CAO (and Penny on the Wall)

The Hotel Days seemed just as open ended as those Hospital Days.

Again, I had no clue how long we would be staying.

The comforting thing was that at that time, I was surrounded by my family. A handful of them. Those who were right there beside me.  The family that sticks like glue.  I had my supporters along side me…those who are forever loyal and loving.

During that initial day, I received a phone call from a Captain so and so.

I have been assigned to be your CAO, Ma’am.  I am so sorry for your loss.  I would like to meet with you.  Is there a time and place that we could go over all the necessary information pertaining to the death of your son?

I was told earlier not to worry about a thing.  Not one single solitary thing. The Army had everything covered from the minute of Michael’s death.  Allow them to take the wheel now.  They would be in charge.  Of everything.

I was allowed to choose a funeral home…that was something I did those last hours of those Hospital Days.  I chose the one closest to Michael’s family.  One that I thought had the best name attached to it.  The one I thought maybe seemed like it was loving and compassionate and kind.  I had no idea, really, which was best.  It was a harsh reality to make such a decision only minutes after he died.

I also had to choose a cemetery.  Oh! How can I tell you the difficulty of this?

A resting place, they called it.

Yes, of course. That’s how we make all of this easier…call it a place of rest.

To me it meant that my son would be six feet under.  Buried under the cold, hard ground.

For this decision, I asked my Own Personal Soldier and trusted his opinion.

After he helped me with that…he told me something much harder for me to hear.

I am finished with my part in this now.  I am sorry to say that someone else will have to take over from here.

WHAT?  You mean, I have no say?  None?  How can I let you go just now?  I do not understand.

This information caused tears.  I know that later they streamed down my face over this.

Too much change!  Why was it becoming so complicated?

Somehow I realized I was not in control. It was all now handed over to the United States Army.

My son was not mine any longer (sigh! was he ever?).

He was the property of the United States.  Looking back on it…he has been since he was not quite 18.  The very day he signed his name on that line.  He signed his life forevermore.

Dear Army,

Yours truly and forever

Til death do us part, Michael.

Seemed like they had it all down to a science.  My Own Personal Soldier was mine only up until the death.  Then the baton was passed to another.  Another would help me through until I went home to Georgia.

After all, they had been trained.  Took special classes on how to do all of this. It was how it was done.  Down to every nitty gritty detail.  Each soldier had his/her assigned role. Now, after Michael died, the Wheels That Be were set in motion.

The hotel had a room in the lobby.  A small room with a front wall of windows and a door that locked.  Inside was a tiny office available for those who had work to be done in this extended stay home away from home.  I told my new Soldier to meet us there (actually, his title was Casualty Assistance Officer, or CAO).  We would go over things there.

As I sat in the lobby waiting, I watched as a decorated soldier walked through the automatic sliding door. Dressed in Army blues and white cap tucked under his arm.

There was no doubt he was there for me.

We went into the small, glass walled office.  I looked out into the lobby through that wall of glass windows.  Yes.  Here I am again…a windowed room to the world.  First, my son’s hospital room in that ICU…and now here.

Wall of windows.

I have been so vulnerable and sliced wide open during this entire thing.

No choice but to be transparent.

Nothing to hide.

We sat face to face on desk chairs with wheels. The kind that spins around in a 360 degree circle if you want.  Not exactly a stable chair with four, sturdy legs.

How fitting, though, as I realized that my life was now standing still yet spinning out of control.

He went over some things…gave me a folder with whatever rights I had. Rights to counseling.  Rights to basically nothing after that.  Not much of anything.

But at least I knew my benefits.


He then told me that the funeral was tentatively scheduled five days away. Five days!

At that my heart sank and anger rose.

Why so long to wait?

I heard him say that is how it’s done.  He had no concrete explanation, really.

It was just how it was done.

Resigned (after a few not so kind words had come out of my mouth — after which I completely apologized!),  we wrapped up our conversation and he gave me his card.  Call if you need anything.  I will be driving you wherever you wish.  When the time comes, I will drive you wherever.

Yes, thank you.  You are so kind.

We stood, shook hands and he opened the door for me.

I was at a loss.  A total loss.  Five more days.  Long and what to do to fill the hours five days.

Before I went through the door, I happened to glance up.  There on the wall was a copper framed image of a large penny.   The face of Abraham Lincoln, honest, true, and steadfast in profile on it.

Then the words “In God We Trust”.

That U shaped half circle of words reigning over his head.

It made me think of our team of doctors in a similar U shaped conference outside our hospital room each morning.

I made it through all of that.  I could make it through this.

I would trust.  I would wait.

I wish I would have taken a picture of that penny…but here is what I found to give a visual. The framed penny is on the right…you can see a portion of it.


Not long after…I was walking along the hallway all alone.  I don’t know what for…possibly to do laundry or something trivial.

As I looked down to the floor…looked down at my feet…there it was.

A penny.  Shining, and heads up.

Right there at my feet.

Overwhelmed, I stooped to pick it up.  Held it tight between my thumb and finger.  Shook my head at the simple sign.

The miracle of it.

I put it in my pocket.

Yes. There was no other choice and no other way.

So I understood it.  Loud and clear.

God was in control.

Not me.

Not the Army.

Not any other Power.

And in Him I trust.

Yes, I would fully trust.



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