December 31, 2017
July 24, 2016
By Joy Ross Davis
I felt at first like I was dreaming. When I received the message from the International Women’s Writing Guild (IWWG) that they wanted me to be a presenter at their upcoming conference, I could hardly believe it. It isn’t often that a small-town Southern writer is asked to do such a thing, especially in Pennsylvania, far from my home in Alabama. I’d dreamed of this for three years, submitting several proposals in hopes of garnering a spot. And now, I was to be the presenter of two workshops at the IWWG conference at Muhlenberg College in Allentown!
Once I arrived, I felt that familiar sense of place, a college campus buzzing with activity. I walked around the Commons relishing memories of the campus in my hometown where I’d taught for many years. The first workshop went even better than I could have imagined. I shared a part of my life with those in attendance, and every day thereafter, we shared, we talked, we cried, we laughed, and we healed.
On my fourth night there, I was laughing with my roommates, all of us gathered in my room, when my phone rang.
“Mama,” the voice on the other end sobbed, “she’s dead, Mama. Rachael died.”
I thought I must be dreaming again. No, this couldn’t be true. Rachael, my son Matthew’s fiancée, was only thirty-six years old.
“Mama,” he struggled again amidst his sobs. “She’s dead. Rachael died tonight. Do you think she will go to Heaven?”
My heart broken and shock setting in, I remember very little about the rest of that night. But what I do remember is this: I dreamed that Rachael and I were standing on an immense, glimmering white sidewalk. I tried to pull her forward, but she resisted. I reached for her again, and she relaxed. We walked together up that shining white sidewalk. At the end of the sidewalk, a shimmering—almost blinding—white light glowed, and in the background, I thought I could see two immense white wings. Rachael looked over at me and I nodded. She stepped forward, off the sidewalk, and into the light.
I left the conference early to be with my family. And with that dream in my mind, now I could answer Matthew’s question.
“Yes, honey, she did go to Heaven, and the angels were waiting for her.”
In loving memory of Rachael Headrick, a young woman tortured by demons: a mother, a daughter, and a loving partner now safely home in the loving arms of angels.
Joy Ross Davis is of Irish descent and a student of the lore and magic found in the hills of Tennessee. After a twenty-five year career as a college English professor, she traveled to Ireland and worked as a writer and photographer, publishing numerous travel articles and photos for an Irish travel agency. She has been a contributing feature writer for a local newspaper and has published articles in Southern literary magazines. She lives in Alabama with her son and beloved dogs. She loves to speak at conferences, book club meetings, and events to share her connection with angels and the stories behind her books. To learn more click here.
May 31, 2016
ALWAYS A SOLDIER
By Joy Ross Davis
When I married in 1985, my husband was still fighting the war in Vietnam, although it had been over for years. In his mind, though, the war raged on, year after bloody year. As a civilian, he was an attorney, but as a young enlisted man of 19, he was a member of the elite Green Berets.
He’d left an unhappy home and enlisted when he was 18. He took to the military life and within a short time, he gained the respect of many of his fellow enlisted men. He became an expert target shooter, won several awards, and because of his skills with a weapon, was eventually called into the Green Berets. It was his crowning glory.
And this is where his story stops. Dead still.
His memories would become clouded, he said. Dates, times, and places lost all of their continuity, but not all of their power over him. He was enlisted in the Green Berets to be a “cleaner.” It was his job to advance into areas to make sure that they were clean….devoid of any living soul. It was his job, he said, to clean up. He couldn’t remember anything else.
There were nights when he screamed in his sleep, nights when he woke enraged, terrified, fighting back an enemy. Even though he loved me, at night in his dreams, I became that enemy he tried to choke, beat, and strangle…the enemy that must be crushed. When he was in that killer mind, there was nothing I could do. It didn’t happen every night, not even once a week, but when it did happen, I’d be caught unawares, terrified and defenseless. And he would be exactly the same….caught unaware, memories flooding his mind of terrified screams and pleas for life.
He was a big man, my Jack, tall and broad shouldered with powerfully muscular arms. They were arms that could hold and comfort and arms that could break a neck or crush a windpipe. He was a good man with a generous heart, but at night in those horrible dreams, he became the hunted, the soldier defending his life, striking out at anyone in his path.
By day, he was a successful lawyer winning every case that came his way. But by night—no matter how much medicine he took–he became again a member of the Green Berets, that young man whose job it was to “clean” every area.
Our marriage was not a successful one, but by some miracle, our love for each other stayed strong. When he passed away in 1993, I was at his bedside, listening with tears in my eyes as he breathed his last words, “Joy. Joy.”
The author is a student of the lore and magic of the back hills of Tennessee. She writes imaginative fiction featuring unusual angels as main characters. She has lived and worked in Alabama for most of her life. She has a Ph.D. in Creative Writing, and for many years, taught English at a local community college. She retired to become a caregiver for her mother who suffered from dementia. For several months in 2007, she lived in Ireland and worked as a travel writer and photographer. She lives in Alabama with her son and three rescue dogs.
Updated February 17, 2018
I saw the first jonquils yesterday.
Maybe six to a cluster,
dressing up an otherwise
barren garden in late February.
I was just passing by
on my way to the house
when I looked up from the road
and was taken back by this sudden gold.
turned up to the sun,
a subtle sign that spring had come.
They’re the jonquils!
Some call ‘em daffodils.
The first to sprout forth
after winter’s kill.
From gnarled old bulbs
planted deep in the earth,
come these bright sunny jonquils
to welcome in spring.
But they’re more than just pleasing
and pretty to me.
They’re proof that life,
though harsh as it seems,
still gives us a flower
to rekindle our dreams…
Author’s note: Jonquils make an appearance in my 2nd novel, Johnnie Come Lately, re-releasing in hardcover large print February 21, 2018 from Thorndike Press, the leading large print publisher in the United States. This poem holds special meaning because I wrote it in 1986–three years after losing my youngest brother in a tragic car accident–and months after giving birth to my first son.
September 21, 2015
I couldn’t stop sobbing after I received a cardinal print from Gold Star mother Beth Karlson of Wisconsin.
Beth’s oldest son, Army SGT Warren S. Hansen, was KIA 11/15/2003 during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Beth and I met on Facebook about five years ago. We have never met in person. After reading my second novel, Johnnie Come Lately, Beth started leaving photos of cardinals on my FB timeline. A cardinal plays an important role in the novel. In a flashback scene in the story, Grandpa Grubbs tells a young Johnnie, “That’s not just any bird, young lady. That’s an angel bird, flown straight down from heaven.”
About an hour after receiving Beth’s gift, I called her on the telephone to thank her. That’s when she told me she’s had the print about fifteen years. She said one day after reading Johnnie for the second time, she walked by the print and thought, that belongs to Kathleen. When I asked her if Warren had passed by the print while he was still alive, she said, “All the time.”
To receive a gift from a woman who lost a son in combat…well, you can imagine what this means.
August 28, 2015
Those Who Wait
It’s mid-February, 1945.
I imagine her – sitting in a chair by the window.
The cold sun sinks behind the trees outside but she does not turn on the lights. The dark holds no comfort, but it does hide her icy tears. In the gloaming, pictures of her two oldest sons sit on top of the console radio a few feet away. She leans forward and twists one of the knobs. The tubes glow. Before the announcer can say much, she turns it off again. She covers her face and rocks back and forth in her seat. Life was never easy for her – but it had been fun. Now fun tastes wrong. So does love. So does hate, for that matter. They told her to keep her routine – but that doesn’t seem right either. So she sits in that chair every day – waiting.
The condolence letter from President Roosevelt made my Uncle DG’s death official – but not real. He didn’t die in battle – he was run over by a truck somewhere far away with an unpronounceable name. They buried him where he died. There was a war to win before they could send him back to my grandmother.
Nanny’s grief was still new, when her second son, my eighteen-year-old father, entered the war. All she knew was that he was with the Fifth Marine Division – and the Fifth Marines were engaged in a fierce fight with the Japanese on a little island known as Iwo Jima. Newspapers reported heavy losses – thousands killed – many more thousands wounded. With one child dead and another in harm’s way, all Nanny could do was wait – and fret.
So it is again. Anxious families display blue star flags in their windows. They check computers for emails from children who are half-a-world away in towns with unpronounceable names. They program cell phones with ringtones – and leap to answer that special one or swallow back tears when an unfamiliar tune sounds.
They remember cuddling apple-cheeked babies with gummy smiles – or chasing wobbly bicycles on first-day-without-training-wheels rides. They touch prom night pictures with the tips of their fingers and tell stories about the day their children graduated from high school or college. But, sometimes, fear taints the best memories like snow obliterating tender shoots. Will their precious boys and girls be the same when they return? Will the darkness of war blunt their sparkle? Will they come home at all? Torn between devouring and ignoring the news, they wait and wait – and wait.
Not long ago, a man that I have never met messaged to say that his son had died in Iraq. For him, the wait was over. I stared at the IM, wondering what to say. Whatever the reason, however it happens — to lose a child is to lose a dream. I wanted to reach out to him, but sensed comfort wasn’t appropriate. His agony was a bonfire that needed to burn itself out. He just didn’t want to be alone. I waited – an anonymous node on the internet — thinking about my grandmother, sitting in her chair – waiting for her boys to come home.
Award-winning author Joyce Faulkner is the daughter and niece and wife of veterans. She writes about things that move her about life. She is a past president of Military Writers Society of America and is the cofounder of The Red Engine Press. To read more about Joyce’s work, please visit her website at www.JoyceFaulkner.com
When Bethany Croyle lost her six and a half year old Great Dane, Bear, I sent her a private message on Facebook to let her know I cared. After she wrote me back, I asked if I could share her story with my readers. She agreed. Here’s Bethany’s story in her own words.
Last night was very difficult. Ben says that it takes a few weeks to learn new routines, and stop looking for them each time you come home. Let’s hope today is better than yesterday. I’m of the opinion that there’s one special animal that is significant above all the others in a person’s lifetime. For my sister, it was a Great Dane named Stubby. Bear is mine. I don’t know if I will ever get another dog. Right now I can’t comprehend it. But maybe someday there will be another.
He was and is an incredibly special dog.
I understand that connection that happens when they walk beside you through emotional hardship. He picked me at the least opportune time for me to have a dog- much less a Dane puppy. I’d just ended an abusive marriage and decided to move back to Idaho to be near family. So much easier to be a single parent with family around!
I rolled in to town, after five days on the road, and had been crying ever since the Idaho border. My sister met me in the driveway and pushed me in her car, saying “good! You’re here. Welcome home. Let’s go look at puppies!” Such a bizarre homecoming. I never even got in the house.
Bear picked me that day. I almost missed it. After playing with them all, we were loading the puppies in to the truck bed, and he crawled into my arms with his wise, worried eyes. I put him back with the herd. It was hours later that I thought of him again and said, “I’d name him Barron.” That was it. He picked me.
But I was technically a homeless, unemployed single parent. I felt like I was walking around with a scarlet A on my chest, labeling me as abused. I was a mess, and really had no business getting a dog. But he picked me, and I never had reason to regret it.
The next few years had exciting elements to them. I got the bookstore, found a tiny house to rent. However, they were dark emotional times for me. Bear was beside me every day. He went to work with me, slept with me, and was a constant source of comfort while I cried myself to sleep some nights.
The support from everyone has been wonderful. It’s helped knowing that he was loved by so many, and that I’m not crazy for grieving like I am.
Bethany Croyle always wanted to be a writer when she grew up. Deciding that dream was too far fetched, she chose to be a gemologist, gluten free baker, exceptional barista, and bookstore owner while raising her daughter. She’s now chasing her first love and writing fiction in a town where cows outnumber the people. The only things she misses about city life are sushi and designer shoes. Bethany found love again with an Air Force crew chief named Ben.
I wrote this poem for the wife of a USAF fighter pilot after his plane hit a mountain in Norway in 1987. Over the years, the poem has appeared in numerous military journals and in the book Because I Fly (McGraw-Hill 2002). It’s also depicted in needlepoint and cross-stitch, and I am always honored to learn how it keeps touching lives years after I wrote it. (Click on each photo to enlarge the image.)
The Lady Let Him Fly
did she bind his wings;
take away his boyhood
nor try to force him
down to earth
when it was the air and sky
that beckoned his worth.
did the lady
hold him back,
or trounce his joy
for an air-to-ground-attack;
nor weep like a spoiled child
when he ventured into the blue wild.
In the background she would wait
chasing away twinges
for her fighter pilot’s fate.
With wings straight and unfurled
he and the titanium bird
lifted above the runway’s end
seeking freedom on the wind.
And when he did not return
the lady waited proud and strong
knowing he’d been – “happy all along.”
And when the aged hands of Father Time
called him home
beyond the sky,
the young flyer smiled
because the Lady Let Him Fly.
© Kathleen M. Rodgers, 1987 Alaska
I’ve written about them often over the years. About their hell-raising good times at the Officers Club, living life to the fullest…on the edge of the envelope at a speed faster than the rest of us.
I’ve written about them at other times, too, when they have slowed down to a snail’s pace. When a hush goes over a squadron of men like a black veil because earth and sky have collided and one of their brothers isn’t coming home. A young wife is widowed, a child left fatherless, an older couple wandering around confused, their future of grandchildren and the good life destroyed in a fireball. “Weren’t we supposed to go first?” they ask.
So when my essay “Remembering Forgotten Fliers, Their Survivors” first appeared in the pages of Air Force Times, March 16, 1992, I felt a sense of joy mixed with sadness. Joy because I was happy to have another byline in a national publication that treated me like a professional, but the sadness came from the fact that once again I had written about loss––the loss of fighter pilots dying in peacetime training missions. This subject would be the driving force behind my debut novel, The Final Salute, first published in 2008.
Fast-forward twenty-two years later and the republication of my essay in a prestigious new anthology titled “Red, White, & True,” released from Potomac Books, an imprint of the University of Nebraska Press. Edited by Tracy Crow, a former Marine Corp officer and an award-winning military journalist and author nominated for three Pushcart Prizes, this provocative and powerful collection presents thirty-two true stories about the enduring impact of U.S. military service from WWII to present. The writers include a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, a novelist with a New York Times Notable book award for 2012, and a writer seeing his name in print for the first time.
Today, I take pride in the fact that my story made the final cut as it “passed for review” in front of Tracy Crow and her editors at the University of Nebraska Press. Sometimes my job as a writer is to give a voice to those who are no longer living. In my own small way, I help keep their legacies alive. In Chapter 3 on pages 16 – 20 of “Red, White, & True,” I give a voice to the names of too many good men who flew west before their time.
This collection of powerful true stories would make a great gift.
To order, please visit potomacbooksinc.com or call 800-775-2518
Barnes and Noble online and in some bookstores around the country:
The night before Bubba died, he trotted into my office and sat at my feet. The look on his face said it all: “Take me for a walk, please.”
After he wagged his tail “yes” we were out the door. No sooner had we crossed the street when something told me to get out my phone camera and capture this moment. I sent the photo in a text message to both of our sons. Looking back, I realize I was trying to reassure them that Bubba was okay. He was out for his walk which meant everything was fine, right?
The next morning Bubba collapsed on the living room floor after going out with Tom to get the newspaper. We didn’t hesitate. We loaded him into our Suburban and rushed him to Dr. Wied’s office. On the way there, I sent the boys the following text: “Bubba is in distress. Dad and I are taking him to the vet. We are doing everything we can to help him.”
Bubba died on the table, surrounded by Dr. Wied and his staff. They loved Bubba, too, and they did everything they could to save him. He was nine years old and the heartbeat of our home.
Guest Blogging today: Author Elaine Mansfield
Healing My Heart at Hospice
“I’m interested in volunteering at Hospice,” I explained, my voice catching in my throat as I choked back tears. “I have experience teaching women’s health workshops. I know bereavement support is important, so I’d like to help with support groups.”
The kind woman on the other end of the phone did not exclaim, “Are you crazy? You’re obviously an emotional wreck.” Instead, she asked in an inviting voice, “How long has it been since your husband died?”
“About a month,” I answered, each word quivering with tears. “I guess I’m not quite ready, but maybe I’ll be ready in a few months.”
My husband Vic died from lymphoma in June 2008. I was desperate to pull myself out of my sinkhole of grief, but couldn’t even make it through a phone call without crying. I needed to wait.
Nine months later, I called our local Hospice again and scheduled an interview with the volunteer coordinator. I was ready to garden, wash dishes, or bake cookies.
“We all cry here, and it’s not a problem,” the volunteer coordinator Wendy Yettru assured me as I tearfully told my story. We sat in her quiet office overlooking gardens filled with yellow daffodils and purple hyacinth. A rabbit hopped outside the window. I would like working in this garden, I thought. The plants won’t mind my tears.
“Obviously, I’m not ready to work with patients and families,” I said. “They’d feel like they had to save me.”
“That’s OK,” Wendy said. “There are other things to do.” She was tenderly empathetic and cheerful at the same time. I wanted to learn how to do that.
“Are you good with computers?” she asked.
“I use computers every day,” I said. “I can handle the basics.”
“Would you like to volunteer for me?” she asked. “I could use help with record keeping.” I showed up to learn my new job the following week. As the volunteer coordinator’s volunteer, I got to know Wendy and others on the staff.
“Why would you want to volunteer at Hospicare?” a friend asked. “Haven’t you had enough sadness?”
“I need to be with people who accept death as a natural part of life,” I told him. “I need to accept grief as a normal reaction to loss, not something to hide. I want to learn from death and help others deal with it.”
Four years later, I still spend about ten hours a month helping Wendy with data entry. My chocolate Lab Willow comes with me, whining with excitement when we pull into the parking lot. She knows she’s about to get belly rubs and “good dog” praise from the staff. I wiggle with happiness, too, anticipating welcoming smiles from people who reach out with kindness to anyone who walks through the door.
Along with office work, I’ve added more jobs over the years. I write articles for the newsletters and website, volunteer in bereavement, and facilitate bereavement support groups for women who have lost partners or spouses. However I volunteer, I am invited to be just who I am and feel just the way I feel.
Come as you are to Hospice. No disguise, no pretense, no mask necessary.
Where have you found support for grieving? Did it come from surprising places? I hope you enjoy these other articles I’ve written about volunteering at Hospice: Gifts of the Heart and After the Last Bereavement Gathering.
Elaine Mansfield’s writing reflects her 40 years as a student of philosophy, psychology, mythology, and meditation and her life on 71 acres of woods, fields, and sunset views in the Finger Lakes of New York. She was a nutritionist, exercise trainer, and women’s health counselor for 25 years, taught classes, and wrote extensively about these subjects.
Since her husband’s death in 2008, Elaine’s blog has focused on end-of-life and bereavement issues, marriage, and the challenges and joys of her emerging life. She is searching for a publisher for her book After Loss Comes Life: Memoir of a Marriage (working title) about her husband’s illness and death and her spiritual journey through grief to create a new life. In her endorsement, the poet Naomi Shihab Nye calls Elaine’s book “magnificent and profound.”
Elaine facilitates hospice support groups for women who have lost partners or spouses and writes for the Hospicare and Palliative Care of Tompkins County newsletter and website. Her website/blog was named one of “18 Great Caregiver Stories on the Web that will inspire you” by caring.com in March 2013.