After Trauma: Supporting Each Other

by Janie Smith, Founder of HOPE Beyond Trauma

Article is an excerpt from Janie’s book, “HOPE Beyond Trauma…a mother’s journey”

On August 30, 2010, Terry’s unit lost four soldiers when an IED exploded by their Humvee. His close friend, SPC Chad D. Clements was among them.  He had only been in the army for 18 months and in Afghanistan a few weeks when he was killed in action.  All of these men were from the 4th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division stationed out of Fort Carson, Colorado.

Chad’s family requested Terry, our youngest son, be permitted to escort Chad’s body back to his home in Huntington, Indiana for burial.  This was both an honor and with a heavy heart that Terry carried out their request.

In this small Midwest town of almost 17,000 residents, people lined the streets with flags waving to welcome home their fallen hero.  This outpouring of support and patriotism made me proud to be an American and lifted my spirits.

On the other hand his mother, Anne suffered her greatest loss.  Chad’s sister, Danielle, lost her brother.  Their family lost a grandson, cousin, nephew, and a friend.  All the military honors and accolades would not bring him back to laugh and share the events of his day.

During the past 38 years I learned to keep the wars and my husband’s police work at arm’s length.  This was not an easy process and took some time to master.  I was fully aware that on any given day I could be a widow raising a young family or in recent years, a mother losing her son.  I learned that I cannot live in fear of what might happen next. I can only focus and accept “what is” and choose to move forward.

Early in my marriage I learned that living in fear and worry would not serve Richard or me.  It would not make him any safer and would rob me of today’s present moments of happiness.

During the week of Chad’s funeral Richard and I had to stay strong for Terry.  We came to honor his friend and support his family. If Terry saw us falling apart it would take away from his ability to concentrate and provide the important services that Chad’s family needed most. We knew this would be one of his toughest missions.

After we arrived home my 37 year fortress came crashing down.   Chad’s funeral touched me to the very depths of my soul.  It brought the war and its harsh realities to my front door.  For the first time in many years I allowed my fears to surface and permitted myself to grieve for Chad and all the men and women in uniform who have died serving our country and protecting our freedom.

Our family did not want Terry returning to the dangerous battlefields yet again.  “He’s done enough,” we thought, “and so have many others serving with him.”  I could see the trepidation in his wife’s eyes at the funeral both grieving for Chad and knowing full well of Terry’s imminent return to the war.

Our son chose well when he asked Lauren to be his wife.   He could not have endured the numerous tours without her steadfast support.  She has endured the emotional aftermath of the war and seen Terry’s changes that are not always pretty.  Lauren has been an awesome gift to him and our family.  Together they make an incredible team.

Soon, I had to reach out to other military moms and friends to bring me comfort.  I appreciated their understanding and compassion. Their words of wisdom gave me solace.  They were aware I needed to put things back into perspective so I could move forward again.   Terry would be deploying again soon and I needed to be there for him and his family.

At the same time it was important that I let my own grief takes its natural course so that I could heal.  Allowing my emotions to be fully felt through my tears and body permitted my anxieties and internal stress to be relieved.

When I do this exercise well, my body feels a great sense of relief and I’m able to move forward easier.  When I suppress my emotions my body holds onto all that stress only makes the process more difficult. Bottled up emotions and not caring for yourself can cause health issues over time, a lesson I learned the hard way over 20 years ago.

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