Problems among Military Families that Contribute to Grief Death is not the only thing that causes grief. Modern military families are dealing with some form of grief on a regular basis. Sources of grief may include: • losses and adjustments associated with deployment cycles • changes in the service member, spouse, and family members during deployment • loss of normalcy among the almost 50,000 Wounded Warriors and their families, due to their injuries • loss of trust and intimacy associated with domestic violence, substance abuse, problems in family relationships, or mental and emotional problems • Infidelity • divorce Blue Star Mothers of America, Inc., is an organization that has been providing support since 1942, for mothers who have sons and daughters who are serving or have served our country as members of the Armed Forces. Comments of a Military Mom during Her Son’s First Deployment “When I faced deployment the first time I felt like a deer caught in the headlights. I was paralyzed. It was an internal paralysis. I think I looked put together on the outside, but I was falling apart daily on the inside.” Excerpts from her open letter: “I know you are aware of my son’s recent deployment to Iraq. This means that the next 15 months of my life will be steeped in fear, uncertainty, grief, pain and change. I am going through one of the hardest things I have ever faced in my life. It’s scary. I feel alone. I am afraid to reach out for comfort because I am afraid of facing rejection.” “My emotions fluctuate. Please don’t think I am strange if one moment I am laughing with you and the next I am swallowing hard to fight off the tears. Laughter and crying are closely related and sometimes when I try to laugh, those tears I stifled earlier in the day may try to sneak out.” “If you have never had a loved one deployed you are not going to understand. Please do not compare my son’s deployment to the time your son broke his leg. I am very sorry for the pain your son faced, but this is a very different situation all together. I am not trying to be insensitive to your situation, nor am I trying to belittle your pain or circumstance, but while my son is serving in a combat zone and being shot at, it is hard to drum up the empathy you normally get from me.” Please do not tell me you understand and never downplay my surmounting fears with a simple phrase like “It’s going to be alright.” You don’t know that. I don’t know that. My soldier doesn’t know that. Let me know you are praying for him and for me. Let me know that you appreciate his sacrifice. That may not seem like much to you, but it means the world to me.” “In closing remember that the landscape of my life is forever changed. My son — my child, the one I love and promised to protect with my whole being the moment I first saw him — is in a war zone and is in range of those who seek to harm and kill him. That is not something I had thought I would face as a parent. He is not doing this because he’s seeking an adventure. If you want to know more about him, just ask me. I may struggle with fear right now, but pride is never lacking. Thank you for all of your understanding. Signed: A Blue Star Mother Source: http://www.veteransunited.com/family/things-i-wish-i-had-the-courage-to-say-duringdeployment/#more-3265 Common Characteristics of Anticipatory Grief • intrusive thoughts or obsessing about ‘what-if’s’ (like what if my soldier is killed or injured) • intrusive visions or nightmares of your soldier at war (especially of injury or pain) • disturbed sleep due to anxiety and worry • changes in eating patterns, resulting in weight gain or loss • sadness Important Steps to take in coping with Anticipatory Grief • recognize that you are grieving • cry when you need to • avoid the news and upsetting movies • be sure you have a good network of support and reach out to them when you need them • eat well and get regular exercise to make sure your mind and body are healthy • seek professional help if the anxiety or depression interfere with your ability to function Military Grief and Bereavement are Complex • Most military deaths are sudden and random. • Trauma often leaves the body unavailable or unsuitable for viewing. • The death may be publicized in the media, which can cause a frenzy of publicity. • Official procedures, rules, regulations, and formalities may complicate the grieving process. Factors Affecting Bereavement after the Loss of a Fallen Hero • Age • Values and Sense of Purpose • The Circumstances of Death The Deceased Service Member Age: Died too young. • 54% under 25 years of age • 80% under 30 years of age • 98% are males Parents do not expect to outlive their child. • Shatters their beliefs about the world and meaning of life • Rules they lived by have changed • Struggle to make meaning of their loss • Must construct a new world view that incorporates their loss Values and Sense of Purpose When a person joins the military, he or she • swears to support and defend the United States Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic • makes a commitment to duty, honor, and country and is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to that end • believes that military service is more than just a job • takes the responsibility to self, his family, and county very seriously Most service members who die for their county die young and for a cause. Losing a dedicated young person with a purpose makes accepting the death even more difficult. Circumstances of Death Military deaths can be divided into two categories: • Hostile: combat-related • Non-hostile: accidents, natural death (20%) Most military deaths are traumatic, so that the bodies are unavailable or unsuitable for viewing. This may cause surviving military family members to have problems believing that their loved one is dead. Difficulty Believing that Her Loved One had Died “I imagined some terrible mistake had been made -- the Army placed the wrong body inside that closed casket; my husband had amnesia and was in a foreign hospital or he washed ashore on a remote island.” From Military Widow: A Survival Guide, Joanne M. Steen and M. Regina Asaro, p. 32 Effect of Military Culture of Grief and Bereavement Military life is a world of its own. It is a unique culture governed by rules and regulations for everything, including death. Rules and procedures which impact the family of a deceased service member: • • • • • notification process role of the casualty officer military funeral military cemeteries investigative reports Notification Process “When the military comes to visit in Class A uniforms in the middle of the afternoon, you know your husband isn’t coming home ever again.” Excerpt, Military Widow: A Survival Guide, by Joanne M. Steen and M. Regina Asaro (2006),p. 36. Role of the Casualty Officer The casualty officer’s is the family’s primary point of contact with the military during the days, weeks, and months after the service member’s death. • helps meet the immediate needs of the family • assists the family in making funeral, interment, and memorial arrangements • processes benefits to which the family is entitled • assist the family with FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests for investigative reports • guides the family through the necessary paperwork • ensures that the service member’s body is returned to the family Quote from a Casualty Officer “I wasn’t sure how I would get through this difficult situation. How would I face this family? What would I say? But then I sat back and thought about the situation and what needed to be done. It wasn’t about me, but about a fellow soldier and helping take care of a loved one who was left behind. I had to do my best for a fallen comrade.” From Surviving the Folded Flag, by Deborah H. Tainsh (2010), p.170. Military Ceremonies Military Funeral • flag-draped coffin • firing of three volleys of rifle fire by seven service members • playing of inspiring music, usually Taps • American flag folded neatly in a triangle in the arms of next of kin Memorial Services • In most cases, the command has a memorial service after the funeral. Arlington National Cemetery “I looked out the window and I saw them. There they were standing… row upon row, line upon line, straight and upright…standing tall, standing proud, standing at attention, those white stones of honor. As we drove by them, my eyes were fixed upon those white stones. And I came to realize that each stone represented someone --- a true person --- a true human stating with confidence and without reservation, “My life for the cause of freedom,” and I was humbled. Humbled, because now my son would join the ranks of those patriots… There is a white stone waiting for him. To mark his act of courage, his act of valor, his act of sacrifice.” By Ken Ashley, surviving father of Corporal Benjamin Ashley, TAPS Magazine, Fall, 2012, p. 13. American Gold Star Mothers, Inc., is an organization of mothers who have lost a son or daughter in the service of our country.