Thoughts from a Gold Star Mom

If you have already endured the death of a child, spouse, parent or sibling while in service to our country, you probably already know what I am about to say.  If you are a warrior who lost one of your battle buddies, a comrade in arms, due to combat or due to the effects or exposure of what happened while on a mission… then you too will understand what I am about to say…. because you have been there.

Like myself and countless others I have talked to, there seems to be one thing that we all have in common. It is a constant continual struggle daily with the anger, the pain, the sadness, the uncertainty, and the survivors guilt questions that haunt us on a daily basis.

You still find yourself begging for a do-over. One that would have led to different circumstances. One that would have had a different outcome that didn’t end in the death of a Fallen Warrior. It is hard not to go there especially on Memorial Day.

Many probably already know what I am speaking about because they, like I, are alive and someone that we love has died.

When people say they cannot imagine what it must be like to lose a child… I tell them they are right and that there will just never be the appropriate words. The only way I can even begin to convey to them the feeling of what we have been though… is to tell them to imagine being in a helicopter that is traveling up high over an ocean. There is no land in sight. Then, suddenly… for no reason that YOU can comprehend….you are shoved out the door without a parachute… and then WHAM you hit the water hard.

As the initial shock begins to wear off… you start to feel the pain and it’s excruciating. You think… this can’t be happening. This can’t be true. But then the reality starts to seep into your subconscious…but you are numb with disbelief. You can hardly move. While trying to come to your senses you notice that the helicopter starts to move out of site…. and that you have been left below in the cold turbulent water with a storm brewing around you.

You don’t know what to do… you feel you should do something… but you can’t think. Your body moves…. but your mind is not working. You look for land… but all you see is water. You know you should swim…. but have no clue as to which way to go.Your body tires from treading water. It is an effort just to keep your head above the waves. It is an effort just to breathe. You have fleeting thoughts about how it might be so much easier to just fill your lungs with water and allow yourself to sink… plummeting down into the depths of the ocean below.   The wind is howling… the sky is black and the waves are enormous.  You fear the storm will never end and you don’t know how you will survive.

Then one day you start to realize that the turbulent storm is beginning to wane. The waves that were once over 40 feet high are subsiding.  You slowly begin to realize that you are swimming… even though you are unsure of your direction.  You begin to start thinking you may be able to survive… if only you can find something to hold on to…. and then you see it. It’s just a plank of wood… but it allows you to grab hold and it gives you hope.

As you drift though the water…. still clinging to the board…. you become aware that you are not alone. There are others in the water with you. Some have been in the water longer than you…. and they have somehow managed to lash their planks together. They have built a boat. And not only have they built a boat but they are rowing.  Throwing you a life line they pull you in.  Although they greet you with open arms…. they wish they did not have to welcome you aboard… because they know the price you have paid for this trip is way too high.

But without hesitation they take you on board their vessel. With their knowledge and experiences though this tough journey they comfort you, they provide a safe haven for you to tell your story, they listen, and they listen…. and they listen…. because they understand, because they get it. They encourage you to speak your loved one’s name, to share your Warrior’s story… to share with them your journey. They give you hope.

Although, unsure of your destination… knowing that your life will never be the same again…you join them and slowly begin to row.

My name is Kelly Kowall and I am the proud gold star mother of Spec. Corey Joseph Kowall.  On September 20th, 2009, my son was killed in Afghanistan on a combat mission. My life as I knew it came to an end.

It was on an evening, many years ago, that two soldiers knocked on my door and then proceeded to pushed me out of that helicopter.  I remember screaming during my fall… and I remember my cries of anguish and pain after hitting the water.

Although the ocean is a treacherous place when there is a storm, when the waters are calm… it can be quite magical and healing.  I guess that is why I envision my journey of grief to that of being adrift in an ocean as I try to survive and navigate my way to a new world.  Although the waters are not always calm…. for the moments when they are… they can provide time for hope and healing.  How do I know?  Because I have been out in that ocean. I have endured many storms… and I will continue to do so as they come…. but mostly I know… because I am a survivor.

Bless each and every one of you during this Memorial Day as we reflect on the Warriors who made the ultimate sacrifice for our continued freedom. A debt that can never be repaid… but one that we have the obligation to remember and honor.

As a Gold Star Mother, my hope will always be that each one of us will always be able to find a safe port or harbor when a storm blows in… as we continue on OUR grief journey. Be kind to yourself on this Memorial Day and may our Warriors NEVER be forgotten!

Kelly Kowall

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Comments (2)

  • My deepest sympathy on the loss of your son.
    My brother and I have lost six children. They ranged in age from 2months, 18 yrs., 34, 49, 50 and 67. I feel they were all too young.

    My faith, family and the Compassionte friends are what has helped me to survive.

    My prayers are with you and your family.

  • Dear Kelly,

    Thank you for sharing your grief and your love for your son, Corey.

    I pray you will be comforted.

    I, too, have lost a child, but my first child, Margaret Mary (Margie), was on the verge of 50 years of age when she passed. And she passed after a long illness and over a month in palliative care. Even so I was shocked when she passed! So, I can only imagine the shock and the grief and the devastation of losing your warrior son in action.

    Margie supported me through my divorce and then though being bullied at work and getting PTSD and being forced out of my job. And then through the years of depression and anxiety. I needed her support on a daily basis. But, amazingly, since her passing I have been fine and new people have come into my life and give me all the love and support she so freely gave me. This makes no sense!

    I pray you will be comforted and supported and find new life beyond this terrible loss.

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