I know I’m not supposed to talk about this, so here goes . . . .
I sensed a mom is not supposed to ask her son, “Have you killed anyone?” But I wondered and worried. Without verbal confirmation, on some level, I knew.
Comments by his buddies confirmed my suspicions. Did I feel distressed that my son engaged in actions that killed people? Yes, my heart hurt. And I needed to process the cognitive dissonance I felt about that fact. I’ve heard that some mothers prefer to live in a whitewashed denial, but I’m not wired that way. For my peace of mind and heart, I prefer to process reality, no matter how harsh. Otherwise, my imagination haunts me.
When my son joined the Army Rangers, we talked on the phone throughout RIP and his transition into the battalion. As the months wore on, I heard my son’s mindset change. I wish I’d journaled those conversations. I’ll never forget my response after one particular phone call. When we hung up I thought, My God, they’re turning him into a killer. I had no one to help me process, explain or understand his transition that I sensed from that conversation.
The traumatic experiences of war change soldiers in ways I’ll never understand. The scary unspoken, unmentionable, “What’s it like to kill a man?” sent this mom into a worried emotional overdrive. That’s a mom’s job, you know. My anxious thoughts included:
- Will my son be permanently emotionally scarred?
- Will demons haunt his dreams, his daytime thoughts?
- Will my son suffer PTSD, TBI, or moral wounds?
- Will my son be able to form a healthy, lasting marital relationship?
- Will he become an alcoholic or a drug addict?
- Will his buddies suffer similar outcomes?
- Will he be susceptible to suicide?
- Will the dark, ugly realities of war negatively affect the rest of his life?
- Will he accept himself?
- Will IED or roadside bomb blasts injure his brain?
- Will the price of combat affect the part of the brain that doesn’t mature in males until age 24 — the prefrontal cortex controlling decision-making, problem-solving, and inhibitory control?
- Will he seek or avoid counseling to help him process any cognitive dissonance?
I needed to understand the dynamics and normal reactions of a soldier facing the adventure, adrenaline, adversities, and adjustments of war. Each time my son and I sat in the same room or talked on the phone, these unspoken, unmentionable, unanswered questions ate away at my insides. I longed to know what brewed inside my son’s heart, mind, and soul. The silence heightened my helplessness and fears on so many fronts.
If it helped, I’d gladly share the pain and bear his moral wounds. What part could I play in his healing? Or would I be excluded from that too? Secrecy and silence exclude the family, isolating us from knowing what to say, how to relate, or how to support our children. If my son needed help, would I recognize the signs or know what to do or where to turn before it was too late?