Worldwide Bereaved Parents Awareness Month
July 14, 2016
July is Worldwide Bereaved Parents Awareness Month. For some people, it’s difficult to talk openly about their grief. They may feel it is too personal or too private. For others, discussing the events causing and surrounding their grief is vital to their recovery. Today, we honor the truth that grief is as unique as the person experiencing it.
We are taught from a very young age that the natural course of life is that eventually parents and children reverse roles. The child becomes the caretaker and nurtures their aging parent until that parent passes away. When this process is reversed, when a parent is forced to bury their child, the shock and grief are particularly unimaginable. Life tells us–facts tell us–no parent should ever have to bury their child. The death of a child engenders impossible grief.
Unfortunately, this is a very real fact for many military families. Our Living Legends Team knows this first hand. They conduct one of the most delicate and demanding missions of Soldiers’ Angels: comforting the loved ones left behind when a warrior falls on the battlefield. Their goal is to make sure families and friends of America’s fallen heroes know that they are supported and that their loved ones’ sacrifices are honored and respected.
MaryEllen Coombs lives in Racine, Washington and is a member of our Living Legends Team, Letter Writing Team, and Veteran Affairs Medical Center Support Team. MaryEllen provides a unique perspective on comforting the grieving because in 1981, her brother was murdered and her parents took a very active role in an organization called “Parents of Murdered Children”.
“I have met hundreds upon hundreds of parents who have dealt with grief,” MaryEllen explains.
We asked her to give us some insight on consoling those who are grieving. Here is what she had to say.
“When I first got the names [as a member of Soldiers’ Angels Living Legends Team], I just kept thinking of those families. The first letters I wrote I cried the whole way through. Everyone on the team has such sympathy and sorrow for the families.”
Here’s how she approaches the difficult task of comforting the loved ones left behind when a warrior falls on the battlefield.
Remember the rest of the families; they have this loss too. Even if you don’t know their names, acknowledge the entire family and their grief. Wives, children, grandparents… Remember all of them.
It’s wrong to say anything about getting over it or moving on. You do not get over it. You do get on with it. That loss will always be a loss.
Grief is one of the most difficult things you will experience in life. No one can understand your loss, even if they’ve suffered a loss themselves. Rather than saying, “I know how you feel”, remind them that every step on the path of grief is uniquely their own. You can be there for them, but you cannot possibly understand what they are going through.
With MaryEllen’s comments in mind, we have curated a list of resources both military and non-military. There are personal anecdotes, information on how to find a therapist, or how to help a friend who has experienced the death of a child. No one will ever completely get over or forget their loss, but with some help they can once again reach happiness and hope for the future.
5 Things I Learned About Child Loss and the Military: A woman remembers her experience grieving and the support of her military family and friends
American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy: Learn the facts and statistics surrounding the loss of a child
Still Standing: A magazine for men, women, and children who have experienced child loss and are comforted by solidarity with others experiencing similar loss
TAPS: Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors: Information on how military personnel and their families can find counseling and/or mentoring
Children of the Fallen: Portraits of Loss: A series by the Washington Post on children whose parents passed in the war
Mental Health America: Further information and resources for grieving military personnel and their families
7 Mistakes People Make When a Friend’s Child Dies: Tips on how to help a friend whose child has passed away
Surviving Family Benefits: Information on military survivor benefits
How can you help?