HEALING THE GRIEVING HEART
Death of a Child on Active Duty in Iraq
Host: Dr. Gloria Horsley
With guest: Delain Johnson
July 20, 2006
G: Hello. I?m Dr. Gloria Horsley with my co-host Dr. Heidi Horsley. Each week, we welcome you to Healing the Grieving Heart, a show of hope and renewal for those who have suffered the loss of a child or a sibling or a grandchild and as always the message is others have been there before you and made it and so can you. You do not walk alone. If you?re listening to our Thursday live internet show, please join Heidi and me on the show by calling our toll free number, 1-866-472-5792, with questions or comments regarding the losses in your life. These shows are archived on our website, www.healingthegrievingheart.org, and www.thecompassionatefriends.org. They can also be downloaded on Itunes. We are also now happy to say we are on selected radio stations. Heidi, do you want to tell our audience the stations we?re on?
H: Sure. Let?s see. We’re in Chicago.
G: They can get the call numbers off our website.
H: Very good. We?re in Chicago, Boston, Richmond, Virginia, and Monterey, Santa Cruz, California.
G: Great. So visit our website to find out about the stations in your area and remember we have our quote of the week from our guests on the show. Very powerful, wonderful quotes, and also you can go on Library of Life on my website. People have been lighting candles, Heidi, for Scott and putting their children?s names on.
H: Yes, that?s great. I love seeing that.
G: It?s really fun, so please do it, and I know our guest today lit a candle for Scott and has her son?s ? talking about him on the site. So please do that and remember for only $50 for a lifetime, you can also create a Library of Life website for your child. Well, Heid, I thought today we?d start out by having you go with our first email.
H: Okay, great. Our first email is from Karen and I?m not sure where she?s from. She actually attended one of my workshops at the conference over the weekend.
G: This was The Compassionate Friends National Conference in Dearborn, Michigan.
H: Right, and just a reminder to let us know where the emails are from so that our listeners can know where you?re emailing from. So I want to thank Karen in advance and let me read the email. It says:
I just wanted to drop you a note to say thank you for the seminar you gave at Compassionate Friends this past weekend. Your insights on the teen young adult mind and their grieving were very helpful for me. I worry so much about my surviving son and you provided so much peace for me. I know he is suffering and I guess I expect him to be demonstrative with his emotions like his mom. I went on the TCF website and looked up your radio show. I?m going to take some time to listen to them, and I will be a regular listener. I think all that you do is just wonderful. Thank you again. Karen
G: And don?t forget, Karen, that I interviewed Heidi about teens and sibling loss on July 28, 2005, and that?s archived on our website so you can go hear some of that great information that she imparted at The Compassionate Friends National Conference, and also our book will be out in the spring. It?s being published by Rainbow Books and it?s going to be on dealing with teens and siblings so I know I would have dearly loved that information when Scott died twenty-three years ago, and it would have been great to have had that kind of information for the girls in our family.
H: Yeah, and I just want to thank Karen for her email and I?m so glad that I have helped to bring peace to you and that I?ve been able to normalize what teens and young adults are experiencing because they do grieve differently than adults.
G: Can you give our audience one example of how teens grieve differently?
H: There?s a lot of ways that they do it, but one is that oftentimes they don?t grieve in front of their parents because they?re trying to be good kids and they?re trying to take care of their parents and so they?ll grieve alone or with friends which doesn?t mean that they?re not grieving. They are grieving but they?re not oftentimes grieving in front of you. That?s definitely an example and there?s many more, but that?s just one because I know parents worry about that.
G: One of the things we heard during the conference, too, was that parents were concerned that being on the internet wasn?t grieving, and we told them about some of the sites kids are using now to get in touch with other grieving kids.
H: There can be very positive internet connections that people make on the internet and a great place to grieve and a great place to go on and log on. You also have to be concerned about using the internet too much or predators, but the internet can also be a positive thing for kids.
G: Absolutely. So Heid, do you want to go on to our next email.
H: Okay, I just want to say one more thing about the conference. The conference was great. It was over the weekend. We had three keynote speakers there, and we?ve had all three of these speakers on our show or we?re going to and I just wanted to let you know who they were because they were so powerful.
G: Oh, yeah, they were fantastic.
H: One was Chet Szuber and we had him on the show on April 20.
G: And Chet is an amazing story. He?s the man who received his daughter?s heart and it is a very touching story that he tells because he didn?t want to do it and he took her heart and he talks about what a quality of life he?s had since then. It?s a very inspiring story.
H: It is. It?s very uplifting and also very powerful. When he was up on the stage and said, ?and I have Patty?s heart,? and then he put his hand on his heart, you could hear a pin drop. It was so silent. People could not believe this story, and he?s a very optimistic person and has gone on to have a wonderful eleven years with her heart.
G: Could you quickly give them the date of that show again, Heidi?
H: That was archived on April 20, that?s when we interviewed him. And then Marilyn Heavilin was another keynote speaker there, and my mom interviewed her on Feburary 9.
G: And she has lost three children and again, what an inspiring woman.
H: And then we have somebody who will be on our show August 10 and that?s William Ritter and he is a minister and he speaks about the suicide of his son, and he is a powerful speaker.
G: Very powerful. In fact, Heidi, on that show, I have a couple of emails here, one from Kim and one from Deborah, and I wanted to tell Kim and Deborah that they wrote responses to a show we had on July 6 with Bob Burt who talked about the suicide of his daughter, and we want to respond to those emails but we thought a great day to respond to them would be the day that William Ritter is on the show.
H: That?s a show not to be missed because he is very, very powerful. So the conference is wonderful and it gave my mom and I a chance to reconnect with old friends because a lot of people we only see once a year at these conferences and to make some new friends and to get feedback about what you?d like to see on the show in the future, and that was good for us to hear.
G: Well, I?m going to do one more email and we?ll probably read this email and discuss it a little bit and then we?ll go to break. It?s from a man named Thomas, and he says:
It?s nice to come across your website. I have a girlfriend, Denise. She has lost a daughter, Amanda, who was just 17, an only child. She was hit by a drunk driver and died at the scene. This was two years ago, April 3, 2004, in Shreveport, Louisiana. Although the drunk driver was found guilty of the crash and sentenced for five years, he only spent three months in jail. Whatever happened to justice? My question that I need advice about is how to keep helping Denise heal?
Well, what a wonderful friend to have, Thomas, that you?re interested in helping Denise. It?s only been two years. A short time.
H: Right. How to help Denise heal? That?s Thomas?s question. Thank you, Thomas, for the email.
G: And by the way, Thomas is a bereaved sibling himself.
H: Okay. That?s a good thing to know because Thomas then understands and knows that one of the ways we can help each other is not to interrupt somebody?s grief and just to be there listening to their story and not trying to fix the problem because we all know you can?t fix something. When someone?s died, you can?t really fix the problem because what we want is that person back in our lives.
G: Absolutely. You want them to walk in the room.
H: Right. Denise wants her child back, and Thomas can?t do that, so being there listening and acknowledging the loss is very powerful and not interrupting the grief process.
G: And Thomas also says that Denise had a therapist that didn?t work out because she found out that the therapist actually had had drunk driving charges in the past and so she?s looking for a new therapist and Thomas asks how she might find one in Louisiana. She wants a female who has lost a child. Heidi, got any suggestions for her?
H: I think you and I were brainstorming earlier and I think going to your local Compassionate Friends chapter and even getting involved as a support system, but also asking them for referrals.
G: Actually, go to The Compassionate Friends website. Get in touch with them. You can even call them and talk to them and ask them who their representatives are in her area and get in touch with them and find out about the groups and find out what therapists they are going to. She may not need a therapist.
H: Also, with therapy, you?ve got to shop around. I know that sounds really strange but if you go to a therapist and you don?t have a connection and you don?t feel comfortable, then you need to look for another therapist, and look around until you feel connected and you feel like that therapist gets what you?re going through and they?re not going to interrupt your grief, and they?re going to help you through this journey.
G: When I said she might not need a therapist, what I was saying, if there was a really strong Compassionate Friends group in her area, after only two years, and I know she doesn?t have any other children, I believe that?s the case, you?ll find people in that area who are in the same situation and also we?ve interviewed people on the show like Rick Yotti. He is the President of Compassionate Friends. There is a group online. There probably is a chat room. Go to Compassionate Friends and check this out and find some resources.
H: Therapy is wonderful. I am a therapist and it has its place but, like you said, Mom, it?s not for everybody, and if you have a strong support system, that might be what you need.
G: And you have to look at her past history, too. If Denise has had some emotional issues early on before her child died, she probably needs to find a therapist that she can connect with.
H: I don?t know if you said this, but Thomas can also go to The Compassionate Friends meetings because he?s a bereaved sibling. So they can go together.
G: Absolutely, and as one of my dear friends says, do it yourself and teach the world, Thomas.
H: I love that, do it yourself and teach the world. That?s powerful. That?s good.
G: So we?re coming up on break now and I?m your host, Dr. Gloria Horsley, and Heidi, when we get back from break, we?re going to introduce our guest. Please stay tuned to hear more from Healing the Grieving Heart, and please join our show today if you are listening on the internet on Thursday. Our toll free number is 1-866-472-5792. And if you?d like to email us about this show or upcoming shows, you can reach Heidi and me through our website, www.healingthegrievingheart.org. Stay tuned for more.
H: Welcome back to Healing the Grieving Heart. I?m your co-host, Dr. Heidi, with my mom and host, Dr. Gloria. Our topic today is Death of a Child on Active Duty in Iraq and our guest is Delain Johnson, whose son, Captain Christopher Soelzer died on December 24, 2003, at the age of 26 while serving our country during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Christopher was murdered by the enemy?s weapon of choice, an improvised explosive device. He is a hero to his soldiers and the nation; however, to his family, he is the most beloved son, brother, uncle, and friend. His smile and infectious laughter lights up a room and the hearts of those around him. Welcome to the show, Delain.
D: Good morning.
G: Good morning. It?s so great to have you on the show today. We really appreciate it. Where are you?
D: I?m in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
G: Wow. Heidi?s in New York, and I?m in California, and our internet people are all over the world and we have our land-based radio now people. So could you tell us about your son, Christopher? What kind of a kid was he and what happened?
D: Christopher was a very ? I would consider him an old soul. He was always very concerned about his family, and he was probably the greatest son, brother, friend. He was very loyal.
G: Sounds like a wonderful kid. Was he married?
D: No, he wasn?t married. He chose to go over to Iraq. When he was 17, he joined the National Guard and then was given a full ride scholarship to a military academy in Missouri and that?s when he found his calling and he was an amazing man, amazing officer. He graduated from the School of Mines and Technology here in South Dakota as an engineer and then was transferred down to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and that?s where he took all of his classes and then when September 11th happened, he knew that we would be going to war and he tried very hard to prepare me for that.
G: So he felt that right from September 11th.
D: Yes, yes. And being a Captain, he was privy to a lot of the information about what was going to happen and so he spent a good part of the two years before he went over to serve preparing his family for him to go.
G: So he really knew more than the rest of the people.
D: He did, and my middle son, Joshua, also went over to Iraq at the same time.
H: What? You had two sons there at the same time?
D: Yes, and my youngest son, Timothy, lives near me in Rapid City and that?s another whole show probably on a child that wasn?t in the military and so sometimes he has told me that he was almost like the forgotten son because the military just took over with everything.
G: So tell us about Christopher and when he was deployed and how he died.
D: Christopher was deployed in April of 2003. He was part of the TOC office over just north of Baghdad and the TOC office is the technical operation center and in the war arena, he was in a lot of the planning. He was not allowed to come home on his tour. They kept calling off his leave for home. He was supposed to have two weeks to come home. On the 23rd or 24th, he was on a redeployment mission. In other words, they were planning their redeployment to the states and there was a convoy of three humvees and at that time, the humvees were not reinforced. They did not disguise the humvees with the officers in them and so the Iraqi that flipped the switch for the IED recognized the captain?s humvee because it had the major, a captain, and a sergeant in there because of the radio antennas and that?s when they pulled the switch.
G: So they knew that there were officers in it.
D: Yes. And they knew that if they were able to get the center, the middle humvee, then they would cause the confusion around them and they wouldn?t come after them.
G: And how did you hear about it?
D: Well, it?s interesting because the morning of the 24th, I had quit my job on the 12th of December and I was going to finish my master?s and on the 24th, I was home alone.
G: And that?s a master?s in counseling, right?
D: Yes. And I was home alone and I had a real expectant heart about me. I thought he was going to be coming home, and I was cleaning and it was the first morning that I did not have the television on since 9/11. My husband was on a paramedic run to Rapid City and he was in the ER and he heard that three soldiers, three officers, were killed over in Iraq, and he told me much later that his stomach fell and that he knew it was one of my boys. And then they came to my door at 9:00 o?clock in the morning and I remember opening the door and I just wanted to fall on my knees because I knew it was one of them. I just didn?t know which one.
G: And Josh is on the phone right now, your son, Josh, and I wanted him to come on. Hi, Josh.
J: Hi, how are you?
H: Hi, Josh.
G: Thanks so much for calling in to the show. We?re going to have to go to break in a minute but will you stay on with us after break?
J: Oh, definitely.
D: Hi, honey.
J: Hi, mama.
G: So you were over in Iraq serving in the Army, right?
J: I was. Yes, I was.
G: When Christopher was killed?
J: We deployed together. Yes, we did. We were in different units, but it was at the same time we both got our orders and he got over there actually eleven days before I did.
G: Did you see each other on a regular basis over there?
J: No, we set up about a half a dozen trips. I was in an aviation squadron so I could just fly to where he was. He actually tried to set up convoys all the way across Iraq to see me. It never happened. We talked three or four times a day, a week out there. So we stayed really close out there.
H: So you were in touch with each other in Iraq.
J: We were.
G: So when we come back from break, would you please tell us about your brother and about the loss and how you heard about the death and stay on.
Well, Josh, it?s great that you called in to the show, and Delain, what a great son you have that he?s willing to call in. And you guys are a ways apart. He?s in Colorado and you?re in South Dakota, right?
D: Yes, that?s true.
G: So, Josh, we were talking about your brother?s death and how he was kind of targeted as an officer to have his humvee blown up. Could you tell us about how you found out and you were over there serving in Iraq at the time.
J: Well, it was Christmas day, actually, no, it was Christmas Eve. My bad. I?m thinking about the time back here. It would have been almost Christmas day when I found out, but I was walking to a Christmas party, a company Christmas party, and when I got in there, we were all standing in the room waiting for the first sergeant and commander of my unit to come in and grace us with their presence. Suddenly, the first sergeant comes in to get my platoon sergeant and everyone?s like, oo, he?s in trouble, oh, you know. And then they come in, and I was a specialist at the time, I?m a sergeant now. But they said Specialist Soelzer, come with me. And so I go in there and I see, and forgive me, it?s pretty hard to talk about this.
H: That?s understandable, Josh.
G: It?s just a little over two years, my goodness.
J: Yes, so I walk into a room and there?s my battalion commander, my company commander, my squadron sergeant major, my everybody down to my first line leader was in there, and then the colonel comes up to me and says we regret to inform you your brother was killed today.
H: Wow, that?s awful.
J: And honestly, I wasn?t even thinking about myself. I was thinking about my boys, because he knew two of my boys, and the third one he never met.
G: And you want them to have their uncle.
J: I was thinking about my wife and I was thinking about everything and it was just horrible.
H: So you were thinking about how was your family going to react, which is understandable.
J: I was thinking about my mother. They wouldn?t let me call anybody for probably about eight hours.
H: Oh, my gosh, so you were alone in your grief for eight hours.
H: That?s tough. I can?t imagine being in Iraq and hearing this news and having to be alone for eight hours.
J: They quarantined me from everybody for about four hours until they could get a bird for me, which is a helicopter, for me to fly down to Kuwait and start on the long, long journey home.
G: So they sent you home from there. Did you ever go back?
J: I never went back. They never gave me the option. I came back. Did the services. Was on what?s called reared attachment where the people that don?t go back, injuries, and stuff like that, they were on reared attachment so I was on there and ironically I was having to sing for five or six memorial services after I was back.
G: Because you?re a professional singer.
J: I sing for a living. Yes.
G: So tell me. I don?t want to lose this so it may seem like a strange place to put this in but because we?re trying to help our folks out there that are newly bereaved, would you have any advice for families or for someone that this might happen to? How can they help people like you that have had this trauma over in Iraq? Do you have any suggestions.
J: I think I might. I look at loss as driving tired or being drunk and trying to get into an argument. You always say things you don?t mean and you look back on it and say wow, I was really mean, and I didn?t mean those things. And you have to seek help. It?s funny I?m saying that because I haven?t yet. I?ve tried to help people but one of my soldiers lost his mother and now he came to me saying he doesn?t know how to grieve. So I?m trying to help him. That?s kind of what I do. But you have to get help. You have to talk it out. You have to get a hold of yourself before you can even dream of fixing anybody else with their grief.
H: That?s a good point.
G: Right. Have you written about it in your music?
J: I wrote a song about it. It?s called ?Soldier for Soldier.?
G: Wonderful. I wish we had it. Do you want to sing a few bars?
H: Mom, let?s not do that to him.
J: It?s pretty raw right now. I don?t really.
G: Well, what I want to say about it is I think that what we?re trying to let our audience know some of the things that people do early on and writing is a wonderful thing, isn?t it?
J: It is. It?s a great outlet. If people can get away from it has to be perfect and off ?em. As long as it?s your feelings, you can?t.
H: And like you said, Josh, it?s okay to get help because I think a lot of times men and guys. You?re in the military. You?re used to protecting everyone. You?re used to taking care of people. You?re used to being the one who helps people and to say look, right now, I?m going through a lot and I need to be helped. That?s okay. That?s not a sign of weakness. I think that?s a good message to put out there to people.
G: And the fact that you haven?t gotten any help yet says to people out there, there is a stage where you?re feeling like maybe I need to do a little more. I haven?t done it yet, but I?m thinking about it. Do you know about The Compassionate Friends?
J: I?ve heard of it. My mother actually let me in on that.
G: And also our radio shows you can listen to. Go to the website and look up The Compassionate Friends. Find out if there?s a group in your area because sibling loss is a wonderful thing to go to Compassionate Friends with. We have sibling groups and Heidi is very involved in that.
H: Well, and I just appreciate so much, Delain and Josh, you two being on. I think you are our first mother son team, right, that have ever come on the show?
J: That?s a privilege.
H: And you know you?re just touching so many people right now that are out there listening to you both and listening to what you?re going through.
G: Absolutely, and the other piece, you are the earliest people that have come on the show I think as far as loss goes. So two years is very early and we appreciate your being on and the thing is that other people can hear that it?s a process and, Delain, you were saying that you are feeling a little better.
D: I am. I think it?s so important that families talk about the child, they call them by name, they include them in things.
G: That?s what you?re wanting ? for people to say Christopher?s name.
G: And tell stories about Christopher.
D: Um hm. And Josh and I just spent last weekend talking about him and just even sharing the boys with him. He?s everywhere and he is in our conversations and he was such a family man that Christopher?s birthday was the tenth of July and he was at Josh?s oldest son?s third birthday, and I remember that party and he wore this engineer Bob the Builder hardhat. And he said, I told you I was an engineer. He just loved family so much, and I think that they?re never far from us and we need to include them in our lives and in our conversations.
G: Well, we?re coming up on break and, Josh, will you make sure you stay on with us?
J: I will. Can I add something before you go to break?
G: Can you add it after? I?ll bring it up right after. They?ll just cut me right off.
J: Definitely. Definitely.
G: I?m your host, Dr. Gloria Horsley, and please stay tuned to hear more and you can join our show by calling our toll free number, 1-866-472-5792. If you?d like to email us about this show or upcoming shows, you can email us through our website, www.healingthegrievingheart.org. Please stay tuned.
Well, Josh, when we went to break your mother had commented on the fact that she felt that it was important to hear stories about Christopher and hear Christopher?s name and you said that you had a comment you wanted to make and I had to cut you off so now?s your chance.
J: Well, I just want to make a comment. One of the key things in getting help and healing, I feel, is getting over the fact that you need to hold on to your grief because that?s all you?ve got left. You don?t have the person. So that?s my biggest problem is I feel if I let go of my grief and my pain, that I?ll forget him and I won?t have anything left.
H: And you know, Josh, my mother and I wrote an article in The Compassionate Friends magazine this month addressing this very concern. It?s called ?Continuing Bonds,? and that sometimes we hold on to the pain too long because we?re afraid we?re going to forget.
G: And there are lots of ways to remember him. Heidi, what?s been 23 years for you as a sibling, do you remember Scott?
H: Yes, and sometimes the memories are even stronger today because the grief doesn?t get in the way any more. I know that sounds crazy but early on, I remember not being able to remember because I was in so much pain and grief and it would overwhelm me, and I now I don?t have that in the way. So the memories and what they meant to us are always going to remain strong.
D: I find it really interesting in rural South Dakota and possibly even other areas of the nation that grief is shunned and in my life since probably around 2000, I?ve been searching and learning more about grief and loss and I think it?s important, Alan Wolfelt says that if you mourn well, you will live well, and I think that it?s just what you were saying, Heidi, is that grief gets in the way of remembering our loved ones and smiling about them. And remembering those wonderful stories and that sadness, that deep intense sadness, stays with you until you can learn to mourn.
G: Right and until we move through the process which there is a time element connected with it, too. Before we close the show, and this is our last break, I wanted to talk about Josh?s family situation right now because your family has given so much to this country. This is just an amazing story. Josh, do you want to talk about what?s going on with your family right now and the grandchildren?
J: Sure. Right now my wife deployed to Iraq in support of OIF 6 or 7. I don?t know what number it is. I?m raising my three boys by myself and I?m a functional soldier active duty so it?s a pretty intense level of sacrifice that I know I?m not alone and that?s a good feeling.
G: That?s incredible. And you must be very concerned about her, of course, with your brother.
J: Every day.
H: And you?ve been over there so you know that it?s dangerous, obviously.
J: Yes, I do, and she?s actually in the area I was stationed at, so the first time she went over there, she was at this one station where I stayed my whole time at and then, of course, she moved, but she walked where I walked, saw what I saw. I directed her. With Operation Security, I can?t actually say the name of anything, but I directed her to where I slept. She saw where I did my daily work and everything. It was a closeness I?ve really never felt to my wife. She walked in my footsteps in Iraq and it?s very unique.
H: It is.
G: Yeah, it?s an incredible story. Before we close the show, I wanted to ask you both, do you have anything that you want to say to the people out there who are newly bereaved?
D: For me, Gloria, it was really important after going through the military funeral, military connection, to connect with moms and dads that had lost a child, not just a soldier, and through this website, through Compassionate Friends, through bereaved parents, and through the TAPS organization, it was available to me and I know that I also have a very dear friend who?s lost two children and a husband within the last 18 years and watching her grieve and do the mourning that was necessary to heal has been probably the most helpful to me and also Josh and I being so connected has been critically important to me because with him being in the military, I didn?t want to lose another one over there.
G: Absolutely, or a daughter-in-law.
D: Exactly, and I think of her daily. I almost find myself holding my breath until she comes home to them.
G: Well, Josh, do you have anything you want to say?
J: I do. I can speak for the spouses and I can speak for the soldiers out there when I say this. The agencies available to the grieving people, they?re numerous, very numerous. They?re there to benefit us so if we let them, if we let them do what they?re trained to do, what people pay them for, if we just let them do it, let ourselves be susceptible to help, it?s amazing what can happen. I had to say this because I?m not well yet.
H: And they really have so many great people working for them, great therapists who understand what you all have gone through.
J: Yes, and it doesn?t necessarily get better. It?s just up to us to find more creative ways to deal with it.
G: Well, Josh and Delain, thanks so much for being on the show. It?s just been wonderful having you on, and we just can?t thank you enough and keep up the healing and good luck to your wife and daughter-in-law, and take care of yourself and be in touch.
D: Thank you.
J: Thank you so much.
G: It?s time to close our show, and please stay tuned again next week when our topic will be Grief and Your Health and our guest will be Coralease Ruff, Registered Nurse and Nursing Professor at Howard University. She is the bereaved mother of 21-year-old Kandy. Don?t miss this show. Dr. Ruff will discuss how grief impacts us both physically and emotionally and will give us strength to maintain health. This show is archived on our website, www.healingthegrievingheart.org, as well as www.thecompassionatefriends.org website. This is Dr. Gloria Horsley and Dr. Heidi Horsley. Please stay tuned again next Thursday at 9:00 Pacific Standard Time, 12:00 Eastern, for more of Healing the Grieving Heart, a show of hope and renewal and support, and remember that others have been there before you and made it, you can, too, and you need not walk alone.