Memorial Day may come for some once a year, but for Gold Star Mother Sallie Woodard, it is every day since the passing of her son, U.S. Navy Engineman Second Class Sebastian Woodard, on March 4, 2015 (Served from 2006-2015).
Six years ago, Woodard was handed a folded American flag where she found herself in a place she never imagined to be. “Before I went to the Vet Center, I did not know what to think, I did not know what to do,” she said.
Little did she know, the day she walked through the doors of the Nashville (TN) Vet Center she would discover what she calls her ‘safe place.’
The doors of Vet Centers are open to not just Veterans and service members, but the ones who serve alongside them, too, the ones they call their family.
To Woodard, when she reads the Vet Center sign, she reads ‘life saver.’ As a mother, she was in search of direction and hope, and to her surprise, she discovered so much more with the help of her Vet Center Counselor, Dan Edwards.
“The Vet Center and Dan saved my life,” she said, with a sigh of relief. “They [Nashville (TN) Vet Center and Dan] truly saved my life. I used to ask God to let me die, I am proud to say I now want to live.”
Over the years, she has built an incomparable connection with her counselor and has learned how to balance her thoughts and emotions to live her life as her son would want her to. Within the walls of the Vet Center, Woodard has shared tears, laughter and found healing.
Different from the lessons of her childhood, the Vet Center has revealed to her that it is okay to lean on others. “The Vet Center has taught me my feelings, whatever they may be, that it is okay to have them,” she said. “I grew up handling feelings on my own, the Vet Center has taught me differently. I have learned to know it is okay to need people.”
The Vet Center is just that, an organization of people present to support and walk alongside Veterans, service members and their families throughout all stages of their journey.
Honoring our heroes
As the nation pauses to remember and honor our American heroes, it is important to never forget who they were. Sebastian was more than just a shipmate, he also was a father, son, husband and friend. For those who had the pleasure of knowing him, it was inevitable for him to have those around him smile and laugh within just minutes.
“My Sebastian had a million-dollar smile and loved living life,” Woodard said. “He chose to serve because he wanted to make a difference and set an example for his children. Anytime I get to talk about my son it helps me. I want people to remember him for who he was, for his contagious character.”
Six years later, Woodard has found strength and continues to ‘stay up’ [keep your head up] as her son would say.
The Nashville Vet Center is 1 of 300 across the nation that is known to numerous others as a ‘safe place.’ No matter what stage, Woodard urges Veterans, service members, and their families to visit their local Vet Center.
Woodard’s message to other mothers and families who no longer can give a call to their service member?
“It is going to be okay, sometimes it can seem like the grief will swallow you up, sometimes it seems like you just won’t make it, but if you hold on, you will learn to live again,” she added. “It is a slow process. Sometimes it is not day by day, sometimes it is minute by minute, but eventually you will live again.”
Vet Centers are built to serve communities that ultimately lead to strong bonds of camaraderie and unbreakable connections. Vet Centers offer an array of services and specialized counseling to eligible Veterans, service members and families. Learn more by visiting vetcenter.va.gov or call the confidential Vet Center Call Center 24/7 at 1.877.927.8387.
Andrea Madrazo is a public affairs specialist for the Orlando VA.