The Impossible Knife of Memory

The Impossible Knife9780670012091_p0_v1_s260x420The Impossible Knife of Memory

Laurie Halse Anderson, Author

Viking, Fiction, Jan. 7, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 12-17

Themes:  Father-daughter relationship,  Family problems, PTSD, Veterans

Book Jacket Synopsis: “For the past five years, Hayley Kincain and her father, Andy, have been on the road trying to outrun the memories that haunt them both.  They move back to Andy’s hometown to try a “normal” life, but the horrors he saw in the war threaten to destroy their lives. Hayley watches, helpless, as her father turns to drugs and alcohol to silence his demons. And then her own past creeps up, and everything falls apart. How do you keep your father alive when death is stalking him?  What are you supposed to do when your father stops acting like an adult?”

Why I like this book: Laurie Halse Anderson’s heart-wrenching novel sensitively addresses the harsh reality of a family broken by war. Her plot is riveting and realistic. Her characters are well-developed with 17-year-old Hayley, an angry yet fragile teenager, who is dealing with very deep wounds — the death of her mother, abandonment by her father’s girlfriend, and parenting a father who suffers severe PTSD. She has watched her father go from the superhero soldier who made the world safe to the sobbing, raging and alcoholic father that she can’t depend upon. Hayley’s only school friend, Finn, brings some stability to her teenage life and the hope  she can believe in someone. Finn is a quirky character that provides the welcomed comic relief to the story. The book is a timely page turner with an unexpected twist at the end. The Impossible Knife of Memory will resonate with young people, but especially those dealing with parents suffering with PTSD.

Visit Laurie Halse Anderson at her website.

Healing Days: A Guide for Kids Who Have Experienced Trauma

Healing Days9781433812934_p0_v1_s260x420Healing Days: A Guide for Kids Who Have Experienced Trauma

Susan Farber Straus, Ph.D., Author

Maria Bogade, Illustrator

Magination Press., Fiction, May 18, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 5 -11

Themes: Children facing trauma and tragedy, PTSD, Anxiety, Fear, Anger, Healing

Opening“Something bad happened to me.  I did not want anyone to know.  I was scared.  I was sad.  I was angry.  I was embarrassed.  I was hurt and confused.  I tried to forget.  I tried to sleep and not wake up.” 

Synopsis:  A child has had something scary happen.  We follow the child through feelings of hurt, confusion, anger and fear that the bad thing might happen again.  The child has bad dreams and is afraid of the dark.  At school there are run-ins with the teachers.  Friends notice the child isn’t fun to play with.  The child is lonely.  Finally an aunt notices differences and takes the child to talk with a therapist who helps the child share the secret.  Only then can intervention and healing begin for the child.

Why I like this book:  I am thrilled to find Susan Farber Straus’ very sensitive and comforting book due to its relevance in our world today.   Although the story is told from the viewpoint of one child, each page features pictures of a diverse group of children of all ages acting out the narrative.  This book is a fabulous tool for parents, guidance counselors and therapists to read with a child when they may suspect a trauma.  And that trauma could range from abuse, an accident, school and home violence, bullying, the sudden death of a parent or sibling to natural disasters like tornadoes, hurricanes and floods that are prevalent today in the world.  The book also helps children know they aren’t alone and that they can find ways to heal.  Maria Bogade’s illustrations are warm, and comforting, and beautifully show the emotion of the children.

Resources:  The book alone is a resource as the author is a clinical psychologist.  The American Psychological Association also has a list of helpful resources available online.  Also be sure to read the Note to Readers at the beginning of the book and check out the jacket flaps on the front and back pages.

Note:  I will be attending the Northern Ohio SCBWI conference this weekend, so I won’t be able to respond to your comments or posts until I return.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book.  To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Never Fall Down – Child Soldiers

Never Fall Down

Patricia McCormick, Author

Balzer & Bray, May 2012, Fiction

Suitable for:  YA Fiction, ages 14 and up

Themes: Child Soldiers, Cambodia History, Courage, Genocide, Khmer Rouge, War

Opening Synopsis:  “When Arn Chorn-Pond was eleven, the Khmer Rouge, a radical Communist regime, came to power in Cambodia, herding the entire population to work camps in the countryside.  Families were separated, and everyone, including children, was forced to work long, grueling hours digging ditches and growing rice…Nearly two million people died — one quarter of the population.  They were buried in mass graves called the Killing Fields.  It is the worst genocide ever inflicted by a country on its own people.”

Patricia McCormick, who is known for taking on complex and tough subjects, has done it again with the story about the genocide that occurred in 1975, when the Khmer Rouge seized control of Cambodia and tortured and killed its own people.  This extraordinary  story about Arn Chorn-Pond, an 11-year-old boy who survived, is true.  The author spent two years with Arn, retracing his life during the three years, eight months and twenty days reign of terror by the Khmer Rouge.  This book is powerful, emotional, horrific, gruesome, and brutal.  It is an important book for young people and adults to learn about this period of history.   Yet, it is an inspirational story of survival, courage, hope and a testimony to human spirit.

Arn is a care-free boy catching frogs with his best friend and selling ice cream with his brother.   One day an army of soldiers dressed in black enter the village and force everyone to the countryside.  His aunt, four sisters and a brother gather a few belongings and food, and join the throngs of people who are walking away from their homes.  Arm works in the rice fields until, the Khmer Rouge separate him from his family and send him to another labor camp.  He watches starving kids die in the rice fields, and he tells himself that he must never fall down.  Arn finds every possible means to survive.

When the soldiers ask if any of the kids can play an instrument, Arn volunteers without knowing a single note.  The Khmer Rouge want to hear revolutionary songs and Arn becomes a very good musician.  He does so to keep himself and other kids alive.  He also learns to dance and entertain which gives him more freedom in the camp and access to more food, which he sneaks to kids.  Arn is taken to the Mango Trees, where he sees the piles of earth and smells the stench of death.  He knows  these Killing Fields  and the Khmer Rouge force him to do unthinkable things.  There is so much death, starvation and brutality, that we see Arn transform over time into an emotionless and numb boy.   As the Vietnamese approach, he is given a gun and used as a child soldier and spy.  He quickly realizes that the Khmer Rouge is using the kids as bait in the jungles.  He is always running, because if he falls down he knows he won’t get up.

Why I like this book:  Patricia McCormick chose to write the book in Arn’s natural speaking voice — broken English.  The story is told in first person making it an even more powerful, convincing, and real.  In Never Fall Down, McCormick gives Arn a voice to speak his truth and share the pain, which he found cathartic and part of his healing process.  He tells his story so people will know first hand what happened.  McCormick is the author of Purple Heart, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2009, and SOLD, a National Book Award finalist.

Today Arn Chorn-Pond has dedicated his life to peace and humanitarian causes around the world.  He founded the Children of War, an organization that aids children held hostage by war and violence.  He is the founder of Cambodian Living Arts, a group that helps preserve the traditional arts of Cambodia by pairing young students with the few master musicians who survived the Khmer Rouge.   He has received the Amnesty International Rights Award, the Reebok Human Rights Award, and the Spirit of Anne Frank Outstanding Citizen Award.  He lives in Cambodia and spends part of his year speaking in the United States.

  

Support for the Veterans – PTSD

Many soldiers returning from war have survived one, two, three or more deployments.  They may have returned with serious  physical injuries, traumatic brain injuries, loss of limbs, visual impairments and hearing loss.   Those are the identifiable physical wounds.

Then there are the invisible wounds that surface after soldiers return home.  Loved ones notice changes in their behavior, paranoia, anger, guilt, depression,  and flashbacks during sleep.  Many struggle with survivor’s guilt.  Others can’t find peace within because of the horrors they’ve seen and experienced.  Some are homeless.  I am talking about the veterans who return from war and struggle to adapt to everyday life.

Since 2003, more than 40,000 cases of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) have been diagnosed among veterans serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  PTSD has existed since the beginning of modern civilization.  It was first identified during the Civil War.  It has been called many names, soldier’s heart, combat stress, battle fatigue, and shell-shock.

The U.S. Army has launched a campaign to reach soldiers at risk.   If you click on the link, you will see on Suicide Prevention and another video, “Shoulder to Shoulder: Finding Strength and Hope Together,” designed to promote health, risk reduction, and suicide prevention.   There also is a book available to soldiers, The Home Front, available through the Army Suicide Prevention Office.

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The National Veterans Wellness and Healing Center (NVWHC), nestled in the beautiful alpine setting of Angel Fire, NM, is a program that offered eight week-long intensive therapeutic programs in 2011 for both veterans suffering with PTSD and their spouses. There was no charge for the 298 people who participated.  For some of the veterans attending (representing various wars), it was the first time they’ve spoken about what happened to them.  And, it was first time spouses spoke.  The retreats are built around traditional, alternative and Native American healing practices.  Those who attended have kept in touch through NVWHC reunions.  The program is accepting applications.   In 2011, news journalist Lisa Ling featured the camp on her program, “Our America,” on the OWN network.  Although the site has a wonderful video, I wanted you to catch a closer glimpse of what Lisa filmed during that week.

Kristin Hannah Interview – ‘Home Front’

Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing New York Times bestselling author Kristin Hannah, who published her latest novel, Home Front, January 31, 2012, by St. Martens Press.   Her novel spent the first week as #1 on five NYT lists.  Her book is under contract for a movie.  I also will give away one copy of Home Front to a lucky person who leaves a comment by 11:59 p.m. May 9.  I will do a random drawing and announce the winner on  May 10.

Kristin has a surefire hit with her latest gripping novel, Home Front.  She has tackled a harrowing subject about  a wife and mother deployed to war,   For Jolene and Michael Zarkades, there is and emotional toll  on their relationship and family.  Michael,  a criminal defense attorney,  is suddenly thrust into parenting their two daughters,  and creating a stable environment on the home front.  He’s angry at his wife for deploying and never really accepts her military service.  Jolene is a Black Hawk helicopter pilot and duty comes first as she heads to the war zone with her best friend Tami.  There they face the atrocities and trauma of war on the front lines.  Tragedy strikes and the reader is catapulted into a story of  love, loss, heroism in war and at home, honor and hope.

Kristin is a master at developing characters, getting inside their minds and touching their core.  Her writing is powerful and emotive.  Kristin is one of those rare authors who is able to get her story out of your head and into your soul.  You are not reading about characters, you are sharing the experience with them.   Home Front will be a story that will linger with you because of its emotional imprint and realism.

I’ve followed Kristin’s career since she began writing, some 20 novels ago.  We finally met and had dinner last spring.  She graciously agreed to let me interview her about her new book.  Welcome Kristin.  It’s nice to speak again.

What inspired you to write Home Front?

[K]  Quite simply, this story was inspired by the nightly news.  As the war in Iraq went on, I watched the stories — night after night — of soldiers lost in battle, wounded, and the stories of their families left behind, waiting for them to return.  As a mother, I was heartbroken for the men and women and their families.  So many of the young soldiers on the news were the same age as my son, and that hit me really hard.  As an American, I was grateful, and as a woman, I began to wonder what it must be like to go off to war and leave your children behind.  I can’t imagine anything that would be more terrifying and difficult.  I realized that I had never read that story, and I wanted to.  I wanted to explore the idea of a woman torn between love and honor.  So I decided to write it.

I never thought about the potentially controversial nature of the themes in Home Front.  I simply set out to write a story about a female mother and soldier who went to war.  Although Michael is fairly anti-military and anti-war, the book is ultimately less political and more personal.  I didn’t set out to take a stance on the war itself.  This was really about supporting and  understanding the troops and realizing the extent of the sacrifices they make.

How do you feel about your book and how would your rate it?

[K] That’s a great question!  Honestly, I am usually the harshest critic of my own work.  Although I work as hard as I can on every book, there are simply some that I end up liking better than others and a few –a very few–that I fall in love with.  Home Front is one of those rare and special books that really ended up better than I imagined it would be.  I’m quite proud of it.  I think that’s because the characters are so real and three-dimensional and the issues raised are so important.  It is a book that comes at a great time.  As Americans, we need to remember to be grateful to and supportive of our troops and their families.

What do you want people to take away from Home Front?

[K]  At is core, Home Front is a novel about two ordinary people who have lost their way over twelve years of marriage and then find themselves separated.  I think this is a story we can all relate to.  You don’t have to be a soldier or even know a soldier to relate to the powerful emotional themes in the book.  We can all imagine how it felt for Jolene to hear her husband say, “I don’t love you anymore,” and we can understand how lost Michael felt after the death of his father.  A marriage is a tricky thing that hangs on hooks both big and small.  Every little thing can matter.  Words spoken and unspoken carry a tremendous weight, and in a way it requires as much commitment and honor to hold a marriage together as to go off to war.  In that way, we all understand sacrifice.  It’s no surprise that I’m a romantic, and to me, there’s nothing more romantic than a husband and wife falling back in love with each other.

That’s what I want people to see in the end–the story of an ordinary marriage tested in an extraordinary way.  And, of course, I hope readers end up with a slightly better understanding of and appreciation for the sacrifices made by our military families.

How much research was involved in writing Home Front?  Did you have contact with the military?

[K]  The research for Home Front almost killed me. :)  I didn’t anticipate that would be the case, either.  I was actually fairly cavalier about this particular aspect.  I mean, I’m a lawyer, so research is something I’m comfortable with, and additionally, I have tackled breast cancer, brain tumors, the Siege of Leningrad, and World War II Russia, and DNA testing to exonerate convicted prisoners.  I didn’t think that the themes and issues in Home Front would require any more research than I was used to.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Researching and writing Home Front, with its military theme, was a mammoth undertaking.  I was a bit like Alice, falling down the rabbit hole, into a world where nothing was the way I imagined it.  I was incredibly lucky to work with CW5 Teresa Burgess, a Black Hawk pilot/wife/mother who was a real lifesaver in the research and understanding department.

Prior to Home Front, I would have said that I understood something about military families–their lives and their service.  But, I was wrong in almost everything.  I only understood the thinnest layer.  I learned so much in the writing of this novel and in researching it.  I went to a deployment ceremony and honestly, I think every American should attend one.  Watching our soldiers preparing to go off to war, and their families standing alongside to say goodbye, really brings their sacrifice into sharp focus.  It is a powerful reminder that whatever one feels about any particular war, we need to always respect and honor our soldiers and their families.   Honestly, I felt a little ashamed that I hadn’t attended one before.  Although, boy, was it difficult.  I was humbled by their pride and strength  in the face of such an undertaking.  It makes you truly consider what heroism is and reminds you to be grateful.

Did you find that the experience of a woman deployed different from a man being deployed?

[K]  Yes, I think  it’s very different, and those differences were important to me.  As you know, I write about women’s issues and women’s lives, so I guess it’s not surprising that I came to this topic.  I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for a mother/soldier to leave her children and go off to war.

The parallel story of Michael defending a soldier with PTSD in a criminal case, while Jolene was dealing with PTSD, was brilliant!  Did you have that in mind from the start?

[K]  Thanks!  That was a really lucky stroke, coming up with that.   And yes, it existed almost from the beginning (at least from the time Michael existed).  I came up with it because I wanted to educate the reader–and by extension, Michael–about PTSD without having to worry about being author intrusive or boring.  The depiction of PTSD is one of the most important and relevant portions of the book.  I tried to really bring it home in a way that allowed readers to understand how it feels to suffer the symptoms.  I also tried to inform–this was the point of the Keller trial.  The reader learns the truth of PTSD along with Michael.  ultimately, one of the points of the novel is a reminder to all of us.  As a nation we have to care for our soldiers upon their return.  It’s just that simple.

What is your writing process?

[K]  My writing process is extremely burdensome and time-consuming.  I have spent years trying to pare it down, to be “smarter” from the beginning, and none of it seems to work for me.  No matter how much research I do, I never seem to quite nail the right story from the start.  Nonetheless, I begin with either a theme or an issue.  In the case of Home Front, it was an issue.  I wanted to write a story about the price of deployment on a wife/soldier/mother.  We have all read about ment going off to war and women staying on the home front; I wanted to turn the story on its head and make it about a woman.  That idea obviously leads to dozens of potential story lines.  It began as a story about sisters, then about an estranged father/daughter, and ultimately became about Jolene and Michael’s crumbling marriage and their frightened children.  As you know, I write longhand–often sitting on the beach.  Then my fabulous assistant, Kim,  types up my pages and hands them to me.  It is normal for me to do as many as twenty drafts.  Half of those drafts are game changers–characters, settings, storylines will be changed–and half are more line edit.  It takes me about four months to research, outline and conceive the idea; six months to write the “first” draft; and another five months of editing after that.

How has social media effected you as a writer?

[K]  Early in my writing career, I was isolated and didn’t know what people thought about my books.  I was dragged into the new world of social media kicking and screaming, but the surprising truth is that I like talking to my readers via Facebook and my blog.  (Kristin has a FB following of over 64,000.)  It’s amazing, isn’t it?  And they’re so fun!

After 20 novels, you’ve been approached by the film industry about two of your books?

Yes, Chris Columbus, who is one my favorite director/producers has begun work on Home Front.  I can’t wait to see what he does with it.   He’s such a genius at mixing drama and emotion.  Also, Abigail Breslin, the Oscar-nominated star of Little Miss Sunshine, has optioned The things We Do for Love.   That’s a real reader favorite, so I have high hopes for it.

Any tiny hints about your 2013 novel — inquiring minds will want to know?

[K] LOL!  Nice try.  It’s changing every second, so we’ll see.

Great talking with you again, Patricia!  Thanks so much.

Kristin, thank you for taking time out of your crazy-busy schedule to talk with me about Home Front and all the exciting news you had to share.  Home Front is a powerful novel, and has all the right ingredients to make a compelling movie.  What a great new experience for you.   We will all be standing in line at the theaters when the movies are released!  Best of luck! 

Readers:  Don’t forget to leave a comment, if you want a chance to win a copy of Home Front!  During May, I will be reviewing  books for military families, children,  and veterans.   I also will share information about support programs for families who have lost loved ones.

 

Abe in Arms – Child Soldiers

Abe in Arms

Pegi Deitz Shea

PM Press (Reach and Teach), 2010,  YA Fiction

Suitable for:  Ages 12 and up

Themes: Child Soldiers, War, PTSD, Courage and Hope

Opening/Synopsis:  “What’s your name boy?  He stares into the mirrored sunglasses.  Words don’t come out.  I’ll tell you mine, then you tell me yours.  What’s behind those mirrors?  All he can see is himself.  What’s inside the camouflage uniform?  My name is Grant.  See, it’s easy.  Now tell me yours.  He finds a voice.  It comes out:  James.”  Abe in Arms is a gripping novel about a teen who has survived the war in Liberia, escaped the rebel army,  is adopted by an American doctor and his loving family.  Abe may have survived the war and started a new life, but his scars are so deep that his senior year begins to unravel as he deals with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  This is a story you will not easily forget, or want to forget.   It evokes a powerful response within you.

Abe is a high school senior on his ways to a Division 1 Track scholarship.   He is an honor student, has a girlfriend and has developed a close relationship with his brother, Niko, and parents.  Abe is at a track meet at the starting line with the other runners when he hears the gun “BANG.”  Abe leaps forward, but is suddenly  transported to another place and time where he hears the BANG of rebels guns shooting randomly at people in his village.  He has collapsed at the starting line and is curled in a fetal position.  His coach is shouting his name.   Abe is rushed to the hospital.  Over the following months, Abe suffers disabling flashbacks and seizures as he relives the events of his young life in war-torn Liberia, where he loses his mother and sister.  At home, his brother Niko, observes his flashbacks at night and his explosive temper over silly things.  At school he is zoning out in classes.  He fights with another runner and knocks out his teeth.  He distances himself from his girlfriend.  His father, Dr George Elders, recognizes Abe is in trouble and has him work with a therapist who specializes in PTSD.  Abe journeys into a dark world where he has suppressed his memories.  He finds himself facing the demons of his past life as a boy soldier — something he wants to bury.  This action-packed novel is full of suspense, twists and turns, surprises and hope.

Why I like this book:   Pegi Deitz Shea has written a powerful book for teens about young boys forced to become soldiers in war-torn countries like Africa.  She isn’t afraid to take her readers to complicated and uncomfortable places.  These boy soldiers suffer unimaginable violence and are made to do things by rebel armies that are horrific.  They are robbed of their childhoods.  How will those who survive, ever live normal lives?  Abe in Arms is just one shocking story about a teen coming to grips with his past.  Fortunately, Abe is grounded by the support and love of  his family who long to see him heal.  Click here on the Reach and Teach  resource link for Abe in Arms.  This site has information from Amnesty International, resources, lessons plans, ways to get involved and a very moving video about a boy soldier.  Published reports estimate that there are approximately 250,000 children enslaved as soldiers around the world.

Pegi Deitz Shea is an award-winning children’s author, who has brought the worlds of refugees, immigrants, child laborers and historical figures into the minds of readers of all ages through books that include The Whispering Cloth, Tangled Threads, Ten Mice for Tet, The Carpet Boy’s Gift, Patience Wright, and Noah Webster: Weaver of Words.

Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick

Purple Heart is a fictionalized book written by Patricia McCormick for  youth over 13 years of age.  It is a gripping account about 18-year-old “boy soldiers” being sent to fight the war in Iraq.  As McCormick commented, “It isn’t a pro-war book or an anti-war book.”   “It’s my attempt to portray how three children – two 18-year-old Americans and a 10-year-old Iraqi boy — have been affected by the war.”   McCormick has written a convincing account about how brutal life is in the war zone, for both soldiers and civilians.  It is a heartbreaking story about how everyone suffers in war.  Purple Heart is a well-researched novel.  It was named by Publishers Weekly as one of the best books of 2009.  This is a great discussion book for the classroom.

Private Matt Duffy wakes up in an Army hospital with a doctor poking his feet with pins.   He doesn’t understand why he’s there.  He has difficulty moving and his speech is garbled.   He is told he has suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI).  Another officer soon appears and presents him with a Purple Heart.  But, Matt doesn’t know why, and he doesn’t want the medal.  Matt wants to know what has happened to him.  He’s instructed that his job is to recover from his battle wounds.

In the following weeks, sleep brings Matt little peace.  He is haunted by the sight of a little Iraqi boy standing at the end of an alley filled with debris.  It’s always the same flashback of a strange series of events happening in slow motion.  He sees a stray dog, hears the loud call to prayer by a muezzin,  and sees an overturned car in the street.  Suddenly there is a silent flash of light and the young boy is lifted off his feet into the air.  There is a loud explosion next to Matt.

Matt’s buddy Justin, visits frequently.   Justin tells him what he remembers of the attack.  Justin saved Matt’s life that day.  Over time, Matt begins to remember more and feels Justin is holding back.  He knows something went very wrong that day.  They were in the wrong place.  They hadn’t followed orders.  Matt somehow feels responsible for the boy’s death, but he doesn’t know why.

After lengthy rehabilitation and a criminal investigation into the death of a civilian, Matt returns to his squadron.  He’s glad to be back.  There is always the dust and sand to contend with and the searing heat.  But, there is also the uncertainty of living on the edge.  There is the possibility of an ambush around every corner, and  Matt is fearful he won’t be able to pull the trigger when the time comes.  The events of that day still live in him and he wonders if he’ll ever know the truth.

McCormick isn’t afraid to tackle tough and complex issues.  Visit McCormick’s website to view her other award-winning books, Sold, My Brother’s Keeper and Cut.

Note:  Although Matt doesn’t die in this story, other soldiers do.  There are support organizations available for families who have lost loved ones to war,  Tragedy Assistance for Survivors Program (TAPS).   Military Families United honor the fallen, support those who fight, and serve military families.  The  U.S. Army has a program, Finding Strength and Hope Together,  for soldiers/veterans at risk and dealing with PTSD.  There is the  National Veterans Wellness Center in Angel Fire, NM, that helps rehabilitate veterans with PTSD. And, there is a Veterans Crisis Line where veterans can call 24 hours a day for support.

Copyright (c) 2011,  Patricia Howe Tilton, All Rights Reserved

Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors — Honoring Military Families

Our 20-year-old grandson became a casualty of war, on Thanksgiving Day 2009, when he took his own life.   He suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and the horror of war had left its mark.  He had returned safely in October from his year-long deployment in Baghdad with the U.S. Army, and our family was overjoyed.   He took pride in his work, was a leader, and the unit clown who lifted the spirits of his unit when times were tough.  During President Obama’s visit to Baghdad in the summer of 2009, he was part of the detail.  He was buried with full military honors and his parents and brothers were treated with compassion.

How do military families deal with such an enormous tragedy, especially when it is suicide?   There is grief, anger and shock, but also an added concern about what people will think.  I serendipitously  saw a CNN  interview with a father who had lost his son to suicide in Baghdad five months before our loss.  I  e-mailed the father, who replied immediately.  He made some calls, and that evening someone contacted us  from the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors  (TAPS).  The director of the Suicide and Education and Outreach Programs talked with me and gave me her phone number over that holiday weekend.  I was impressed at how quickly TAPS responds to families.  At the time, my goal was to collect as much information as possible for our son and his family.

TAPS is a non-profit organization that provides grief support to families of fallen military personnel.   They work with families who have experienced loss in various ways– from combat, suicide, terrorism, homicide, negligence, accidents, and illness.  Their site is filled with important information.  TAPS mails a Survivor Care Package to each family.  They operate a telephone crisis intervention number 24/7,  have online connections with survivors, peer support, counseling, resources, publications, and videos.  Most important they offer Good Grief Camps for young survivors.    TAPS has a book,  A Kids Journey of Grief, TAPS Edition, which is made available to children dealing with grief.   We have received the informative  quarterly TAPS Magazine for over a year now and are impressed with the quality of the expert information, that include articles on surviving the holidays, helping children cope, keeping family rituals alive, adjusting to a new normal, forgiveness, and resilience through humor.

This Memorial Day Weekend, May 27-30, TAPS will sponsor its 17th Annual National Military Survivor Seminar & Good Grief Camp for Young Survivors in Washington, D.C.   Parents and children attend their own programs.  There will be leading professionals in the grief and trauma field together with survivors nationwide to share a weekend of understanding, hope, courage, and love.   Attendees meet other survivors and share the journey, and loved ones are honored on Memorial Day.   Workshops will include understanding complicated grief; coping with new family dynamics; special issues facing children, parents, siblings and significant others; and recognizing post traumatic stress in the family.  There is a nice return each year of people who have benefited in the past and come to support new attendees.  TAPS also sponsors regional  Good Grief Camps for children and Survival  Seminars  across the country.  It will be a weekend that will touch and strengthen  many hearts and spirits.   Attending means becoming a member of a larger family who can help you  move forward.

There are other organizations I want to mention that were of great help to us.  Military Families United  is another wonderful organization that quickly reached out to us.  Merrilee Carlson, Gold Star Mother and President, wrote me e-mails for weeks.  Known to everyone as “Shrek’s Mom,” we shared similar experiences, and her support was priceless.   They also sponsor Camp Desert Kids, a camp designed to help children understand military deployments. They deploy the children on the home front.  It is a fun camp with a unique concept that is well attended.

The U.S. Army has launched a campaign to reach soldiers at risk.   If you click on the link, you will see a moving video,  “I Will Never Quit on Life,” designed to promote health, risk reduction, and suicide prevention.   There also is a book available to soldiers, The Home Front, available through the Army Suicide Prevention Office.

In a future post, I will review books that will help children deal with grief and military deployments.