Gold Star Families - the ones who keep paying the price after losing their own hero in combat. There are thousands of them - children sitting in our classrooms, spouses singing in our church choirs, working in our communities. Their level of loss is unfathomable. Not that anyone's loss of a loved one isn't - yet, for Gold Star families it seems especially painful if we take full ownership of our position as citizens of a nation for which their service member gave his or her own life.
I'm fairly certain Gold Star family members are the experts in grief. How do they do it? After spending some years supporting them in their sorrow and creating space for their grief to be expressed, I've gathered some valuable lessons on the grieving process.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a loss, consider the following in your journey.
Embrace the grief - Grief is a natural process. Once grief was defined as the process of "letting go" and had distinct stages of movement. We are now learning that grief is really more a process of shifting - learning to hold the space of our lives differently now, without the presence of that which we lost. Trying to stop or avoid the grief only makes it heavier. Embrace the process of shifting to make the load more tolerable over time.
Find balance between 'going it alone' and asking for support - There will be times you need to sit with your grief alone, cry it out, scream it out, let it move through you. Other times, it will be best to connect with a trusted support system to carry the burden. Let others take care of you at times. It allows you to feel less isolated and gives you time to rest.
Allow all your thoughts and feelings - It's not unusual to experience an array of emotions about the lost loved one - and over time, you may feel like laughing again, enjoying a moment in life. You may even have angry thoughts about the person you lost. It's all okay. Have compassion for your own humanity.
Grieving is a life-long process. When we've suffered the loss of a loved one, especially a spouse or parent, we are never the same. We're not supposed to be. The changing and shifting we do in our grief is a sign that we were connected to them, that we loved them and that we were loved by them. The ability to connect is one of the most profound parts of being human.
It may seem odd that you could find comfort in grieving, though I encourage you to consider it. Comfort in knowing that you were so closely tied to another that their absence unravels you for a time. Leaning into this awareness doesn't have to destroy you. In fact, allowing it and surviving it day by day may give you strength you never thought possible.
If you are a Gold Star family member reading this today, my heart goes out to you. May you find peaceful days ahead.
If you are a veteran or Gold Star family member struggling to cope, please reach out for support.
Veterans Crisis Line – 1-800-273-8255