Nothing can prepare you for the reality of a knock on the door telling you your wife has been in an accident. It can’t prepare you for being the one to identify her by her wedding ring as she lies in a coma in the ICU. Nothing prepares you for becoming a widower and a single dad at the age of 28.
For Chief Master Sgt. Nathan Parks, 726th Operations Group Superintendent, resiliency became more than training in 2006. It became a path to surviving tragedy.
Before the knock, Parks describes his life as normal. He was an Air Force Reservist who had just finished a deployment. He and his wife had just adopted two special needs children. His civilian career as police officer was advancing and he was running a private investigation business.
After the knock, Parks found himself trying to manage the new reality of his life.
“There were days I didn’t even feel like getting out of bed,” Parks said.
For Parks, managing life after losing his wife was compounded when in the same year he found out his dad left his mom after 32 years of marriage, followed by blowing his knee out for a second time in the spring of 2007.
The overwhelming stress and grief that came from the events in Parks’ life took a toll on his health.
Through counseling Parks realized he had to take back control in his life so he could be there for his children.
“One of the things the counselor said to me was, ‘The best thing you can do for your kids is be a healthy you.’” Parks said. “I knew the way I handled things would set the tone for their (his children) life on how they handled adversity and challenges.”
Even before Comprehensive Airman Fitness concept was adopted by the Air Force in 2009, Parks said his journey to wellness began by focusing his mental, physical, social and spiritual health.
Parks got back in the gym and was able to find solitude and healing there.
“There was not a lot I could control in my life and I wasn’t winning a lot of battles,” Parks said. “Being able to win in the weight room started giving me confidence in what I could do and what I could withstand.”
Parks also said he had to acknowledge the anger and betrayal he felt in his spiritual life in order to move forward.
“I started keeping record of all the good things that I felt like God had done in my life, all the blessings I probably didn’t deserve and it (the list) way outweighed this one page of why I was mad,” he said.
Along with Parks’ internal resiliency journey, he also emphasized the profound impact of having people just being present had made on his ability to rebuild a healthy life.
“Every other night some military member would show up at my house and bring a meal,” he said. “It was something simple like that.”
Looking back on those years, Parks said his greatest advice to supporting others is to just be present.
“There’s times where nothing can be said and our presence is where the value is added,” he said. “Just be present. Don’t ask the question … just do and do it without expectations.”
For Parks the final piece of the grieving process was realizing that sharing his story helped others through their own healing process.
“I hated telling my story. I hated people feeling sorry for me and not knowing what to say,” he said.
However, when he sees people grieving or needing resiliency, he hopes his own story will equip, empower and inspire them to be the hero in their own resiliency journey.
Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part story. Look for Part Two in the next issue of Desert Lightning News.