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Pauline Laurent
Santa Rosa, California, USA

Legacy of Loss and Reconciliation

I never occurred to me that I had denied my grief, and it didn't seem the least bit odd to me that I had to avoid all discussions about the Vietnam War. Every year at a local festival, when I saw the booth for the Vietnam Veterans of America, I ran in the opposite direction, fearful someone might recognize me as a Vietnam Widow.

I was 22 years old and 7 months pregnant when my husband, Sgt. Howard E. Querry, was killed in action in Vietnam on May 10, 1968. We had been married less than a year. Jackie Kennedy became my role model. I remembered watching her follow her husband's coffin, draped with the US flag. She didn't let her feelings show. I learned to do the same. When they handed me the flag from Howard's coffin, I didn't shed a tear.

Twenty-five years ago when the last Americans left Vietnam and the war was lost to the Communists, I felt enormous shame and betrayal that my country had sent my husband to be slaughtered in a war that we did not win.

Throughout the years following my husband's death, my life was punctuated with one loss after another. It seemed I kept repeating the cycle of loss and betrayal. I lost jobs, relationships, left communities and moved thousands of miles away from the small community in southern Illinois where the tragedy had occurred. I didn't know it at the time, but I was trying to outrun the pain. For 25 years I was emotionally unresponsive, had multiple addictions and led a far-too-busy life.

The persona I had built up around the loss shattered in 1990 when I suffered one loss too many. I left a job and a career that meant a great deal to me and I plummeted into a major depression. My daughter was the only reason I didn't take my own life. What I learned from the depression is that grief doesn't go away, it just goes underground.

In deciding to heal rather than kill myself, I finally drug out the box labeled "Vietnam" which I had stuck in the back of every closet in every home I ever had. In exploring the contents, I began the process of grieving - 25 years after his funeral. I went to a hospice group but the other attendees were threatened by my attendance. Surely their grief would not last 25 years. I assured them that it wouldn't if they faced it in the moment rather than avoiding it. At the same time my daughter announced her wedding plans. Planning her wedding brought the tears which could not be held back any longer. I also had hit a bottom with one of my addictions and entered a recovery program. By the grace of God, I was able to begin the process of confronting the loss. Seven years later, in November of 1999, I published my memoir, Grief Denied - A Vietnam Widow's Story.

Telling the story and dispelling the grief has given me a new perspective on life. I've forgiven my husband and my country, and I have a deep capacity to love again. I don't know what the future holds, but I don't feel afraid anymore - afraid of death or losing someone I love.

My life is enriched by watching my daughter raise her daughter with her husband - something I never had the opportunity to do. And my relationship with my granddaughter allows me the opportunity to give to her in a way I was not able to give to my daughter because I was so shrouded in grief.

I've met many veterans of the war since I've identified myself as a widow. I've found that some want to hear about my experience and others don't. I honor their request. I've learned to respect grief.

For information about my book,Grief Denied A Vietnam Widow's Story visit my web site http://www.griefdenied.com or contact me by e-mail at plaurent@cableone.net

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