Sunday, May 25, 2014

To my Dad and to our Veterans - You are not forgotten!

My career path was always meant to land me as a Psychiatrist at the VA.  I began my career in 2002 at the Brecksville, Ohio VA.  To all of the military men and women that were under my care, it was truly a privilege.

My love of the military and my compassion for their heroism and their bravery began when I was a wee lass watching my Dad attempt to hold his hand steady as he worked on his beloved hobbies.  When I was older I asked Mom what she understood his problem to be.  In those days, long before Post Traumatic Stress Disorder became a recognized disorder in the l980's, it was termed "Shell Shock".  My father served in World War II.  He was stationed in Germany.  The answer satisfied me at the time.

I was priveleged to have Dad leave Pennsylvania and come to Brown Country to stay with us after Mom died.   Ellen, my youngest sister, married and left home, in the mid '90's and stubborn Dad was determined to initially gut it out.  His health was failing, however, and I can remember one stormy Christmas eve going home to rescue him.  The greatest gift that year was having him "home" for Christmas.

It was during his stay with me that I was able to retrieve from his feeble short term impaired but definitely long term intact memory some of the trauma that he endured.  Some of the events were survived by his mature defense mechanism of humor.  Others were repressed for years and were manifested by agitation, heightened body arousal, avoidance of certain topics, flashbacks, and, most of all, survivor guilt.

His favorite story was the time he sat in the mess hall in Germany with his "men" - Dad was their Sergeant.  The air raid alert went off just as they were about to enjoy the first steak meal they had been given to reward them for their many efforts in disabling German land mines.  I could just see the wooden tables lined with metal plates and a meager steak that probably looked more like a Porterhouse to them.  But there was no ignoring the siren.  The troops ran to the lower bunker while bombs landed in close proximity.  The impact had shattered the windows only, but the mess hall was intact.  Well, all but the steaks.  Those metal plates lucky enough to endure the impact now had a few more items added to the meal - shards of glass.  Other steaks were blown off the table and were now displaying dirt as well as glass.  Well, what does one do in that situation?  Dad just laughed and never gave me a straight answer.  But I bet the medic was busy treating some multiple mouth lacerations!

The difficult memory that Dad finally felt comfortable and safe in sharing with me over our morning coffee (a cherished time of day with Dad) was the time he was asked to leave his troops and fly to Great Britain.  You see, Dad was the expert on dismantling a certain German land mine.  Dad did not want to go but a new troop leader was already assigned and you don't ignore orders.

While Dad was absent his troop came under attack.  The newly assigned leader panicked and went AWOL and his troop was lost.  Dad never recovered.  He spent most of his time trying to locate men not only while fulfilling his military commitment, but also until drawing his last breath.  He had survivor guilt.  He suffered from PTSD.  My dear father kept these matters of the heart hidden all of those years.  I wanted to hug him and reassure him that it was not his fault.  But there are some hurts so deep that only certain actions can begin to heal.

For Dad, his healing was visiting every Vet he knew in our community.  He dragged Mom to every Rainbow Division reunion.  And every memorial day, when the local cemetery did not place flags on the veterans graves, Dad was out early that day, putting down his garden knee pad and knelt at each grave while placing a flag to honor their memory.

There are so many people that I have lost in my life.  My favorite memory was watching Dad pull up a chair at the dining room window with our yellow lab, Scarlett.  Dad was waiting for our youngest son, Andy, to be dropped off by the school bus.  When Dad would spot the red blinkers arriving in front of the driveway he would shout to Scarlett, "Where's Andy?".   Scarlett would come, sit next to Dad as Andy walked up the drive way and wag her tail.  "Andy's home, girl".

One day I will write a blog about PTSD.  But this Memorial Day Weekend I just want to remember Dad and the beautiful lessons he taught.  You might sum his lessons up in these words, Love, Commitment, Devotion, and being the Best at what you were chosen to be.

Dad, you were the best Father, the best Grandfather, and the best Friend imaginable.  I hope you have finally found your "men", I hope you and Mom are getting along OK, and finally, when you and Scarlett saw Andy come Home, all too soon, I hope you held out your arms, hugged him tight and made him feel loved and safe, just as you always had.

Happy Memorial Day, Dad.  My flag is flying for you and our many deserving Veterans.  Thank you for serving our country, and God Bless America!