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Widows
Also be sure to read A Voice to be Heard, candid insights in caring as shared by the Widowed Wife of a Wounded Marine, Karie Fugett.


These insights (below) were written by a widow two months after she lost her husband.


Things people have said/done that help:
  • Clean the house.
  • Bring meals.
  • Watch the baby.
  • Wash my car.
  • Go grocery shopping.
  • Write thank you cards. 


Things people have said/done that hurt:
  • I'm praying for you ( F... your prayers...What did your prayers do for my husband?)

  • God will give you strength (God won't give me anything...he took my husband)

  • Be strong (I don't have to be strong right now. I deserve to break down and crawl into a hole)

  • I'm a military wife too (Oh really, so your husband is dead?)

  • I lost a mother/brother/cousin/friend (Not the person you were supposed to wake up next to for the rest of your life)

  • I don't know you but... (Exactly you don't know me)

  • If there is anything I can do (Really, if I call you at two in the morning screaming that I need to go for a drive you'll be here?) Be specific!!  


What I wish people understood:
  • That "How are you doing?" is the stupidest question you can ask someone who just lost their everything.


Any other thoughts/ideas that would help us support and encourage military widows, their children, their parents...even as the years go by:
  • Don't avoid the holidays, anniversaries, birthdays... not one person said Happy Valentine's Day to me. I want to be treated like a normal person, not a lepper. It is hard no matter what but to be excluded makes it even harder. I wish someone would have called me and said I am taking you out for Valentine's Day and you're going to have a good time. 

  • It's so hard to ask for help or tell people how to help us because we don't even know. This is something that we've never done before so we don't know what we need and I think that's where the frustration lies. People want to help and ask how can they can help but we don't know. I think it would be better if people just would offer a specific type of help... cleaning the house, grocery shopping, etc.


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These insights were written by a widow three years after she lost her husband.


Things people have said/done that help:
  • I am grateful for the people that don't just say "If there's anything you need just let me know" but they just SHOW UP and do it!

  • My friends came over the day I found out about (my husband) and cleaned my house top to bottom, made meals and answered the phones, took my kids to the park, and it really made a difference.  

Things people have said/done that hurt:
  • When your military wife friends abandon you. It happens for two reasons. 1) Because their guys are still over there and you are a constant reminder of their worst fears and 2) Because they don't want to hurt your feelings by talking about their husbands, especially when they come home.

What I wish people understood:
  • I have the right to make myself happy. I deserve love, I deserve happiness, and it does not diminish my memory of (my husband) just because I got remarried.


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Insights in caring
Do you know someone who has lost a loved one while serving in the military?

How can we even begin to know what to do to show our love and support?

Here their loved ones share to help you understand.
Gold Star parents














What people have said/done that helps
  • If you know a story about our deceased loved one, just ask: “Would you mind if I share a story about your son or daughter) with you?” Stories are all we have left! They are gifts!

  • Ask: “Would you mind if I hold your hands and say a prayer for peace of heart, strength, and courage for you and your family?”

  • “I can’t imagine the pain you are suffering. I know there’s nothing I can say or do to make it better, but I want you to know I care.”


What people have said/done that hurts
  • “Johnny is in a better place.”  A grieving mother or father cannot accept or comprehend such words. We wanted our child with us to keep hugging, shopping for, watch become the mature adult they would be, give us grandchildren, more laughter and stories, and hold our hand when we aged. Our children were our heaven on earth.

  • “It was God’s plan”  We are human beings that are hurt to the point of near incapacitation. Our dad in heaven has let us down and denied us our greatest treasure to return home walking and talking. We are angry at the universe! We have to find our own way back to accepting God’s love and “our forgiving Him!”

  • “You seem to be still grieving so hard and it’s been over a year”  Your view of time and what “passing time” is suppose to do is your perception, not our reality. Through experience and watching hundreds of others’ journeys,  grief is usually worse the 2nd year because during the first year we’ve been walking in a dense fog and by the end of the first year all the “local support” has returned to their own lives in their norm and we are facing our reality, “THIS IS REAL” and “I’ve got to come out of hiding” and I still don’t know what to do with this “burden”, a song, a story, a tv show, etc, etc, etc makes me cry and cry and cry…those around us don’t understand, often not even our own parents. It takes years to adjust and find our path that often means a great change in some relationships.

  • Don’t ask how Johnny or Sally died… A family suffering a death by suicide, drugs, etc. carry a heightened level of grief stress and anxiety out of pure fear of judgment by others.

  • “You’re not alone. God is always with you.”  When we are angry, frustrated, confused in our faith and searching for answers that it takes us a while to understand that we’ll not get on this side of heaven, WE DO NOT BELIEVE GOD IS WITH US. WE CAN’T TOUCH HIM, HUG HIM, FEEL HIS HUG. WE FEEL ALONE except for maybe the person strong and compassionate enough to be with us and show us often through silence, and patience that GOD IS STILL AROUND because YOU allowed God to use you to show HIS patience and love through our most horrific time on earth! Personally, when I see others walk the walk (not talk), I know GOD is REAL!

  • Don't ask, “How are you doing today?” unless you’re ready to be a sounding block and share some tears without need of your saying a word, or be prepared for a “lie” because we fear you don’t really want the truth anyway.

  • “I’m so sorry for your loss.”  As one mom said, “There was nothing sorry about my son. We’re proud of his service to our country.”  Or another mom who said: “You don’t have to be sorry, we’re so very proud of him.” (The reason some of us don’t like the words, “I’m sorry…” is because with military war deaths, the debate about the right or wrong of the war seems to instantly have some individuals want to pity us because the death was by war THEY didn’t believe in…Well, it’s not about what they believe in, but what they don’t know about what a military family may or may not believe in.

  • Please don’t try to empathize through sharing the loss of a parent, spouse, etc…each person’s  grief is their own individual experience. Unless you’ve experienced the death of a child, don’t try to convince the grieving that you “understand” because of your personal losses.

  • Don’t ask: “Do you have other children?” or say “At least you have another son…”   As one mom said: “Consider a car. It has four tires, if one goes flat, you’re temporarily incapacitated until you replace the flat tire and go on your merry way. We are not cars. Our deceased child cannot be replaced by any other one and we will never live the same again.  The loss is debilitating and crippling in ways unexplainable and will even if only in small ways, will be so the rest of our lives.”

  • Please don’t say: “Time heals.”  As an expert in the grief field said to a group in a grief peer mentor training class:  “Time Passes!”  It doesn’t do anything! It’s what we learn to do with the time that helps us travel the path of a healthy grief process!” We have to find how to convert anger and frustration into activities that become meaningful such as creating living legacies to our children or through our own pain, help others. This all takes TIME to develop because our mental and physical being is dealing with great trauma.


What I wish people understood:
  • Please don’t think that because we return to church with a “fake smile” that we are “okay”.  We’re struggling to return to the “old norm” that will never happen, but we have to learn this on our own and how to gradually move into our “new norm” and live with it.

  • Don’t look away from us or take an alternate church or grocery aisle. Okay, you don’t want to say the wrong thing! We get it! You don’t know what to say!  We get it! Say nothing! Just smile, sincerely.  Ask if you can give us a hug. Ask can you come help us do the laundry, mop the floors, wash the windows, clean the toilets, cut the grass, weed the flower bed, plant some flowers, take us for dinner, sit on the porch and drink a favorite beverage…BUT MEAN IT! DON’T BE A BAG OF EMPTY WORDS AND BROKEN PROMISES!

  • Don’t be afraid of tears! Care enough to share them! Care enough to sit in silence and just be there!  Pelagius (410 A.D.) “The Christian should heroic fortitude like Job. And should have compassion, should “feel the pain of others as if it were their own, and be moved to tears by the grief of others.”

  • TEACH church congregations what Blue Star and Gold Star Service Flags and symbols represent. Parents with their Gold Star magnets or license plates on their car have been asked: “What did you do to deserve that Gold Star?” “Is there a Colonel living at your house?” “Does that mean you won teacher of the year?” “What’s that all about?” “Did you win an award of some kind?”


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These insights were written by a Gold Star Foster Mom. Tim, her foster son, had served three tours of duty in Iraq. He got out of the service when his second term was up and committed suicide after discharge.


What people have said/done that helps
  • Not one single person ever asked for particulars about Tim’s death.  Everyone seemed to feel that Tim was gone and it didn’t matter what he had done to contribute to that.  Everyone responded with the utmost compassion and sadness.  

  • No one ever expressed extreme anger or overt bitterness toward our country, the military, or the circumstances contributing to Tim’s action.  Everyone was proud that Tim was in the Marines and served as willingly as he did.

  • The Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion were more than supportive, providing monetary and emotional support to all of us.  Tim was President of the Bellingham chapter of Veterans of Modern Warfare through the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and that group organized a motorcycle brigade that escorted Tim’s body all the way from Bellingham to Spokane for burial.  They were awesome beyond words. They let other chapters along the route know of the brigade as it passed by towns along the way, and other motorcyclists joined at various freeway entrances. 


What people have said/done that hurts
  • No one has ever said anything hurtful, not even unintentionally. Bitterness and anger would not have helped.


What I wish people understood
  • I come from the Viet Nam War era, when no one understood the impact on soldiers of how they were treated once they returned home. Not enough services were provided to help them through ordeals, either. Now, that is getting better, but it’s still not good enough. I wish the government and society in general were even more understanding and provided even more emotional and financial support for veterans.


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These insights were written by Deborah Tainsh, a Gold Star Mother and author of "Heart of a Hawk and Surviving the Folded Flag: Parents of war share stories of coping, courage, and faith."
Reflections from a Gold Star dad















Donuts
We always waited for snowfall for donuts. Not the kind that you eat but the ones you do in the parking lot. I got a rental car that was a mustang when I went to PA to do some work. It was just like the one I got when Ben graduated from boot camp. While I was in PA, it started to snow the last night I was there. I went to see a movie called Bucket List about what two guys wanted to do before they died. Kind of ironic, I thought about my life quite a bit and what I wanted to do before I died. And I thought of Ben and the time that he didn’t have before he knew he was going to die. The plows and salt trucks hadn’t made it out to the parking lots yet, so I did a lot of donuts in memory of Ben. I stopped at a gas station to fill up for the trip back to the airport the next morning and the people at the other pumps must have thought I lost my mind. I got out of the car laughing to myself remembering the times me and Ben would go out and do donuts every chance we could.


Graveyards
I used to go into graveyards and look at all the headstones and wonder about who these people were and what or who they left behind. There were plenty of times in a graveyard that I used to take pictures of the headstones including the one we found in Vermont of a race car. Ben thought that was a cool idea for a headstone. After Ben died, my brother, sister and I and our spouses got together in Michigan for a small family vacation. The first one that we ever had as adults. We were trying to figure out our family tree and decided to go to a graveyard to locate some of our relatives’ plots. After wandering around for a while, I thought how is it that a family line gets to be so scattered when the people are alive and how they end up scattered when they are dead. When families blend by marriage or separate by divorce, when they move to different parts of the country or even live in the same town, they never seem to make it back together for the final family reunion. At least not here.


Death
I always had an aversion to death. I saw a guy named Hank at his funeral when I was in grade school. He was a janitor at the school I went to and always took the time to talk to me. He was my friend. And he died. I remember being asked if I wanted to go to his funeral and I went. It seems that when someone dies, one day they are talking to you and the next they won’t ever talk again. Someone dies and they plan the funeral, they lower the person in the ground and everybody moves on with their lives. Sometimes you can pull up memories of the dead, sometimes you can’t get them out of your head for fear that once they go they may never return and their life and memory may be lost for good. I don’t want Ben’s memory to fade. I’m afraid that if I don’t remember what he looked like in his body bag, I may start to not remember him at all. 


Wills
Ben died without a will. I became the personal representative of his estate. I thought that dividing up what little he had in this world would be an easy chore. But because of my ex-wife, his mother, it was a living hell. Though out my life, I never wanted to make out a will for myself. I thought that when someone made out a will they were getting ready to die or at least start the wheels turning towards the final end. I realize now that from the moment you come into this world, the wheels are already in motion and nothing you can or can’t do will stop them. I have now started to think about my will, but I wonder who I will leave this or that to. I suppose it would be just easier to say “give all my worldly possessions to….” I never did like the way most wills are started being of sound mind and body. I just think it gets people to start thinking about the day they won’t be here anymore. The wheels on the bus..


Music
There are certain songs that become your favorites and there are others that you just can’t get out of your head. The song by Kenny Chesney, Who You’d be Today, is one of the latter. It was a song that Ben had on his phone as music you would hear when you called him. He put it on there after his best buddy Nick died in Iraq. We played it at his funeral and again at the memorial service at Fort Campbell. When it starts to play in my head, I do everything I can to turn it off. Too many images, too many echoes from the 21 gun salutes.


Listening to the dead
Before Ben died, I was fascinated by the folks that could hear from the dead. How could these folks sit on a stage and have someone who has gone communicate from the other side to a member in the crowd? I once had an idea to go to one of those shows and see if I could hear something from one of my relatives. Maybe my grandma would offer some of her no nonsense advice or just let me know she was ok or at least tell me where she was buried. Now that Ben has passed on, I find I have no interest in these folks. When I see the looks of despair or anguish on these peoples faces, it’s hard to see past that and find any looks of relief. They find out their loved one are in a better place, but the dead are gone and they aren’t here with us. I think that bit of reality hits me too close to home.


Funerals
I used to drive past funerals at churches without any thoughts of who the funeral was for or who they left behind. It was an inconvenience to wait in traffic for the procession to pass. I watched with a lot of mixed emotions at Ben’s funeral. His final party was run by his mom. It seemed to me that once the service was done, Ben was run through the back streets, almost as an embarrassment. The preacher went off on some tangent about adultery and how everybody there had committed it at one time or another. I was screaming internally for him to shut up and at the very least offer some words of comfort. They never came out of his mouth. The graveside service wasn’t any better. He rattled off something, at that point I was looking at my son’s coffin in front of me and remembering things about him. Then the preacher started singing, I was trying to see if there was a way we could have thrown him in the hole instead. I now look at funerals in a whole different light. First, I don’t want to go to one and see the people’s faces that are still here. Second, even though there may be a preacher that will offer some comfort to the family, the words can never have the power to open that box and have the person inside pop out and get on with life. And third, there is nothing and I do mean nothing that can ever stop the grief or close the hole in your soul while you are looking at a flag draped coffin in front of you with your child in it. No amount of well wishing, no amount of people talking to you and trying to cheer you up, no amount of time will ever heal you. The whole cosmic order of the universe has been torn asunder when you bury your child.
JUST A THOUGHT OR TWO…

Traveling around the country as I do for my job, spending long amounts of time on the road and by myself in hotel rooms, I think about my son, Ben, most of the time.
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