Relationships to Self-Empowerment” by Pat LaPointe, 2012.
 Another story: “Choices and Chances” is published in the  “My Gutsy Story Anthology” by Sonia Marsh, September, 2013.