After reading my last post – the one about the officer who reached out for help, the officer I nudged toward a colleague as my stint ended – a dear friend asked, “What would you say to that soldier if you saw him again?”
I’d say this:
“Sir, it’s been several years since you and I sat together, but I have not forgotten you. I have not forgotten your anguish or your despair. I have not forgotten the courage it took for you to reach out, to speak about your crumbling world. I have not forgotten the profound honesty you brought with you each time we met; I have not forgotten your tears, or your relief in facing all the things that had gotten jammed up inside. I have not forgotten the way you were just beginning to find the edge of hope.
I remember all of those things so clearly;
I can picture each exchange we had, even after all these years.
I also have not forgotten how very much I wanted to handle things differently during that last phone call, when I told you I was leaving the base the next day.
I’m more sorry than you know. You deserved better. You took a risk. You asked for help. You told me – with blazing vulnerability and sincerity – all about the web of pressure and stress that you were caught up in. You let me see how desperate you were; you held nothing back.
You deserved better.
I didn’t follow my heart in that moment.
I was the good employee instead of the gracious counselor.
Please know, Sir, if I had it to do over again, I’d toss the rules.
I’d offer you my number and tell you we could talk as long as you needed to in order to get things lined up again inside your heart.
I’d say, “I’m right here. Let’s keep going.”
Those rules I was following? They’re part of the reason I couldn’t keep doing that job.
I couldn’t bear to turn someone like you away when all you wanted was a safe place to say, ‘Please help me.’
You have my sincere apology.
And you have my utter care and concern.”
Linda Hansen says:
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Elizabeth Heaney - Author
Clinical Psychologist, teacher, private counselor. She speaks and writes about her work with service members.