When a Soldier Dies

At Sean Hannity’s Freedom Concert, I sat next to a very kind woman named Mary Johnson. Her son was PFC Franklin Betts. He died in 1997 while serving in the military. While every death, including every death of a soldier, is tragic, this death is particularly sad since it was totally avoidable. He died not from a stray bullet, but from the flu.

Mary Johnson has lived every parent’s nightmare. Her child predeceased her.

Her story is lengthy, but if one human being benefits from her words, then it will be more than worth the read. Her remarks have not been edited. Interspersed with her story are some poems written by her late son. With that, I present the story of Mary Johnson’s late son PFC Franklin Betts.


When a soldier dies, no one is prepared.  The news comes as a shocking blow and life as we once knew it dies also.  This is the story of how one parent was able to survive the news that her young soldier had died.
When my young soldier, PFC Benjamin Franklin Betts died, I honestly didn’t think I could survive.  How does anyone get through the death of a child.  I desperately needed to know that I could and would.  I frantically searched for information or role models who could show me the way out of the horrific pain I felt over the death of my young son.  What I found was, that there was a way, a path you might say, that could bring me to another day and a future where joy and hope prevailed once again.
My path, through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, is my path.  All paths are unique.  This is a book about my journey along that path.  I share it with you in the hope that it will give you hope, a sort of map, as you travel your path.  It is a journey that is both difficult and lonely but fulfilling and life changing once on the other side.  You CAN get THROUGH this and you CAN make it to the other side of your valley.
May God bless you and keep you in his loving arms through your journey.  I know that He will if you will just ask.  Ask him now and know that He hears you and will answer your prayer.

Capable Hands
PFC Benjamin Franklin Betts

Oh no something happened again
Deep inside you wish the world would end
You turn your back on all you know
To let your tears flow
There’s a secret that’s centuries old
It’s a secret that’s been told and told
God has a plan, one you may not understand
You may not see it now
Like standing on a mountain looking across valleys unseen
A path to point unknown

Creating the world is easy to understand
But the trials of your life, you believe are beyond his command
Somehow too great for his mighty hand
Hands that were able to shape the skies and the seas, the mountains & trees
But not able to help you or me

It may be a secret now
But it will all work out somehow
It may not be the way you’d hopped or planned
And you might not understand
But God has a plan

When everything goes array
When it takes everything in you not to break down and cry
Remember God has a plan
It’s the same as a day when everything goes your way
When things couldn’t fall more perfectly into place
Remember God has a plan

Through the good and the bad
Through the happy and the sad
Remember God has a plan
Rest easy, your heart’s in capable hands

Notification that my son had died.
The October morning could not have been more beautiful.  The sky was a radiant blue with wispy clouds brushed ever so delicately, as on a brilliant canvas.  As I was preparing to leave for work, I remember thinking to myself “this is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.”
I ran back into the house to get the rest of my things when the doorbell rang.  It was 7:00 a.m.  “Who could that be?” I asked my husband.  When we opened the door there was a young soldier standing at the door.  He couldn’t have been much older than 21, the age of my own son.  He was shaking and appeared pale and scared.
“Mrs. Johnson?” he asked.  “Yes”, I responded.  “On behalf of the President of the United States, I regret to inform you that your son died in his sleep last night.”  “WHAT!  YOU MUST BE MISTAKEN!”  I replied, “My son is in Germany, there must be some kind of mix-up!”  He replied “Yes maam I know.  Your son Benjamin Franklin Betts, died in his sleep last night, they found him dead in his room in Germany at 4:00 a.m. this morning.”
With those few words my whole world changed!  My soul plunged into a hell I never knew existed.   I was to learn that hell had no boundaries and no escape.   It was a place that was both dark and full of terror.  “No, this can not be!” I kept telling myself.
My husband dialed Ben’s phone number.  Soon someone answered and we asked to speak to Ben.  There was a very long pause.  Finally a voice responded and affirmed that Ben really was dead.  No one knew for sure how he had died.  He had been sick with the flu the previous week but cause of death was still unknown.  In order to determine the cause of death, Ben’s body was on its way to Heidelberg for an autopsy.
Suddenly my whole life came crashing in.  I felt a crushing blow to my stomach that took my breath away.  Moans, deep within me purged from my being.  I lost track of minutes, hours, and days.  In the haze of shock, sedatives and tears, I had a funeral to plan.
This nightmarish reality that invaded my life consumed my days and tormented my nights.  I kept thinking that soon I would awake and this would all be over and I could call and talk to Ben.  I could not believe, much less accept, the fact that my son was dead never to come home again, that I would never see his smiling face again.  Never again would I hold him in my arms.  “No God, this cannot be!”

Execution of a Military Funeral
Regardless of what I thought or felt, there were gut wrenching phone calls to family and friends that had to be made.  Decisions had to be made and a military burial executed.  I remember hearing faceless voices tell me how sorry they felt.  People visited and I thought it strange how well I was functioning.  Shock was a welcomed state at that point.  It was important not to feel for a while if I was to accomplish all those important tasks of honoring my beloved son one last time.
It was then that God first showed his presence.  The National Cemetery in San Diego, Ft. Rosecrans, had not had a burial site available since 1966.  Suddenly, that day a burial site became available.  Ben would be laid to rest close to home and we wouldn’t have to travel over 60 miles to Riverside for his final tribute.
Seeing the flag draped casket entering the church catapulted me back into reality.  That was my son Ben in that casket and I felt my knees fold under as I began to drop to the floor.  The sobs and the tears flowed again.  My pastor and husband reminded me that the memorial service was about to begin and the church was packed.  I was amazed to see so many people.  My family was there, as well as friends, coworkers, and even my son’s teachers.  They were all saying the nicest things about Ben and what a special person he was.  I felt so proud.
With the final devastating playing of taps, the memorial service was over.  Once my dead son was properly memorialized, all left — as the saying goes — to get on with their lives.  I returned to the devastation that once was a life.  Before October 20th my life had been so full.  It was full of hope, anticipation of the future, and joy.  I was clueless about how I was supposed to get on with my life now, when I just buried the heart and soul of my future, my son.
I thought once the funeral was behind me, the worst was over. How naive I was.  I soon learned my unplanned journey through a living hell had only just begun.
Ben was my only son and I loved him as I had never loved before.  It was a totally unselfish love.  More than that, I also liked him immensely.  We were more than just mother and son; we were the best of friends.  He was outgoing, fun to be around, playful, and always thinking of others.  If I didn’t have the privilege of being his mother, I would have cherished him as one of my closest friends.
I envied Ben.  He got the better of the deal.  Ben had died doing something he loved in service to our country.  He was in heaven now and would never have to shed another tear or suffer another loss.  I had to live on, in this deep despairing pit.  The utter despair shrouded the weeks and months that followed. A part of me died with him that October morning and pieces of me died again and again as I was confronted with the cold reality of Ben’s death and how dismal my future and my life had become.  Yet each morning I awoke, condemned to live another day.
Loosing a son is like having someone rip my right arm off.  A part of me was, and still is missing.  This jagged wound is more painful than any injury or affliction I’ve ever suffered and has caused agony in every nerve in my body.  Would it ever heal?  Would I ever be able to go on?
On October 27, 1997, another beautiful fall day, I buried a man who proudly wore the uniform of the United States Army.  More importantly, I buried an exceptionally good man, my son.
Learning the truth about what happened.
It took six long months to get any details around my son’s death.  A formal investigation had been conducted and when concluded was classified “CONFIDENTAL”.  I could not find out why my son had suddenly died for no apparent reason.  I had talked to him on the tenth of October and he was fine.  He shared with me the fun he had celebrating his 21st birthday at October Fest in Munich.  On the 20th of October, he was dead.  What happened, I kept asking.
On the one-year anniversary of my son’s death, I flew to Frieberg, Germany to get answers to the questions that plagued my every waking hour.  It was a difficult and painful trip to make but well worth the effort.  Here is what I learned.  My 21-year-old son, in service to his country had died due to complications of the flu because of medical negligence.
During that visit I learned that the service men in my son’s company had been issued some kind of shot.  Shortly afterward many of his comrades, including Ben, became ill with flu like symptoms.  The virus settled in Ben’s sinuses.  On Tuesday, October 14th 1997, Ben went to the infirmary.  With red cerebral fluid in his ears (as notated on his medical records which I was finally able to obtain), a medic administered Tylenol and sent him back to work.
Thursday, October 16th 1997, Ben returned to the infirmary, he was worse and had been vomiting every hour for 15 hours.  He was weak and totally dehydrated.  The medic gave him suppositories and sent him back to work.  On Friday after work, Ben collapsed in his room.  No one looked in on him until he didn’t report to duty at 4:00 a.m. on Monday morning, October 20, 1997.  He was found dead!
Ben didn’t die in the glory of battle.  He died sick and alone in his room.
During that time I thought about Mother Theresa and how she dedicated her life to helping those who were sick and suffering in India so they wouldn’t have to die alone.  My son, working for the richest government in the world, suffered and died alone in his room.
And so Ben made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.  He gave his life. The death of my son was my deepest and darkest fear.  It takes every ounce of courage, strength and endurance I possess to live on.  I have suffered and endured the unfathomable as a result of Ben’s death.  How would I ever go on!

Watching My Watch
PFC Benjamin Franklin Betts
Time crawls by when I can’t peel my eyes from the clock
I wish I were so clever as to control something going on     forever
I wish I could command the world’s second hand
Too many times I watch the face of my watch
Just to see another minute drag past
Too many times I wish the world would just stop
No matter what I wish deep inside I know
Time is out of my control

Deep inside I know I’m living on borrowed time
It isn’t mine it’s just sudden death overtime
That’s why I try to fill each day,
That’s why I try to do my best
Tomorrow may never come; tonight may be my final rest
No matter how hard I try, the days continue speeding by
Time is out of my control

Yet still I know
I’m livin on borrowed time

Learning to go on.
Although I lost my father several years before, trudging through this valley of the shadow of death was ever more frightful and challenging.  I wanted to die.  Every waking moment was agony.  I contemplated suicide, as I desperately wanted to see my son again.
I knew Jesus and the miracle of the Resurrection.  I also knew that Ben had accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior.  I gained comfort from knowing that Ben was with the Lord, safe and in heaven.  What concerned me was my desire to join him.  I wasn’t sure about what would happen to me if I took my life and in that event if I would ever see Ben again.  So I struggled to keep that thought at bay.
I did start driving recklessly.  My inability to concentrate left me confused many times about where I was or what I was doing.  I’d hear some song or story on the car radio that would remind me of Ben and I would begin to sob.  I was unable to control the sobbing once it started. I would begin weaving from lane to lane placing not only myself in danger but also innocent people.  I had enough sense to know that was not right and soon pulled off the road.
These periods of sobbing were unlike anything I had experienced before.  It was like a convulsing deep within my chest, deep within my soul.  I knew I needed help!  I didn’t want to hurt someone else.  Also I didn’t want to end up one of those people, who after loosing a child joined the living dead and spent the rest of their life angry and resentful.
Reaching out for help
A friend suggested that I contact the Hospice and try and get some much needed counseling.  It was a lifeline for me and I hung on with everything in me.  I believe that the most important aspect of my personality that has saved me and helped me in my survival of this terrible ordeal was my willingness to ask for and receive help from others.  So many people go through life believing it is weakness to ask for help.  I know I did.  I thought “I can do this”, “I can get over this and in a couple of weeks I’ll be fine” or “it’s weak to need help, I can do this on my own”.  Ya right!  I had a lot of rethinking to do.
At the Hospice it was suggested that I join a support group for parents suffering from grief over the death of a child.  I was also given literature and books.  I began reading everything and anything I could find on the grieving process.  I read about people who were successful in going through such an ordeal and making something good come out of their pain.  I learned about and met others who were stuck in the pain and as a result the rest of their lives were filled with anger and resentment.
I began to see patterns of how some people managed to move through the process of grief successfully.  There are several things I found most helpful.  I wish to share them with you, the reader, so that others who have to walk this journey will know they are not alone and that there is a way out of their dark valley.
Stages of grief
To go through the stages of grief requires a keen understanding of the following five points:  First grieving is a process with stages, each of which needs to be acknowledged and accepted.  Second, it is hard work.  Third, it takes time and lots of energy to deal with the unpredictable waves of feelings and emotions. Fourth, the journey is a lonely one that each person travels alone.  Fifth and most important, it is possible to get through this and life can once again be filled with joy.
Shock is the first stage in the grief process.  This is the time where one feels numb or anesthetized.  Actions seem mechanical as if one isn’t all there.  I learned that this period of shock is the body and mind’s way of protecting the psyche by allowing the reality in slowly.  Being in shock is also a very useful form of denial as it helps one to execute a proper memorial and face the hard work ahead.
It is important during this stage to maintain awareness of the body’s need for rest.  It is OK to take naps and perhaps even beneficial.  Sleep is one of the most important elements of the healing process.  There are waves of emotion that come over a long period of time that can be exhausting.  They occur frequently in the beginning, and later in process, these waves of emotion do subside a bit. If sleeping is a problem, it is not a sign of weakness to contact a physician to obtain help in the form of medication.
Maintaining good nutrition and not indulging in high intakes of alcohol or food will help a great deal also.  Large amounts of alcohol and sugar will only intensify the depression and hopeless feelings.  Alcohol is itself a depressant.  Large amounts of sugar and or carbohydrates cause the blood sugar level to spike up and then drop suddenly causing bouts of depression and other negative reactions within the body.  I, like many others, grew up using food for comfort.  But I soon learned that no amount of food would take away the pain I was feeling but would only add to it.  And if you are on the other end of the spectrum, the inability to eat will only worsen the pain as the body needs proper nutrition to endure the stress of grieving.
As the shock wears off, the denial phase starts.  I struggled with thoughts like “No this really didn’t happen” or “this must be some kind of mistake”.  I would see Ben’s face in the crowd or walking down the street.  It wasn’t until I went to Germany, to where my son died that I could finally accept the truth.
As more and more of the reality sets in, the acute pain of the anger stage is experienced.  At this stage there are intense emotions.  One may be uncomfortable expressing such intense feelings and struggle to hide them.  This is the time when support groups are particularly important. Expressing emotions and the pain is very important and encouraged, if one is to move through the grief process.  Support groups provide listeners who understand what one is going through, as they have walked this road themselves.  To heal, one must accept whatever the feelings are and express those feelings in a caring and supportive environment.  Support groups provide that type of environment.  To conceal or deny feelings of anger, only prolongs the process and increases the physical and emotional distress, possibly for years or maybe even a lifetime.
Much of the anger that surfaced for me was around how my son died.  Not getting all the details around his death or why it happened was very frustrating and difficult.  It took a long time to work through my anger.  I felt extreme anger toward the doctor who didn’t treat my son appropriately and was responsible for his untimely death.  I felt anger toward the United States Government, and the Army. I even felt extreme anger with God because isn’t it ultimately God who is responsible for life and death. What I learned about being angry at God is that it’s OK to express anger at God.  It is even better than OK, it’s necessary.  Even though I was expressing anger at God for taking my one and only son, at least I was communicating with God.  I learned that God is big enough and understanding enough to deal with my anger.
I finally took the opportunity to go to Germany and the base where Ben died.  It was there that I was finally able to get all the details and information surrounding my son’s death that I desperately needed.  It was such a miraculously healing experience!  The miracle was that the chaplain there on base just happened to be a member of my extended family as he was married to my second cousin.  He transitioned there shortly after Ben died and knew the doctor responsible for my son’s death.  Here was a man, who was a minister, an officer in the Army and a family member all rolled into one person.  Through the grace of God, my “cousin” was able to walk me through the process of forgiveness.  Isn’t that odd?  Or is it God?  For me, it truly was God once again revealing himself to me in this difficult ordeal.
The Anger stage was particularly difficult for me.  It threatened to destroy my marriage.  I was so angry that I didn’t care what I said or who heard it.  In order to save our marriage, my husband and I needed to separate for several months.  My husband was not my son’s biological parent and had only known him for a few years.  He never really had an opportunity to learn all the beautiful qualities my son possessed.  He did not share the same intense feelings that I had.  His grief process was completely different.  It was important for me to be able to deal with my anger and intense emotions and not hurt him.  For biological parents living together it is even more difficult.  Everyone grieves differently, everyone’s process is unique. It is difficult to stay connected in the marriage when so many feelings and emotions tear at the very fabric of the relationship.  This is when a good Christian counselor or pastor can help.  Reach out to your church community or if you don’t have one, get connected to one, it helps.
There is a story in the Bible where a sick man was lowered from the roof into a room where Jesus was.  He needed to be healed.  That is what my loving church community did for me at this time of my life; they held me up on a stretcher to the Lord for healing.  Through them I felt the Lord’s comfort and healing power.
Another strong emotion that surfaces at this time is Guilt.  “Why didn’t I do….”, “I wish I would of….” plagued my mind.  I see guilt as just another form of anger which is directed at self.  Years before my son’s death I learned an important lesson about how to avoid guilt.  The tip I learned early on in my son’s life was the importance of communication and telling loved ones how much they matter.  I am so grateful that I took opportunities to tell my child what a precious and beautiful son he was.  I wasn’t a perfect mom but with the help of long time friends, I was able to learn to focus on the good things I did do as a loving mom and to learn to make living amends for my bad choices by doing something special for someone here on earth.  I also learned the importance of telling people I love every opportunity there is, how much I love and appreciate them. I am constantly aware of how quickly a loved one’s life can be snuffed out and so I make the most of each moment.
Next I sunk into the Depression stage of the grief process.  If you suffer from clinical depression, as I did prior to Ben’s death, this stage can be particularly dangerous.  I went to see a psychiatrist as soon as I could get an appointment to discuss and review my medication regime.  I talked a great deal about what I was feeling and how the death was affecting me.  I also cried nearly constantly at first and later on a daily basis.  I was a unexpected surprise when one day I noticed that I hadn’t cried all day.  I was sure that I was cured and that the grief process must be over for me.  That was at two months.  Boy was I surprised the next day when the flood of emotion and tears came surging back into my existence.
This is when the realization that Ben was really gone hit the hardest.  It was around six to nine months.  The shock had worn off and I missed him terribly.  I would start talking about Ben, as others do about their kids, and the people I was speaking with appeared physically uncomfortable.  Their response was either to change the subject, excuse themselves, or just walk away whenever I mentioned Ben’s name.  No one wanted to talk about Ben; after all he was dead and gone.  I heard a great deal about the importance of getting on with life.  I’m guessing that others expected that at six or nine months I should be done grieving and ready to get on with my life.  Some people even told me as much. I soon realized how uncomfortable people are in our society with grief and the tears, anger, or depression expressed in grieving the death of a child.
Because of these unrealistic expectations, I began to think that something must be wrong with me because I still was hurting so badly.  This is when I struggled most with thoughts of suicide.  I made a plan.  I was desperately searching for relief.  Each day I awoke not knowing if or how I would get through the day.  I got to the point where I knew I couldn’t possibly go on.  My plan failed, so I called a friend.  With the guidance from friends and loved ones, I checked into a hospital.  For two weeks I cried, screamed and people listened.  There I completely fell apart and felt safe doing what I needed to do to work through every bit of anger in me.  I was only in the hospital for two weeks but it saved my life.
As part of the treatment process, the doctors encouraged me to get in touch with those things that had once given me pleasure.  One such pleasure I remembered came out of the memory I had of the fun Ben and I had with our dog.  I had always had a dog growing up and I realized how much I loved having a pet and needed one in my life now.  As a new puppy, my dog Mandy Mae would spend many lonely nights entertaining me by being a cute and totally absorbing puppy.
I also got in touch with my fascination for learning about new places, experiences, and cultures.  That was another thing Ben and I shared.  He joined the Army so he could see the world.  I decided that I was going to live out that dream and start traveling.  Thus traveling became something to focus on and an important addition to my list of things that gave me pleasure and would ultimately create meaning and joy in a life without Ben.
As I progressed through the healing process, I remembered the excitement I felt learning new things.  A spark of curiosity would carry me into the literature for months.  I had always wanted to continue my education and obtain a doctorate but had not made the time.  Going back to school became the third item on my list.
Finally, I rediscovered my faith.  I soon became aware, that in the depth of my despair, there was closeness with God that I had never before experienced.  I sensed that God was physically there with me, carrying me, and that He wanted me to live on.  I turned my life and my will over to him as I never had before.  I placed all my pain and my life in God’s loving hands.  I was ready to leave the hospital.
Another strange phenomena I experienced during this period in my process, I would see Ben’s face on strangers or hear his voice coming from young men I briefly encountered.  If a saw someone in an Army uniform or fatigues, I would want to approach them and hold them, pretending it was Ben.  Anyone in a uniform was fare game to hear my saga.  But instead of being rude or trying to get away from me, thinking I was crazy, most military personnel would respectfully listen and offer comfort.  As one young Marine said to me “Maam, when one of our comrades falls in the line of duty, no matter what branch of the service, it is our privilege to help comfort or be there for the family however we are able”.  The military became my source of healing and that sense of camaraderie helped me to see the human side of the Army.
Within the military community, there is also an organization called T.A.P.S., Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.  T.A.P.S. was instrumental in my grief process. T.A.P.S. was founded by Bonnie Carol, a widow whose husband, Tom Carol died in a plane crash.  Being a survivor herself, she saw the need for such a support system.  Military deaths are cloaked in mystery and many times it is difficult to deal with the bureaucracy of such a powerful institution as the military or its foibles.  Such was the case with me.  It was very difficult to discover why a young, healthy man would suddenly die from complications of the flue.
By getting involved with T.A.P.S., I was able to meet with the Secretary of the Army and express the deplorable situation that surrounded my son’s death.  Each year there after, on Memorial Day weekend, I attended the TAPS annual conference in Washington D.C.  There, survivors of military casualties come together for a weekend of counseling, support groups, and educational seminars.  In the beginning I would see others who had learned to live again after the death of their loved one and that gave me hope.  Each year I returned to TAPS I saw in others healing that had taken place during our time apart.  I was never aware of the slow healing within me.  It was only when I saw it in others, year after year, that I realized I must be getting better myself.  Here were people not only learning to survive such a terrible ordeal as mine, but were thriving and helping others.  This is the final tool I used to heal my pain, getting out off self and helping others. Now each year I return to Washington D.C. to be that source of hope to others.  I take and make calls to other parents just starting down their path and try to be their light at the end of a dark and lonely tunnel.
Acceptance is considered by many to be the final stage of grieving. For me it took five years.  I remember it clearly.  It was the five year anniversary of Ben’s death.  I was drawn to his photo album and I was finally able to look again at his pictures.  Suddenly I was filled with gratitude.  Yes I felt gratitude once again, for all those precious moments we had during the 21 years he was on this earth.  It is with the acceptance that Ben not only died but he lived that the healing process was complete and I was able to move on.  This isn’t meant to discourage anyone but to let you know that it does take a long time and a great deal of work to get to a place of acceptance.  But be assured, it will come if you will work for it.

You And I
A Friendship Song
Benjamin Franklin Betts

I step out of the dark, into the light
Away from the terror of the night
Standing waiting, side by side
Off in the distance there’s an uncharted road
Stretching further than we can see
I look to you and you turn to me
We decide to walk along
Writing in our hearts a new song

We’ll keep walking we’ll keep traveling on
Until our last days are done, until we have won
Togetherness is the only way
To make it through tomorrow
To make it through today
Forever is not too long
Just as long as we hold on
Unburdened and unstoppable

I’ll trust in you, please trust in me
Together we can’t be beat
With God’s help this is true
The best combination is me and you
As we walk, as we run
Together facing daily battles that must be won
Together we can’t go wrong
Singing this friendship song

The hope and comfort I have today
It’s fall again.  The skies are blue and there are those familiar wispy strokes of white cloud painted ever so artistically across the blue.  It has been seven years since Ben went to be with the Lord.  Today I am able to look at those blue skies, feel the chillness in the air at night, and all the signs that indicate that summer is over and the fall is just around the corner.  Since Ben died, I entered this time of year with dread.  Today I feel tremendous amount of joy and gratitude that runs deep within my being.  As Gibran has said in his book The Profit “Pain carves the well that holds my joy”. The fact that a young soldier, PFC Benjamin Franklin Betts, was here on this earth and I was able to spend 21 years celebrating life with him brings great joy to my heart.
It is hard to believe in the beginning when the news first arrives that anything could ever be the same again.  No, life will never be the same.  My life is totally different today because my focus on life is different.  I am not the same person I was prior to October 20, 1997.  Today I am able to see life through a new lens.  I am able to care more about people than things.  I guess you could say I am a more caring person as I feel a great depth of compassion for others who are suffering the loss of their child.  I am a person who is committed to helping others get through the grieving process, to help you the reader.    Today there is some sense of normalcy in my life.  What does that normalcy look like?
First, I have greater depths of love in my relationships today.  I don’t take anyone or any time with a loved one for granted.  I know how quickly life can be snuffed out, so today my relationships are much deeper and richer.  I tell people all the time how much I appreciate them.  I am not afraid or reluctant to tell close friends and family member that I love them.  I live each day as though it were my last.
I have faith today and the assurance that ALL things work together for good with those who love and serve the Lord, Rom 8:28.  I have seen so much good and so many people’s lives touched all because my son lived and died.  Good does come out of tragedy!
I have hope today.  My hope is that when I take my last breath on this earth and my next breath in eternity, I will stand before my Lord and hear him say, “Well done good and faithful one, welcome home” and my son Ben will be there beaming from ear to ear, and will say, “Way to go mom, I am so proud of you!”     Every deed I do, every word I say, every thought I think leads to that moment.  St Paul once said that to die is to gain but to live is to suffer.  Yes I do still hurt every time I miss Ben, but I know beyond a shadow of doubt that one day I will see him again.  What a wonderful reassurance!
I have purpose in my life today.  Each day has meaning as I commit to helping others and making my small part of this world a better place.  Theodore Isaac Rubin once said that “Few people can fail to generate a self-healing process when they become genuinely involved in healing others.”  There is a caution attached to this.  It is important not to rush into helping others at the expense of your own healing.  I have read of others who accomplished great things after a death of a child only to have a melt down two to three years later.  One way or another, the grief will make itself known and have to be dealt with.  I decided at the onset from the readings that I did, to attach the grief head-on.  I desperately wanted to get through the grief and then move on with my life.  I didn’t want to take any detours or prolong the pain in any way.
These tools I have shared with you through this book are compilation of all the readings I have done, support groups I attended, and advice I received from other survivors.  These tools worked for me.  They may or may not work for you.  Take what you want and what works for you, and leave the rest.  Then pass it on and together we can support others who are paying the ultimate sacrifice for freedom, the death of their loved one, their soldier.

Locked Away
PFC Benjamin Franklin Betts

I struggle so hard for what is given
Nothing is free in a life worth living

Gifts are more precious when they’re earned
Something sacrificed, something learned
There are lessons to be learned
Most of them aren’t easy

I’ve felt pain in my pleasure and pleasure in my pain
I’ve had it rain on sunny days and felt sunshine on rainy days
I’ve worn a smile on my face and a frown on my heart
Suffered the bitterness of rejection from the start

I’ve never known the answers
At the questions I can only guess
When things go spinning out of control
I struggle to be free from this mess

Freedom is an empty day spent without a care
Freedom is a clear mind, the shelves of reflection bare
Freedom is always just out of reach
No matter how hard I try

I struggle to do my best; it puts my soul to the test
Pass or fail, win or lose, somehow you end up feeling used
I know I have some answers locked inside me
First I have to find the door before I worry about a key

I feel I hold the answers
But they’re locked away
Waiting to be opened on that special day

May God bless Mary Johnson on Earth, and PFC Franklin Betts in Heaven.


5 Responses to “When a Soldier Dies”

  1. Dav Lev says:

    When a young soldier dies? When anyone dies would have been a more appropriate title of this mother’s grief.

    I recall when my father died. He had had several very invasive surgeries during the few years before his death. He was, to put it mildly, a mess.
    I have seen other relatives ( and friends) die, in some cases years before
    their time. So?

    I wanted him to survive, no matter what the doctors treatments were.

    After the last prognosis and treatment ( in the hospital) it was apparent
    to the doctors that he would not survive. But I was still hopeful and
    allowed the additional life support, looking back, a mistake.

    Everything that could have been done medically for him, was, to the
    financial benefit of the doctors and hospital.

    To this day, I wonder how much of his treatment was based on
    financial rewards?

    Knowin then, I would not have agreed to the first heart surgery.

    I would have had a talk with my father..and asked him frankly, “do you
    want this surgery”? Are you prepared for all that you will have to endure, and for what purpose..another 2-5 years of life”? “Is it worth it, dad”?
    Also, years before, we would have had a long talk.
    “Dad, what do you want for yourself, assuming the worst”?

    The death of anyone, close, is tramatic. It takes time to heal. I am
    still affected, not so much by his death, but by what he went through.

    The authors son died. He was her son. Coincidently he was in the military. He did not die fighting in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Korea or Vietnam.
    He died of an illness, not related to his military.

    Whether the doctor is to blame or not, I am not someone experienced in these matters. I don’t know? Typically, there is finger pointing.

    This reminds me of a close friend whose mother died of gall bladder cancer. After the death, a lawsuit was filed. Blame was spread around
    to all the doctors, nurses, and hospital. In the end, the bottom line, is that she died of incurable cancer.

    Patrick and Sarah died of cancer. They were both not yet 60. They had
    all the medical they would ever need. It didn’t help. Sometimes,
    people just die.

    If this mother’s grief and healing can be aided by the belief that
    her son is in heaven, so be it.

    When my father was in the ICU, a visiter to the hospital, hearing
    my anguish, told me that I had another father in heaven.

    I looked at him with disbelief. My father had tubes in all parts of his
    body, and was dying.

    I thought, okay, I’ll give my OTHER father a telephone call after my
    father dies to vent my grief and shock. Maybe I’ll feel better?

    I feel pity and sorrow for this mother, I really do.
    Her son perhaps died needlessly.

    But I can tell you this much, I know of someone who died
    flying over North Vietnam over 50 years ago. His body is
    buried at Arlington. He had the full military funeral, including
    a jet flyover.

    To this day, we all grieve for him and wonder whether he made
    the right decision in joining the academy to begin with?

  2. Worshipping the military is a dangerous religion.


  3. Micky 2 says:

    Not half as dangerous as worshiping a president

  4. Only an idiot would worship a president. That’s why I think so many Republicans – who worshipped the heck out of Reagan and GWB – are in fact idiots. But those Liberals and Democrats who worship Obama are just as idiotic as those Conservatives and Republicans who think Obama is some kind of radical Liberal Socialist. They’re all IDIOTS.


  5. Micky 2 says:

    “Only an idiot would worship a president.”

    Theres never been a worshiping of a president like there is right now of Obama. Anyone who thinks that theres not a massive movement of blind worshiping followers like there is now is just plain fricking stupid.
    Never in my life have I delt with so many idealisticly blinded faithful fools in my life. To put you belief in a spiritual entity is one thing, but to put the same level of belief in a simple man is mass hysteria, which is what we have.
    Bush, Reagan were never worshiped like Obama, never. They never took on the title of “savior” , “the messiah’ etc… period.

    Only a radical liberal socialist wouldnt see Obama for the radical liberal socialist that he is.
    The guy is off the chart if you actually be honest

    That’s why I think so many Republicans – who worshipped the heck out of Reagan and GWB – are in fact idiots. But those Liberals and Democrats who worship Obama are just as idiotic as those Conservatives and Republicans who think Obama is some kind of radical Liberal Socialist. They’re all IDIOTS.

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