Those of us who care for service members, combat veterans, first responders, and their families are well acquainted with walking alongside someone through tragedy, grief, and loss. I was a pastor in a local church before becoming an active-duty Army Chaplain over 16 years ago, and I worked with tragedy, grief, and loss on a regular basis. However, upon joining the Army I quickly found myself in a year long deployment to Iraq, and with it, a level of working tragedy, grief, and loss I had never experienced before.
There were many differences that immediately stood out to me. However, the most striking difference was how the process of dealing with death as a civilian, although very difficult, seemed to create some distance from the realities of death. First responders, emergency room staff, doctors, and funeral home staff fill critical roles when assisting those who are experiencing the loss of someone close to them. Part of their role is to lay down boundaries with the grieving to protect them from the traumatic experiences of seeing their loved one in their worst state. This can be very helpful in the worst moments of someone’s life.
Combat death is different. Death on the battlefield is experienced without the boundaries that are present in the civilian world. It is up close and gruesome. What stood out to me during my first deployment, and continues to resonate with me today, is how clean and almost detached death is in the United States and how up-close and raw death feels in combat. Whether at home in the states, or across an ocean in a combat zone, death is always tragic. Life is always precious.
Our Nation’s, and the media’s, response to the tragic death of nine people in Kobe Bryant’s helicopter crash is heart warming and genuine. The media recently reported thankful responses from the families who lost loved ones for the outpouring of support from across the globe. Gathering around those who grieve is so important, and those who are gathering around these families are providing them with tremendous support.
When working with combat veterans it is important to understand that high profile tragedies may impact veterans in a different way than the general population.
There was something about this high profile tragedy that stirred something within me that I could not put my finger on until I came across the article “Celebrity Deaths Magnify the Silence on Our Nation’s Fallen.” This article put into words the unsettled feeling I was experiencing. Check out the article, and reflect upon how the contrast between high profile tragedy and our Nation’s fallen may be impacting the combat veterans in your current case load. Think of your veteran clients and ask these questions.
What is their experience of the emphasis on this tragedy?
How does this emphasis touch tragedy in their own life?
Who have they lost that they never want to forget?
What memories do they want to share or what stories do they want to tell?
How does appropriately engaging in a discussion around their present experience impact the therapeutic alliance?
How does this discussion impact you as the therapist?
What do you notice that you bring into session with your clients? How is this impacting your work in a positive and/or negative way?
Thank you for stepping into the gap and working with our heroes! You are making a difference in their lives!