If we are going to be kind, let it be out of simple generosity, not because we fear guilt or retribution.
- J.M. Coetzee
For any family with a soldier, goodbyes are a part of life. As hard as it is to say goodbye, sometimes the hellos are just as difficult, often due to PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).
I remember sending our son off on his first deployment. Almost immediately I began planning his welcome home.
I did this for two reasons. First, what he was doing was a big deal, and I wanted him to know how much we honored his sacrifice. Second, it was a way to keep me from dwelling on the what-ifs and fears that stalked me while he was away at war.
During that deployment, as we had the opportunity to talk to him, I came to realize that I would be welcoming home a very different person than the one I hugged goodbye. As a soldier, he was experiencing things during his deployment that his family and friends back home couldn’t even imagine, much less relate to.
Beyond that, many of his experiences weren’t something he would be willing to share with those of us who’d never been to war.
As I began to comprehend the difficulties he faced, I scaled back my plans for his homecoming. I listened to what he wanted, and it wasn’t a huge welcome home event with bands and parades. Instead, he asked for time with family and friends, in small batches. That’s exactly what we gave him.
Once we got him home, instead of a son thrilled to be back, we were faced with a very angry young man. He wasn’t mad at anyone in particular, but everyone in general. He tried to hide it from us, going to almost ridiculous lengths to protect us from the turmoil of emotions he was trying to keep inside.
We could see the pain he was in, but we were powerless to help. All we could do was pray and love him through it.
Those were dark days, but time, as well as treatment for PTSD, has brought him most of the way through it. That treatment, and a lot of prayer, have gone a long way in healing the hidden wounds that crippled him when he returned from war.
Awareness about PTSD has also come a long way. Doctors continue to make strides in the diagnosis and treatment. We can do our part by keeping it in the forefront of everyone’s minds. June was PTSD Awareness Month, but don’t stop now. Help us continue to spread the word.
If you have an experience with PTSD you’d like to share, leave it in the comments section below. As families, we need to band together and take strength from the fact that we’re not alone.
Edie Melson is a leading professional in the publishing industry. She also knows what it’s like to send a loved one off to war. Her oldest son went from high school graduation, to Marine Corp boot camp, to Iraq; where he served two tours fighting on the front lines as an infantry Marine. Fighting Fear: Winning the War at Home When Your Soldier Leaves for Battle, is Edie’s heart project. Look for her two newest books for military families debuting in 2014: While My Son Serves and While My Husband Serves. You can also connect with Edie on Twitter and Facebook.