Dear Bereavement Community,
I’ve had an awesome experience, and have to tell you about it.
If you’ve been visiting with us for any length of time, there is one thing you’ve heard over and over – find a support group. People who have been through what you’re going through KNOW. They get it. They can be a tremendous help. Most importantly, you find out right away that you’re not going crazy, and that you can survive. My recent outing confirms it.
Beginning one’s odyssey in any government agency is daunting. For a particular Air Force veteran of Viet Nam, it seemed overwhelming. In fact, it had been put off for years. But health issues finally pushed the need to the top of the list.
It calmed him a lot to have someone go along who could navigate the maze, understand the questions, know what to expect, keep track of paperwork, and explain in terms easily understandable. He was intimidated by having to take transport from one facility to another, never having been in either. What if he missed the van going back? How would he know when it was leaving?
This former soldier need not have worried, but we didn’t know that then.
As soon as all were seated in the van, he was asked if this was his first time going to the “big hospital downtown”? The procedure for getting his ride back was explained thoroughly. They wouldn’t leave until all eight passengers were accounted for. No matter how long your procedure took, they would wait for you, and happy to do it. They’ve all been there and done that.
And then, of course, “Where did you serve?”
There is a phrase unique to Nam vets, making them immediately known to each other.
For many of us, the pain of that era, and the memories of soldiers being disrespected, is still a wound far from healed. The malcontent with the war and the government was wrongly visited upon the warriors. Many of them were not welcomed home, but rather scorned for having participated. It mattered not that many of them had been drafted and had few choices but to serve. To their credit, vets from that era have mobilized to make sure no other soldier is ever dishonored in that way again. Many civilians have joined in that cause. That, dear friends, is the power of a support group.
We paused just inside the hospital lobby to read signs and get our bearings.
“Welcome home, Sir. Can I help you find something?” We were escorted to the correct elevator, and told how to find what we needed. The person aiding us was not a staff member, but another Nam vet who happened to be passing by.
“You are signed in, Sir. Come this way.” Sir, Sir, Sir. Yes, it was their training. No longer in the service now, the formalities could have been dropped, but were not. The level of respect was heartwarming. Few of these Dough Boys would pass muster, yet the honor paid them never wavered.
Being polite, many a soldier thanked staff members for their care. “Oh, no, Sir, thank you for your Service.”
The lobby was crowded and noisy when we took chairs to wait for fellow riders for the return trip. We watched a man in a wheelchair come halfway across the large space and stop at someone’s chair. “Hey, I was in the 101st! When were you in?” Many soldiers wore hats or tee shirts showing their ribbons, ship names, or service branch. Brothers and sisters in arms easily struck up conversations. There were no strangers in that crowd. All had a common bond. It looked for all the world like a huge family reunion, and I suppose it was. The worst and the best kind.
A man with a white cane came close to our group. Was there a chair available anywhere? “Yes, Sir, right here. I’m reaching out for your hand. You have a coffee table at your 2 o’clock, then you’re clear to this chair. Welcome home, Sir. Sit right here.” The new arrival mentioned the smell of coffee, was there a pot nearby? “Yes, Sir, there is. I’m happy to get you some. How do you like it?”
By now I was used to the mutual admiration society in evidence. I was NOT used to hearing it from the vet with whom I had come. And yet it was he now returning with coffee for someone with whom he would converse for the next 20 minutes.
His life changed that day. He no longer felt he had to hide his service record. He wasn’t worried that anyone might not want to hear about it. He was among his own kind. He felt accepted and respected. There was so much he didn’t have to explain.
Your support group may be a small gathering in a church building or library. The effect such a group can have on its participants is no less miraculous than the story above. Please, please meet with people who know you before you even walk in the door. Have someone help you get there until you can make it on your own. Yes, you do need it. Yes, YES, you DO deserve it. Yes it will help. And you may be able to help someone else.
It takes a Village. Reach out, my Village People. Connect. Take your lives back. Live again. For all of us, there is