Monday, May 31, 2010

This Memorial Day, Let's Honor the Survivors, Too

Today is Memorial Day in the United States.  Most Americans spent the day doing yardwork or barbecuing or, perhaps, going to a parade.  Summer is unofficially here, and women can wear white shoes without offending Miss Manners.  But of course none of that (except, arguably, the parades) is the point of Memorial Day.  We are supposed to be remembering those who died in the armed services.

There is one segment of the population that doesn't need much of a reminder of what Memorial Day is all about.  There are thousands of families and friends across the country who have lost a loved one in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, not to mention those who remember those who died in the first Gulf War, Vietnam, Korea and World War II, as well as a variety of smaller conflicts, attacks, and accidents.  There are also an increasing number of people caring for severely disabled veterans, people who, in previous wars, would likely have died but who, through the miracle of modern medicine, are alive but living with significant lasting effects.

When someone you love goes off to war, you entertain the possibility that they might not come back.  The day an officer and a chaplain knock on your door is not the first time this has ever occurred to you.  In that sense, the death of a loved one in action is a little bit different than some other types of traumatic loss.  At the same time, however, sudden, violent death is traumatic no matter how much you think you're prepared for its possibility.

You've probably read stories all over the news about veterans who come home with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and how we as a country do or don't effectively care for them.  What you don't hear about is the post-traumatic stress (with or without the disorder) of those left behind by fallen soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, etc.  As mediocre a job of treating PTSD as we do for our veterans, I can't imagine we do much better for the relatives of the dead.

The men and women who gave their lives for this country deserve to be honored today, probably more than they actually are given the competition with white sales and going to the beach.  At the same time, wherever they are we know they are not in pain.  The same cannot be said for their parents, children, spouses and friends.  We often say that those who died in war "made the ultimate sacrifice."  For that we honor them.  Let's take a moment, today, to honor those who have to live with that sacrifice for the rest of their lives, too.

photo copyright istockphoto/stephaniefrey


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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