Remembering Our Fallen

Greg solo_Final_Page_05Tomorrow is Memorial Day.  For one day each year, our entire nation remembers our fallen soldiers.  This post is in memory of our grandson Army PFC Gregory Tilton,  a casualty of war in November 2009.  Our 20-year-old grandson was a boy soldier.   This is my way of honoring and remembering Greg’s loving and gentle spirit.

On this day I like to share information about very important organizations like the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) and all the wonderful programs they have for the survivors — the children, siblings, spouses, parents, grandparents and family members — to help them move through the grief process.  When we first learned of our grandson’s death, TAPS was  available to our family.

This Memorial Day weekend, the families of America’s fallen heroes descend upon Washington D.C., to participate in National Military Survivor Seminar & Good Grief Camp for Young Survivors.  They gather in love, to celebrate the lives of their loved ones, share their journeys, learn coping strategies and find comfort in being together.   With the staggering increase in suicides in the military, attending a TAPS program can help with the stigma many loved ones feel.  They are there to support.

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Since I like to focus on healing for children, I want to share more about the USO/TAPS Good Grief Camp Outs for kids.  The camps are designed for kids between the ages of six and eighteen who have lost a parent or sibling who was serving in the military.  The camp outs are three days and two nights.  According to TAPS, they include traditional and military themed camp activities, grief education, and emotional support.   The camp is run by the TAP staff and military mentors.  This camp is the one place where children find comfort in knowing that there are other campers who understand what they are feeling and experiencing.  The kids also participate in fun outdoor activities like fishing, swimming, hay rides, campfires and much more.

This summer there will be four Good Grief Camp Out locations: Fort Bray/Camp Lejeune area, Fort Hood Fort Carson, and Camp Pendleton.   Please check our the TAPS website for more information about the Camp Out dates and registration, and about TAPS in general.  I highly recommend TAPS and the many programs they offer for adults and children.

Tragedy and Support Programs for Military Families

With Memorial Day approaching, I will focus on programs for Military Families and their children who have dealt with the greatest sacrifice of all, the loss of a loved one to war, whether it be in combat or through suicide brought on by Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD).  Nearly all the families are trauma survivors, the true heroes.  They are the spouses, parents, children, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles.  They have suffered an enormous tragedy and grief and have to find a way to put their lives back together.  The following programs Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) and Military Families United (MFU)  are there to aid families round the clock.

Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS):  TAPS was founded in 1994 to offer immediate and long-term emotional support,  comfort, help and healing to anyone grieving the death of a loved one in military service from combat, suicide, terrorism homicide, negligence, accidents, and illness.   TAPS is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week with a national toll-free crisis, help and information line (1-800-959-8277).   TAPS immediately mails a Survivor Care Package to each family.  They offer peer-based emotional support, peer mentorship programs, parenting support, suicide support, resources, publications, a magazine, and videos.  View the TAPS website, to find out about all the wonderful programs.  TAPS has assisted over 35,000 surviving family members, casualty officers and caregivers.

On Memorial Day Weekend, May 25-28, TAPS holds its National Military survivor Seminar & Good Grief Camp for Young Survivors in Washington, D.C.  This will be the 18th annual conference and hundreds of families will be attending.  Parents and children attend their own programs.  Leading professionals in the grief and trauma field join together with survivors nationwide to share a weekend of hope, love, understanding, and courage.  The weekend is packed with workshops, fun, and entertainment.   It will be a time when loved ones will be honored and remembered.  Last year our son and his family attended.  Our grandson felt accepted and had a great time.  Attending the annual program and the good grief camps for kids throughout the year, means becoming a member of a larger family who can help you move forward with your grief and your lives.

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Military Families United (MFU):  Is another support organization that “Honors the Fallen, Supports Those Who Fight, and Serves Their Families.”  They provide priceless support to families in crisis.  Founded in 2005, they are a national coalition of Gold Star and Blue Star families, veterans, and patriotic Americans who share a deep appreciation for our men and women in uniform and support them in their mission.   They ensure respect at military funerals.   They want to remind the nation of the importance of supporting our men and women in uniform, through services and charitable programs that offer families direct support, and educational opportunities for spouses.  View the MFU website.

MFU sponsors a very special Camp Desert Kids program for children who have parents deployed.  According to MFU, there are more than one million military kids, most of whom will be affected by deployment during their childhood.  Separation from a parent for any reason is tough.  But, for military children it is even more challenging because they don’t always understand the separation from their parent.  They have difficulty visualizing where their dad or mom has gone and what they are doing.  Camp Desert Kids gives children the opportunity to experience deployment just like their parent.   They have created a fun and educational program that uses games, maps, fun facts, cultural activities, crafts, regional food and drink, and even the opportunity to dress up like Mom or Dad in full camouflage gear.  In the camp, the child travels through deployment stations, just like their deployed parent does.  They receive a passport, go through a deployment line, learn interesting facts about the geography, language and customs of Afghanistan, where their parent is serving.  Cultural experts and military volunteers provide many hands-on experiences with local food, currency, native clothing, and military equipment.  They eat meals in a  mess hall.  And, as they out-process, they are given a t-shirt as a reminder of their experience  and materials to take home.  A great camp to help reduce a military child’s stress and anxiety.

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Suggested Reading for Grieving Adults:

Surviving the Folded Flag:  Parents of War Share Stories of Coping, Courage and Faith, by Deborah H. Tainsh

Missing Max:  Finding Hope After My Marine Son’s Death, by Julie Schrock

A Grief Like No Other: Surviving the Violent Death of Someone You Love, by Kathleen O’Hara, MA

I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye:  Surviving, Coping and Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One, by Brook Noel and Pamela D. Blair, PhD.

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.