When you lose a loved one in military service, you may experience a wide range of emotions - anger, sadness, confusion, guilt, etc. Knowing who to turn to for support during your time of grief can help you feel less overwhelmed and more able to manage your feelings and reactions.
Sharing your feelings with clergy or counselors can be productive and therapeutic, especially in times of grief. Non-medical counseling may be a valuable outlet for you as you grieve, in addition to the support you receive from family and friends. Below are some sources for counseling options available to family members of fallen service members offered at no cost to you.
- Military OneSource - Military OneSource is a 24-hour service, provided by the Department of Defense, available to all active duty, Guard and reserve members and their families. Consultants provide information and make referrals on a wide range of issues, including grief and bereavement. Services include consultation online or by telephone. Free face-to-face non-medical counseling sessions, and their equivalent by phone or online, are also available.
- Veterans Affairs Bereavement Counseling - The Department of Veterans Affairs offers bereavement counseling to parents, spouses and children of armed forces personnel who died in the service of their country. Also eligible are family members of National Guardsmen and reservists who die while on duty.
Support and action groups
Family and friends can be a great source of strength during this difficult time, but there are also many service-related organizations that can offer support from people who understand and have been through what you are currently facing.
- American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. - Gold Star Mothers is a congressionally charted nonprofit organization. This is an organization of mothers who lost a son or daughter in the service of our country and now serve to assist other mothers as they face their own tragedies and contribute to memorial events around the country.
- American Widow Project - The mission of the American Widow Project is to provide military widows with vital support through peer-based support programs designed to educate, empower, inspire and assist in rebuilding their lives in the face of tragedy. This group hosts gatherings, mails free support DVDs and has a website filled with widows' stories and sources of support.
- Gold Star Wives of America, Inc. - Gold Star Wives is a congressionally chartered nonprofit service organization. This group provides services to active duty and service-connected military widows and widowers and supports veterans in their local communities.
- Society of Military Widows - The Society of Military Widows is a nonprofit organization that serves the interests of women whose husbands died while on active military duty from a service-connected illness, during disability or regular retirement from the military services.
- Special Ops Survivors - Special Ops Survivors is the only organization exclusively dedicated to serving surviving spouses of active duty Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Special Operations personnel who have died in combat or training since Sept. 11, 2001. They offer individual emotional support, group emotional support and financial assistance.
- Survivor Outreach Services - The Army has made a commitment to provide long-term support to survivors of their fallen through the development of the Survivor Outreach Services Program. The program provides survivors with access to dedicated and comprehensive support services such as support groups, life-skills education, benefits milestone management, advocacy and resource information. Financial assistance is also available for long-term financial goals, budget counseling, debt management, estate planning, tax issues and higher education needs. Survivor Outreach Services helps continue the survivor's connection with the Army family and provides services for as long as the survivor desires.
- Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors - The core of TAPS is made up of people like you, who have lost a loved one who was serving in the armed forces. They offer grief counseling referral, caseworker assistance and crisis information. Additionally, they offer retreats, survivor seminars and 'Good Grief' camps for children of the fallen.
Support and action groups for children of the fallen
The loss of a loved one can be especially difficult for a child to process, and finding resources tailored to their needs is essential. Oftentimes, children can be isolated due to their grief and to a lack of understanding from their peers. The groups below work to bring grieving children together and help them find a comfortable place to discuss their feelings and a place where they can feel accepted.
- Comfort Zone Camp - Comfort Zone Camp is a nonprofit bereavement camp that brings together children who have experienced the death of a parent, sibling or primary caregiver. The free camps include confidence-building programs and age-based support groups that break the emotional isolation that grief often brings. Comfort Zone Camps are offered to children ages 7 - 17 and are held year-round across the country.
- The Dougy Center - The Dougy Center provides a safe place for children, teens, young adults and their families who are grieving a death to share their experiences. This is accomplished through peer support groups, education and training.
- Snowball Express - Their mission is to create hope and new memories for the children of our fallen military heroes who died while serving our country since 9/11. Snowball Express hosts annual all-expenses-paid Christmas galas for the families of fallen service members.
- Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors - This national organization offers a broad range of support, mentoring and other services to those grieving the loss of a loved one in the armed forces. TAPS services include a nationwide peer support network, information and resources on coping with grief and trauma, online support groups and a quarterly magazine for casualty survivors. These services are no cost, and no membership dues are charged. Their 'Good Grief' Camps for children connect kids with peers who have also lost a loved one.
- Trevor Romain Memory Box Grief Comfort Kits - The Trevor Romain Comfort Kit for Kids is centered on the Parents' Choice Gold Award-winning DVD, "What on Earth Do You Do When Someone Dies?" The DVD uses gentle humor, original music and a compassionate storyline to pass along practical and helpful advice for kids. Despite the serious subject matter, kids of all ages are enlightened and encouraged as Trevor's characters learn how to move towards grief instead of running away from it. The kit includes: "What on Earth Do You Do When Someone Dies?" (DVD); "What on Earth Do You Do When Someone Dies?" (book); a journal for self-expression with original artwork and writing prompts; Coco, a plush animal offering comfort and companionship; "Helping Children Cope With Loss" (booklet for caregivers); a letter from Coco and a set of colored pencils; and a special memory box to protect treasured keepsakes. The Comfort Kits are available free of charge from Military OneSource by calling 800-342-9647.
- Sesame Street's "When Families Grieve" Resource Kits - This bilingual DVD resource kit includes a DVD, children's storybook, and a guide for parents and caregivers to help support children coping with the death of a parent, while also providing reassurance that they can learn ways of being there for each other and move forward. The DVD and other resources to support families are available at no charge through Military OneSource at 800-342-9647.
Your connection to the service doesn't have to end after the death of your loved one. You can stay in touch with military friends, be active on social media sites or, if/when it feels right, get involved as a volunteer with one of the above listed organizations and help others as they go through difficult times. Sharing your story and knowledge and providing comfort to others down the road may provide you with a deeper sense of peace, as well. Additionally, keeping up with the news on OurMilitary.mil can also help you remain connected and in tune with what's going on in the service community through links to the services' Facebook pages, news and volunteer opportunities in your area.