Make the sacrifice of NOT SHOPPING today…..
As we watch them stride confidently toward the big carrier plane, the one that will take them away to a place we can never really get a true understanding of…..…tears slide down our faces. We choke down fear filled sobs…. Shove aside any notions that they will not return to us intact. Or that they will not return to us at all.
A year goes by— and its painfully slow. You’ve written letters. Once a week. Twice a week. Sent care packages. Hoped and prayed as hard as you could. Bargained with God…promising to give up anything and everything if it meant your loved one would be one of “the lucky ones” to come back home to you intact…alive…so that life could go on as normal and joyous as it had been before they were called up for duty.
…..The day finally arrives when you, your family members, and friends stand together in a crowd of other families…cheering together and waving flags as the big jumbo jet lands on the tarmac. The party has been lovingly planned for weeks, every detail has been attended to, and all their favorite foods are prepared.
Relief sets in for everyone as the soldiers begin making their descent down the steps of the plane….each one stopping to look up at the sky in disbelief as they take their first steps back on US soil….some of them kneel down to touch the tarmac with their bare hands for a moment. Now, you know it’s all going to be okay. Everything is good now. The pause button can be released. Life can go on as it was.
Until it can’t. Until it isn’t OK. Until…as the days and weeks go by, you discover they have changed and something is definitely not right, not the same, and you have no idea what to do…or say….to begin to figure it out.
But that “connection….” Your way of “being” with each other has changed—
The person who is sitting next to you watching a football game isn’t the same person you sent off to war one year and a handful of days ago. They are distant. Distracted. Easily agitated. They appear deep inside of themselves, far away from you….the realization sets in that this isn’t the same relationship you were in…. This isn’t the person you remember…
On the eve of Memorial Day weekend 2015 its important that we not just memorialize those who were lost in the line of duty over the decades while defending our flag and our freedom….but the thousands of men and women who are still serving and making the ultimate sacrifice every day: the sacrifice of self in the most personal and devastating way.
PTSD and concussive TBI have emerged to the forefront as more and more of our service men and women have come home forever changed not just physically….but emotionally. We are just now learning how much the veterans from previous wars like Vietnam have suffered for decades without a definitive diagnosis. As a nation we left them flailing out there, without support, without understanding, in a sea of judgment and peril.
A friend of mine who recently returned from his fourth deployment described his frustration with people who casually observe he made it back “without a scratch.” “It’s the most frustrating thing, and its irritating, because they have no idea what my life is like, what it feels like, and that just because the marks aren’t there for them to see it doesn’t mean I came back just fine.” Vets often struggle with an acute identity crisis while trying to go through the steps of reintegration in the days and months after returning from a combat setting. Their life roles are different. Their motivations for making every movement throughout the day —have changed.
Our soldiers may make it home from a “place,” but as now deceased Daniel Somer’s put it in his last letter: “I can’t find peace when my mind is still in a war that I can’t even go back to.” Yes, they are HERE, but their minds…their hearts….their identities are still entrenched in the desert terrain overseas. In fact, many vets will endorse a sense of “not feeling normal here.” “I feel more like myself THERE.” They also experience a sense of guilt for being away from their brothers and sisters who remain in theatre. Perhaps they even feel a sense of guilt for surviving an incident one or more of their comrades did not.
Those of us with Veterans in our lives should be reading up on PTSD, Combat Loss, Combat Bereavement, TBI….learning what they are, what they mean for our soldiers, and what one or more of these afflictions can mean for the day to day self -perception and quality of life of our loved ones.
Its crucial we get reacquainted with our soldiers WHERE THEY ARE TODAY and not where they USED TO BE YESTERDAY. With every deployment….they may come back a little less who they used to be before they left for another tour….reminding them of that does nothing to help them reintegrate back into a family, a home, or into society. You see, no one knows MORE THAN THEY DO, that they are different. NO ONE is more painfully aware that they can never go back to that “normal person” you used to know and love…but who is now forever changed. For many, the guilt and burden of that is just as overwhelming as their efforts to please you and be the person you want them to be.
If you stop and think about it, all of us go through personal growth and change in our lives….changes that will make us a little bit different as we get older and wiser and as we live and learn our way through challenges.
Veterans are expected to go through these changes and adjust to them at lightening speed. They also have to try and and reintegrate and relearn who they are—at lightening speed….in fact, some vest state that they do it more for you than for themselves. They try hard to be who you remember them to be, who you used to love them for being….and who you hoped would step off that plane.
If you want to honor your soldier….let go of expectations. Love and honor the person that is standing before you in this moment. Stop what you are doing and give them an unconditional message of love by telling them they are perfect as they are right now, today. Reassure them that they will be just as perfect —if not better—each day that lies ahead. It’s what many of our soldiers so desperately need to hear. The gift of knowing that the pressure is off of their shoulders…that they can put down the burden of pretending to be someone they just cant get back to being anymore, that they cant seem to reach any longer.
Think about it for a second. If you had just emerged through a catastrophic health crisis that left you changed physically, emotionally, or both—would you not want your loved ones to love you just as you are and not hold you to the impossible standard we call “the past?”
I think one of the most precious things we can do for our vets is give them hope and the knowledge that no matter what lies ahead for them, no matter how they may change, there is always that special person or family that will be there to love them, grow with them, remain steadfastly patient with them, celebrate them, and stand by them not just under the best of circumstances….but some of the worst.
These men and women go overseas to fight for our freedom. For our right to “be” who we are and do as we wish. It just seems fair, and just, that we afford them those same basic rights—to return back into our arms and our hearts just as they are…and where they are on their own journey. Believe it or not, it’s the expectations we impose on them that can do the most harm….and push them farther away into a dangerous, dark, and lonely place.
To me, that is what Memorial Day should be about. Finding ways to reach and hold on tight to a connection with our Veterans. So they always know they aren’t just remembered or honored for their service and sacrifice on a single day…but that we as a nation, alongside their loved ones… will fight just as hard for them as they did for us—every day of the year.
About the Author: Amanda L. Trujillo BS-MSN is the daughter of an Army VietNam Veteran who has suffered from PTSD and TBI for decades. She also has many friends who are veterans. A passionate advocate for veteran health and PTSD/TBI Awareness, she is also the Director of Nurse and Patient Advocacy with the Humanitarian Advocate Coalition in Phoenix, Arizona.