What War Does

I don’t know if I’m becoming numb to the finality of death in my old age…

or if I am truly at peace because I know Don is in Heaven, singing praises with the angels.  But most importantly, because I know Don is no longer in pain.

Don was a put together, strong, handsome Marine.  I didn’t know him then, but I have seen pictures and heard many stories over the years.  He was witty and funny and had more love to give than four average people combined.  Then war happened.

The first time I met Don, he was wearing a golden smile that was contagious to all who entered the room.  His light brown hair always had a slightly disheveled look, which somehow brought both mystery and assurance to his look. He had a beer in hand and was going out with some friends – to a different bar – than we were… but we’d “definitely meet up later, hun.”  Later that night when we walked back into the house, Don was behind the couch with his hands over his head.  When his brother pulled him out, Don looked at him, tears filled his eyes and he began apologizing to his brother – talking words that didn’t make sense.  He was already on 100% disability from the military.  He spent his remaining days eating anti-depressant and anti-psychotic pills, then drowning the memories and pain in alcohol.  Sometimes I would talk to him and think, “You’re not making sense.” or “You are using words like a child.”

Despite the pills and alcohol, Don was a charismatic person who cared deeply about friends and family.  Somehow, he could always be counted on to lend a hand or listening ear.  His battles appears to become more internal over the years, as I only saw him cry two more times… both after fighting.  Once I dragged him out of an inebriated bar fight and stuff him into the car.  Later tears dribbled down his face and he mumbled phrases like, “I’m so sorry.  I hope I didn’t hurt anyone.”  The other time, he fought with his brother.  They punched each other, wrestled on the floor, broke an end table in all the mess – but in the end, they hugged and cried and apologized.

Don’s brother, Oliver, was a stunning man with a gorgeous smile that could melt any girl’s heart.  He stood over six feet tall with perfectly proportioned muscle.  His dark hair and peaceful hazel-gray eyes were the perfect contrasted combination to make the girls on the dance floor lust after the base player.  He was the type of person that was always laughing.  There wasn’t a moment lacking a joke or a reason to smile.  His positive attitude and zest for life were contagious.  Whenever we went out, he’d look at me and say, “Let’s get drunk and do something stupid.”  I’d climb on the back of his Harley and we’d ride into the night, where memories were made dubious by the blackness of night and blurred by the fuzziness of alcohol.

One day my best friend called.  “It’s Oliver.”

“What?!?  When can I see him?”

“He’s alive.  They’re medivacing him to Landstuhl.  He’ll be there soon.”

“What?  What can I do?  What happened?”

“After they stabilize him, they’ll fly him to Texas.”

“What happened?”

“IED.  He was blown up by an IED.” 

My face was wet with tears.  After a series of surgeries, he came home.  His movement was less graceful.  Sometimes, I feel like they stitched him back together like a modern Frankenstein experiment.  He was fighting to keep use of his arm, which would prove mostly fruitless in the end.  He thought he’d be able to collect 80% disability and go back to work part time.  He was starting to laugh again.  I never saw him break down like his brother did.  I’m sure he hid that from me.  He was always trying to be the man and take care of me.  Fast forward three years…

The seizures started.  Some sort of deferred traumatic brain injury from the IED.

Don passed away suddenly on Saturday.  Sunday, on my way home from church, I swear God told me Don’s suffering was over.  I had this sudden, comforting thought that he prayed for an end to his pain and suffering and God’s answer was, “Yes.”  It may not be the kind of “yes” humans want to see.  It’s a “yes” we struggle to grasp, because why would God take such a loved man from all the people who care about him?  The answer is simply because in Heaven, there is no post-traumatic stress from serving the country.  There are no anti-depressants or anti-psychotics.  They aren’t needed.  He is now painless in Heaven.

I almost walked past Ollie at the wake.  He’s now a tall, lanky man, skinnier than me.  He can’t straighten his arm and he walks with a limp.  His eyes are dark and slightly sunken.  The bone in his arm is broke.  His ribs, side, shoulder, and back look like he was in a motorcycle wreck.  Turns out the stress of his brother’s death brought on a seizure that caused injury and broken ribs.  His eyes were red from tears.  This man – a dear friend, who I love forever unconditionally – no longer looks like the man I knew before the war.

War breaks men… strips them down to the rawest form… takes their dignity… traumatizes their brains (rewires, I think)… causes uncertainty about the stability at home… physically breaks their bodies… changes appearances… causes flashbacks of horrible things… creates heavy guilt inside hearts…

I know he has lost his mom, best friend, brother, and self.  But selfishly, knowing he is alive and making it through the days is one of those things that helps me get up in the morning.  I worry the depression and physical pain and injury will be too much for him to deal with.  I pray for God to ease his pain on Earth.  I pray he will find comfort and doctors will bring helpful medical advances to his aid.  I pray he is around to raise his son and be a positive, uplifting role model to the little boy.  I pray he has the strength to be a strong man for his son’s mom… to love her and support her.  I pray they are a rock for each other – constantly lifting each other to a better place.

But I fear… I’ve seen him now.  I fear he is losing the battle.  I fear myself and people I love will fall into a haze of depression if he loses the battle.  He could lose the battle due to depression or he could lose the battle due to medical issues with his battered body.  I pray.  I pray because there is nothing else I can do except watch.  I ask others to pray because there is nothing anyone can do.  Let go and let God.  Let God take care of the soldiers in His way.  But I pray that way, for this one, is with Earthly means.

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