My Head Feels It Will Blow Up

I think it has something to do with my dad being a prisoner in a nursing home.  He looks so helpless there.  And he’s developed a belief that the nursing home is run by Nazis.

When my dad was a corporal in the US Army in World War II, one of his jobs was to go into villages that the Nazis had taken over–this was in the Alsace–and make sure that it was actually the Nazis and not somebody else.  Then he would radio his outfit, and they would rain artillery fire on the village and blow it up.

Dad knew that the Nazis did not kill or run out all the people whose village they took over.  They simply moved into their houses, ate their food, raped their daughters, and held that position for the advancing front.  Dad knew that when he called in fire on those villages, he was calling in fire on the innocent people that the Nazis were using as human shields.

Long before there was a acronym for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Dad had it.  He spent most nights fighting hand-to-hand, even though he denies that he ever did that in the war.  Often my mother had to go sleep in the guest room to avoid getting unwittingly assaulted.

She vehemently denies that he has PTSD–a service-related condition that would qualify him for lots of important VA benefits.  If he doesn’t, then why the kicking and punching, why the paranoia, why the things that remain half-said, the conversations begun and ended in a shudder……why are there Nazis in the nursing home?

Tonight he waved me in to him and whispered conspiratorially: “Your mother may not believe this, and heck, you may not believe this either, but they are meeting tonight in the square.”

“What square, Dad?”

“The town square.  The square of THIS town.”

“Who’s meeting in the square tonight?”

“The ones we fought against in the war, the ones that wanted–US–GONE.  We won that one, but they’re back.  You be careful out there.”

I nodded.   “I’ll be careful, Dad.  You be careful too.”

He closes his eyes, shudders.  I hear no more from him tonight.  A few words of small talk, a few observations about Noga the Lhasa Apso, who is a welcome visitor.  Tonight Dad “doesn’t think she likes him.  The only reason she comes is that I bring her.”

I stay two hours, then they put Dad to bed.  He is looking very black in the face, bitter.  He falls asleep, but I wake him to kiss the top of his bald head just like always when I say goodbye.

Tonight he doesn’t say “I love you.”

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39 Comments

  1. I feel bad for your dad. I know a few people that would probably qualify for PTSD, mostly from being in wars. But none of them talk about it much.

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  2. Heartbreaking…..I can’t imagine anyone being involved in war and NOT having PTSD. This post really touched me.

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  3. sending warm and comforting thoughts your way

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  4. I am so sorry your dad is going through this your deep love for him is apparent in your writing so the sympathy extends also to you. Hugs dear lady.

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  5. stump3d

     /  February 11, 2014

    I feel for you. To feel pain for oneself is already quite difficult but to feel the pain for our loved ones is another kind of pain. It’s hard because their pain is something they mostly have to work out for themselves. You just have to stand by, give them all the TLC that you can and hope that things turn out for the better. 🙂

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    • You’re so right, stump. You’ve put your finger on it. I was thinking about that this morning before I got out of bed, that it’s each person’s destiny to work out their own struggles at the end of life (as if we didn’t have plenty of them already!), getting everything in order before going on to the next thing, whatever that might be.

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  6. 😦 ❤ ((()))

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  7. It is unfair that someone who survived that war has to spend the rest of his days fighting it. Unfair, but it happens to so many.

    “Nazis” troubled several of the elders at a Jewish nursing home where I interned as a chaplain. For some, music seemed to interrupt the rhythms of their PTSD. It might be worth a try. I wish him, a

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  8. I pray for peace for both of you.

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    • Thanks, Rabbi. I am in fact assembling a music system for him that he cannot break accidentally, with music that he loves, and directions for the CNAs so they can turn it on and off. The only problem is his roommate who LOVES to watch TV continuously, but he’s a nice man so I’m hoping he’ll donate part of his TV day to a good cause. Or maybe I’ll get him a set of TV headphones as a Valentine’s present 😉

      Imagine, if residents in a Jewish nursing home had Nazi problems–my poor Dad is in a home where he is the sole Jew! But you know what? That’s how he’s engineered his life. After he and my mom left the NYC area in 1956, they lived strictly in places where they were the only Jews (and me, when I came along). So he is dying as he lived. Very tough, but again, he was, and remains, a tough man. But the loss of independence is causing cracks to form in his tough shell. I am seeing these as some of the tikunim he has to make in olam ha’zeh before moving on to olam ha’ba.

      Prayers appreciated. He is Natan ben Perel, my mother is Golda bat Chaya, I am Liebe Feiga bat Golda.

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  9. teddymear

     /  February 12, 2014

    Laura, I feel for both you and your Dad. I agree with rabbiadar on the music. My Mom had Alzheimer’s and like your Dad, was in a nursing home…very difficult on the family. I had CD’s of her favorites next to her bed with a “boom box”. Each day we would sing and clap together…she seemed to come alive with that music. Huge smiles, sometimes tears but always a reaction. I would give her a crayon and a piece of blank paper and she would just drag that crayon to the beat of the music. She had been a piano teacher and an artist prior to getting sick. Another thing we did was go through old photos. Sometimes when I’d kiss Mom to say good bye she would say “My Mear, where did you come from?” It made me wonder…did Mom think I was a nursing assistant the whole time I was there? But it really didn’t matter. I knew she loved me… Just like your Dad loves you Laura. It doesn’t have to be said. It’s just a given. What a wonderful, giving daughter you are. Your father is blessed to have you and you to have him. The lessons you learn from each other in this journey are priceless. It’s been 4 years since Mom passed and I still miss our visits.
    God bless you both~ Mear

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    • Mear, thank you so much for the wonderful gifts you have given me just now. In many ways I think Alzheimer’s type dementia is a blessing, because they can often be soothed and given joy with simple things. My Dad does not have Alzheimer’s, though. His problem is that he has had many small strokes and his brain scans look like Swiss cheese. He’s hard to get to, if he’s “out in the ozone” or locked into his own world. He too was an artist and musician. I did get him to put pencil to paper the other day, and play a game called “Take a point for a walk,” from the artist Paul Klee. We used to do that by the hour when I was a child. He managed it for a few minutes, then fell into a sort of “scritching” pattern with the pencil and gave up. But I bet with the music, he might just get in the groove! I’ll try it ASAP. I want to get him out of the negative head-space and into a better one.

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  10. Its so strange that war can make people suffer even after years of ending and still they do not seem to end. I feel sad, Laura. Sometimes life can be unexpectedly tough. Love and light to him and you.

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    • Thank you so much, ashualec. I’m sorry to have made you sad. It is a very sad thing though. War is such a meaningless exercise in savagery. It negates all of the “advances” we have made. All the technology, the science–we use it to exterminate others of our species. Thank you for your love and light! Be well.

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  11. Laura this piece really breaks my heart and I feel your dad and sympathize with him. All he is telling you is a flashback of memories which was more of a pain he couldn’t resolve. The fact that those innocent people were killed where the Nazies hid themselves and the pain they made those innocent people grow through by feeding on their food,raping their daughters,and using things that belong to them does not mean he want those innocent people killed but rather wants the evil Nazies gotten rid off. The innocent people might have been killed during the process but he saves them the agony of pain and trauma of a lifetime. He is now bearing such pain and trauma which has resulted based on bottled up of emotions that has been on his mind for so long that has resulted to his having a PTSD. Despite all he went through he maintained his dignity and refused to be an object of pity based on the benefit he is entitled to as one who served and gave his life for his country. I admire and respect the old man. Please send him my love and that God loves him more and will always be there for him.

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  12. I am so terribly sorry that your father is having to relive so strongly all that happened during the war. It is enough he had to do it once without this now. In his in between states he knows you, you are an inner spark that lights his darkness. Never doubt that Laura. Even if he isn’t responsive he knows you are there and the love you share binds you together. I hope he moves past this stage since it hurts both of you. Prayer of peace and strength Laura, for you both.
    Susan x

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  13. PsiFiGal

     /  February 12, 2014

    I hope the music help Laura, it should. I am so sorry to hear of your father’s experiences during the war, I have no idea what that must have been like for him. My father rarely talked about his service during WWII but he said he was stationed on Tonga and never saw any “action”. He said he was in a clerical position in the navy because they found out he could type 🙂 I hope this is the truth, I don’t know for sure. I’m sending you my best hopes and prayers for you and your father.

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    • The music is a big hit! Turns out his roommate is also a WWII vet, and also loves classical music and jazz. So once I found a place to set up the stereo, the TV went off and they were both carried away by Mozart horn concierti. Then I had to run off because it started showing like mad, but I left two happy old vets listening to good music, so I feel better about that.

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      • PsiFiGal

         /  February 12, 2014

        I’m so glad! What a comfort that must be 🙂

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      • teddymear

         /  February 13, 2014

        You made my day!! Hugs to you and your Dad:) Music soothes the soul. So happy Dad’s roommate enjoys it too!!

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  14. That was a hard read for me, as it must have been for you to write. My mother survived the war thanks to being deported by Stalin to Khazakstan in April 1941. My father came to England as a refugee with his immediate family from what’s now the Czech republic. The effects of these eperiences continue until today. There is a memoir by a British writer called Anne Karpf called ‘The War After’ that describes my family in every line.

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    • Wow. It must have been rough for you growing up amidst so much trauma. How did your mother get to England? Both of my father’s parents came through London as refugees on their way to somewhere else. They finally met in New York.

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      • My mother, her sister and their step mother (she’s a whole other story) escaped from the Stalinist labour camp and were reunited with her father by a miracle in a DP camp in Germany in 1947. They wanted to head for Palestine – the family has strong Zionist credentials (yet another whole amazing story) they were duped and instead of landing in Haifa they ended up in Harwich, England.

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        • That is a true miracle! Unfortunately the phenomenon of ships bound for Palestine being diverted elsewhere was a common one, accounting for the incredible dispersion of our people in the Diaspora. I have a similar miracle story in my family, where my great-grandparents, with their 8 children, were moved through numerous camps (the Germans were good at keeping records, so my geneologist found most of them), and a brother and sister were reunited in Paris. Another ended up in Belgium, and another in Palestine. The others are unaccounted for.

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  15. justkmm

     /  February 12, 2014

    The fear they must feel is awful , Mom believes her body parts are being harvested ) :

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  16. Do you think he is processing his life and trying to let go of it? It would be horrible for his last days to be consumed by events decades before.

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    • Good thought. Certainly is possible. He gets consumed by guilt for things he may or may not have done. He’s had these spells before, even when he was healthy. He’s told me some snatches of things he saw in the war, always seemed like he cut himself off in the middle. Today he was much better, thank God.

      Reply
      • I would wish for him to have some peace before he passed but that is a big wish given that his status has been so active for decades. He may delve deeper into his past traumatic experiences as his body continues to fail.

        Reply

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