Three Paths from Iraq

As I was planning our one thousand mile journey back to the reservation to attend Clay’s father’s funeral, I got a call from our friend Linda.

“Please call Barb. Last night her son locked himself in his room. The gun went off, but he’s ok…”

These two women that I work with, Linda and Barb, both have sons who went to Iraq. Both were there for the initial ‘shock and awe’. Linda’s son got pinned down and watched helplessly as the guys around him got picked off one by one. Six months ago he locked himself in his car with his gun and took his own life.

At the time Linda’s son lost his battle with PTSD, I didn’t even know that her son had been to Iraq. We had been friends at work for years, but had not worked at the same location for quite some time. We would still see each other now and then – hug, kiss, chat briefly and then each go on our way.

Clay and I have tried to comfort her as best we can. Clay has been very honest with her about his own struggles since, and she has been able to alleviate her grief by creating a non-profit in her son’s name to help military families in need.

As for Barb: I vaguely knew that her son had been in the military, but our brief reunions did not allow for more in-depth catching up. Yesterday she told me that he had been deployed to Iraq three times and was still in the service. She said he was having debilitating flashbacks, paranoia, and was unable to sleep. He was shaking violently when he took the gun and locked himself in the bedroom. The gun went off while he was handling it and the bullet did not strike him.

For the briefest moment I was taken back to the exact moment Clay stood in our laundry room, shaking and wide-eyed. “I don’t know what’s happening to me” he said. “I think I’m going crazy.” My heart shattered into a million tiny pieces; but my subsequent desperate phone call to The Soldiers Project began our journey of healing.

So, as I talked to Barb about her son, I unloaded everything we had learned on the road to recovery. “There is a way out of this. There is help nearby – wherever he is.” I bombarded her with every available resource close to her son’s location and did my best to reassure her that everything was going to be ok. She phoned back later to let me know they had gotten an appointment the next day with one of the PTSD experts. I hope that he is in good hands now.

As I write this Clay is laughing and joking with his sister and nieces as we slowly wind our way toward South Dakota. I can’t help but think Linda’s son could be laughing and joking with his family if he had been able to get help in time. I hope Barb’a son is able to get the help he needs.

Most of all, I just feel very, very fortunate.