Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Event raises awareness of mental health issues with practical help January 22, 2019

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo used for illustration only.

 

I EXPECT EVERY SINGLE ONE of you has experienced the loss of someone you know to suicide. I expect also that every single one of you has been affected by mental health issues, directly or indirectly. That is reality. A reality that today is getting more exposure as we realize the importance of mental health and of helping one another through life’s challenges.

We are not meant to deal with stuff alone. I firmly believe that. No one, no matter how strong they appear, lives free of struggles. So, yeah, that person, that family, who seem to have it all together, to live the perfect lives, well, don’t believe it for a second. Every. Single. One. Of us. Has something.

I’m especially grateful for the increased awareness of mental health issues in recent years. We mostly no longer shush talk on the topic of mental illness. That is a good thing.

In Minnesota, recent attention has focused on the mental health of farmers, who deal with a tremendous amount of stress. I get it. Indirectly. My dad farmed. Stresses of work, weather, finances, crop prices and more loomed always. Add to that my dad’s post traumatic stress disorder from fighting on the front lines during the Korean War and he struggled at times. Except back then such struggles weren’t acknowledged. He’s been gone for 16 years now, too late to benefit from today’s enlightenment.

 

Source: The Galaxy

 

This coming Sunday, January 27, We Walk 4 Life Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Awareness presents a free public educational event with Stories of Hope & Healing. And practical training on Question, Persuade and Refer (QPR), described as “3 simple steps anyone can learn to help save a life from suicide.” CPR for mental health.

Ted Matthews, a rural Minnesota mental health counselor, is the keynote speaker during the 1 – 5 p.m. event at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Gaylord. Two survivors of loved ones who committed suicide will also talk. The high risk for suicide groups of farmers and youth will be the focus of Sunday’s We Walk 4 Life.

I applaud this community effort to educate, increase awareness, open discussion and save lives. Together we can form those personal connections, show that care, refer to professionals who can, and do, make a difference. No one should ever have to go life alone. No matter how alone they feel.

Thoughts?

Please note that QPR training at the Sunday event requires pre-registration by calling (507) 381-4082. Class size is limited.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Raising awareness of PTSD, moral injury & suicide & how we can help March 31, 2017

The veterans of Shieldsville and elsewhere are honored in this “Never Forgotten” memorial. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I WISH I’D KNOWN then what I know now.

How often have you thought that following an epiphany moment? That came for me Wednesday evening during a community meeting and film screening at the Faribault American Legion Post 43 on post traumatic stress disorder and the related topic of suicide.

 

This photo from my dad’s collection is tagged as “Kim, Rowe, Allen & me, May 1953 Machine Gun Crew.” That’s my father on the right.

 

I walked away from the gathering with a new perspective and regrets that I hadn’t thoroughly understood the mental anguish suffered by my Korean War veteran father. He fought on the front line as an infantryman—kill or be killed. As a result, he dealt with life-long issues that greatly affected his life and thus his family, too. He died 14 years ago on April 3.

 

My father, Elvern Kletscher, on the left with two of his soldier buddies in Korea.

 

Now, just days before the anniversary of his death, I gained insight beyond his PTSD diagnosis. I learned of the term “moral injury.” In a separate clip shown before airing of the feature film “Almost Sunrise,” a soldier explained how the realities of war can inflict wounds upon the soul. As I listened, the concept made total sense to me. Here was my dad, armed with a rifle and other weapons, forced to shoot the enemy or die. To take the life of another human countered everything he held to be morally right. I can only imagine how that tore him apart. It would anyone.

 

My dad carried home a July 31, 1953, memorial service bulletin from Sucham-dong, Korea. In the right column is listed the name of his fallen buddy, Raymond W. Scheibe.

 

I recall his few stories of being so near the enemy that he could see the whites of their eyes. “Shoot or be shot,” he told me. I observed, too, the lingering pain he felt in watching his buddy Ray blown apart the day before the Nebraska solider was to leave Korea. I remember Dad’s stories also of Korean children begging for food across a barbed wire fence.

 

My dad’s military marker in the Vesta City Cemetery.

 

Dad was wounded in Korea, struck by shrapnel on Heartbreak Ridge. He earned a Purple Heart, awarded some 50 years after he left the battlefield. While his physical injuries healed, the wounds to his heart, to his soul, remained. He suffered from life-long moral injury, as I see it now.

 

The number 23 represents the 22 veterans and one active duty military individual who commit suicide daily. The goal is to bring that number to zero. Graphics credit: Operation 23 to Zero.

 

I am grateful to the local Legion and Faribault Elks Lodge, specifically to Kirk Mansfield, a strong local advocate for veterans and head of Operation 23 to Zero in southern Minnesota, for organizing Wednesday’s community event. Operation 23 strives to help veterans and to create awareness of PTSD, suicide and more.

 

Promo graphics credit of “Almost Sunrise.”

 

Showing of “Almost Sunrise,” a film that followed two Iraqi War veterans on a 2,700 trek from Milwaukee to Los Angeles, also gave me insights into the personal demons soldiers face upon returning home from the battlefield. It is a touching film that left me crying. The Wisconsin soldiers, as they walked across the country and in follow-up therapy, found personal and relationship healing. They found the strength within to forgive themselves. Only they—not their families—could lead them to that point of healing.

While Wednesday’s event focused on veterans, the information shared can apply to anyone who has suffered from PTSD, whether from domestic abuse or other trauma, Mansfield noted.

In a separate clip from the film, a speaker offered these tips for helping individuals dealing with mental health challenges:

  • Show empathy by listening.
  • Remind the individual that he/she has a purpose in life.
  • Offer to be a mentor.
  • Reiterate how important they are to you. Tell them they matter.

That’s great advice.

 

I photographed this pillow last September when the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall came to Faribult. The veteran volunteering in the MIA-POW tent told me his wife sewed this pillow from an over-sized t-shirt. As the message conveys, we all need to be here for one another.

 

Mansfield challenged those in attendance to take what they’d just learned and help others. So I am, with this story. I have the ability to use the written word to create awareness. When we are educated and aware, then we can begin to help our family members, our friends, our co-workers, our acquaintances via listening, supporting, encouraging and reminding them just how much they mean to us. That is powerful.

 

FYI: To read a story I wrote about my dad, “Faith & Hope in a Land of Heartbreak,” published in the book, God Answers Prayers, Military Edition (page 12), click here.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Grieving one gone too young July 31, 2014

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Valley Grove cemetery - Copy

 

I’D NEVER MET THE PARENTS, only knew their son from company gatherings.

But on a recent Thursday evening, I waited in line at a funeral home to pay my respects to the 25-year-old, my husband’s former co-worker, who took his own life.

As Randy and I snail paced through the winding line of mourners, past countless photo displays, I observed. Never have I attended a visitation with such quietness. Barely a sound in this carpeted room where mostly young men stood, their eyes focused on images sliding across a screen. Their friend, once so vibrant and alive, now gone, his closed casket on the other side of the room.

It made me incredibly sad to witness this. This grief tucked inside these young men who should not be here but rather tooling around in their pick-ups on a perfect Minnesota summer evening. Never have I seen so many trucks parked, and young adults gathered, outside a funeral home.

It made me incredibly sad to witness this.

I watched as a twenty-something slipped his arm around his significant other when they paused at the casket. Her grief ran deep and I expect so did his.

Grief rose inside me, too, and threatened to spill into tears for a young man I barely knew. But he is around the age of my own children and, as a mother, I cannot imagine such a loss. This is not the natural order of life, to lose a child.

I wondered, as we edged toward the family, past the displays of caps and replica cars and framed certifications, what I would say. How do you comfort?

At times like this, words seem futile. I wanted, in some small way also, to console the 12-year-old brother who occasionally turned and sheltered himself into his towering father’s side. He appeared invisible to other mourners. But I noticed him and his pain.

When we reached the brother, I asked his name. And he spoke with such softness that the father had to repeat his name. And then I asked to hug the 12-year-old and he allowed me to do so. Twice. And I told him he was loved.

And then the story spilled out—how he had given his older brother his nickname because he could not, as a young child, pronounce his sibling’s name. And for a moment a smile flitted across the pre-teen’s face and the father and I laughed. And I told the 12-year-old that he will always have that special connection to his brother.

Sometimes grieving families need moments like this and only sparse words of sincere sympathy. I offered such words and hugs and held hands, too, and felt the clench of grief.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling