The cost of war to the human spirit can be summed up with one word: loss.
The loss of sanctity of life, boundaries, safety, control.
The loss of relationship – with ourselves, others, loved ones, our jobs, who we used to be, the future we planned.
Loss holds the wounds of war in its hand.
We see physical wounds of war and we often perceive spirit wounds, but we do not look at life after war as a time of grieving what has been lost. Medicine attends to the body, therapists to the mind. The heart is left on its own.
And what the heart feels at the root of trauma is loss.
As a society, we don’t give veterans much space to actually grieve. We hardly even acknowledge that they are grieving. But they are. You can’t avoid it. And veterans aren’t the only ones grieving. Families of vets grieve, too.
What is lost?
- Relationship. To yourself, comrades, people who’ve died, people you’ve killed, your past, future, loved ones, community, work, faith, worldview, purpose in life.
- Time. With family, friends, loved ones, children, careers, passions, important events, self.
- Expectations. Of yourself, friends, families, loved ones, communities, employers and employees, your future, dreams, abilities, innocence, power, morality, ability to be understood.
- Belief. In yourself, country, work, purpose, worldview, religion, goodness, place in this world.
What can you do to grieve?
- Acknowledge that it’s okay to grieve. Give you and your family permission to do so and understand that this is an appropriate response to what you have been through.
- Don’t hide your feeling under the rug. Sadness, emptiness, restlessness, anger, depression, numbness – these are all part of grief.
- Don’t let someone tell you you shouldn’t feel the way you do. Even if you didn’t lose or kill someone, the energy of war affects you, too. It takes an emotional, physical and spiritual toll.
- Create a sacred space to grieve. Honor your service by giving yourself the space you need to grieve. Even if no one else respects your losses, you can. You know they’re real. Find space where you can process your feelings. Accept that it is normal to be grieving and to need time to find a new sense of wholeness.
One thing that cannot be said enough is that your journey in life after war is not to recover, but to become.
You are tasked with taking all the pieces that are left and putting them into a new sense of meaning and wholeness. You cannot go back to who you were before war, but you can find a new sense of purpose.
To start doing this, download the pdf Guidebook: What to Do About Grief.