The grief that results when war claims the life of a loved one can present unique challenges to survivors. According to the Web site http://www.religionwriters.com/ most grief is private and personal, but war deaths have a very public dimension. That raises issues for families, as well as Americans at large. Public acknowledgment of the deaths and the importance of the victims' lives can help loved ones' healing. Experts say that all Americans can feel grief and anxiety over the losses and stresses of war and that forms of grieving -- whether they are local observances, televised services or memorials -- can help people sort out what they are feeling.
The military plays a critical role for families when there are war deaths by notifying and supporting them, to transporting bodies back home and facilitating burial. Grieving survivors find solace in ritual, calling hours and the traditional funeral. The flag-draped casket, honor guard and military pallbearers provide strong support for the bereaved and demonstrate the country's gratitude for the awful sacrifice they have made.
War deaths usually involve young people so that the spouse is left to endure the special problems of early widowhood. Additionally, the grief process is delayed or subverted when a body has not been found or cannot be recovered from the war arena. Psychologists tell us that denial is one of the steps in the grieving process. Until bereaved persons accept that death has occurred, little progress can be made in resolving their grief. Research indicates that viewing the deceased or knowing that a body has been located helps to fulfill the psychological needs of those left behind.
In Pauline Laurent's book "Grief Denied; A Vietnam Widow's Story," she describes the price paid when people hide, deny or delay grief. Pauline wrote the book to give guidance to everyone who has ever mourned the loss of a loved one incompletely. She was 22 years old and seven months pregnant when her husband's body was escorted back to the states with the instruction, "Non-viewable." She eventually healed through long-term therapy and a spiritual search.
Survivors who are grieving the loss of a loved one in war should seek help in resolving their grief by talking to a member of the clergy, getting advice from their funeral director, and in some cases by reaching out to one of the many local community hospices that offer bereavement counseling.
The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) is a national nonprofit organization serving families, friends and military service members who have been affected by a death in the armed services. It offers peer support, crisis response and intervention, grief care and counseling resources, casework assistance, long-term survivor wellness and community and military outreach. Dan G. Druen, Jr., a Washington DC funeral director, is TAPS chief executive officer. For more information, please call 800-959-8277 or visit www.taps.org.
© August 2003 / Updated June 2010