The stars connected a father to his family — until he came home from war

"It's almost impossible to not grow apart, a year is a long time; that was probably the biggest challenge," says Trish Kenney. When Tim came home from Afghanistan in early 2011 he underwent multiple shoulder and back surgeries and Trish to care for him during his 6-8 week recovery. "It just felt like a bad dream because, I thought, he's coming home now, things get easier for me. And it really seemed like it got harder," says Trish. Mahala Gaylord, The Denver Post

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.

After a couple hours working on clearing scrub down by the river, Tim's shoulder and back are in considerable pain. He takes pain medication every day but hopes to have another surgery soon to help eliminate the pain. Mahala Gaylord, The Denver Post

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 He was withdrawn.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.

Tim and Trish sit back and watch their daughter Shelby, 14, and her friends hang out in their living room on April 20, 2012. One of the main reasons Tim volunteered to fight is because of his kids, despite the hardships it put on them, he believes it's given them a better sense of patriotism. Mahala Gaylord, The Denver Post

“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.

Tim does research on a used truck he's looking at buying while Trish reads to their son Biniyam, 4. "I really fooled myself into thinking we would be fine because we had such a good marriage," says Trish Kenney. Although Tim and Trish Kenney have been married happily for 23 years, the year Tim was fighting in Afghanistan and the year following have been the hardest challenge to their marriage. Mahala Gaylord, The Denver Post

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 nlofholm@denverpost.com

 

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About Lee Ann Colacioppo

I am the Senior Editor/News at the Denver Post. I have been at The Post sincd 1999 in a variety of positions, including city editor and investigations editor. I previously worked at The Des Moines Register, Greenville, S.C., News and Kingsport, Tenn., Times-News. I'am a Denver native and graduate of Drake University in Des Moines. View all posts by Lee Ann Colacioppo →
  • Bob Knocke

    Tim, I wish you a speedy recovery and thank you for your service.
    Bob Knocke

  • Dwayne tiegs

    we can do all things through christ who strengthens us. god bless you and yours.

  • http://www.facebook.com/puros.compas Puros Compas

    President Obama must read this. He should also check in to icasualty.org just like the rest of us that have a loved one deployed to Afganistan. It s amazing how the President is the commander in chief when he does not even have a dd-214. This war has turned into a 4second snippet on the sunday morning shows and now it is no longer mentioned on the regular news. Could someone tell me what is the purpose of Enduring Freedom and why is it that we continue to lose lives in a land that has no bearing on our future, as far as most americans can tell.

    • Bob Hunter

      As a veteran who is heavily involved with the legislative process at the state and national levels through the VFW, I can safely affirm President Obama has done a great deal for veterans, and did so from the moment he took office. Silly little things like the GI Bill for the 21st Century and advanced appropriations for the VA have changed lives for many veterans, and helped to improve the care they receive from the VA.

  • dk

    Thank you for service from a fellow veteran.