A Soldier, Someone’s Child

A Soldier, Someone’s Child

From Chicken Soup for the Military Wife's Soul

A Soldier, Someone’s Child

Healing is not done in the mind or by the powers of the intellect; it is done in the heart.

H. B. Jeffery

We stood there awkwardly. He wore a camouflage uniform, looking like an adolescent playing grown-up.

Suddenly, he reached out and put his arms around me. He clung to me as if I was his lifeline. This man-child needed compassion, a human touch and the reassurance that someone cared. He had seen things that we baby boomers had tried so hard to shelter our children from. He was only nineteen.

I first met this young man when I was assigned to help him and his wife take advantage of all the resources available to them as new parents. Instead of living in base housing, they inhabited a tiny apartment in a decrepit neighborhood. Her family lived out of state and she had no friends. Although he was often present during my home visits, he barely spoke and usually retreated to their bedroom. I had the feeling that he didn’t really want me to be there.

Over the next several months, I made biweekly visits to their home. The young wife had overcome many challenges. She had been alone during most of her pregnancy while her husband went through basic training. While pregnant, she had been involved in a serious automobile accident and required hospitalization. They were now coping with the harshest reality of military life: He was deploying to Iraq.

She confided that he had recently lost his mother, still in her thirties, to cancer, and that he had not had the opportunity to grieve. He had never known his dad and had no other immediate family members. Additionally, in his early teens, he had converted to the Muslim faith. The war in Iraq would be a test for him: of his fitness to serve in the American military in a conflict that would test both his faith and his patriotism.

When he deployed, his young bride and their infant went to live with her parents. Six months later, I received a message stating that he had returned home and that she had called to request continuing services from our agency. She had also indicated that she wished for me to again be her caseworker. I readily agreed.

The first visit to their home was somewhat strained. I could feel the tension in the air. When the soldier left the room, his wife confided that she was suffering from depression and that worrying about her made his stress level even higher. He was sleeping fitfully and had become moody, but never violent. He had also attempted to talk to her of the things he had experienced in combat— the sights, the sounds, the smells. She wanted to be there for him, to empathize, but she didn’t know what to say or do.

We discussed the need for her to follow up with her primary-care provider and to request a mental-health referral. We devised a safety plan for dealing with episodes of anxiety and stress that could put any of the family members in jeopardy. We especially discussed the impact of stress on their relationship with each other and on the welfare of their child. We discussed resources available and agreed to weekly home visits.

It was now three weeks after my initial reassignment to the case. The young soldier was home during the visit and when I asked him nonthreatening questions, he answered in more than his customary curt responses. We discussed stress, grief and depression, and how they were all intertwined.

When his wife left the room to change the baby, he leaned over to tell me how worried he was about her. He began to talk, and I listened. As he talked, his eyes became moist. At times his voice shook. He spoke of his love for America, his love for the military and his love for his family. He spoke of the need to be strong for his wife and baby, and how unsure of himself he felt at times. He spoke of what he had seen and heard. He spoke of his love for his mother.

I told him about post-traumatic stress disorder and how normal the responses he felt were under the circumstances. He agreed to at least consider counseling, and I gave him some referral information for free clinics. His wife returned to the room and joined the discussion. She agreed to take advantage of available childcare resources so that she could discuss her situation with her physician, uninterrupted. I offered to accompany her if she wished. She also spoke of her desire to continue her education, to get a GED, to go to college. He spoke of his desire to send their daughter to college someday. Together they were focusing on a future filled with promise.

The home visit was over, and it was time for me to wrap up what had proven to be a long and emotionally draining day. However, I couldn’t leave—not just yet. This soldier, with the tracks of tears still on his cheeks, needed a hug. He needed warmth and compassion. So, for just a moment, I put aside professional boundaries. For just a few minutes, I imagined what my own grown son would be experiencing under the same circumstances. For just a few minutes, I gave him the hugs and encouragement that perhaps his mother would have given if she were here.

Then, with a heart full of hope and the tracks of my own tears staining my cheeks, I completed my paperwork as a home health nurse and drove home.

I checked the answering machine. There were no messages. I checked the mailbox. Finally! A long-awaited letter from my husband, who is serving in Iraq. I, too, am a military wife.

Elizabeth Martin, R.N.

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