Event aims to heal ‘soul injuries’

Veterans, first responders, loved ones invited to learn how to recover from life-changing traumas.

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Posted March 31, 2023 | By Andy Filmore

Jason White, an Iraq War combat veteran diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and treated in a program for combat veterans, will share his experience at the Honoring the Fallen: First Responders and Veterans ceremony April 8 at the Marion County Public Library.

The ceremony is free and open to first responders, veterans, their families and interested members of the public.
An organizer described the overall ceremony as a “safe place with symbolic self-forgiveness.” 

The event honors those who have been lost while bringing healing and peace to veterans and first responders whohave been involved in traumatic experiences by giving them “permission” to grieve and unburden themselves from troubling memories.

White, 37, served two combat deployments in Iraq by 2008 during his 10 years of service in the Marine Corps. He was diagnosed with PTSD in 2009 while stationed at Quantico, Virginia, and received treatment in a specialized program for combat veterans.

White said he is looking forward to sharing his story with others.

“This is an excellent type of event,’’ he said. “I‘m excited to discuss how to process trauma and come through it.

The ceremony will include personal stories, and “anchor your heart” and “open your heart” exercises. 

A portion of the ceremony will draw upon Native American spirituality, according to an organizer.

The ceremony will conclude with a symbolic walk to the adjacent Ocala-Marion County Veterans Memorial Park for a “final tribute.

The ceremony has been organized by Hospice of Marion County’s “We Honor Veterans” program and sponsored by the City of Ocala, Ocala-Marion County Veterans Memorial Park and Friends of Marion County Veterans Park Foundation.

Beverly Lafferty, R.N., the director of volunteers and veteran support with Hospice of Marion Countyalong with HMC’s Jessica McCune, has been spearheading the organization of the ceremony. She said having served as a Hospice nurse, she is familiar with veterans opening upabout traumatic experiences in their latter stages of life.

“I believe this ceremony can help those (with burdens from traumatic experiences) in our community,’’ she said in an email. Lafferty said for example, a veteran may encounter a traumatic situation or a first responder may work a horrible accident and not be able to let go of the painful memories.

We have seen suicide with first responders; what burden did they need to lay down? What burden do the 22 veterans a day who take their lives need to lay down or the family member who have felt isolated from someone who has served or is serving? We will be there to support those who need support.

Lafferty said “Anchoring Your Heart” is a technique from Opus Peacean organization that holds events nationwide and online focusing on experiencing feelings and turning inward to find peaceThe group aims to help people overcome a “soul injury, which is a “wound that separates you from your true self,” and can be caused by loss, hurt, guilt or shame.

According to opuspeace.org, “Opus Peace and Soul Injury® is a grassroots movement. Founded in 2013, the Soul Injury® concept originated in an unusual way.”

“Five VA hospice nurses who cared for 10,000 dying veterans witnessed “warrior wisdom” emerge from the depths of consciousness, revealing a process for attaining personal peace,” the website states.”

Lafferty said families of veterans and first responders dealing with changes in their parent, spouse or child are also welcome at the upcoming event.

She said families may have to “let go” of the person they knew before the person was diagnosed with PTSD and “embrace” the person as they are now.

First responders from the Ocala Police Department, Ocala Fire Rescue, Marion County Fire Rescue and Marion County Sheriff’s Office all have been invited to attend. 

“This ceremony is a good steppingstone to recognize burdens and free oneself from them,” Laferty noted. “Depending on the needs of the person, they may need professional help as well.

Todd Belknap and Ray Orlosky with Friends of Marion County Veterans Park Foundation, both of whom werepolice officers in other states, will serve as co-moderators at the ceremony.

Bot said they’ve experienced multiple traumatic situations or horrific scenes during their careers

Belknap, who served as a police officer from 1990 to 2000 in Connecticut, said in an email he still thinks about a call for service when a panicked father handed him a dying infant and begged him to save his son. “(I) was unable to save the infant and the eyes of the grieving father still haunt me almost 30 years later,” he said.

Belknap’s next service call also involved an infant.

“A family locked their infant in a car (by mistake). The parent was pounding on me to get the child out of the car,but my mind was still back on my last call,” he wrote.

Belknap stated the Honoring the Fallen: First Responders and Veterans program is aimed at providing a safe place for those who serve to be revived.

“First responders and veterans are trained to run toward danger, but where do we turn to for sanctuary when we need help?” he stated.

WHAT: Honor the Fallen: First Responders and Veterans

WHEN: 10 a.m. to noon, Sat. April 8

WHERE: Marion County Public Library
Community Room
2720 E. Silver Springs Blvd.
Ocala, FL.

COST: Free to the public

For more information: (352) 873-7441

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