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Find Your Tribe

As I was driving along today, I caught a segment on NPR that kinda stuck on to my brain, and made that said organ spin some wheels it usually doesn't. I wasn't able to listen to the whole thing, but the part that I did hear, was about our young, returning veterans. The report explored the hardships that these vets face in trying to assimilate back into society, especially in the college setting. The overwhelming evidence talked about showed that most of the vets are not able to function on the same level as the regular students. That special programs are needed to help them get through PTSD symptoms, that faculty needs coaching about these symptoms and potential triggers, and that basically, there needs to be more funding to help vets get back to normal life. The boys and girls interviewed sounded depressed and confused. Upset even, by the fact that after the intense and incredible everyday hardships and feats that they have withstood and undergone, they are now considered sub-par and failing. The reporter mentioned several times that the vets seem to gravitate to each other, and avoid possible interactions with their civilian peers. "I just don't seem to fit in with them," mentions a young vet who has a full time job, carries a full school load, and is also raising two children. Geesh, ya think?!
As a fair weather reader of forums and chat rooms, I have always been intrigued by the sections titled, Finding Your Tribe. There is a part of me that always thinks, wow, can I really find this mythical place of belonging here? Maybe this is it! Perhaps this webpage can finally make me feel connected, normal, and understood. That feeling doesn't last very long, of course, since no forum ever can really fulfill these expectations. But the need is still there. The desire to feel like someone, finally, can understand by experience, what you might be feeling and thinking. My own tribe, my own place of belonging. But why in the world do we care though? Why does it make such a big difference when I know that there is someone who has felt the same pain, had the same heartbreak, or understands my fears because they also have the same fears? Why do the vets feel more comfortable around other vets then their own family members?  Maybe because in the end, we are just not programmed to function that way; we are not created to be alone. Nor to suffer alone. And even though someone might say, yes I understand your troubles, you can't really trust that they actually do, because the trauma lama living inside you, is a very suspicious beast. Unless it has seen you in the trenches, there is no way you could possibly understand or be part of the tribe. I think that we need to understand that about people who are suffering in this way. When Leo was first born, I had a very hard time talking to my friends who also have children. It got to the point where I started avoiding them, and coming up with excuses to stay away. I thought I was justified in acting this way, I thought that somehow, I deserved the distinction of being called a "sufferer." That it set me apart from regular happy people. It only took me a year or so to realize that there is no such thing. That even though I do feel safer, easier, around people who have "special" children, that it is also a cop-out to believe that they are my only tribe. I don't try to come up with excuses to avoid my "regular" friends anymore, mostly because I'm tired of feeling strange around them. Sure I'm damaged, but aren't we all? Perhaps that person has not held a fellow soldier as he bled to death, but instead, has held a child, or a parent, or friend as they passed away. Suffering is relative, and perhaps it shouldn't be the defining criteria of a tribe.
What I found myself thinking, as I listened to the radio, was more along the way of a wish. I wish that pain and loss could be accepted into our life without fear. I wish that friends and family could say, no, I do not understand your pain, but I love you, and no matter what, we are in it together. I wish that there could be help with stereotypes, acceptance of trauma, affirmation of struggle, and then the gentle gift of hope and healing. There is no way that we should expect people with traumas to just jump back into normalcy. It's ludicrous. It demeans everything that they have gone through. Horrors in the mind don't just go away. There is no pill we can take to erase our memory. But there is a friend who can prop up a shoulder, a parent who just loves, a wife who is there, no matter what. Everyone is in the same tribe. And the tribe suffers together. Perhaps Christ died alone, but in his Resurrection, he brought us all life together. No distinction, no separations, all of us, in the same place, under the same sky, sharing our lives and everything that means.


  1. This weekend, I experienced what I think you are talking about. A woman I know and love, who is a mother and a really emotive person, saw me for the first time after Anna's death, and she didn't say anything. That's OK, but I guess I expected something different because we are both moms. The next day, a 75 year old friend of a friend pulled me aside, looked me in the eye, and said, "I didn't get to tell you how sorry I am." He's a good ol' farm boy and a bit rough around the edges, but he knew exactly what to say and how to act. He didn't claim to know how I feel, but I get the idea that he does know.

  2. It's funny, I feel kind of on both sides of this. I've noticed that since the boys' deaths I feel more comfortable around other women who have lost babies. I don't have to pretend. I am allowed to find something funny but still to be grieving. I don't have to explain (or alternately, decide not to explain but feel stiff). At the moment is is excruciatingly hard to be around newborns and pregnant women, even to email them. Andrew would have been born one week ago and everything is still very raw. I know that the edges soften with time even if the ache never leaves. My family largely did not know what to do or say and so didn't. It left a big blank. It was mostly the people who had been through that particular fire who knew that sometimes the best thing to say is simply, "I'm so sorry," and one thing never to say is "I know how you feel." BUT, on the other side of things, there were and are people who haven't known the sorrow of losing a baby and yet reached out, willing to suffer my pain with me. They were very rare and very precious. It is a sacrifice to suffer *with* someone and not just pity them. To this day there are people in our parish who have never once acknowledged the boys' existence much less attempted to offer any sympathy.

    A friend who has lost three babies in a row now met an acquaintance while shopping the other day. The acquaintance had lost a toddler to a drowning death last year. She told me later that she felt awkward expressing her sympathy because she hadn't lost a toddler, "only" miscarried three babies. She said that her acquaintance seemed very grateful to talk to her for those few minutes. I told her that grief is relative, that it simply can't be compared. *Her* grief gave her a window into her friend's grief, and that friend's grief gave him a window into hers.

    [Lucy - Joseph asked me to pray for you right after Clementine was born and you've been in my prayers since.]

    1. Thank you Matushka for your comment! And Lucy too. You ladies are definitely part of the tribe. Assumptions can never comforting, but there is totally ease when in the company of someone who just "knows" and doesn't fill the air with empty platitudes. I discovered another interesting thing, that grief also opens all the doors, so people who also had sorrow felt more at ease talking about it with me, as opposed to others. Some even expressed feelings that they have kept locked up for years! Sometimes grief can be the catalyst to change and healing. Strange that. Thank you for the thoughts and prayers to you and your families!


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