Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Suicide, and the Lessons of War

About Penny Coleman

Photo by:
Nancy Blackwelder

It is only in the past six years that I have begun to think of myself as a Vietnam war widow. In June of 1970, I met a man who had just returned from Vietnam. We fell in love and were married, but it was not an easy marriage. Daniel was injured in ways I didn't understand and couldn't see. After threatening suicide whenever things got rough, he finally made a serious attempt. Feeling emotionally blackmailed, I left. Several years later, I got a call from his sister telling me he had been successful.

For decades I carried around the guilt and shame that most survivors of a suicide feel--are encouraged to feel-- by family, friends and community. It wasn't until the 1980's, after PTSD had finally been accorded an official place in the DSM, and when the mainstream media began publishing stories about the frequency of suicide among Vietnam veterans, that I began to wonder what role Daniel's war experiences had played in his death.

In 2000, I began to reach out to other women who had suffered similar tragedies in the belief that I had lived a piece of history that had been effectively erased from the official versions-- as women's history so often is. Following the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, it became clear to me that what I had undertaken had larger implications.

The book, published in May 2006, is the result of that exploration.

Penny Coleman 2007