One of the hardest things our SW:S veterans feel about transitioning home from combat is the belief that civilians don’t really want to know what they’ve been through. They feel like they have no one to talk to at a time when connecting is critical for readjustment. The results of feeling disconnected have led to rising depression, anxiety, loneliness and a staggering suicide rate.

At a recent SongwritingWith:Soldiers retreat held for Gold Star siblings, space was created for connecting. The participants, all sisters of the fallen, spent the weekend sharing their experiences and pain. They wrote songs, individually and as a group, expressing sorrow and anger, while celebrating beautiful memories of their brothers.

As we have witnessed at every retreat, the effect of turning pain into something beautiful—a song—and sharing it with others is deeply cathartic. So, we weren’t surprised that several of the sisters immediately sent their song to family members at home.

All of us in attendance were affected by the bravery and willingness of the sisters to participate so fully throughout the weekend. For Paul Downs, a US Marine veteran who works at Boulder Crest Retreat, their songs struck an unexpected, transformative chord.

“The whole weekend was truly eye-opening for me! Hearing the perspectives of six different sisters—as a brother who almost didn’t survive my own story—was an amazing perspective I never thought I’d have the honor of hearing.”

Paul, like many combat veterans who have difficulty transitioning home, nearly ended his own life. Fortunately, he heard about Boulder Crest’s PATHH Program and was able to get his life on track and find love and renewed purpose. He wrote about it in a song with Terry Radigan called “Tell Me When You Wanna Hear More”.

Just as the sisters’ songs gave Paul deeper understanding about their experiences, and how his own actions would have affected his sisters, Paul’s song can gives all of us greater understanding about the power of being willing to listen and learn from each other and support each other for the long term.

Evins Mill, the site of our Tennessee retreat. Photo: Ed Rode

Tell Me When You Wanna Hear More

Paul Downs / Terry Radigan

On a cheap plastic hanger
Hung who I was on the back of the door
Tell me when you wanna hear more
Tell me when you wanna hear more

Eleven years I was right at home
With the black and white of war
Tell me when you wanna hear more
Tell me when you wanna hear more

Here’s piece one
Here’s piece two
Here is me
Talking to you
Trying to tell it
Show it in the kindest way
Hoping I don’t hold back the hardest part
That’ll keep me running away

Gas in the tank
Gas in the truck
Built a bomb just to be sure
Tell me when you wanna hear more
Tell me when you wanna hear more

Here’s piece five
Here’s piece six
Here’s me telling
All of it
Trying to give it
Show it in the kindest way
And I’m still good
I’m not running away

It’s in the telling
It’s in the living
Each and every piece
I found forgiving
It’s in the work
It’s in the words
I find the love
That we both deserve

This moment with you
Right here, right now
Is what I’m living for
Tell me when you wanna hear more
Tell me when you wanna hear more
Cause I’ve never been so sure
I’m telling you I wanna hear more

© Copyright 2018 SongwritingWith:Soldiers Music / Catherine The Great (ASCAP)

US Marine veteran Paul Downs and songwriter Terry Radigan at Boulder Crest Retreat, Virginia. Photo: Tyler McQueen