The ability to see beyond our current circumstance is what enables us to face the future. It fosters the belief in the basic tenant that “evil is powerless if the good are unafraid.” Feeding our faith as opposed to our fears empowers us but what happens when hope fades? What happens when calls for “mother” and/or “God” go unanswered? What happens with the realization that a lifetime can be cut short – truly in the twinkling of an eye? What happens when, on the grand scheme of things, fighting the good fight, wasn’t really a good fight at all?
What becomes of the warrior who, having become too old, too weak, or too injured to fight, is returned home? With whom does that warrior do battle now?
The battle is, as it has been all along; within. Remembering among the ruins of tales not yet forgotten becomes for some, a bridge to a better place. Facing the future by looking back may be – at least for a time -the only way many are able to move on.
Hope lies not within the belief that they are able to make a difference in the here and now, but rather in the knowing, that the sacrifices they made, were in fact worthwhile. That what happened, happened for a reason, and that their experiences worked together – collectively to serve the greater good. To undo what has been done, we must understand that the conflict continues even after the battle is over.
Casualty of war defined is “a military person lost through death, wounds, injury, sickness, internment, or capture or through being missing in action.” (Merriam-Webster, 2003) This term needs to be redefined to include more than the military personnel. It must now be all encompassing and include not only those individuals, affected by what they have experienced but the people to whom they return as well.
The eyes of the young men in the picture with my father (age 19 –year 1944) are very much like my own sons; bright, hopeful, a touch of arrogance, and fresh. They didn’t come back that way. Boys went to war, men were returned home. Many things are lost between generations. Sadly, however, the ill effect of war is not.
My father was a Marine. He fought in World War II, the Korean Conflict, and Vietnam. He returned home with an injury to the back, fungus on his feet, and carrying the weight of the “band of brothers” he left behind. He didn’t, they were with him each and every day.
To us, that “band of brothers” were more than names on a wall that evoke emotion; they were as much a part of our family as my mother, my sister and me. They taught us that you never kill crickets because they were good luck and could alert you when the enemy was near. Other times, however, they would throw snakes at him, or make him think, the “enemy” was approaching, when in fact, there was no one there. Those “ brothers” of his, would wake him from a deep sleep (and startle him), I’m convinced to bring him back from wherever it was they had all reconvened. We were always aware of their presence, and as such, we learned that they didn’t care for loud noises, especially the ones that shoes made upon entering a room, without announcing yourself properly. In the end however, I am certain that, just as he was with them in their final moments, they too were with him, in his.
In many ways, family members become indirect prisoners of a war that still rages within the soldier who struggles to come to terms with and make sense of their experiences. It is here, on the home front that family members, must learn to identify, treat, and then cope with that which they do not understand and simply cannot comprehend.
We welcome the warrior and in our attempts to return to “business as usual” pretend not to notice little things that don’t seem quite right. Anger, flashbacks, difficulty falling and/or remaining asleep, hyper-vigilance (for my father it meant, not one spec of anything could be on the floors, not one drop of water on the sink, etc.) nightmares, difficulty in social settings, difficulty in the work place, and/or difficulty in personal relationships. It is important to note that there may be a combination of symptoms which may appear over time, but not always immediately upon returning home.
Just as the service member is effected, so too are the family members. Simple things like a trip to the grocery store must be thought out as many affected in this manner, experience severe road rage and/or no longer feel safe in crowed places. My father stayed home – a lot – which for him was a “safe haven” but for us at times, was our own private hell. There is an increased risk of depression for all involved. The homecoming, which for many was the pinnacle, the light at the end of a long dark tunnel, becomes anything but.
Even for those dealing with other situations and/or similar situations – remember this L.A.C.E.S. Listen – to that inner voice that says you need help. Ask – trained professionals for help Connect – with others who share similar experiences Express –your feelings appropriately by learning to identify what it is you are feeling – Self-Care – Take care of and be patient with yourself.
It is said, that “the journey of one thousand miles begins with the first step” begin your today….its never too late.