Pamela Hicks is a former associate professor of psychiatric nursing at Castleton State College in Castleton, Vermont. She is a former clinical consultant to the Vietnam Veterans Center in Hartford, Conn. and is currently nursing clinical coordinator for the Dual-Diagnosis Adolescent Service at Four Winds Hospital in Saratoga, N.Y.
When I was nineteen I lost a man to an M-60 machine gun "friendly fire" in Vietnam. Two years later I lost another to a SAM missile and to capture by the North Vietnamese. I still wait for his return to Vermont. I loved both of these men. Our times together had a joy I had never known. For weeks I was lonelier than I had ever been and I felt that nothing could be trusted, even life. However, I ignored my love and the pain which was its legacy by marrying quickly--the responsibilities of home and motherhood shrouding my grief.
When I was twenty-four, my father was ravaged by cancer and died. Again, I had lost the source of my dearest joy. I quickly returned to school, overachieved, became a scholar of death: physical death and psychological death, and a good therapist. However, my grief and my heart became more and more encrusted and hardened. Then, during three weeks in August, 1986, four Vietnam veterans came to my office to work on presumed mid-life issues. Listening to their stories, thinking how fortunate I was never to have experienced such suffering, such loss, my two friends' faces flashed into my mind, and my nineteen year old heart burst open with tears and agonizing pain. I was filled with a grief and sadness that broke me.
Jogging down the road one day, I was wracked with sobs which tore themselves from within my walled chambers. I was ripped open, more exposed, more vulnerable, than anytime in my life. I understood for the first time the old Gospel tune, Amazing Grace: "I once was lost but now am found." In ignoring the pain, I had lost more than these beloved men. I had lost myself.