It Should Never Be About “Us Vs. Them”

The comments that I see on social media that show a total lack of understanding about the emotional trauma many veterans’ families face could fill a book. For many veterans, facing the difficulties that come with healthcare, housing and jobs are bad enough. The particular struggles that family members face are also challenges that are often overlooked or minimized.

One such depth-lacking comment made was that “Some of them never get over it and it’s their right.” Nobody that has endured trauma, including war or related injuries, should feel as though they’re on some arbitrary deadline to “get over it” by a certain time. However, there is a need to realize that it is not a veteran’s “right” to use their lack of a meaningful recovery to physically or mentally abuse others.

Society has reached a point where the needs of the family are sometimes seen as detrimental to the veteran’s needs as an individual. We must avoid this trap, as it ultimately only hurts, rather than helps, everyone involved.

Although the family cannot be expected to fully understand everything the veteran went through in combat, there are certain parts of the journey towards emotional healing they can share. Here are a few observations I’ve made based on my experiences as the daughter of a veteran whose “path” ultimately diverged from mine:

  • You do have the right to shape your identity as you – not whoever’s son or daughter. Invite your parent to be part of your interests, even if it’s just in the form of talking about them together. Finding this common ground allowed me to maintain my ability to maintain correspondence with my dad for a little longer.
  • If your parent lives with PTSD, you might find that they don’t like activities that involve crowds, that’s likely a defense mechanism that they use. Instead of having your heart set on certain activities, think of options that work well for both of you. Hikes and other outdoor activities helped provide me with some better memories.
  • Should you have a parent with substance abuse issues, don’t let yourself get pulled into having to attend 12-step meetings with them as a condition for them getting clean. If their interest in recovery is strong enough, they will accept your need to cope as you are comfortable. Everyone doesn’t feel comfortable attending an in-person support group.
  • Establish clear boundaries about your comfort level with involvement in their veteran-oriented activities or activities that involve alcohol, if your loved one struggles with alcohol. Boundaries must be enforced to be beneficial, so stand your ground. Had I understood the importance of boundaries a lot sooner, things may have worked out differently.

Some veterans struggling with PTSD or substance abuse never do “get over it” this side of the grave. However, you have the choice to not end up being a form of emotional “collateral damage”, so to speak. You need to care for your emotional health, and this does not have to include being supportive of your loved one at the expense of your wellbeing.

 

Remembering their legacy

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On Memorial Day, we remembered the service members that made the ultimate sacrifice. While we honor their sacrifices, let us also keep in mind the importance of honoring their legacy by remembering their unique place as family members and friends of people who miss them.

Vietnam veteran Jim Crigler recently made the news with his 2,000 mi+ trip down the Mississippi River, handing out Gold Stars to family members of fallen service members. His touching tribute serves as a reminder that their sacrifices should never be forgotten, nor should their faithful service be taken for granted.

Even if we have deceased former military members that were part of our families who didn’t die in battle, we must not forget that they, too, felt the burden of the costs of war. Regardless of whether it was in the form of readjusting to civilian life, coping with the effects of addiction or mental illness, or living with a disability, many now-departed veterans struggled and left behind family members who must also cope with struggles of their own.

Meaningful tributes to both war dead and deceased veterans matter to families. In addition to the typical military awards, tributes that involve commemorating the service member’s life outside the military are often very meaningful.

For example, remembering someone only as “Jim, retired Staff Sargeant, United States Army” says less about them as a whole person than “Jim, a dad, dog lover, avid reader and Italian cuisine fan.”

A Jewish proverb that is very fitting reads, “The only truly dead are those who have been forgotten.” The war dead and those who lost their lives after returning home maybe won’t be forgotten in the traditional sense as long as wars are documented, but we can lose sight of WHO these brave souls were.

Whether we remember them each Memorial Day or at Veteran’s Day, let’s truly remember THEM, as family members, friends, people with interests that often mirror our own. Each of them matters in the ongoing story of shaping our country’s and world’s history.