I hugged a soldier today.
Actually, I hugged two.
I asked first, but really they didn’t have much of a choice. Their uniform reminded me of Chad. Their bright eyes and compassion drew me in just the way he used to.
See, Chad is my little brother. Sure, he had begun towering over me when he was about 9, but that’s an unfortunate side effect of the genetic shortness that runs in the women of my family. We grew up in nearly different worlds. I did the majority of my “growing up” in Florida with Mom and our sister Jessie. Chad grew up in Pennsylvania with our Dad and his Mom.
I never really got to know my brother the way I would have liked. He took his own life one year ago this week. My brother was a Veteran. He spent a year in Iraq serving our country along side my Dad and many other men and women. While they both came home relatively in one piece, my brother was never the same again.
When our soldiers come home from a tour they often look “okay” but many carry unseen wounds. Wounds that leave them feeling out of place, misunderstood, or unable to cope with reentry. As my Dad would say, they come home with “their cheese off their crackers”.
I’ve already said that I didn’t spend much time with him and I never talked to him and those are the realities I live with now. No, this is not about me. It’s about the 22.
Who are the 22? They are the 22 vets a day that commit suicide. They are the 22 men and women that choose death over the pain of their minds, the storms they can’t walk away from. They are 22 sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers and friends. I, like many of you, didn’t know about the 22 until after Chad had died. Until after I realized I had waited too long to articulate my words into something that would remind him how loved he was.
I am not going to give you a ton of statistics as I have been told that they are not fully accurate and I don’t want to hand out faulty information.
What information I do want to give is resources and some encouragement. We each have a voice. We each have an audience.
Maybe your audience isn’t with a Vet but with someone who knows one.
Be a sounding board, be a megaphone, be a quiet, consistent companion-be whatever helps our vets and their families. Just be available.