Part III - MISS Foundation

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
losses and adjustments associated with deployment cycles
changes in the service member, spouse, and family members during
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
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
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
• 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
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
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
Military life is a world of its own. It is a unique culture
governed by rules and regulations for everything, including
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
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
• 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
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
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