Remember and Honor: Memorial Day 2021

Harvey MorrisPodcast

Transcript of Road Home Program: The Podcast, Episode 9

On Memorial Day 2021, Modie Lavin (Senior Outreach Coordinator at Road Home and a Gold Star Mother) shares how this holiday can be used to both celebrate freedom while creating awareness of PTSD. 

Will Beiersdorf, Executive Director at The Road Home Program at Rush: Good day, everybody. I’m Will Beiersdorf, and I’m the Executive Director of the Road Home Program. And for you, that might be just joining us for the first time here, this is the Road Home Program, the podcast and we hold these every so often to try to inform our community about who we are, what we do. And more importantly, why we do that. If you’ve listened to us in the past, you know that we always take a moment to talk a little bit about our mission, vision, values. You know, our mission here at the Road Home Program is to help those veterans, active-duty members and their families dealing with the invisible wounds of war in life. Our vision is to be a champion for those individuals. And then we talk a little bit about our values, which is the Rush ICARE values, and again, Road Home Program is here at the Rush University Medical Center. So, the ICARE values we talk about are innovation, collaboration, accountability, respect, and excellence. So, as we have this conversation today, in all of our conversations, everything is all embedded upon our mission, vision, values here at the Road Home Program. So again, I want to welcome everyone to the Road Home Program, the podcast. I’m really excited because today I’m welcomed and honored to have Modie Lavin, who is our Senior Outreach Coordinator here at the Road Home Program at Rush and also a Gold Star Mother. And also does a lot of work with, not just our veterans, but our family members as well. So, Modie, welcome to the Road Home Program, the podcast.

Modie Lavin, Senior Outreach Coordinator at The Road Home Program at Rush: The podcast. Thank you, Will. It’s a pleasure to be here and I look forward to talking about the Road Home Program and, with Memorial Day coming up,

Will Beiersdorf: Yes. 

Modie Lavin: We can have a nice conversation.

Will Beiersdorf: Yes. And that’s really what we want to talk about today. This is going to go off a little bit of the beaten path, because what I want, like to focus on today is Memorial Day, what it’s all about. And more importantly, how Road Home works through that and what we do around Memorial Day, and just try to, how can I say it? Educate and empower our friends and family members and our communities to take a moment, Memorial Day, you know, to remember what it’s all about. And, and that’s what I would like to ask you first and foremost, Modie, can you tell us a little bit, I’m sure most, some folks probably know about, you know, the Road Home Program, the work that you do here, but can you tell them, you know, what you do here at the Road Home Program, a little bit about yourself, too, your background and, you know, why you’re here at the Road Home Program, and you’ve been here since almost the beginning, too.

Modie Lavin: Yeah, we were about a year old when I came on board. And as you had just mentioned, yes, I’m a Gold Star Mother. And I moved into this space based on trying to, out of passion, to serve our veterans battling with these invisible wounds of war. I came upon that due to meeting my son Conner’s battle buddies when they returned from Afghanistan. Of course, the trauma of losing your son in war and the grief associated with that is a very hard thing to deal with. That, when I met these young men that came back, I understood that the trauma didn’t just belong to me, and it belonged to them, as well. And being a mother, your motherly instincts kind of kick in and I just really wanted to be there to help. And I am fortunate enough to have come on board in 2015 with the Road Home Program. So, what do I do here? Um, you would think I’m just serving families, maybe, that had a similar experience as I did. But no, I reach out to veterans and their families across the nation, because we are a nationwide program, as well as our local veterans, for outpatient. But my job is to bring awareness and talk to them and try to get them connected to the services here. There’s so many layers to outreach, as I say, all the time. How do you do that? We do that in, you know, hosting or partnering in events locally. Believe it or not, the silver lining to the pandemic is that we moved into a virtual setting. And as, you know, as most of us kind of struggled with having to be locked away and working from home, actually, we’ve been able to reach a lot more people because virtual meetings and presentations became highly popular. So those you would maybe be reaching through email, we were now able to meet face to face. So, that’s been a real plus for the Road Home and reaching more folks virtually. We’re very fond of education, too. Those that aren’t familiar with military culture, exactly what is and understanding the transition issues that veterans and their families have when they’re coming out of the military and why a place like the Road Home Program became available. So, yeah, that’s just a little soft entry into some of the outreach. But yes, I’m here out of passion for serving our vets and families.

Will Beiersdorf: And we’re grateful for that. Again, it’s, it’s been an honor to have you and I’ll never forget, when we first came on board, you were working for the Chicago Park District.

Modie Lavin: I sure was.

Will Beiersdorf: And I know you had a good gig going there.  Very, very nice. But you made the leap, and you came over and you’ve been with us ever since, helping us build those relationships. And that’s, you know, one of the things I want to touch upon. Before we get into a little more discussion about Memorial Day, but about relationships. And, and I think that’s a big part of all of our jobs here, you know, especially your job and the rest of the outreach team. It’s building relationships. So, as folks are listening to this, this is, again, the Road Home Program, the podcast. It’s Will Beiersdorf and Modie Lavin and we’re talking a little bit about some of the things that we do here, you know, but more importantly, we’re going to touch upon Memorial Day, but relationships really has a big part of what we do, and it takes time, right? Because when we’re helping individuals that are battling these invisible wounds of war, or also, you know, those individuals and those families who’ve lost somebody, right? You know, you just can’t just go up to them and say, “Hey, you know, I’m from the Road Home Program, I’m here to help.” You know, it’s not that simple. It’s about building relationship, right? Listening to them. Understanding what’s going on. And it’s difficult. You can’t always put yourself in their shoes. But the most the important thing you can do is listen. So, Modie, can you talk a little bit about that, because that’s what I want folks to also capture here is a little bit, that, you know, we just don’t promote what we do. But we listen, understand, and then we figure out how we can help. Right?

Modie Lavin: I did. Absolutely. I think you’ve said one of the keywords in outreach is building relationships and that takes time. And it’s keeping yourself available at any time, any place to listen. Listening is, I can talk all day about the Road Home Program, I have brochures, but people do need a listening ear. And there’s a lot of stigma around mental health in veteran and military culture, as well, and it’s very comforting to have somebody like myself or yourself listening. But building those relationships, it could be a clerk in the grocery store, it could be a partner organization serving veterans, it could be a local family that had a son or daughter that just deployed or maybe just returned. And just being a good listener is key. And eventually you build up what I think is the most important thing in outreach is building trust. The more you listen and the more you make yourself available, people do end up trusting you and you will get that, that reach out to yourself. People asking you if you can help in any way. And understanding, yes, we’re a mental health clinic, but making yourself available, that’s what makes us really special here at the Road Home Program. It just might not be mental health. Okay. There could be some employment, unemployment, that our veterans and families need connections to financial assistance, legal assistance, and making sure you’re that pillar in the community to help veterans with all needs. So, yeah, building relationships is very key.

Will Beiersdorf: And that’s, yeah, again, you also noted trust, too. And I think that’s especially when you’re dealing with people that are battling PTSD. Again, that’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or having experienced military sexual trauma, MST, or other issues with depression and anxiety, but also loss, right? Because when you’re helping someone, whether it’s a mom or dad or brother or sister or even a friend, who’s lost someone, you know, unfortunately, in the service to our country, I mean, you have to have a relationship. You have to have some trust, right? Because that’s probably more sensitive, I think in some respects, than, you know, sometimes helping those individuals that are with us, right? That are battling, you know, the traumas they face. So, tell the folks a little bit about the work you do in the community of the Gold Star community, and in some of the things that you do, because you’re really the bridge that helps connect Road Home to that community. So, if you could share a little bit about that, those relationships and what I call the bridge of trust, right, that connects folks, because we help them, as well. So.

Modie Lavin: Yeah, thank you. Yes, I am an active member; I am the first vice president of the American Gold Star Mothers of Illinois. And that keeps me very active in the Gold Star, not only mothers, but families in the state of Illinois and across the nation, because that is a national organization. Those are definitely folks that I’m able to connect here to the Road Home Program because we have commonality. Yes, I know exactly how you feel. I’ve walked in your shoes. It’s definitely a trauma that happens when you lose a son or daughter in theater of war. But I always like to touch upon, because my heart goes out to all survivors, okay? There is an epidemic of veteran suicide, a very hard thing to talk about but something again, I’m very passionate about because I’ve met so many families. There is, right now, I think the average is 20 a day, or I think that number changed a little bit, but I’m going to keep it at 20 just because it’s not at zero yet. There is a lot of veterans completing suicide due to posttraumatic stress. And these families are broken and left behind and can suffer some really deep invisible wounds, complicated grief, children with loss of a parent or a sibling. They need the services that we offer here and I really like to be available in their community. Survivors also include families of training accidents that have been in the military. And there’s sickness that happens. And I always like to include all these, I call them the families of the fallen. I, yes, lost my son in Afghanistan in 2012. That’s what we would call a Gold Star family member. But in my eyes, all of them are Gold Stars.

Will Beiersdorf: But you know what? I’ve never asked you this before, but can you tell us a little bit about Conner? I mean, again – Why? Why did he join, you know, the military, right? 

Modie Lavin: Right.

Will Beiersdorf: And what was the lure of that? And, you know, you know, just a little more about, because I don’t know if folks know about Conner. You know, if you don’t mind sharing, that would be great.

Modie Lavin: No, I love talking about Conner. Corporal Conner T. Lowery, United States Marine Corps. You know, after 9/11, Conner always kind of talked here and there about doing something. He was young enough to really understand what had happened there and I remember Career Night at his high school. He came home and I said, “Well, what colleges did you look at?” And he said, “You know, I spent the whole time at the Marine Corps table. Talking, these guys are really cool.” And I’m like, “What?” As a mother that wasn’t exactly, you know, we always have that fear. But believe me, I’m probably one of the proudest Marine moms there is today. But you know, so he did end up going away to school, but something in him, he, after a couple years of college, he decided to enlist and he really wanted to become a Marine. And he made his country very proud. Of course, he paid the ultimate sacrifice, but I’ll tell you what, the service and the training prior to that day I remain very, very proud of. And he was a tall, striking young man who had an incredible sense of humor. And what made me proud is I heard from so many in his unit that he kept up the morale through laughter. And he was just amazing. And I miss him dearly but I am so very proud of him. 

Will Beiersdorf: And we’re grateful as a country, as, you know, a community for that. I know, it’s difficult, you know, talking about that, but I’m grateful that we can have that conversation. And, you know, this brings me to the next question then. So, as we celebrate Memorial Day, what’s the message to the folks in the community? I mean, because, again, we’ve heard, and I’ve heard, I think we’ve talked about this, on TV and on all the commercials and everything that you know, it’s a kickoff to the barbecue season, the grilling season, right? You know, and honestly, I just bought myself, after years, a brand new grill myself, you know, I said, “Okay, I’m gonna do that.” But as a veteran myself, I know that Memorial Day is not about new Weber grills being kind of, you know, christened, or folks to test out their new barbecue recipe, even though, it, we have given folks that freedom, right? But what can you share with folks, and this is the most important thing for me, because this is part of the bedrock of Road Home Program, you know, is that, you know, we serve all families, right? I mean regardless of the situation, but what, what can you impart upon, you know, the community of folks, you know, before they light that grill or do those things. And it’s nice, they can serve themselves and enjoy, but what can you do to kind of chair folks to like, take a moment to, you know, step back, remember, honor, you know, the sacrifice, because that’s really what was all about. I mean, it also I mean, Memorial Day was also known as Decoration Day, right? After the Civil War. So, if you just talk a little bit about that, and then what would be the message to folks to like, get people to just give a little, even a little something back, right? To remember,

Modie Lavin: I think you just said it, Will. Honor and remember. It is the kickoff to the grilling season, the kickoff of summer, the pools open, beaches open. There’s amazing sales, everything from mattresses to, you name it, bikes. That sounds great. I love seeing barbecues and picnics in, especially, public areas because that tells me that our country remains pretty okay. Freedom to celebrate, the freedom, but that freedom came at a cost, okay? And all I ask is that people have to remember that, Of course, it’s a three-day weekend and something we look forward to. But why is it a three-day weekend? What is that last Monday in May really mean? And I think it’s reminding Americans to put that plaque out. Okay? Take a moment. It doesn’t mean you have to spend the whole day but a lot of people will visit a cemetery and put a flag on a soldier’s grave be it from the Civil War, World War One or to our current conflicts. Take a moment to make it teachable for your children. Why are we about to barbecue today and you don’t have to go to school? And just, keeping, because as you have pointed out, after the Civil War, they called it Decoration Day. It was a very quiet day. It was, it was done very much in silence. And today, there seems to be a celebratory edge to it. And that doesn’t bother me at all, because it reminds me of the most amazing thing and that’s our freedom. 

Will Beiersdorf: So, if somebody says, you know, again, I say it all the time. “Happy Memorial Day!”

Modie Lavin: Right.

Will Beiersdorf: Happy Memorial, what am I talking about? It’s a Happy Memorial, no, wait a minute, hold on. And you’re not, but I mean, but you know, we celebrate the sacrifice, right? I mean, so that’s part of it. Is that okay with you? I mean?

Modie Lavin: It is okay with me. And you know, I say Happy Memorial Day. It might not really sound, there’s nothing to be happy about all the loss of life for this day, but let’s not kid ourselves that people are celebrating. It is a day of celebrating our freedom. But you have to take that time out to understand why. And it is the loss of life. And I think I mentioned to guys earlier today, if you’ve never been to Arlington Cemetery in our state’s Capitol, it’s a sight. And if you really want to be reminded about what Memorial Day is all about, even go online, check it out. I know they have some live tours of it. But that’s, that’s a really good reminder to realize the amount of life loss there was so that we can have those barbecues.

Will Beiersdorf: Yeah, no, it’s good. Good perspective, good perspective. So, this Memorial Day, there’s a lot happening, as there is always. Of course, we’re still in the post COVID, I guess, or whatever it, COVID whatever definition it is. So, there’s not parades and not a lot of active things going on. I know up in Arlington Heights, you know, we were doing some, actually a drive-by salutes to Memorial Park, you know, and then they have a thing they call Arlington Remembers and they always read off the names of all the fallen from the Civil War, the Great War, which we called World War One, World War Two, Korea, Vietnam, you know, Enduring Freedom, Desert Storm, the Global War on Terror, so on and so forth. Right. During freedom, you know, and just everything, you know, all the loss, right? They read off all those names, and I’m sure they’ll be doing, you’re doing something down in your neighborhood on the Southside in the 19th Ward, you know, with Matt O’Shea, and other folks, you know, but can you share a little bit about what’s going to be happening, kind of, during and then even after Memorial Day?

Modie Lavin: Sure. We usually have a parade in the 19th Ward and also a 5k Run, but as you said, post-COVID, kind of post-COVID, it’s just going to be a live stream, recognizing our fallen at a memorial at Ridge Park in the 19th Ward. But our alderman in that Ward is kicking off a, because June is PTSD Awareness Month, we’ll be kicking off Memorial Day weekend, a campaign. It is a fundraiser and, but, it’s, it’s really an awareness campaign about PTSD. All funds raised through buying a lawn sign or a T-shirt or even a beer at one of our local breweries will be donated to the Road Home Program, which of course we appreciate so much because we are philanthropically funded. But the awareness, having that lawn sign on your front lawn, we hope will get people talking. What does that mean? “Freedom isn’t free.” And there’ll be a silhouette of a child handing a flag to a combat soldier on these lawn signs. Again, an educational moment. A time to get people talking about the awareness. And so, we’re very appreciative for this campaign and we hope it’ll help people, not only about the Road Home Program, but just that it’s not easy to serve in the military.

Will Beiersdorf: Right. Right.

Modie Lavin: It’s honorable, but it can be a little difficult. 

Will Beiersdorf: And I just realized, as we’re talking, we’re going to be probably folks if I’ve listened to us that are outside Chicago, but you know, we’re talking about Chicago, the 19th Ward in Chicago.

Modie Lavin: Right.

Will Beiersdorf: Matt O’Shea, who is an alderman, you know, in your ward down there is doing this, and we’re really grateful for that. But I just wanted the, you know, just again, if you’re just joining us right now, this is the Road Home Program, the podcast. It’s myself, Will Beiersdorf and Modie Lavin. Modie Lavin is the Senior Outreach Coordinator and Gold Star Mother, I’m the Executive Director. And we’ve been talking about Memorial Day, right, and what it means, and Modie, you’ve shared with us about or, and again, what Memorial Day means to you and how people should celebrate. But, you know, the one thing I heard from you was people should celebrate. I mean, people we should celebrate. I mean, celebrating freedom and liberty, I mean, that’s a perfect legitimate right, you know, especially on Memorial Day or that weekend, but we just got to always take that minutes. Moment doesn’t matter, you know, to remember why, you know, right? Honor and remember? You know, we actually, Modie, you know, you know, this is not, you know, on video, but we put together Gold Star family gold bands, wristbands, it says “We honor and remember at the Road Home Program”, so. So, as we wrap up here, Modie, what other thoughts or comments, I think this has really been helpful for me, I really wanted to do this and talk about this because I really wanted to get that message out there that you know, Road Home is it’s very special place but part of our foundation of why we care and why we serve and why we do what we do and helping folks with the invisible wounds of war in life is, we realize that there’s been other sacrifices made that are ultimate sacrifices. So, we just want to make sure that we honor that and remember that and get people to hopefully honor and remember, as well, too. But any other last, maybe, thoughts?

Modie Lavin: Yeah, I’m glad you brought that up, Will, to remember that the Road Home Program does honor and remember and that all families are welcome here to receive our services or engage in some of our programs if that’s something that you think you need. I know, it’s something I know I needed. I can’t imagine going through life without reaching out for some sort of mental health help after a loss so great. And I just want our audience to know that the Road Home Program is here for you. We support you. Families, we, we let you define family. It could have been a brother, a parent, a spouse, a partner, and a lot of our veterans have battle buddies, and they are battling with survivor guilt and other titles attached to that. The Road Home Program is here. We do honor and remember, and we don’t forget the families. And that’s what makes us kind of a special place.

Will Beiersdorf: Yeah, you’re exactly right. And again, you know, if you want to learn more about the Road Home Program, you can go to www dot Road Home Program, all one word, dot org Do I have to say the www? Maybe I’m so old school, I don’t know. But it’s Road Home Program. It’s all one word, dot org. You can learn more, you can also call us 312-942-8387 or 312 942 VETS, V-E-T-S. And then we’re also on Facebook. But again, Modie, I really want to say thank you for taking the time. I know, when I, we did this last minute, but to pull this together, but I just wanted to, you know, do this just to push this out over Memorial Day and just hopefully get folks to take you know, 15 or 20 minutes, listen and learn a little bit, you know, about you know, Conner, and the sacrifices made, sacrifice made on his part and on your part. And then also the work we do at the Road Home. And then, as we said, I mean, you know, we’re here to help. And however we can, and if we can’t help, we’ll find the services, right? Or we’ll figure out how we can navigate folks. But, but just one last, one last thing. So if you could just put everything like in one, if there was like one word of Memorial Day, give me, what would you, I mean, what, what’s that one word that stands out about Memorial Day?

Modie Lavin: Remembering.

Will Beiersdorf: Exactly. I would say honoring. I would say honoring. 

Modie Lavin: Honoring and remembrance. So there’s two words. And, you know, for all the ones that went before Conner and then all the ones that went after.

Will Beiersdorf: That’s right. Yeah, there was, yeah, this was, as I was reading about Arlington Heights, I mean, there was several dozen men and women, you know, a few women, mostly men, but that had fallen during World War Two, and just in all the different wars and conflicts, but incredible sacrifice and you know, there was again, fortunately, somebody left at home, right? They, you know, come home. So, anyway. I don’t know what else to say but thank you, Modie, for the time. 

Modie Lavin: Thanks, Will. 

Will Beiersdorf: And again, this is a Memorial Day podcast in my mind and just again, get folks to remember and honor, you know, the service and sacrifice made.

Modie Lavin: It’s important.

Will Beiersdorf: It is important. Thank you again. 

Modie Lavin: Thank you.


About Road Home Program: The Podcast

Veterans have served our country, now it’s our turn to serve them. Road Home’s Will Beiersdorf talks with veterans and their families about their journeys transitioning to civilian life. During every episode you’ll hear from subject matter experts, like Rush clinicians, staff and community partners, discussing resources and services available to veterans to help them heal from the invisible wounds of war. Subscribe, download, or listen to other Road Home Program podcast episodes.

The Road Home Program provides mental health care and wellness to veterans of all eras, service members, and their families at no cost and regardless of discharge status. If you or a loved one needs help, call us at (312) 942-8387 (VETS) or fill out the Get Care form.