Visiting the memorials is remembering. Remembering stories of war which have been suppressed or frozen in the nervous system for many years, choosing not to be remembered. Yet, remembering is healing in trauma recovery. Being with others in the remembering, witnesses holding space for the sharing of the story brings miraculous healing.
Many do not want to remember, not having ever spoken about horrific events they experienced. A life threatening experience affects the nervous system and the ability to speak. The stories of trauma may be frozen in the nervous system, for many years, even 50 years. Many may have what we now know to be undiagnosed PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). War Memorials are places of remembering, and honoring, with gratitude.
One symptom of PTSD is dissociation, with the loss of the ability to speak at the time of the traumatic event. With a life threatening experience, the mind often separates from the body. Being in a safe space, often in camaraderie with other Veterans, connecting and presencing, veterans find the unspoken can now be spoken, witnessed, and the frozen trauma is integrated into the nervous system. Being seen and heard is where healing and recovery from trauma occurs.
WWII Vets have found healing visiting the WWII Memorial with Honor Flight.
Honor Flight was founded by Earl Morse, PA with the VAHC in Dayton, OH, retired from the Air Force. Earl found his WWII patients were excited that the memorial was completed and opened in 2004, 60 years after the end of the war in 1945. Very few were making the trip, now well into their 80’s and 90’s, with failing health and limited finances. Over the Memorial Day holiday, in 2005, 15 years ago, Earl and a few other pilots flew WWII Vets in their private planes to Washington DC, to visit their memorial. Honor Flight was founded.
In 2009 the first trip with hospice patients and I accompanied 4 hospice patients on the journey.
Even though the initial intent was to help WWII vets to visit their new memorial, if a vet was diagnosed with a terminal illness, they were moved to the top of list, regardless of the war era. I journeyed with a homeless Vietnam Vet with a diagnosis of PTSD, and his case manager, with his wheelchair, portable oxygen, morphine in prefilled syringes if needed for pain.
In the week leading up to the day of the trip, his anxiety levels and nightmares increased. He was having thoughts of not going, too many memories. The wisdom of his making the trip was discussed with Earl. On the day of departure, he was ready to go. My first visit to “The Wall”, the Vietnam Wall, was walking along beside his wheelchair. There were no words. The silence was palpable. The power of being with him and holding that space was miraculous. He returned a healed man, dying peacefully a few weeks later. Being an artist, his drawings went from being very dark, portraying evil characters, to beautiful green fields, blue lakes, and boats floating peacefully on the lake.
The bearing witness to stories is being present. Being present is seeing, being seen and heard, is witnessing. Presencing is being in the present moment, connected and grounded, a safe place for trauma recovery and healing.
Stories of trauma are difficult to hear, and come with a cost.
Bearing witness comes with a cost in trauma recovery. Hearing the trauma story of a loved one or one being cared for, is as if you are in the story, the story is happening to you.
Yet this is where healing happens, giving the trauma story a voice, in the present moment. In the here and now, frozen traumatic experiences may be integrated into the nervous system, where they may have been frozen for many years.
Holding space for the healing of others is not always easy, requiring you to be fully present, to fully see, and hear another. We can only hold space for other people, listen and be witnesses, if we ourselves are inwardly present and connected to our feeling – self.
With the amazing research into the area of trauma, how our bodies experience trauma, over the past ten years, is a growing knowledge of the effects of generational trauma, also known as collective trauma. War trauma is a collective trauma experienced.
Visiting War Memorials is known to help heal the memories of war that have never been spoken. My visit to the Vietnam Wall, as a companion, walking along the wheelchair of a Vietnam Vet, I remembered the place I was as a teenager during the Vietnam War, and I felt a sense of peace, sharing that moment, listening to the silence, and holding that space with a Vietnam Vet.