Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Man Named Chief Dey... gone but still watching over us

I am constantly encouraging people to look at things differently... to open up their minds to new possibilities, opportunities and to really pay attention to every single moment because everything around you happens on purpose;  never on accident. I suppose for some people this is too far out of their comfort zone, a bit eccentric, and perhaps even a bit weird; nevertheless I will continue to regurgitate positive thoughts via my blog, my Facebook page, the books that I write and my day to day life with the people I meet. It will never hurt to be remembered as that person... and who knows, I may actually make an impact on someone along the way. I have always stated that I am not normal.

With all of this in mind, I have a cool story to share... I will preface by saying it's kind of a long one, so hang with me. It's well worth the read, I PROMISE! It's a feel good, emotional story of sorts that will demonstrate how I look at things that happen to me, and how by doing this I  have learned to notice and appreciate everything that happens, good, bad, odd and indifferent.

Okay... so rewinding to 2006, I moved  from Tampa to Spring Hill in hopes of putting my oldest daughter Cierra into a new environment for high school. Tampa is great for many things; it's fun, has lots of cool restaurants, great nightlife... there is a lot to do; that is what scared me for my rising teen. She had not yet found her "place" in the scheme of things, and although she was not in trouble yet, I could foresee her ending up with the wrong kind of friends in high school if a change was not made. She was cute and smart... not really a "group" for that so she began to hang out with the "cool" kids who were down to earth... aka the partiers. (I did the same thing.)

Cierra was born a leader, she always made excellent grades effortlessly, a very smart girl with a bright future if steered in the right direction. I recognized her inner ability to lead early on but had to help her realize this quality within herself.  She lacked self-confidence and did not have the belief in herself. My goal was to work on that.

My ex and I found an NJROTC program at a local high school in Spring Hill, it was the largest in the state with over 300 cadets and it was decided that THIS may be exactly what she needed to cultivate her inner strengths. I wanted her to realize her ability to lead,  to be able to apply her intelligence in a positive way and be part of a team for the important sense of camaraderie and family. Central High School NJROTC it was, and man... was she kicking and screaming with the whole idea. I will never forget the day when she came home from school within the first week crying like her life was over, mad as hell that we were punishing her by making her be part of this program. As a mom, it's hard to see your child cry... especially when you are made to feel like you are the cause of it all. We often want to be their "friend" and yes, that is great... but you HAVE to be their parent and help them realize what is best for them so despite her crying I told her she had to give it a chance and stuck to the decision.

Remember that leadership trait I mentioned? Yeah... well she attempted using it in her favor the very next day when she went to her guidance counselor to remove herself from the NJROTC, stating that it was a mistake on her schedule. They called me to inform me, and I informed them that it was NOT a mistake. The next day I marched into the ROTC building to talk with her instructors. It is then that I was introduced to Master Chief, Bruce Kennedy; now a dear friend and one amazing man. I sat down and told him Cierra's story and that was this... Cierra was born when I was 18, a year and a half after my high school graduation, we had kind of grown up together. Me making all of the mistakes and her being there to experience them all with me. Her Dad and I married when she was two and separated when she was three, and his involvement after that was sparse due to a drug addiction. I moved away from my family (and hers)  in 1999 in hopes of creating a better life for us. I was a single career mom making the bacon, cooking the bacon and cleaning up the bacon which left Cierra a bit of a latchkey kid for the most part, having to fend for herself way more than I wanted her to.  I tried to change with hopes to meet someone and become a "family". I did meet someone who I thought would be the "family guy" but unfortunately the relationship between my daughter and him became quite strained once we started living together. It left her without that male role model, as well as the attention and affection a girl really needs from her daddy.

I shared with Master Chief that I was determined and dedicated to help bring out qualities  I knew she had and had hopes of her achieving everything I knew she could and thought that this program would do that for her. Master Chief brought me in to meet Chief Wendell Dey. He was the freshman instructor and the story was then shared with him. From that moment on, these two men took Cierra under their wing and never let go. It forever changed her life. And my hopes of bringing out the leader in her with this program was a miraculous success. Here is a newspaper article written about her her senior year: http://www.tampabay.com/news/education/k12/jrotc-turned-central-high-school-graduate-into-a-leader/1101267 (be sure to come right back to read the rest)

During her senior year, Cierra lost one of the most important men in her life... just 4 days before her 18th birthday, Chief Dey passed away after a year in ICU from complications of a medical condition. That day many cadets lost one of the most influential people in their lives, my daughter lost a "Dad" because that is what he was to her.

The day of his service, over 800 people attended. People were pooling outside the building like ants because the building only held 150 people. Beside his coffin, in full uniform at attention stood my daughter... his daughter in a sense because that is exactly how he treated her. I was very proud of her, and my heart hurt for her... but I knew that she still had Master Chief; her other "Dad". 

Fast forward to 2009, one of the hardest years of my life... Cierra was going to be graduating in May of 2010 I was in a miserable, unhealthy marriage, and pregnant with my daughter Abrielle who I found out was going to have Down syndrome. I decided when I was 7 months pregnant to end my unhealthy marriage and become a single mom of four. It was a tough one, but I knew I made the right choice. Cierra decided that she was going to stay home to go to college so she could help me, but I insisted that she go away to college so she could spread her wings and live life! I knew my second set of hands would be gone but I wanted her to be as amazing as I knew she could be, that was my responsibility as her mom; I was NOT  her responsibility, but she worried about me because that's just how she was.

 I managed to get myself into positive mode and begin an upswing in July of 2010 by starting my memoir. I ended up in a relationship with a phenomenal guy by that September and my life really began to turn around. A year and half later; Corey and I are still blissfully happy and just bought a home. This week, we have been prepping the new house before the big move this weekend and last night, when I was coming home from the new house I was stopped at the front entrance of the development waiting for oncoming cars to pass. It was the first time I left the house in the dark, and as I stared ahead into the driveway in front of me, chills ran up my spine and every hair was at attention as I realized that my headlights were shining into Chief Dey's driveway. 

As I sat there in this amazing moment, I remembered something he said to me in one of our many conversations... "I know one thing, it's going to be hard for Cierra to leave you for college, that girl LOVES her Mamma and wants to be sure that you are okay and taken care of." That resonated in my head as my head lights shone on the flagpole in his driveway. A tear rolled down my face because for that moment I felt Chief Dey has been "taking care" of me all along for the sake of one of his favorite cadets. It was a pretty awesome moment and one that I will never forget. I called my daughter on the way home and shared this story with her... and she too, thought that it was definitely more than coincidence. 

Every day that I leave my new home and get to that front entrance, I know I will smile as I think of one of the most amazing men that entered my daughter's life. Here's to you Chief Dey...  thanks for watching over me! 

Chief Wendell Dey

My daughter Cierra the other over-achiever! 
Just look at those medals!(far right)

Her other "Dad" Master Chief Kennedy

 The day of Chief's funeral was also the date I had planned Cierra's surprise 18th birthday party, after asking the cadets; who were the majority of the attendees if I should reschedule it they all said 
"No... Chief would not want that and it will be good to end the day happy." 
In this photo a handful of the cadets circled hand in hand and dedicated a song 
which we had the DJ play to Chief. 
 Chief was a push-up-aholic so they dropped and gave him 50! 

An amazing leader... a wonderful man
He is watching over his cadets; and in our case I suppose me too!