Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Suicide, and the Lessons of War

Stories From the Book: Kim Chism

Sometimes I wonder if the memories I have of my father are really mine or not. They might just be stories that people have told me. I was three when he died. I have memories of riding in his wheelchair with him. I remember that I had long hair and every night after my bath I would come and sit in front of him and he would brush out my hair. He had kind of a big belly and I remember him bouncing me on his belly. And I remember him walking on his hands. When he was home he didn't use his wheelchair. His legs were amputated so far up that there was really nothing to drag. He had huge strong arms, and he used them as if they were legs. I do have memories.

I just got my master's degree in elementary education, and I've been working with children with autistic spectrum disorders for the last two years. I love my work. I love my life, and then I think that when my mother was my age, she was already widowed and she had me to take care of. I can't imagine what that must have been like. I've never heard her talk about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I don't think she has really gotten that yet. I think everything that happened is still too personal to think about in clinical terms.

I remember her struggling a lot with depression when I was a child. Every year around the time of my father's death, she would get depressed. She's gotten better as she's gotten older, but I don't think she has ever fully mourned for herself. I know she doesn't feel completely responsible for my father's death, but his side of the family really blamed her. My grandmother wrote her a letter right after my father's death. It said that my mom must not have shown him enough love and made him feel like a man, and that if she had been a better wife, he wouldn't have done what he did. For a long time, I harbored a lot of anger towards my grandmother over that. A few years ago, my aunt told me how she blamed my mom, too, and how horrible she was to her after my father's death. Now, my aunt understands more and she feels really bad, but she's never apologized.

My Uncle Mike was my dad's best friend. He's the one I talk to most about my father. When I was fifteen, I asked him about my dad, and he said, "I've been waiting for you to ask. Your father asked me to help you understand." Uncle Mike told me stories about what happened to my father in Vietnam. I love who I think my dad was, from what people told me about him, and I often wonder what our lives would have been like if he had lived. But I could never imagine the hell he must have been living, and I don't blame him for taking his life. I don't blame him at all. I think it had everything to do with Vietnam.

That's the rational side of me. But there's another side. Whenever I see pictures of my father and me, I always think, "Look at this beautiful little girl. Why wasn't I enough to make him want to live?" My therapist said, "So what you're saying is that you're not good enough?" I said, "Good never comes into it for me. Just, ‘I'm not enough. Why aren't I enough?'"

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