My father died the result of PTSD when my mother was 34, but it took her 25 years for the system to recognize that she was a war widow. She received her first Veteran's Pension cheque when she was in her late 50s.
By that time, she was crippled both mentally and physically. She had already suffered a nervous breakdown, and her body was ravaged from a job working in a textile mill. She could not walk more than a block and had been living on a disability pension which barely covered her rent and the peanut butter sandwiches and coffee that she lived on.
We petitioned Veterans Affairs, and finally got them to recognize that my father had indeed died from a war time injury and that my mother was entitled to both financial and legal recognition of that fact. It wasn't the money that mattered to my mother, it was an end to decades of humiliation as she was forced on welfare until we were old enough, and then into a job that few of us could endure.
The fallout from war goes beyond those bright and shiny faces we see on the television this time of year, the men who lost their lives in wars large and small. It pierces the eyes and souls of those of us who are left behind to suffer in silence: the mothers, the fathers, the grandparents, the children and grandchildren.
We are the collateral damage of war and there is little recognition of that fact. Our loved ones are dead and we are left with holes in our hearts. I didn't know my dad, but I sure knew my mom, and her struggles, as I watched her every day beat at path to her terrible job, then come home and engage in a pattern of chain-smoking and mad drinking.
I live with the fallout of war every single day. I think of my dad often. And every time I see a flag draped coffin coming home from foreign parts, I think about the families and the burden they will bear. At first, they bask, though sadly, in the honor that is bestowed upon their loved one. But then they eventually meld into the background. They stop being invited over by the couples who don't want to think about the fact that they might be next. They are ostracized if they don't handle the stress and loneliness well. And they pass along the effects of war to their children and their children's children.
Alcoholism, drug addiction, inappropriate relationships, job losses, depression, anger, alienation, feelings of self-,pity, shame and hopelessness -- these are the things that one feels after the death of someone close who is taken too soon. That fact that many die in senseless wars as victims of violence makes it much worse. There is no restorative justice for the survivors.
A medal and a flag gathering dust in a wardrobe, well, it just doesn't cut it.
You never get over it.
You never move on.
So on this Remembrance Day, take some time to think about the other important people who are sacrificed on the altar of war.
They matter, too.