Memory & Mental Health

In 2018, Carol & I were in Young Harris, Georgia, at the USS Yorktown CV-5 Survivor’s Club Reunion.

The purpose of a reunion is to socialize with friends and family, help us remember an event, or to celebrate the life of a person. The original purpose of the Yorktown reunions was to give the survivors of the USS Yorktown at the Battle of Midway (June 3-7, 1942) opportunities to share memories of life on board the ship – including experiences of the hell that erupted during battle – as well as memories of life’s experiences after the war.

Dad was stationed on the Yorktown from 1939 to June of 1942. In 1953 dad reentered the US Navy as a chaplain, and after retirement became chaplain of the CV-5 survivor’s club. I had the privilege of attending several reunions with dad and enjoyed hearing the ‘war-stories’ the men told.

Although most of the Yorktown veterans endured horrific experiences during the bombing, strafing, and torpedoing, those who freely shared their memories with others suffered much less mental anguish about it. The freedom to talk about the events often reduces PTSD. Visiting memorials and sharing memories with others is therapeutic, and aids in positive mental health which, in turn, can remove the need for long-term counseling.

Years ago, a man racing a 595-pound, 1200cc Kawasaki motorcycle at 95 mph plowed broadside into a Datsun (predating the Nissan) that our son, Ron, was driving. The wreck splintered the bike, killed the biker, destroyed the Datsun, and sent our kids to the hospital.

Ron was 16 years old and I didn’t want an emotional scar to develop, so I encouraged him to talk about what he experienced. As Ron initially related everything he remembered about the accident, we took many pictures of the aftermath; and every day for two weeks, I asked him to talk about it. At first, it was difficult. Then we discussed the event several times a week for a month. He relived, analyzed, and discussed the incident until he could narrate the event objectively – without emotional pain

The result? He has clear memories of the event and is sad about it, but he has no emotional scars and no mental trauma to overcome.

Those who will not talk about or share their feelings should at least write them down. Write out your experiences in as much detail as you can.

A good friend up north was having severe marital problems, but he would not violate his vows and did not want to hurt the children. Not willing to talk about it to anyone, he quietly, secretly, and in great detail, wrote his anxieties, emotions, bitterness, and frustrations as letters to himself. After writing each letter, he read it to himself – sometimes tearfully and in pain – then sealed it in an envelope and hid it. Each week he sealed another envelope, and never opened any of them again. Although he didn’t share the letters or his feelings with anyone else, he continually asked God to help him.

After several years he overcame the problems that plagued him and he was healed. He didn’t forget the problems. In fact, refusing to bury or hide them, he acknowledged his emotional struggles and communicated to God about it all. Then he asked the Lord to help him forgive his wife.

The situation improved and years later he died a happily-married man. As a side note: his wife didn’t change much. It was the process of opening up and releasing the problems – and forgiving her – that enabled him to accept his wife as she was and receive his healing.

Sharing memories with others can release emotional pressure and help maintain or regain positive mental health. But be sensitive to others. Don’t badger or bore them. Be willing to listen as well as to speak.

Forgiving and not holding grudges, and talking about problems in a positive manner, is similar to disinfecting a wound: the memory bank is cleansed and emotions are healed.

But also consider Philippians 4:6-7; “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (NLT)

So spend time with family and friends, develop good memories as you enjoy life. Your happy memories will be one of your most important blessings in later life.

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