This holiday weekend is a time for remembering those who’ve protected us from harm.
That’s what Memorial Day is all about.
My dad (the guy on the right) rarely talked about the war. He served in the Philippines. WWII. He loved telling a story about letters my mother wrote – letters that he cherished and anticipated with great delight. They were dating back then. She would carefully number each one in her beautiful script. But, there was finally that one day, when to his dismay, one number was skipped. 32, 33…35.
He scoured the island for that letter.
Mother admitted years later that she’d never written it, perhaps going out to a dance or flirting with some other beau instead of dutifully writing my dad. It happened more than once, and drove Dad crazy.
Mother would smile in her chair, as he teasingly regaled us with one more rendition of the story.
He would also show us the bullet wound in his leg — the piece of shrapnel he kept in his jewelry case. And he would make jokes about being wounded.
The serious stuff? The fear? What it’s like to see people die beside you?
Dad never talked about it, at least with me. I asked a couple of times, and he’d pretty much ignore the topic.
I’ve had a glimpse of how it feels to come home from battle, now occurring in Afghanistan or Iraq. I’ve been honored to try to help a few veterans with that process — some of course struggling with PTSD — having flashbacks and nightmares, startling easily, staying hypervigilant to any sign that there’s danger, being emotionally agitated or emotionless. Weaving yourself back into normal life can be tremendously difficult. But there seem to be factors that have nothing to do with the actual trauma experienced that can predict whether or not PTSD develops.
Having good friends, having people who care about you and support you is vital.
Yet how do you support someone who’s going through or gone through what you haven’t? All you can do is try — try to understand trauma that you’ve not experienced — to be there if someone does choose to talk. To support your veteran getting the help they need. To support causes like the Wounded Warrior Project, Fisher House, or other support groups that can lend a hand.
For 15% of veterans, PTSD is a constant struggle. Theirs is a war within.
We make a big deal at first, when veterans come home. Then our lives go on.
Theirs have changed forever.
I know that’s how people who experience other kinds of trauma and loss feel — that somehow, even after what you have gone through, your job is to pick up where you left off, and live. Yet you aren’t the same person. Your experience has changed you. You don’t perceive things like you did before. You may not feel a connection with others that meant a lot to you, or whose company you enjoyed. Your values may have changed. Whether it’s coming home from war, the death of a child, a rape, or a school shooting, tragedy, fear, pain and loss have altered your thinking.
But there may be people who love you counting on you — or people you love who you want to love well. You fight to emotionally survive.
Maybe that’s why Dad didn’t talk. It was his way of surviving. He stayed as detached from the memories as he could.
But he did talk with other vets. A fellow soldier wrote a book, and featured some stories about my dad. (Sadly, I can’t find the book or I’d share the title.) A short reference, but he was in there. His face lit up when he talked about it, and he eventually called the guy. They had a long, private conversation.
I was so happy that he got that chance.
This Memorial Day, I will remember my dad and all the people that have served to protect us.
Thank you. For what you talk about.
And all that you don’t.
If you are a veteran or know of one who might be suffering with depression or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, please know that there are resources to help at the VA. Click here for the link. Sometimes what you have experienced is overwhelming. You can get better if you get treatment.
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