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Grief and Loss of a Loved One

Grief is a natural response when a loved one dies. How you grieve depends on your personality, your life experiences, the nature of your loss and your coping style. While there is no right or wrong way to grieve, there are healthy ways to cope and survive the pain and find your new normal as you continue on your life's journey.

Here are some ideas to help you process your loss so that you can move toward healing and begin to rebuild your life.

Connecting with your casualty assistance officer

Your casualty assistance officer, or CAO, serves as a liaison between you and the service branch. Make the most of your relationship with your CAO. He or she understands the military environment and is aware of available support from various resources. Assigned exclusively to you for an indefinite period of time – until you determine that assistance is no longer needed – your CAO helps with:

  • Transportation and burial expenses
  • Mortuary and funeral honors assistance
  • Benefits and entitlements (explaining both and assisting with applying for a receiving them)
  • Personal effects, records, reports and investigations (receiving)
  • Legal matters (tax issues) and relocation assistance (shipping household goods)
  • Benevolent, philanthropic and federal agencies (information, referral and coordination)
  • Emotional and spiritual support

Accessing long-term care

Eventually your casualty assistance officer, or CAO, will return to his or her primary job full time, but not until matters relating to a survivor’s case have been answered and all entitlements and benefits are being received. However, assistance to you does not stop here; for longer-terms support:

Becoming an active griever

The Department of Veterans Affairs encourages the bereaved to be active, not passive, participants in grief, and to consider these four tasks of grief, developed by psychologists William Worden and Therese Rando:

  • Accepting the reality of your loss. The first task of grief is breaking through the denial to an understanding that the death has occurred and can’t be reversed.
  • Mourning the death of a loved one. Although distracting yourself from the pain might temporarily make you feel better, a broken heart must heal. If you don’t allow yourself to grieve, your sorrow may return in more painful ways.
  • Adjusting to the environment in which your loved one is missing. It can take time to fully appreciate the new roles that you’ll need to take on and the skills you will need to learn. Reach out for support when you need it.
  • Forming a new identity. Be patient with yourself as you form new social connections and slowly try to create an identity that is not intertwined with your loved one.

Getting support

You will need the right kind of support in the days that follow the death of your loved one. The following resources can help you and your family deal with grief and other challenges you may be facing and direct you to other services available to service members and families.

  • A Survivor’s Guide to Benefits: Taking Care of Our Families describes the responsibilities of your casualty assistance officer, offers information about memorial services and funerals, lists survivor benefits and contains links to resources. You may download a copy of this for free from Military OneSource.
  • The Days Ahead helps surviving family members by providing resources — including listings of support organizations and programs, books and websites on grief and loss, and advice for coping with the loss of their loved one.
  • National Resource Directory is an online partnership for wounded, ill and injured service members, veterans, their families and families of the fallen and those who support them.
  • Veterans Affairs bereavement counseling is provided at community-based vet centers near the families. It is offered to all family members, including parents, spouses and children of service members who died in the service of their country.
  • TRICARE mental health care services are available for you during times of grief. Outpatient psychotherapy is covered for up to two sessions per week in any combination of individual, family, group or collateral sessions.
  • Military OneSource offers information, resources and non-medical counseling to meet the needs of military family members who have lost a loved one. Help is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week by telephone or internet. Call 800-342-9647 or click here for overseas calling options.