Letters to a Lost Soldier - Epilogue: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Maxine Clamage 
Letters to a Lost Soldier – Epilogue: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
I stopped writing letters to my father after 1947. We talked. We discussed the books on his shelf that I was reading. He liked hearing reports about my studies and urged me to choose Latin instead of Spanish. The principal telephoned him to say the school needed girls in the Latin class. She recommended I enroll and I did so for four years.
My father slowly recovered from war wounds by opening a flower shop and creating floral arrangements. His creativity sped up healing. However, from the time he was inducted into the U.S. Army in 1943 and we later learned he was Missing in Action in November, 1944, our nuclear family suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. My mother described herself as “a nervous wreck.” My sister became an aggressive pre-teen and teenager when Dad was absent because of the war.
Our family problems escalated when we learned Dad was a Prisoner of War in Nazi Germany. When he thankfully was liberated and finally honorably discharged, he came home a changed man. We walked on eggs in our home for fear of disturbing him. There was no name after World War II for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The condition was called battle fatigue and sometimes referred to as shell shock like World War I.
Our move to California from Chicago was a catalyst for recovery. It was a fresh start in a healthy environment. I was a happy child, but my sister and I continued to bicker. She thankfully left the home to marry in 1952 at age 19, but it was against my father’s wishes. Her behavior was abysmal and defiant. Dad did not attend her wedding. Her absence helped my parents and me to recover more quickly because a major source of tension in our home was gone. That’s fodder for another writing project.
I later learned that art therapy helps veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder recover from their war experiences. My father unwittingly healed himself by arranging floral displays. The Veterans Administration had no name for the anxiety and mental problems veterans suffered during World War II. They offered little or no counseling and no disability payments. The VA’s advice to soldiers returning home from the war was don’t talk about it and essentially forget it. But what was a man to do who woke up in a cold sweat after a bad nightmare?
A helpful tool I learned is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I was introduced to it when my husband suffered through a “mid-life crisis” and his therapist invited me to join them in the office. CBT helped me deal with the past, the present and be prepared for a happy future. If I feel threatened verbally, emotionally or physically, I stop myself from reacting and dig deep to see if the wounds of my childhood are bothering me or if the current situation warrants action. It is an ongoing process to remain upbeat and optimistic about life when Post Traumatic Stress Disorder lurks in the background. If confronted by a person who is mentally ill, I do not take their actions personally.
My 82-year-old sister refuses to speak to me to this day. She claims I caused her miserable childhood. The psychiatrist said, when informed of my family history, “With a sister like that, who needs enemies?” I chuckle when reminded of Charles Schulz’ (of Peanuts fame) quotation: “Big sisters are the crab grass in the lawn of life.” My lawn is crab free.
My mother passed away in 1976 at age 63. She suffered the most in our family. My father joined her in 1984 at age 76. He managed to keep the flower shop going for 8 years after her death, until he himself ended up in the hospital. I visited him several times and our relationship was peaceful and complete. We talked about issues we had gingerly skirted over in the past. He appreciated my development and I thanked him for his love and support. He was positive to the end despite suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He was a champ.
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