A ghost in the house and the VA shuffle:
Too all Veterans……….. not just disabled ones!
Tell your children that you know. You know how much they love you. It really means a lot.
As a small child I never knew where he was. I never knew what happened to him. I still don’t think I will ever have his full story. But I have my story and that’s a good thing.
I realize now dad was a permanent fixture in our house. His presence was felt everyday. We’re his kids. Half of our DNA was his. He was our Dad and we loved him unconditionally. I truly believe that it is important for Veterans to know how much we love them and that we know they are struggling, and it’s ok.
Mom told us a story from our childhood that has always stayed with me. She was at the local laundry mat located by the railroad tracks in our little town when she got a big surprise. She happened to look down the tracks and saw Dad walking toward her. She was shocked. He wasn’t supposed to be there. He was supposed to be in the hospital in Colorado.
Apparently Dad had walked out of the VA hospital in Colorado and followed the railroad tracks to our small town in Arizona. The soles of his shoes were worn through and his feet were bleeding. When our mother asked him if he was ok he replied, “You’re only as cold as you think you are.” End of conversation. He later stated he had been worrying about us and decided he needed to get home.
That story has stayed with me all my life. It has helped sustain me when I’m walking through troubled times. Dad’s actions showed me you can do anything if you make up your mind you can. And your attitude towards the situations in your life makes all the difference in the world. I never once heard my dad complain or feel sorry for himself.
Dad had been in the Korean War. He was different when he returned. They called it shell shock. They also called him manic depressive. I called it sad and lonely. As a child I wondered, “If you’re shell shocked then why are they giving you shock treatments?”
He would go back and forth to different VA hospitals. He would stay for long periods of time. When he returned he would have a satchel full of prescription drugs, including a pill that was suppose to help him stop drinking. Dad, like his father, was an alcoholic. He preferred to self-medicate with alcohol rather than with prescription drugs.
I love my dad. I love to look at pictures of him in his uniform hanging out with his military buddies. In the photos I can see he was engaged and present in his life and with others around him.
But not by the time I showed up. Dad was on a deserted island, known only to him. I could see the sadness and loneliness in his eyes.
He never engaged me in conversation. I could tell, even as a small child, he was overwhelmed and couldn’t express himself. He and Mother divorced when I was really small. Fortunately they stayed friends. There was never any tension between them. Mom moved us on, but dad was always welcome to come and stay with us whenever he wanted. He lived with his father the rest of the time. I could tell that he worried and thought about my brothers and me all the time. There were times other people would mention things he would say about us. He would mention our last visit and what was going on with us at that time.
It was as if he was suspended in time. Floating in the darkness. The alcohol only exacerbated the problem. But they didn’t do interventions at that time. And even if they did I was too small to help. And all the other adults he had been close to had either passed on or moved on. It was as if he had been forgotten, except for his dad. But he was an alcoholic too. His wife, our grandmother, had died young and she had been the source of strength in the family. When she died the family imploded.
Dad had two younger siblings. But they were never there for him. They were embarrassed and ashamed of his condition. They treated him like he was dirty. They had their own families and were functioning alcoholics. Instead of helping him, they blamed our mother and us kids for our dad’s condition. They claimed we made him sick. They were a big help!
Dad died in 1979, one year before my 23rd birthday and one year before I put myself in treatment for alcohol addiction. I was heart broken that I wasn’t there for him after I joined A.A. I would have loved to take him to meetings and help him find sobriety. But it was not meant to be. Dad died of a stroke at the age of 47.
Dad spent over half of his life suspended in a dark abyss of excruciating mental, emotional and spiritual pain. My brothers and I agreed that along with our sadness and grief came a sense of peace that his suffering was over.
I take great comfort from the fact my daddy knew how much I loved him because I told him so. Tell someone close to you the same thing.