Jonathan Gregory Keller
22″ x 26″ • Acrylic on Canvas
This painting tells the story of Tom, a US military veteran who served during the Vietnam war. After experiencing the horrors of war, Tom returned home and found out that going back to a normal life was not an easy transition. He started drinking often which would bring back memories of Vietnam and it only made things worse. With the help of his loving wife and an amazing doctor, Tom was introduced to a writing program for veterans and the healing process began. Tom’s wife believes Divine Intervention saved her husband from the path of destruction he was on.
I begin Tom’s story with bottles of alcohol pouring memories of Vietnam. Underneath those memories is the Vietnam war memorial and the 58,318 names on it. The abstract figure in the wall is the veteran; the number five is a part of him because he will always remember those who were lost. He looks at the bleak path before him filled with nightmares, anger, questions, and an emptiness words cannot describe. A ray of hope shines down upon him moving to the top right of the painting. There is much pain on his face as he begins to confront his memories, questions, and the trauma he has experienced. His loving wife is at the top left of the painting and in between the faces illustrates the healing process.
Healing from trauma is not like a switch that can be turned on and off. There are bad days, good days, and everything in between, which is represented by cubes of varying color and the hidden figures throughout the painting. Moving below to the face on the left, I painted an elephant with the chemical formula for Agent Orange to pay tribute to all the suffering this chemical has caused US veterans, the Vietnamese people, the land, and the wildlife. Below the elephant are four figures reaching up with Vietnam to their backs and a graveyard behind them.
Death stands in the middle of the graveyard with the number 2,000,000 below to pay tribute to all the civilian lives lost during the war. The four figures reach up for hope represented by a flower at the end of the graveyard. As they heal and the horrors of war begin to fade they move closer to the flower and the darkness starts to go away. To the far left of the painting I have an abstract figure looking to the left which represents Divine Intervention. At the bottom left I painted a field of munitions to represent the devastation caused by the largest bombardment of any region in history. Rising up from the carnage is the face of the veteran looking back at all he has experienced and being thankful for the love he has received through Divine Intervention.
by Midge Lorenc
For many years my husband Tom suffered with PTSD and depression. However, we never knew that until about ten years ago when he was finally diagnosed. Even in the early years of our marriage, it was difficult at times to be around him because of his heavy drinking.
Back then, he loved to go out and was always the life of the party, the comedian, and the jokester. Everybody thought he was funny as hell and never wanted him to leave. But they weren’t the ones that dealt with what I had to when we got home.
Each time he was drunk, which was a lot to me, it would always somehow transport him back to Vietnam. So many times he would start crying and yelling at me and tell me to get that damn GI issued tee shirt off his back. I hated seeing him like this and it really scared me. Trying to talk to him or help him just made things worse, so I learned to let him be. I can’t tell you how many times or how many tears I cried over the years.
I was frustrated, knowing that there wasn’t anything I could say or do to help him. Everything that was happening was such a horrible and scary situation for me and our family. Tom was such a kind, loving, and generous man. But as time passed, things were getting worse. His sweet nature started to turn dark. He had very little patience with me, our kids, sometimes even with our grandchildren.
I remember one time when we went to dinner, the service was a bit slow and I could start to see the agitation building up. We were not waited on as quickly as he thought we should be. We got up and left before he lost his temper. It was breaking my heart to see him like this. At times, he was so hard to live with. After a certain point, I couldn’t deal with it anymore. I talked him into contacting his doctor, because the hard truth was our marriage was suffering.
He had an appointment at the VA hospital with his primary care doctor. For some reason, when we got there, he wasn’t available and we were directed instead to see Dr. Bruce Kelly. I don’t think in my entire life I’d ever met a more caring, sincere person. He spoke about all the Vietnam vets and how they were treated and how he was trying to change that. He had tears in his eyes as he spoke to Tom, and before his appointment ended, all three of us were in tears. He was an amazing man as well as an awesome doctor. He told Tom about a writing program that he was involved with which helped veterans like him deal with different things like PTSD and depression. It was called “Brothers and Sisters Like These.”
And so it began; a slow healing process. Each week in his writing class, a prompt would be given to write about and then to be read in class the following week. He had never written anything like this, so It was a bit hard at first. But with each passing week, Tom’s writing seemed to flow much easier, and with each week seemed better. He really started to enjoy it and looked forward to his meeting every week, where he heard everyone else’s stories.
It was almost like he had wounds that were festering, and by writing down his thoughts and sharing them with his “brothers and sisters”, they were opened and cleaned and starting to heal.
His attitude became much less explosive, and he actually began to share some of his stories with me. I could see the beginning of a change happening in him, physically as well as mentally.
To this day I believe it was divine intervention that his physician was busy. What a blessing this program was, not only for us, but for so many others.