I attended a Veterans Day event this past week. A woman spoke about her son’s military service, her pride in his sacrifices, her fears for his safety, and the sadness and insecurities brought on by the deaths of his fellow service members. She said that she attended the funerals, one by one, of his fallen buddies. As she stood at the cemetery of one of the services, she specifically told the honor guard that she never wanted one of those flags nor to hear the rifles fire in her son’s honor. To her good fortune, her son survived his service to our great nation. Several of his buddies, however, did not.
I was a military wife. Fortunately, my husband also survived his service to our great nation and is now retired. The stress of having a loved one in harm’s way is excruciating. I can’t imagine the sorrow one experiences at the loss of a service member on distant shores.
When my husband was serving in Desert Storm, I served his command as Ombudsman. One afternoon, I was in my kitchen cleaning up after my daughter’s snack when I heard a vehicle pull up in front of my home. I looked out of my kitchen window in time so see my husband’s Captain and CACO (Casualty Assistance Calls Officer) exiting their car. My knees instantly buckled and I literally fell to the floor. There would be no reason for the Captain and CACO to arrive at my home in an official military vehicle other than to notify me that my husband had been killed in action. In an instant, I knew that my life had changed.
They knocked on my door. I picked myself up off of my floor and with tears streaming down my cheeks, I answered the door. The Captain was very distraught to see me in such a state and asked if there was something wrong? Can you imagine? I was instantly confused. I thought to myself, “Really, you are here to inform me that my husband has been killed in theatre, and you’re asking if there is something wrong? What could be more wrong than that?” I was devastated.
My mind was racing chaotically about my new circumstances. I could not let myself think about my husband’s manner of death. I hoped he hadn’t suffered. I wondered if I would receive his body back for burial. How would I tell my daughter that her daddy was dead? There were so many horrifying details darting through my brain that I thought that I too would perish.
Suddenly the Captain’s countenance changed. He became very apologetic and sympathetic. He reached out to me and immediately informed me that my husband was fine. He said that he was near my home (on other business) and thought it would be a nice idea to drop by and take his Ombudsman out to lunch. He had not stopped to ponder the implications that his escorted arrival along with the CACO would indicate regarding the death of my husband. At that point, I was very happy that my husband was okay, but I was in no shape to go out for a lighthearted lunch; I declined the invitation.
My point is that military families live on the edge of disaster every single moment of their loved one’s career. It is a highly stressful and insecure existence. If you pile on top of that, the death of their service member (especially overseas) where a body may not be returned to them, you immeasurably increase prolonged devastation that will most likely lead to complicated grief recovery.
GRIEF BRIEF 192
Some survivors find it difficult to believe their loved one has died.
This is especially true with a decedent’s body is not recovered.
Military families often suffer disbelief.
This situation can cause extreme recovery difficulties for the survivors.
In such circumstances, professional counseling is advised. (Mourning Light II, 2016)
My Great Uncle, who served in the US Navy, was killed in action during the Pearl Harbor attack. He was a very young man and had not yet married. Therefore, upon his death, my great-grandmother was his immediate next of kin. Due to the savage attack on American soil by the Japanese, the bodies of many American service members were unrecoverable. My great-grandmother lived the rest of her days vacillating between uncontrolled sadness and haunting disbelief. Her husband, my great-grandfather, passed shortly thereafter. This loss, coupled with her disbelief of her son’s death, added additional grief to her complicated recovery scenario. Unfortunately, my great-grandmother was isolated in the backwoods of Louisiana, next to the Texas border. Back then, grief recovery assistance was not even a concept in her area of residence. My great-grandmother never left her home after that. She died in a tiny wood-framed house next to Black Bayou of devastating loss.
Although in today’s society, we have extensive assistance for those suffering the loss of loved ones, the fact remains that military families suffer additional hurdles associated with service member deaths. Not only are additional hurdles present at time of loss; they prevail daily. Danger lurks by virtue of the service member’s purpose. These facts weigh heavily upon military service members and their families.
Although the US government has designated multiple days of honor for military service members, there are two in particular that American’s observe. The first day of commemoration is Memorial Day. Memorial Day is a day set aside to honor and mourn military service members who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.
The second day of commemoration is Veterans Day, a day set aside to remember those who have served in the United States Armed Forces.
The story the woman told at the Veterans Day Commemoration event that I attended earlier this week, brought back many memories to my mind. Some of the memories were funny, some sad, and some full of thanksgiving. As we enter this season of thanksgiving, I pray that your families are well and experiencing lovely events and activities. However, as a retired military wife, I know that there are military families out there who have either lost their service member or are experiencing this holiday season without their service member home. Some may be in harm’s way on distant shores. Some may be in harm’s way stationed stateside.
No matter their location, service members suffer additional threats and dangers that the rest of the American population does not. Please remember them as we enter this holiday season, and please offer assistance to them even if you think they are doing fine. They are not fine. They are servants to our freedom; and they deserve our reverence, our respect, and our patriotism. I pray for our veterans, for their families, and for all Americans during these perilous times.
God Bless America!
My name is Tracy Renee Lee. I am a Certified Grief Counselor (GC-C), Funeral Director (FDIC), published author, syndicated columnist, Podcaster, and founder of the “Mikey Joe Children’s Memorial” and Heaven Sent, Corp. I write books, weekly bereavement articles, Podcasts, and Grief BRIEFs related to understanding and coping with grief. I am the American Funeral Director of the Year Runner-Up and recipient of the BBB’s Integrity Award.
It is my life’s work to comfort the bereaved and help them live on.
For additional encouragement, please visit my podcast “Deadline” at https://open.spotify.com/show/7MHPy4ctu9OLvdp2JzQsAA or at https://anchor.fm/tracy874 and follow me on Instagram at “Deadline_TracyLee”.