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.