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Surviving, without a memorial

Where are the tangible memorials to what survivors have lost?
By Cynthia Orange
Winter 2010 11.1.10

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So much about surviving trauma and loving a trauma survivor has to do with loss and grief.

Our family first visited the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., when Jessica was in high school. It struck me as a large, dark wing of death. It is carved into the earth, and you walk down a gradual slope to read the names of dead soldiers, etched into the smooth granite in the order in which they died. Jessica and I stood more than fifty feet from each other at each end of 1969–1970, Michael’s tour of duty, and I was taken aback by the enormity of the loss as I ran my fingers over the grooved letters that formed names.

These losses are tragic, but they are tangible, even touchable when you have a memorial, a cemetery marker, or an urn. Physical deaths can be mourned through ritual and in community, and the grief of those who mourn runs deep as family and friends gather to shed tears and memorialize their lost loved one. But Michael and millions of other trauma survivors did not die. He stood physically whole to photograph his wife and daughter at the Wall. He lived to trace the names of his fallen brothers. Our little family was still complete, while other families would never again see their loved one. The man I loved was still at my side. That reality is cause for celebration, not grief. What right did I have to feel loss?


© 2010 Cynthia Orange. Excerpted with permission from Shock Waves: A Practical Guide to Living with a Loved One’s PTSD (Hazelden, 2010).

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