Story by guest blogger Amanda Gilliam.
On August 13, 2014 my husband became a statistic. He was one of the 22 a day who lost his fight with the invisible wounds of war. Rapidly shuffled out of the home we shared on base, I looked back to see eerie caution tape surrounding this once vibrant house. After being rushed to the hospital with his commanding officer and fellow soldiers, we waited and prayed. Unfortunately, it was time to say good-bye.
His family was on their way from Tennessee and were about 2 hours out. My life had stopped but the world blurred around me. I had the outfit I wore (pajamas), no toiletries, no medications, not even my ID card. Army protocol and regulation stated I couldn’t enter my home until the investigation was complete. I didn’t have anywhere to go and just the shirt on my back. On top of loosing my husband, my life, I couldn’t even go home nor did I ever want to face that house.
The Fisher House took me and my family in without hesitation. The moment I entered I felt welcomed and safe. It’s not made like a hotel to be simple and cold. It warming and accommodating.
The director pulled me aside and asked me if there was anything at all I needed. At first, I was hesitant to ask for any help but as I starred down at my pajamas now covered in blood I opened up to her. She was understanding and told me about her son who had passed a few years ago. We showed each other pictures and had a moment of solace. She gave me gift cards to get clothing, a toothbrush, toiletries, and other items I wasn’t able to retrieve from my home. She also gave us a gift card for a local grocery store as they had a kitchen with a stove, cupboards, fridge, and other amenities of home.
A lot of people and organizations donate to the Fisher House. Little items and cards to cheer up the families. I was given a box. It had soaps, a necklace, a journal, bible, and a handwritten card from a young child. I was also given donated hair bows and teddy bears for my niece and nephew.
It may not mean a lot to some but to me and my family in that moment, it meant the world.
My sister was unable to make it to Fort Bragg due to work constraints, but was appreciative to be included. Our mother died 4 years prior and I didn’t have a relationship with my father, so my sister-from my family- was my support. For the Fisher House to extended well wishes and care meant a lot to me and her.
They had a monopoly game, it was Discovery Animals Monopoly. On the coffee table sat a piece, it was a penguin. It signified so much to me. It made my heart jump when I saw this tiny metal piece. When based in Italy, we went on a marriage retreat. We fought the entire time about God knows what. By the last day, we were laughing so hard over the fact that we fought the whole time over something so silly. When we went to the last class of the retreat they asked us what animal we would be as a couple and why. Everyone had a cute silly answer and they came to me. I said penguins because they spend so much time finding their one true mate and then the rest of their lives standing by their side. With out one the other one is pointless. With a unanimous awww, he blushed and then penguins became our thing. I held that piece for hours and reluctantly put it in the box. I told the director and she said keep it. It was meant for you to find it and have it.
Every day the director came in she checked on me. She would extend a big hug and ask if I needed anything at all. It was very comforting as she knew the pain me and my entire family was going through. We would talk about my husband and her son, making each other smile and cry. It helped. She was always there to help or just talk if I needed. To this day I still receive cards, letters, and items from them. When we were staying there other families were there as well receiving treatment at the hospital. We spoke shortly about our stays and they were incredibly thankful for the Fisher House. It was a sanctuary to heal and feel at home. There were things for children to do and everything was located nearby.
Cleveland is my home, where I was born and raised. This is where I returned when I lost my husband. I think of the families who come here, scared, afraid, and missing home. Cleveland can be overwhelming and confusing to many. To have a safe spot to return to after a long day at the hospital would be not only beneficial but welcomed. As I look at all the Fisher House does and the kindness they offer for those who need it, I proclaim the need for one in Cleveland. Louis Stokes VA treatment center has some the most innovative treatments for disease and modern medicine. To be able to heal and recover in a comfortable warm environment would better aid in the mental and morale of our service members.
If we can help those who fight for our freedoms get the best treatments and be comfortable in recovery why wouldn’t we? Don’t they deserve this from us?
As a widow who was fortunate to stay at a Fisher House and rely on the kindness of this organization I stand by the Fisher House. I could’t even begin to imagine how I would have gotten through what I did with out them. I felt at home, they should too. However, I need your help. I can’t do this alone. They are just shy of breaking ground in Cleveland. The Fisher House CLE is an amazing home away from home for our military receiving treatment at our VA. Please consider making a donation.
Only $200,000 to go.
The Greater Cleveland Fisher House’s guest blogger Amanda Gilliam is a Military surviving spouse and a survivor of a loved one’s suicide. She has started 3 non-profits and speaks out for suicide awareness in the military. She fights that every veteran will get the proper mental help they need. She has 2 dogs and lives in Cleveland, Ohio.
We thank her for sharing her story with us and for helping to raise awareness about The Greater Cleveland Fisher House. Her full blog can be found here.