Addiction,  Depression,  Discouragement,  Faith,  Family,  Grief and Loss,  Health,  Heart,  Hope,  Mental Illness,  Mind,  Non-Fiction Story,  Prodigal Children,  Soul,  Strength,  Suicide,  Tragedy

Mom and the Prodigal Veteran

By Diane Underhill on @deenamadams

This week’s story of hope is from Diane Underhill, a friend of mine at church. Diane’s story, while a sad and painful journey, shows the faithfulness and power of God through the answered prayers of a mom who never gives up on her son. May you be encouraged to keep the faith and cling to hope as you face your own seemingly insurmountable battles.

CLICK TO TWEET: Mom and the Prodigal Veteran: A Story of Hope by Diane Underhill on @deenamadams

As a mom, I always sought to lead our four children in a Christian direction.

This was always a challenge, especially with the two boys. One Easter, for example, they baptized their bunnies in the commode. Fortunately, these bunnies were the stuffed kind. 

I could tell many stories about each of my children, but the particular story I want to share with you is about my oldest son, Matthew.

Matt was always athletic as a child and excelled in wrestling, participated on the neighborhood swim team, took dance lessons, and became an excellent marksman through regular hunting outings with his father. He and his siblings also learned to ski and snowboard.

At nineteen, he enlisted in the Marines, believing he could excel at defending his country. He successfully finished boot camp and soon deployed.  

Many of the talents he had developed from childhood served him well during his continued training.

His time in dancing lessons developed his ability to lead and gave him confidence to speak eloquently before a group.

Swimming was essential in several areas where he trained, and he became the leader of the recon cross-country ski unit while deployed in Japan. These attributes also helped him achieve rank quickly. 

After completing his four years, he left the service, but eventually decided he liked the military life and enlisted again, this time in the Army.

During the 2007 Christmas season, while moms cooked, cleaned and decorated, families gathered around their tables, and children eagerly anticipated the opening of gifts, our family awaited a call from Matt who was deployed overseas.

Unfortunately, rather than a phone call from Matt during our Christmas festivities, we received a call from the Bagdad hospital.

From thousands of miles away, an Army liaison officer explained that Sergeant Wray had been wounded while leading a reconnaissance mission in Iraq resulting in a broken leg. 

The Army would transport him to safety in Germany, and they promised more information about when Matt would return to the US.

Relief flooded me. My son would be home soon to recuperate with family nearby.  

But more calls came. 

The medic caring for my son explained that, after further examination, his injuries were more serious than they’d first believed. They had to remove a kidney. 

I received a call from another officer who recommended that Matt’s father and I travel to Germany as soon as possible.

We learned they made this suggestion to parents whose sons were not expected to survive.

I was frantic. 

Another call came before days-end changing the information. They would fly Matt to Walter Reed Medical Center as soon as possible. He arrived there several days later, where he was admitted to the intensive care unit. Doctors worked diligently to keep him alive.

We traveled to DC, and Matt remained in intensive care for three weeks. He regained consciousness frequently but was in great pain. We learned that his leg wasn’t just broken; it was shattered from shrapnel, and doctors were unsure they could save it.

Much of the muscle and skin were gone, and the knee damaged. Shrapnel also damaged his abdomen and lower extremities. Infection had set in internally and was spreading. 

They arranged eight surgeries.

We stayed as much as possible to make sure they took care of him adequately because the hospital was understaffed and overwhelmed with injured soldiers. The atmosphere of the huge military hospital was depressing! The injuries of the soldiers were shockingly pervasive. 

Matt had his gall bladder removed, along with a portion of his intestines. Doctors worked to mend damaged skin and nerves in Matt’s legs and feet and address testicle damage.

Another serious problem was possible brain damage from the explosion, which had burst both ear drums.

Matt hid the fact that his depression was escalating. 

In February, over a year after his admittance, Walter Reed Medical Center released Matt to return home. The Army retired him and declared him 100% disabled, largely because of PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and the physical restrictions that remained.

The doctors had hoped to get his left leg working so he could walk, but he returned home in a wheelchair. He had a long metal shaft in the left leg and was on strong pain medications. He could stand and walk some, and we all hoped that with additional physical therapy, he would progress.

The family welcomed him home, happy he was alive.

We worked together to help him recover, but we didn’t understand the depression and overwhelming pain he endured. His lack of purpose during this time made him feel worthless, lonely, and emasculated. 

Matt’s tragic fate while in the Army is what renewed and strengthened my faith. It also marked the beginning of leading his brother and sisters toward a relationship with Christ. 

The next stage in Matt’s life was a downward whirlwind of excess decadent behavior to hide his sadness.

At first, he wanted to become a firefighter, and he signed up for courses and completed some. But he began associating with young men who wanted to drink.

They perceived Matt as a person to help fund partying and helped him bar hop and get involved in drugs.  

His dreams collapsed as his lifestyle impacted his ability to recover his health and mobility. Eventually, he decided to have his leg amputated rather than continue with the pain and excessive medication. 

Be sure to read next week’s post for the dramatic conclusion of Diane’s story of hope!

About the author: Diane Underhill went to ODU where she majored in English-Education and taught high school English at Indian River High School and Great Bridge High School in Chesapeake, Virginia. She was inducted into Alpha Delta Kappa, a sorority for women teachers of excellence, served as secretary and received a Silver Sister Twenty-five-Year Award.

After teaching for thirty-two years for Chesapeake Public Schools, she wrote curriculum for the school system for two years, taught at Tidewater Community College for three years, and became a Supervisor for ODU where she trained teachers for six years.

She still has a love for teaching and tutors students who need additional help, especially in writing. She also teaches dance and writes articles for the web page and newsletter of Virginia Beach Shag Club where she has served as Nominating Chairperson, Secretary, Vice President’s alternate, and President’s alternate. For serving the dance community, she will be inducted into the Virginia Shaggers Hall of Fame 2020. She also loves teaching Sunday school to three, four, and five-year-olds. 

Join the conversation. Have you ever faced a situation where it seemed all hope was lost? How did you keep your faith? What Bible verse did you cling to that brought comfort and peace?

As a Jesus girl for more than thirty years, Deena Adams understands how important hope is to daily life, which fuels her passion to inspire others through hope-filled fiction based on true to life stories. She is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency and is a multi-award-winning writer, an active ACFW member, and ACFW Virginia president. Connect with Deena through her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.