I do not have any memories of my father that I could look back on with a sense of pride; he simply was not there to build them with me. So, like many children in my situation, I found something to be proud of to try to redeem my father’s name. My father was a solider in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. During a time when many young men were drafted into service, my father chose to enlist to serve his country. I have always been proud of this fact. I do not know what horrors my father faced or which of his actions caused him shame. I do not know what jungle he was in when he was doused with Agent Orange or what humiliations he endured when he returned to his nation. What I do know is that part of my father was left on the battlefield. All of these events were before I was born, but they would have an enormous impact on me for the rest of my life.
The term PTSD was a relatively new term when our soldiers returned from Vietnam, and, at that time, there was not much hope of healing. The trauma of war changed my father, and he began a life of running away. He chose to run away with drugs and alcohol, which only increased his fear and paranoia. At times, my father would disappear from society and live on the streets. He would resurface from time to time with shame in his beautiful blue eyes. For most of my father’s adult life, the mental health world was still in the discovery process of how to deal with trauma and questioning how to provide hope to those suffering with PTSD. Somehow, I always understood that my dad had problems, and this helped me as a child to have some compassion on my father and to fight off resentment at his absence. Later, as my understanding of trauma grew, I was able to apply the compassion and healing of Christ to both my father and my hurting heart.
When I visited the funeral home to finalize details following my dad’s death, they handed me my father’s flag. I have seen many families receive their loved one’s flag, but nothing prepared me for that moment when the flag was handed to me. It was not until that moment that all of the impact of my father’s service hit me, and, of course, the tears came. Tears of pride for the young man who chose to serve his country. Tears of hurt that my father was not able to be my dad during my life. Tears of peace knowing that my father could finally stop running and not have to be afraid anymore.
As I held that flag and cried, facing the fact that my father was gone, I knew that as I walked through the process of grief, I would not walk alone. God understands loss and grief, and He has stated so many times in the Bible that He is willing to walk with us through these times. It still hurts that my dad is gone, but the comfort is that I have a good Father who is always close by. As I walked out of the funeral home with the flag held tightly in my arms, God brought to mind words of hope and of comfort to remind me that He has a plan for heartache and tears. That His plan will be something completely new, untainted by the traumas of this world.
To all of our veterans and their families: thank you for all of the ways you serve. One day, God will wipe away every tear, but until that day, please remember that your Father is always close by, and He cares deeply for you and I as only a good Father can.
Our staff is voluntold each week and with grace they share their thoughts.