“Hey! Have you heard of the Gold Star Moms?” my colleague eagerly asked, bounding into my office.
I slowly finished chewing the bite in my mouth as I thought of my reply. “Ummmm… yeah…” was the best response I could manage, trying to gauge the reason for his enthusiasm. “Why?”
“Well, because I just learned about a group of Gold Star Moms in the area, and thought maybe you would like to go meet with them because you are military, and it’s not something too common around here!”
“You do know what a Gold Star Mom or Wife is, right?” I asked tentatively.
“It’s a Mom whose Servicemember son or daughter was killed in action – or, a Wife whose husband was killed in action,” I quietly explained.
My colleague’s face fell as he started to stammer an apology, saying something about how he didn’t know.
“No, it’s okay.” I reassured him. “The thing is, every active duty family knows what it means to be a Gold Star Family. If you want, I can reach out to them to let them know about the clinical services we provide, make sure they are getting the services they’re entitled to. But, it’s not a group ‘just any military’ family can join.”
That night, when I expressed my surprise to my husband that my fellow clinician had no clue what a Gold Star Family was, my husband was not nearly so shocked. He reminded me we were far removed from a major military installation, in what the Army considered a “remote duty location.” And, it’s not something most people think of daily – especially without ties to the military.
Which is why this post was written for this weekend… for Memorial Day.
Gold Star Families are forced into that elite group who have learned, in the most difficult and painful way, that freedom does not come without a heavy price. They know what it means to have lost their loved one in time of war – not to greet a smiling face coming off a plane, but instead, to meet a coffin, draped in an American flag.
This past Veteran’s Day, I wrote about how, as of January 2015, only 0.4 percent of the American population were active duty Servicemembers. The number of veterans – those who have served – comprises little more of the population.
Memorial Day should not be a happy, celebratory day. While it is a federal holiday, typically reserved for bar-b-ques, picnics, and family vacation, for a select segment of the population, it is a painful day of remembrance.
Memorial Day should be a necessary reminder for us all, that freedom truly isn’t free.
Freedom comes at a perilous cost. It comes at the price of lives tragically ended all too soon. It comes at the price of children being raised without their parent. It comes at the price of families torn apart.
Of course, even for those who have come home from war… sometimes it is only with visible wounds. Still other survivors come home with invisible wounds – frightening flashbacks, shifted personalities, or hypersensitivity to noises, odors, and sights.
While no man (or woman) leaves war unscathed, most will adjust to their experiences.
But, others, many of whom experience the aforementioned symptoms, begin a downward spiral, in which they either can’t reach out, or can’t accept, the help to adjust and adapt to their experiences.
Without that help they desperately need, through no fault of their own, they begin to despair and become hopeless. They begin doubting whether their sacrifice away from their families, their lives, and their current struggles meant anything to the country for whom they suffer.
And, for approximately twenty-two veterans each day experiencing hopelessness and despair, they choose to end their lives.
Those twenty-two individuals each day, in addition to those killed in service of our country…
Those are who we remember on Memorial Day.
We remember their service…
Twenty-two lives each day; twenty-two people, in addition to the countless others who died in battle.
It’s uncomfortable to think about.
The country wants to pay lip service and apologize to the families. Yet, for most of those individuals, receiving the help they desperately needed, often tied up in bureaucratic red tape, was dependent on political games and whims. The help they needed was inaccessible because of politics – and, a country who claims with its lips to care, but whose votes and actions show otherwise.
One of my favorite military lifestyle bloggers, Rebekah Sanderlin recently shared how she is bitter, and how she will not encourage her children to serve… because the country does not deserve any more of her family’s sacrifice. It’s a sentiment I hear all too often from other military families. I have heard it said (by more than one person) “America is not at War. American Servicemembers are at War. America is at the Mall.”
And, I wonder if it is because our country is just too uncomfortable to think of the price freedom demands?
John Stuart Mill once penned,
War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.
Twenty-two suicides a day, not including the untold numbers of Americans who lost their lives in combat.
Those are our heroes – those who have exerted themselves and paid a price far beyond our comprehension.
The Families have paid the price of freedom alongside their Servicemember.
They. are. who. we. remember. this. weekend.
So, enjoy your potluck dinners, your shopping sales, and your bar-b-ques this weekend. But also take time to ask yourself:
How am I supporting our veterans, who may be at risk of being one of the twenty-two?
What can I do to better support a veteran who may be at risk of becoming one of the twenty-two?