By Harold Wisch
I’ve wanted to go on the Vets Roll trip for a long time. The last two years I’ve qualified for the trip by being on active service in 1963 or earlier. I was accepted and planned on finally going this May.
However I did have a problem; Kitty, my wife of 50 years, was in ill health. She had uncontrolled diabetes, with her blood sugars ranging from a high of 500 to a low of 50. This took a toll on her body. There were hospitalizations and calls to firefighters to help after she would fall. Finally, I was unable to physically care for her without help. She was gradually succumbing to mental problems, with confusion, memory loss, and was diagnosed with dementia. I was committed to the Vets Roll trip, so I arranged for family and outside help to take care of my wife while I was gone. I was going to be gone for 4 days.
A month before I was to go Kitty was hospitalized again. Her blood sugar level had dropped to 21 and organ failure ensued. She went into a coma, and she died 4 days later. But she gave me one last gift. Our minister visited us at the hospital and was singing hymns to Kitty, and he asked if she had a favorite hymn. I told him that “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” was her favorite. While he sang I looked at my wife who was in a coma and she was smiling.
I had known that her death was expected and near, but you are never REALLY prepared. I was upset and depressed. I was afraid that I would die too, or be shut down and not find the support to get through this. My two boys thought I needed help and were supportive of me talking to someone and possibly getting medication to help me through this. With the help of the local VA nurse practitioner, we talked to a VA psychiatrist through skype. Medication was prescribed and it helped me get through the funeral and the day after the funeral. It helped take the edge off my anxiety and depression. I had been unable to sleep and my dog also struggles with the loss of having a loving lap to sleep on. Even now she goes up to my wife’s bedroom, lays on her bed and looks out the window waiting for her to come home.
I was committed to the Vets Roll trip and felt I needed to go. Many volunteers work all year to fund the buses, arrange housing and meals, plan excursions and staff the event. There were over 150 volunteers that helped us veterans, including assisting with 75 wheelchairs. There were 220 veterans, including 2 World War II veterans, as well as 2 “Rosie the Riveters”.
We met at the Eclipse Center in Beloit at 3:30am. The first person I met while waiting for the bus was a man who has lived across the street and down the block from me for the past 15 years. He knew me as “the man walking his dog every morning”. I was re-introduced to a man who remembered me from working together at United Industries, and another who knew my kids from St. John’s School. Small World!
The trip was wonderful and we were treated with respect and appreciation for our service. We stopped at the huge Air Force Museum, and also the Space Museum, where we got to see NASA equipment and a space shuttle. We stopped at the Vietnam Vet’s Wall and also World War II Memorial. The trip was wonderful and the wonderful people we met wherever we went reminded me that there is a lot of caring and love out there.
One more wound I encountered was a memory from the Air Force. I joined the Air Force to see the world. In the four years I was in, I never left the country. I was stationed in Osceola, Wisconsin and Finley, North Dakota. As many of you know, I was estranged from my mother and had little family to speak of. In all the years of service, I never received a letter. For many service men and women “Mail Call” was a daily highlight. I was able to hide this from everyone because I was the clerk that sorted the mail. While on the trip we received a large envelope with a BUNCH of letters from kids. Several schools participated by having their students write letters of appreciation.
While we were on the bus, everyone was able to talk about their trip experiences. I shared with everyone my story of never getting a letter from home. That was my secret, painfully there. After sharing this memory, I sat down and felt so relaxed and at ease. The painful secret was out. I’ve only been able to read a couple of those letters from the kids, but I’ll get to them, they’re from home.
The trip was closure for me and my military years, and an opener to the rest of my life. It felt like the “egg was broken” and I never want to put it together the same way again. I’m no longer hostage to that secret. There may be more revelations to come. I can still feel the caring and love that was shared with me on the trip. I have a plan, and am moving forward one day at a time. I am just beginning to realize some of the issues that Kitty and I went through-even how sick we were and how long we struggled. We were in denial about a lot of things, and I’m still sorting it out. But thanks to the caring from the people of Vets Roll, the love and caring from my sons and grandkids and my many friends, I’ll get through this.
Thank you to the universe for loving me!!