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Finding Life's new Direction After Loss

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Erica Crossen
  • 375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
Sometimes it takes a difficult situation in your life to not only be reminded of the things you are truly grateful for, but also to serve as a catalyst for change.

That moment for me came during the beginning of 2012 when my mother died suddenly at just 43 years old. We had just finished observing Christmas, and she, like always, was the absolute fixture in our celebrations.

I can still hear the sound of my mom's laughter, smell the delicious food we prepared and see the tree twinkling as it sheltered cheerful little packages beneath it.   She would initiate "Star Wars" and "Godfather" movie marathons as part of our yearly traditions, and I never expected that anything could shatter my excitement for this time of the year.

However, the New Year began in a tragic way.  Mom had collapsed, hitting her head, hard.  She was admitted into the Intensive Care Unit, slipping into unresponsiveness due to a brain hemorrhage.  My husband drove us eight hours to the hospital where I found her on life support with the haunting beeping and alarms going off in her room. It was the worst thing to have to hold her hand and acknowledge that she was truly gone, never to smile proudly at future graduations or hold my children as a grandmother.

After I lost my mom, I never thought the holidays could regain their happy luster. It was a hard reality to accept that I couldn't just pick up the phone and talk to her. I was so angry with her and confused as to why she let her health decline, leaving me and my sister without a mom.

As you can imagine, as the next holiday season approached I looked at it as something to "get through." She had represented the togetherness of friends and family, and now she was gone. I had to make sense of it, and I continued to do a lot of soul searching.

During this process I decided that while I could hold on to her legacy of a great sense of humor and honor the way she loved me, there was something I needed to let go of--unhealthy lifestyle habits.  That's when I decided that I needed to take care of my body better and eventually I lost 50 pounds.

After achieving success with that goal, I then decided to join the Air Force.  I'd been an Air Force spouse for four years, but my mom's death made me realize that I shouldn't wait to do the things I felt I needed to do.  With a new outlook on life, I felt I could power through anything.  I wanted to make every moment count and not regret at least trying.  I wanted the next holiday season at home to be a time of looking back on what I had accomplished that year.

It was the Christmas I spent in basic training down at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, that I realized I had become part of another family with new traditions which helped fill the emptiness from my mother's passing.  On Christmas Eve we marched to the Chapel for services and as I looked around me, I knew the other trainees were experiencing difficulties, too.  Some were missing their children, some were still trying to adjust to this new life, and some were just missing friends and family back home. 

As we marched under a crisp star-lit Texas sky, our "Lackland Laser" flashlights swung in unison. It made the ground sway with light, competing with the sky, and it seemed almost magical.  For someone half-way through training and with just two days to go before her 25th birthday, it just made me smile.  On Christmas, the drill instructors were surprisingly nice to us, and we had an elaborate, relaxed meal that day. 

Two days later, my flight sang "Happy Birthday," which helped to lift my spirits as did the daily letters unfailingly sent by my husband. He knew what I was going through, but better yet he knew something that I was just realizing:  hope and gratitude can buoy us through any difficulties. Moreover, the Air Force family that I always knew was there, but never quite relied on until that point, came through for me when I needed it most.

Now as I approach each holiday season, I pause to remind myself that there is always something to be thankful for and to challenge myself to keep setting--and achieving--new goals for myself.   Sometimes it's those difficult circumstances that help us change and grow the most. I still miss my mom, yet the memories and traditions I will always carry with me.  However, she also gave me an opportunity change the course of my life--something that I'm very thankful for this year.