Dealing with the Death of a Loved One
The death of a loved one is always difficult. When that death results from a war or disaster, it may be even more troubling given the sudden and potentially violent nature of the event. After the death of someone you love, you experience bereavement, which literally means, “to be deprived by death.” You may experience a wide range of emotions, including, but not limited to:
These feelings are common reactions to loss. Many people also report physical symptoms of acute grief – stomach pain, loss of appetite, intestinal discomfort, sleep disturbances, and/or loss of energy. Of all life’s stresses, mourning can be one of the most testing to your natural defense systems. Existing illnesses can worsen or new conditions may develop. Profound emotional reactions may include anxiety attacks, chronic fatigue, depression, and/or thoughts of suicide.
Mourning is the natural process through which a person copes with a major loss. The mourning process may include military or religious traditions honoring the dead, or the gathering of friends and family to share in the loss. Mourning is personal and may last months or even years. Grieving is the outward expression of your loss. Your grief is likely to be expressed both physically and psychologically. For example, crying is a physical expression, while depression is a psychological expression.
Be aware that coping with a death may necessitate major life adjustments such as parenting alone, adjusting to single life, or returning to work. These challenges may intensify any anxiety and grief you are already experiencing. Allow yourself to express these feelings.
Living with Grief
When a loved one dies, the best thing you can do is to allow yourself to grieve. There are many ways to cope effectively.
Seek Out Caring People.
Find relatives and friends who understand your feelings. Tell them how you feel; it will help you to work through the grieving process. Join a support group with others who have experienced similar losses. Support groups exist at most military installations. If you feel overwhelmed, ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness. Talk with a trusted relative, friend, family services staffer, minister, rabbi, or other spiritual advisor. Military chaplains can be helpful, as most receive training in pastoral counseling and crisis. Don’t let yourself become isolated.
Take Care of Your Health.
See your family physician. Eat properly, exercise, and get plenty of rest. Be aware of the danger of using medication or alcohol to deal with your grief.
It takes time and effort to accept a major loss, cope with the changes in your, and begin to live again in the present and not dwell on the past.
If your feelings become too much to bear, seek professional assistance to help work through your grief. Seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Helping Others Grieve
If someone you care about has lost a loved one, you can help him or her through the grieving process.
Encourage the person to talk about his or her feelings and to share memories of the deceased. Remember, it may take the person a long time to recover from the loss.
Don’t Offer False Comfort.
It doesn’t help the grieving person to hear, “It was for the best” or “You’ll get over it in time.” Instead, offer a simple expression of sorrow and take time to listen.
Offer Practical Help.
Baby-sitting, cooking, and running errands are ways to help someone who is grieving.
Encourage Professional Help When Needed.
Don’t hesitate to recommend professional help when you feel someone is experiencing too much pain to cope with alone.
Helping Children Grieve
Children grieve differently than adults. A parent’s death can be particularly difficult for small children and affect their sense of security. Often, they are confused about the changes they see taking place, particularly if well-meaning adults try to protect them from the truth or from their surviving parent’s grief. Limited understanding and an inability to express feelings put very young children at a special risk. They may revert to earlier behaviors (such as bed-wetting), ask questions about the deceased that seem insensitive, invent games about dying, or pretend that the death never happened.
Coping with a child’s grief puts added strain on a bereaved parent. However, angry outbursts or criticism will likely only deepen a child’s anxiety and will delay recovery. Instead, take extra time and speak honestly with children, in terms they can understand. Help them work through their feelings and remember that they are looking to you for suitable behavior and coping skills.
Contact a local mental health association or the National Mental Health Association (NMHA) for information on mental health, mental illness, treatment options, and local treatment/support services. You can contact the NMHA at 1-800-969-NMHA (toll-free) or at its website, www.nmha.org.
Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), Inc. assists people who have lost family members in the Armed Forces. TAPS provides a survivor-peer support network, grief counseling referrals, and crisis information and can be reached at 1-800-959-TAPS (8277) or www.taps.org.
The Army Family Assistance Hotline is 1-800-833-6622, and the Army Reservist Hotline is 1-800-318-5298. The Coast Guard Reserve Website is www.uscg.mil/Reserve. The number for Marine Corps Community Service Centers West of the Mississippi is 1-800-253-1624; and, East of the Mississippi, the number is 1-800-336-4663.
The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs website contains information on and applications for compensation, health, burial, special programs, and other benefits. Contact www.va.gov.