“Did you see my flag on the side of the bed?” Nat asked me one day.
I looked again at his small American flag taped to the bed railing and responded, “Yes, I noticed it the first day I came. It’s always there on your bed. I can tell you like it.”
“I fought in a war years ago. Gave the best I could give. I’ve seen and done things you couldn’t imagine. Some of them were horrible, I mean really horrible. Don’t ask me to tell you what they were, because I can’t talk about it. They say time heals all wounds, but it’s a lie. I left Viet Nam, but Viet Nam never left me. I carry it with me everywhere I go. All these years later, I still have nightmares like you wouldn’t believe. The doctor says it’s post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. I wake up shaking, gasping for breath with tears in my eyes. In my dreams, I’m always running hard, trying to escape. Sometimes my enemies are close enough for me to touch. I almost stop breathing to keep them from hearing me. I’m constantly thinking I’m not going to make it. Some nights they kill me before I wake up. My dreams are so raw, so real they turn my soul inside out. In real life, I came back alive. A lot of people who served, some of them my friends, didn’t come back. That’s why I keep that flag there all the time. It’s out of respect for those who came back in body bags; it’s for those still struggling with physical and mental injuries. It’s the least I can do for them.”
Nat is like many men and women who have served our country during World War II and wars in Korea, Viet Nam, and Iraq. He suffers with repressed fear and sadness resulting from his war experiences. Hospice and palliative care for veterans, like the Hospice of the Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio, includes healing opportunities for patients to express feelings they have stored inside for years. Veterans and their families receive post-traumatic stress disorder education and support. Patients are often paired with volunteers who are also veterans. Being able to “let go” of the horrific burdens of PTSD is important at any time, but especially for closure during the final phases of life.
In this video titled “Welcome Home,” veterans share some of their agonizing service memories, including burial at sea.