A Military Mother: Cathy Cleaver
Cathy Cleaver knew the time was coming.
Even as a preschooler, her son, Evan, wanted to be in the U.S. Army. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Evan's commitment only grew.
He attended college on an ROTC scholarship. In training, Evan routinely bested seasoned Green Berets in mountaineering and other exercises. And last spring, he graduated near the top of his class in one of the military's most dangerous and important specialties: leading an explosive ordnance disposal unit, the type of experts who dismantled roadside bombs in the film The Hurt Locker.
Just after Memorial Day, First Lieutenant Cleaver, 25, deployed to Afghanistan.
And Cathy Cleaver, 54, couldn't stop crying.
"I had six year to prepare for this," Cleaver says. "We were at war, and I knew he would go fight that war. But no matter how much you tell yourself you are prepared, when that day comes and your child is sent to fight for his country, it hits you like a ton of bricks. And you realize you aren't as prepared as you thought."
At her job as an operating room nurse at a busy Philadelphia hospital, Cleaver couldn't concentrate and had to take time off. The Xanax prescribed by her doctor helped ease some of her anxiety, she says, "but it didn't change the fact that I think of my son every minute of the day. And that I may never see him again."
Her friends couldn't offer the help she needed. "They are all supportive, they all love Evan, but they just don't get it. They'll say, ‘Why did you let him join? How could you do that?' Because their kids aren't in the military, they don't understand that Evan and others like him want to be there. They feel it's their duty, that it's their calling."
Then Cleaver turned to the Blue Star Mothers of America, the nation's oldest and largest support group for military parents. Named for the symbol that since World War I has signified a household with a child in service, membership is open to mothers and stepmothers whose children are in the U.S. armed forces or have been honorably discharged. Most women in Cathy's chapter have a son or daughter serving in Afghanistan.
"I no longer feel alone," she says. "It's not a pity party. Together, we meet to figure out how to be a mother with a child in Afghanistan."
They have monthly luncheons and prayer services. They hear speakers — often military chaplains and returning veterans — and bond while packing boxes of items and letters to send to troops overseas.
"I honestly feel I send my stresses away in those boxes," Cleaver says.
"It's just being there that helps, surrounded by other mothers who know what you're going through. We're a sisterhood, all in the same boat, who realize that our way of life is possible because of the bravery of these soldiers … the kids we raised. And we couldn't be prouder."
Read about a mother of an American solider who founded a chapter of Blue Star Mothers.