In this episode, I wish my brother SGT Steven DeLuzio a happy birthday. Today would have been his 35th birthday.
I also talk about what it means to have a purpose.
Links & Resources
Thanks for tuning in to the Drive On Podcast where we talk about issues affecting veterans after they get out of the military.
Before we get started, I’d like to ask for a favor. If you haven’t done so already, please rate and review the show on Apple Podcasts. If you’ve already done that, thank you! These ratings help the show get discovered, so it can reach a wider audience. While you’re there, click the subscribe button so that you get notified of new episodes as soon as they come out. If you don’t use Apple Podcasts, you can visit driveonpodcast.com/subscribe to find other ways of subscribing including our email list.
I’m your host, Scott DeLuzio. And now, let’s get on with the show.
Hey everyone, thanks for tuning into the Drive On Podcast.
Today, I’m doing a special episode. See, today is February 25th and it would have been my brother Steven’s 35th birthday. More likely than not if he was still alive, we would have had some plans to go out to dinner or do something fun to celebrate the day. Since he’s no longer with us, I figured what better way to celebrate than to dedicate an episode to him.
Actually, if I’m being honest with who he was, we would have been doing something to celebrate the day for a few days now at least. I remember more than once he asked what we were doing to celebrate the “week of Steve”. The week of Steve would usually start the weekend before and end the weekend after his birthday. And if his birthday happened to fall on a weekend, he’d celebrate the week of Steve for two weeks. Of course he didn’t expect us to drop everything for a week to celebrate, but if you knew him he was a goofball and joked around like that.
It’s been 10 years since the last birthday he got to celebrate. At that time he was on his way to Afghanistan with his Vermont Army National Guard unit. I wonder if it would have changed how he celebrated that birthday if he knew that his would be a one way trip over there.
Back in episode 12, I did another episode where I talked about Steven and how he impacted my life. If you haven’t listened to that episode, go give it a listen too. It’ll fill in some gaps that I might leave out in this episode.
In that episode I talked about having a support system. People who are close to you. Close enough to recognize when you’re going through a tough time and can help you get through it. And if they’re not the right ones for the job, they can help you seek out the care you need.
All of that is really important. It led me to get the help I needed.
What I want to talk about in this episode is finding a purpose. When my I was told that my brother was killed, my commander at the time asked if I was going to do something stupid like hurt myself or others. It was a completely rational question to ask a man with a rifle and over 200 rounds of ammo who was just told some devastating news. But at the time, I thought “how could I do something like that?” I had a wife and a newborn at home. My parents just lost one of their sons, I couldn’t do something that would cause them to lose both of their kids.
At that moment, my family was my purpose.
After getting home, there were decisions that had to be made that no parent should have to make for their child. Funeral details, settling his estate’s affairs with the probate court, media interviews. Ha, were there interviews. That’s not something most people have to go through when they lose a loved one. But a highly publicized military death had reporters from all of the major newspapers, television, and radio stations in the state coming to my parent’s house. They all wanted to know who he was, what he was like, how we felt. The day I got home from Afghanistan, the sight of the news vans on my parent’s street enraged me. Fuck those people, I thought. Go get your goddamn story somewhere else. Leave us the fuck alone.
But, then I realized that that’s exactly what they would do. Actually, in fairness, I think our casualty assistance officer suggested this. Those reporters were going to air or print a story one way or the other. They might go and get a sound bite from a random kid that Steve was in 2nd grade with. Or worse, they’ll get some random person to talk about how they feel about the soldier from Glastonbury Connecticut who died.
“It’s awful”, “it’s a tragedy”, “he had his whole life ahead of him”, and other vague or generic sound bites is what they’d end up airing.
My purpose at that point was to make sure that his story was told. I wanted to make sure that everyone knew about the Yankees fan, the Bruins fan, the kid who would pretend to fall asleep and collapse to the floor when you were telling a story that he deemed to be boring. I wanted to make sure that anyone who would listen knew about the Uncle who would never get to see his nephew grow up to be a great baseball player. Hell, I want to let the world know now about the Uncle who never got to meet one niece and nephew. I wanted to make sure that there was an accurate representation of who he was.
That was my purpose in the days after coming home. I knew my mom for one didn’t want to be in the spotlight. My dad had no problem with it, but neither of them should have had to do this while mourning the loss of their son.
In the months after, we decided to create a non-profit memorial fund, the SGT Steven DeLuzio Memorial Fund. The mission of that fund is to raise money to help veteran organizations and provide college scholarships to kids who have something in common with Steven. We’ve given scholarships to about 20 little league athletes and hockey players. Both of which were passions of Steve’s. We’ve also raised money for organizations like the Wounded Warrior Project, the Fisher House, the Heroes Project, the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation, and the Connecticut Trees of Honor.
Even the way that we raised money for these scholarships and charities represented things Steven loved. We ran a golf tournament and banquet for the first five years after he was killed. Those combined golf, a game he enjoyed (even though I kicked his butt all the time), and gathering family and friends. We consistently sold out, or at least came darn close to selling out the tournament every year. 144 golfers and about 300 total banquet attendees.
To that end, we’re also holding a banquet this year around Memorial Day, where we hope to have as many family and friends come together to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his death.
Our purpose with this non-profit is to celebrate his life, and continue telling his story to anyone who will listen. Anyone who receives a scholarship learns a little about him. Some of these little league kids were probably still in diapers when he was killed. They never had the chance to know him, but they’ll know who he was.
There is a book I read a couple months ago, called The Knock at the Door. It is the story of three women who lost a loved one in war - one brother and two husbands. It’s their story of grief. How their world got turned upside down after getting their knock at the door. The knock at the door refers to how the military notifies families of a loved one’s death. Typically uniformed officers are sent to the house to deliver the notification.
That book talks about how those women hit rock bottom. Drinking, not eating or sleeping enough, and a host of other similar issues. It also talks about how they turned their loss to inspiration for others. These women collectively work for the Travis Manion Foundation, named after one of the service members from the book. The foundation has developed programs and events that empower veterans and families of the fallen. It gives them a purpose. A reason to keep moving forward.
It offers an escape from the trap of inaction. Without a purpose, what’s the reason to get out of bed in the morning? What’s the reason to put on your pants, go outside and be a part of society?
Everyone has a different purpose. Some people it’s their family. Some people have their job. Others volunteer their time with a cause that they feel strongly about. If you have the courage to love any of these things, and the people involved with them, you have to be prepared to suffer a loss at some point. These things don’t last forever. No one lasts forever.
You have to be prepared to respond to the loss in a way that mourns that loss, but also allows you to keep moving on. To Drive On, if you will.
Look, I’m not perfect at this. I still struggle with this from time to time. Sometimes the grief still creeps in. What you don’t want to do is let it shackle you down entirely so you can’t function. If I didn’t have a purpose, I would have a really hard time carrying on.
For me, my purpose is my family, first and foremost. The work I do allows me the freedom to work from home so I’m here as much as possible. Since I’m self employed, I don’t have to answer to anyone but me. I set my own hours, decide when to take time off, and know that it’s OK to cut out early to get ice cream with my wife and kids every once in awhile.
Some people might say “oh that must be nice that you have this cushy job that you can just come and go whenever you please”. Don’t get me wrong. It isn’t an easy job, and the decision I’ve made to dedicate time to my family definitely has limited my ability to have what others might consider a cushy job. Yea, I take time off to spend with my family. But it isn’t because I’m making millions and have a full staff of people working for me. I choose my family as my priority. I’ve chosen to work this job so that I can squeeze every second of time that I can get out of my family. That’s not for everyone though.
One of the other things I’ve learned from losing Steven is that when you think of tragedies you typically think that you don’t have to worry about it. Those things only happen to other people. Whoever they are. They happen to the people you see on the news, and you think “oh, I feel so bad for those people”. That’s exactly what I thought when both he and I were deployed to Afghanistan in 2010. I knew that there was a possibility that something tragic could happen to one or both of us. I don’t think I ever really let myself believe that he could die though. Even when I was being told that he was killed, my mind jumped straight to trying to figure out how I could help if he was seriously wounded. Did he need blood, a kidney, any other part of me that I didn’t absolutely need? Anything short of my brain and heart was his if he needed it. Get me on a helicopter I’ll give it to him. When it finally registered with me that he was gone, it hit me like a ton of bricks. As one of the other people that you see on television, I can tell you that it isn’t just other people who are impacted by tragedy. I was one of those other people on the nightly news, on the cover of a newspaper, one of those people that made you feel sorry for a stranger even if it was just for a moment.
There’s nothing you can really do to prepare for that sort of unexpected news. But you can enjoy the time you have with your loved ones. Looking back, the good times are the times that stand out in my memory. Like the time when my brother got an entire NHL hockey arena chanting USA USA USA after the Boston Bruins beat the Montreal Canadiens. Or the time when we visited St. Andrews, Scotland to golf. And on a rainy day where the course was closed, we did some damage to the beer supply in a local pub, emptied the minibar in our hotel, and caused some ruckus. Come to think of it a lot of our good memories involved beer.
Just talking about some of those good times brings a smile to my face. So I guess the point is, go out and make memories with the ones you love. It’s inevitable that either you or them will be gone at some point. Whoever is left deserves to be able to think back and smile at the good times.
We all deserve to smile I think.
The point of this episode is to talk about having a purpose. Your purpose can change, but generally it helps you stay focused on what matters most to you. It helps you set priorities. My family is my top priority, and I make sure that at 5 o’clock every day I turn off of work mode so I can spend some time with my kids. Eat dinner, play, read, watch a movie, or whatever it is we end up doing. Whatever it is, I don’t want to miss it because I wanted to get an extra hour or two of work in.
The work will still be there tomorrow. My kids are only young once.
Having a purpose can give you the drive you need to keep going when things get tough. Last year my wife was hospitalized and in a coma after having severe seizures. The doctors didn’t really know what she would be like when she eventually came out of the coma. The two weeks she was in the hospital were not easy at all. And the months after she got out weren’t a walk in the park either. My purpose remained the same. My family.
I had several business trips planned for shortly after she was hospitalized, which I canceled. I took time off from work to take her to doctor’s appointments so we could try to get answers for what caused her illness. She needed me. My kids needed me.
Your purpose might be different from mine. You might find purpose or meaning in volunteer work like working with kids, or helping veterans. You might find purpose in improving your community, which could take shape in a number of different ways. It could be cleaning up a park in your neighborhood so it’s clean and safe to use. It could be serving on a local government position. You might even find purpose by traveling to see places around the country or the world. Hell, your purpose could be as simple as being a good friend to the people in your life.
If your purpose changes, that’s OK too. It doesn’t have to be tied to your identity. To be honest, if you were to ask me what my purpose was 10 or 15 years ago, I’m not sure I would have had a very good answer. I don’t think I was self-aware enough to know what really motivated me. Maybe it was my own selfish motivations that drove me to do what I wanted. But we all change, and it should be expected that our purpose - the thing that motivates us - will change too.
When you’re young, your purpose might be to work hard so you can rise up the ranks at your company quickly. Maybe it’s to make a lot of money. Maybe it’s to go out and party to enjoy life. But as you get older, things might start to change. You might meet someone and start a family. Maybe they become more important than working long hours to get ahead. Hopefully they’re more important than late night partying.
In next week’s episode, I’ll be talking to an expert that will help us understand how to find our core values. The things that are really important to us so we can figure out our purpose.
We all need a purpose. I hope you’ll tune in.
Happy Birthday Steve. I’ll be raising a beer tonight for you.
Thanks for listening.
Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to check out more episodes or learn more about the show, you can visit our website, DriveOnPodcast.com we're on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at DriveOnPodcast.