Today on Facebook one of my friends posted about the astonishing number of our military members and veterans who commit suicide. I was born in 1951, right after WWII ended 5 or so years before. My older brother served in the Philipines during the Vietnam War. My dad came home with a heart full of hatred; my brother came home with veins full of heroin. Neither was a winning proposition.
I was lucky: I had a mother who knew how to teach resilience and who had an open heart. As a little girl, I remember my dad and mom arguing because my mother was helping the young Japanese couple next door understand how to do things in our neighborhood. Their trash hadn’t been picked up, so my mom went over to show them how to sort it (recycle in the fifties? Your trash didn’t get picked up if you didn’t separate it! Not like today where in some places you pay to recycle.). My father was furious: he, of course, blamed them for the war. To be certain, the Japanese had a hand in what happened. My father couldn’t win the war, he couldn’t move forward. He, like man other men and women who have fought wars – or served in our military in any way – stay there, needing those days to be the glory days. Because of the huge personal sacrifice?
Some of the stories posted by people who served and their families were heartbreaking: they didn’t have to see combat to feel a loss of who they were enough to drive them to suicide. My brother and I have spent our relationship off and on. At one point, after not hearing from him for over a decade, I was in the state where he lives and saw a man built like I remember him on the side of the road with a sign, panhandling. It’s been close to a decade again since we’ve spoken, and I guess I don’t expect to hear from him. It’s so hard to go forward with someone who has given up, who doesn’t even try anymore.
Through all of this, I remember the hope I felt because my mother would defy my father and do what was right. She made his favorite meal, made us kids act right during that time, as if to soothe him through the difficulty she could see in him. But mindful of what she was teaching her children about prejudice, forgiveness, and someone who looks and talks differently from oneself, she perservered. I will always be grateful to both of them for their example, because they worked it out. I played with the children next door, and our moms smiled and chatted as best they could through the two languages. And I will always love my dad for loving my mom enough to let her get him through the struggles he had with this.