On a daily basis, many veterans and soldiers take their own lives.
Last week my cousin Nick, a Marine, was one of them.
Yes, I’m sad-shocked.
But when these type of sorrowful things happen to my family or our society — I get feisty, and passionate, and this rumble rises in my chest to speak up, seek restoration, and invite you along.
Will you join me in restoration?
Because our world needs it. You. Me. Soldiers and veterans. The neighbor next door.
For several weeks I’ve been searching for insight on how we can understand and support veterans/soldiers while on tour and at home; to shore up those of us in our communities who might struggle mentally and emotionally. Those who might face PTSD. This was after a military friend of mine lost a soldier in his company to suicide.
My Opportunity to Reach Out
After I found out about my cousin Nick, I saw an exchange between some of his friends online: “A lot of people don’t understand the risks you guys take and when you come back home it’s not easy either.”
Ryan, a military man himself, responded, “You’re right, not many people understand it or even want to try to. Just because we made it home safe and in one piece physically doesn’t mean everyone made it back in one piece mentally and emotionally.”
So I reached out to Ryan (even though I was nervous) to hear his story and glean what ever I could. Because I’m one of those people. I want to be understanding. You too?
Take time to read the following heart-opening ideas and insights from Ryan that he so graciously let me share with you. My take-aways are in italics. Okay, over to Ryan:
Initiative & Advocacy:
“It’s greatly appreciated that you are compelled to shed light on this matter. We need more people who want to take initiative and be proactive to help our brothers and sisters in arms. Because as unfortunate as it seems there are more against us than for us at times. It’s heartbreaking to watch my brothers make it home safe and alive only to be lost to these situations and I would love to be a part of helping them and their families in any way I can.”
My take away: This is something our world needs to talk about. It’s time for proactive measures.
Several Difficulties Soldiers Face:
“For many of us who have gone overseas to combat zones one of the hardest things besides dealing with what we saw over there is dealing with society when we return and trying to be a normal member again. And for a good amount of us we’d rather not and just stay with our brothers who we feel safest with. Especially when dealing with that percentage of society that looks at us as evil individuals for voluntarily doing what we did overseas. Next hardest thing is separating from the military and having to leave the safety of our brotherhood to attempt to become a full time “normal” person with a normal job and life.”
My take away: Transitioning isn’t easy and we shouldn’t pretend that it is. Feeling safe is important. Don’t judge.
How to Support Us While Deployed:
“Some good ways to support while on tour:
1) Let us know you’re thinking of us.
2) Understand we don’t have a lot of free time so to be patient when we haven’t had a chance to make much contact.
3) When we do make contact, the last thing we want to talk about is what’s going with us and more of how things are at home so we can take our minds off the crap we’re going through for a short period of time.
4) Simple care packages with stuff from home you can’t get overseas (like certain foods and whatnot) give us a little piece of home, while there, makes all the difference.”
My friend Amy, who has a military spouse and is a veteran herself, offered these words: “We can help in little but meaningful ways from sending care-packages, to helping the families that are left back home.”
My take away: Be respectful. Show them you care. Call. Send a letter or care package. Make it a priority to connect and fellowship with family members left at home.
How to Support Us When We Return Home:
“It’s a lot easier to show support while we’re deployed than when we’re home — cause that’s when it gets complicated.
While we’re home patience is truly a virtue.
Adjusting from a combat zone to a non combat zone is very difficult. Between dealing with possible anxiety, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), and other issues it can be exhausting dealing with everyday things as simple as grocery shopping. So for our supporters when it comes to planning events or wanting to do special things it’s good to remember things like crowd size, noise levels, and something as small as where we sit in a restaurant.” [That’s Kitchen Fellowship talk right there. Keep their needs in mind. Create gatherings that are calm and full of peace.]
“One big thing that helps us out is actually getting together with our brothers for reunions whether it be few or many of us. It’s a great feeling to sit back and relax and feel completely un-judged and able to reminisce about our times spent in the worst-best days of our lives.”
My take away: Be patient. Be aware. Transition isn’t easy. Ensure gatherings meet their needs.
On Moral Support:
“As for moral support the best thing is to show that you are there for them but not be too pushy to get their feelings out so that they don’t shut down completely, and if they do begin to share anything even if it’s the littlest bit of something — stop what you’re doing and give them your full attention cause it takes a lot for us to open up. Now it gets complicated.. for some guys the persistence is what they need to open up.
Amy offered this too, “They may be reluctant to talk about it (especially to family) but may open up to others with similar situations. Here’s a website that [offers help for PTSD and such].”
And lastly and close to most importantly, when we’re having a rough day or a moment regardless of what’s going on please don’t get frustrated with us, because we are already beyond frustrated with ourselves. This is because we know we are affecting the ones around us by our issues and we hate being burdens on our loved ones. Which, sadly, is a reason I believe a lot of guys choose to take their lives because they feel their loved ones would be better off without them than dealing with our issues.”
My take away: Learn to work through your frustrations in a meaningful way — instead of transferring that to the soldiers in your lives. Embrace the fact that they’re frustrated too. Keep pouring out love and respect and patience. Share that extra measure of grace. Listen whole heartedly.
What I’ve been considering is this… we can be understanding even if we don’t understand. Even if we’ll never know all they face (for those of us not in the military) we can be there for them, be a good friend, and be empathic and understanding.
The Call to Live Proactively
What steps can you take this week to reach out to someone who’s facing emotional or mental turmoil? Maybe it’s a neighbor or classmate who seems depressed, or a veteran, solider, or military spouse and their family. If you feel called to action — take a small step forward. Share your ideas or questions in the comments below. And if you’re a veteran or soldier who has insight or wants a listening ear, don’t hesitate to leave a comment. We want to hear from you too.
*Military photo of Nick via Alex Dennis. Other photo is of Nick and me as kids.