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What Can Grieving Military Families Teach Civilians Dealing with COVID-19?

The death of a loved one is something many in the military community have already faced, especially more recently after years of casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In addition, grief experts believe that the lessons those families have learned could help the rest of us through the next few difficult months, says Military Times’ recent article entitled “Here’s what grieving military families can teach civilians dealing with coronavirus tragedy.”

“People need to remember that grief is a normal reaction to loss,” said Bonnie Carroll, president and founder of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. “And it’s a lifetime journey. We have families still engaged with us who lost loved ones on Sept. 11.”

COVID-19 is turning out to be deadlier for VA patients, than for the rest of the population in the U.S. More than 6% of positive cases have become fatal. TAPS averages about 23 new program enrollees a day, family members of military lost in overseas operations, suicides, or early death to disease. That total has also included several survivors of veterans and troops who have died from the coronavirus.

The biggest difference in these deaths has been isolation. It used to be that when a family reported a sudden death, program coordinators usually scheduled face-to-face counseling sessions within a few days.

However, that’s impossible now because of the national coronavirus social distancing recommendations. This has resulted in a disruption in burials and how we physically mourn these losses, which is typically to gather at the end of a life and to memorialize that person.

When military families have to endure delayed funerals, which can be due to the difficulty recovering remains from remote locations, TAPS recommends embracing other ways to mourn more immediately. This can include writing obituaries, collecting pictures and videos, or using tools like, online memorials.

We should try to actively memorialize our loved ones in a way that draws in other community members and helps families feel connected. Rather than delaying mourning, families should reflect on memories of their lost family member and move the focus from their deaths to their lives.

TAPS has also produced its mourner’s bill of rights for families who have died from coronavirus, including encouragement for grieving families to discuss their loss. Discussing the death and your grief can help you heal.

Reference: Military Times (April 23, 2020) “Here’s what grieving military families can teach civilians dealing with coronavirus tragedy”

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