The stars connected a father to his family — until he came home from war
MONTROSE, Colo. — “The stars.”
Tim Kenney doesn’t miss a beat when asked if there was anything good he saw in Afghanistan. The stars made him feel close to God — and close to his family.
“Sitting in the mountains of Afghanistan I would look at the stars and it was like God was saying ‘I am here. I am watching over you even though you are going through hell. And I am watching over your family. Look at this beautiful creation I’ve made.’”
He and his wife, Trish, shared the firmament as a connection while he was deployed with an Army National Guard combat unit as an armored-truck gunner for 10 months.
Trish would be looking into the heavens from their ranch south of Montrose, Co. and would marvel that she and her husband on the other side of the world were viewing the same thing.
“That’s crazy,” she remembers thinking. “Tim and I are looking at the same moon, the same stars.”
That kind of emotional connection would be broken when Tim came home at the end of April, 2011. He was physically disabled by hits from roadside explosive devices and mentally in shock from what he had seen and done.
Tim underwent three surgeries before he was allowed to leave Fort Carson and recuperate at home with his wife and four children under a program called Community-based Warrior Transition Unit.
His family was ecstatic to have him home — at first. Then they learned the husband and father who had gone to war was not the same man who came back to them.
Tim was bedridden for a month while Trish struggled to teach part-time, tend to him, and run a busy household caring for the children, now aged 4, 15, 18 and 20. Tim was using too many painkillers. He was anxious and depressed. He was withdrawn. The lifelong “tough guy” who had been a rafting and hunting guide and contract predator hunter, was worried about how he was going to provide for his family.
The man who had once been able to look at the stars and feel close to his family, could now look in their eyes and see how far apart they had grown.
“I felt bad that I had lost that connection with my family. I was trying to get it back, but I was messed up,” Tim recalled.
“I was so miserable,” Trish said. “I thought things would be better when he got home. I had missed my husband so much. But I just got another person to take care of.”
On July 5, two months after the long awaited reunion with her husband, Trish wrote in her journal, “This is the worst day of my life ever.”
Trish, a take-charge type and a graduate of the Air Force Academy, had been married to Tim for 20 years before he enlisted as the oldest man in his platoon at 41. She was supportive of his decision to serve his country. She had no idea she would get so worn down by the solo duties of raising kids who spanned the diaper-stage to the learning-to-drive phase. That was topped with constant worry about her husband.
“I was horrified at myself that I had all those angry emotions,” she said.
In late July, Trish and Tim started seeing a marriage counselor. They began opening up to each other about their feelings — actually listening to each other again. Tim participated in programs for soldiers suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He opened a guide shop in downtown Montrose. He began to help with an effort in Montrose to make the town a welcoming place for returning soldiers from all over the country.
Gradually, the painful arguments that rocked the entire family began to fade. Life in the Kenney household drifted back into the normal chaos and usual squabbles.Tim and Trish became a couple again rather than sparring partners.
Birthdays were celebrated. Grace was said over shared meals. Tim could work the irrigation system without falling. He could help teach his youngest daughter how to drive. Oil changes and parent/teacher meetings were no longer solely Trish’s responsibility.
Tim had promised Trish, while he was in Afghanistan, that he would take her on a trip somewhere — just the two of them. This month, they finally did that with a week in Puerto Rico.
Then it was back to the shared annoyances and joys that family life entails.
On a recent Friday, that meant frantically rushing around to get the family to a relative’s wedding in a nearby town. There was lasagne to make, dress clothes for six to choose and pack, chores to rush through on the ranch and a chattering adopted 4-year-old to entertain throughout the flurry of preparations.
For Tim, the whole disordered endeavor was precious.
“I remind myself, ‘wow, this is so cool that you get to do this. A couple years ago you couldn’t’.”
It also brought Tim back to a point he often likes to stress when talking about his war duty.
“War is hardest on the family left behind. They don’t get pats on the back like the soldiers do.” Tim said. “They should. They really should.”
Nancy Lofholm: 970-256-1957 or firstname.lastname@example.org