What Veterans and Their Families Can Teach Us About the Agony and Power of Love

In the wake of 9/11, families heeded the call to service for their country as loved ones were sent to war. After the fall of Afghanistan, they continue to struggle to reconcile the moral costs and reconstitute their relationships.

Michele DeMarco, PhD

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Veteran holding his daughter with her head tucked into his shoulder, holding an American Flag.
Photo: Unsplash

Co-written with Rita Brock, Senior Vice President and Director of the Shay Moral Injury Center at Volunteers of America and co-author of Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury After War (Beacon 2012).

Angelina is a mother of three. When the burning Twin Towers appeared on the news, she was spooning oatmeal into her baby daughter’s mouth while her four-year-old twins wrestled for possession of the television remote that lay on the rug.

“Give it to me!” Angelina yelled with an intensity that made the boys freeze. She snatched the remote, cranked up the volume, and stared in stunned silence as the second tower collapsed and its smoky plume ballooned into the crystalline sky like a nuclear mushroom cloud.

Over the subsequent horrifying hours of news, the desperate search for bodies, and the days of speculations about who was behind the attacks and how to avenge them, her thoughts inevitably turned to her brother, who was serving in the Marines. What she hadn’t expected was that her husband Mike would announce that he too wanted to enlist.

“His family has a tradition of going to war,” Angelina explained. “Actually, of joining wars when they get going. I don’t think he ever thought our generation would see a war. But when 9/11 happened, he said it was his turn. He wanted to defend his country.”

What military families know — or come to know all too soon — is that war is fought on more than one front. There is the armed fight for physical survival against enemy combatants, and there is the other struggle at home to keeping life going while a significant family member is absent and in danger. On Veterans Day we often forget this second front and neglect the fact that when a warfighter returns and starts to reintegrate into civilian life, that journey home can be as hard on the family as it is…

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Michele DeMarco, PhD

Award-winning writer, therapist, clinical ethicist, and researcher specializing in moral injury. I talk about the stuff many won’t. micheledemarco.com