"The eyes of my comrades"

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by Deborah Grassman

Raymond was in a local hospital with end-stage liver disease, the result of excessive alcohol usage used to self-medicate his PTSD he sustained with the Vietnam War. His doctor phoned me, requesting admission for the patient to our Hospice and Palliative Care unit. 

I had a mental image of what Raymond probably looked like based on his diagnosis: swollen abdomen due to accumulated fluid, mentally dull from built-up toxins, and the ruddy, disheveled appearance of a man who no longer took pride in himself. 

That night, I dreamed I went to meet Raymond, and he arose from his hospital bed, tall, handsome and well-groomed in a three-piece business suit. Then I awoke, puzzled by my dream. Raymond arrived later that day; he looked sick and ungroomed like I had expected. 

The Hospice team held a meeting at Raymond's bedside to learn more about him. He told us he had PTSD and had been a drifter since Vietnam, finding it difficult to establish relationships or maintain a job for long periods. “I don’t know what got into me. I wasn’t raised like that. I should have done something with my life,” he told us. I asked him if there was anything from the war that might still be troubling him.

“I try not to think about it,” he said. “But what keeps coming back is the eyes of my comrades. I saw peace in the eyes of the dead; I saw fear in the eyes of the living.” Our team sat in stunned silence as we let ourselves experience war vicariously.

Later in my office, I kept reflecting on the profundity of this casual comment and the detachedness with which it was said. I let its chilling truth penetrate my illusory, warless world. Now I understood the meaning of my dream. It was not this Raymond I had seen, but the Raymond he might have been. I had met the Raymond who had not gone to Vietnam. That’s when I realized that war robs people of many things; but possibly the most significant is a young person’s hopes and dreams.

The loss of a person’s hopes and dreams and who they could have become is a Soul Injury.

You can read other stories like Raymond's in Deborah Grassman's book, Peace at Last: Stories of Hope and Healing for Veterans and Their Families.

Deborah Grassman or an Opus Peace Presenter Team Member can speak to your organization about Soul Injury in Veterans.

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