It’s been a great forty-five-year marriage. We’ve seen each other through sickness and health, sorrow and grief, good times and bad. We’ve argued, we’ve cried, done a lot of forgiving, kissing and making up. But we’ve never ever been unfaithful to each other. Never wanted anyone else to share our lives with but each other.
That’s why it’s so difficult living with this other man. This other man with a short fuse who gets loud and boisterous, moody and depressed. This other man who sits with his head in his hands, crying and hating himself for what he’s become. This other man with a shattered soul praying the pain will just go away. This other man, this unwelcome intruder named PTSD.
My husband served four years in the Navy aboard the USS Forrestal CVA-59 from 1966 to 1970. On July 29, 1967, fire on the flight deck raged for thirty-six hours and claimed 134 lives. Lives that were burned beyond recognition as my husband placed them in body bags, sobbing for them and their families and friends. Young lives that barely got their feet wet in the sea of life. Innocent, charred remains that are forever etched in my husband’s mind.
Fresh out of the Navy, we met, fell in love and got married. He stayed busy with our son, working, playing ball and working in his workshop. We spent time with family and friends, playing music, taking vacations; always staying busy, leaving the blazing horrors of war far behind . . . or so we thought.
After thirty-five, faithful years at Drexel Heritage, hubby retired. But the grandkids were still small and the youngest spent a lot of time with us during the summer, keeping us hopping. Then he grew up. Suddenly, we were going through the empty-nest syndrome all over again and found ourselves feeling more and more alone.
That’s when Mr PTSD began rearing his ugly head. That’s when war broke loose in our peaceful marriage. That’s when the sword of fear and doubt and hopelessness was thrust into our hearts.
We sit and cry listening to the tapes he records during his twice-weekly therapy sessions, not because we want to but because it’s part of the healing process. The part where I want to throw up my hands and tell him to quit because I can’t stand what it’s doing to him. But I know from personal experience that it’s the only way for healing to take place. As hellish as it is, he must revisit the horror till it no longer has power over him.
That’s why we don’t give up. That’s why I encourage him in spite of feeling totally depleted of all hope that he’ll ever defeat this invisible monster.
PTSD is so frustrating. It jumps on you when you least expect it; like sitting and enjoying a movie when suddenly an explosion blares through the speakers and fire rages on the scene. I glance at my husband and see tears streaming down his ashen face; the same face that only a moment before was peaceful and relaxed.
Along with sleep come the blood-curdling nightmares where he’s trapped on the ship with nowhere to run. He sees the flames, hears the explosions, and smells the burning flesh. When he finally wakes up, he’s exhausted and confused and afraid to go back to sleep.
And the least little thing sets him off, like when I clutter his work area in the kitchen when he’s cooking. What I haven’t mentioned thus far is that I have PTSD as well. So when I clutter his work area, he grows horns and a long tail and a great big bossy attitude. Well, that ignites the wildcat in me and in the blink of an eye, our PTSD worlds collide. It’s as if we step outside our bodies and watch these two out-of-control knuckleheads completely take over.
And it happens over and over again. It’s like we’re on a never-ending merry-go-round of defeat and hopelessness and we can’t get off. Many well-intentioned Christians would probably tell us to pray more, read the Bible more, start going back to church and on and on. And I’d have to tell those well-intentioned Christians that some things in life, regardless of how much you read the Bible and pray and attend church, you’re going to suffer. In John 16:33, Jesus tells His disciples, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
But I’m proud of my husband, he doesn’t give up. In spite of how he feels, he still loves to cook and I still love that he does it. He’s looking forward to working in his shop again and I look forward to him making furniture for the house. We have a growing, loving family of four grandkids, five great-grandkids and one on the way. We have awesome friends and two loving dogs. We have God in our lives that more than anyone in this crazy world knows and understands exactly what we’re going through. Rather than judge and condemn us He wraps us in His blanket of love and forgiveness and promises to never leave our side.
That’s why we’re gritting our teeth and seeing this thing through to the bitter end.