View Full Version : Grieving process especially difficult for military families

02-09-07, 02:21 PM
Grieving process especially difficult for military families

The Associated Press

LITTLE FERRY, N.J. - The death of his son in Iraq last year set off a chain of events in John Fenton's life that included the deterioration of his relationship with his ex-wife and college-age daughter, developments that only deepened his sense of loss.

Tensions that existed before 24-year-old Marine Sgt. Matthew Fenton died May 6 from wounds suffered in a bombing found their way to the surface and fractured a relationship that had survived a divorce in the early 1990s.

"Up until my son's death we were getting along, but since his death we have gone to opposite poles," Fenton said. "It just aggravated any differences we had, it seemed, and just made them more intense."

Fenton's story is not uncommon among families who lose a son or daughter in war, according to Todd DuBose, an assistant professor at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology who has practiced family and marriage therapy since 1989 with a specialization in trauma therapy.

The public nature of the grieving process is one challenge for families as they struggle to attach meaning to a loss they are told was for a noble cause. The strain can split families apart just as easily as it can bring them closer together, DuBose said.

"My experience is that most people who have it happen feel that it is senseless," DuBose said. "They try for a while because they've been handed a structure that says their kid died for nobility and patriotic reasons. But once that's said and everyone's gone home and they're sitting by themselves, it doesn't have enough teeth."

Grieving also can be complicated by conflicting feelings about the war itself. For example, a spouse who encouraged a son or daughter to join the military can become a scapegoat, DuBose said.

Anxieties can arise even if family members hold similar views on the war. Amanda Schroeder said she and her parents opposed the war from its outset but supported her brother, Marine Lance Cpl. Edward "Augie" Schroeder, who was one of the 20 members of the Ohio battalion killed in August 2005.

Since his death, Schroeder's parents have been in the forefront of public opposition to the war, and formed Families of the Fallen for Change, an organization that advocates the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

Amanda Schroeder, who lives in Morristown, said her immediate and extended family has grown closer after her brother's death, but she acknowledged having fears about telling her parents she wanted less time in the public eye.

"I felt they might be mad, or feel that I didn't support them in what they were doing," Schroeder said. "I thought, 'Can we feel this instead of intellectually talking about it?' I admire them, and this is their way of dealing with it. They feel that maybe if we can raise awareness about the war, maybe not as many people will die."

Even in cases of sudden, traumatic death, there seems to be an unspoken statute of limitations on grieving, according to Dr. Rosanne Umana, a military bereavement counselor who spent numerous hours with the families of a Ohio-based Marine battalion that lost 20 members in a span of two days in 2005.

"By and large, everybody's extremely supportive in the first three to four months," Umana said. "Then, the families feel a great deal of pressure to get back in the saddle, and most of them find they are not really ready, physically or emotionally. Some have had to give up jobs, or have changed jobs. By a year and a half, most of them have started to reintegrate, but they will say they have never gotten over it, that they've changed and are not the same people."

Support can come from an array of sources ranging from e-mail groups to informal gatherings to psychiatrists working under the auspices of the Veterans Administration at more than 200 centers nationwide.

Before 2003, the military didn't officially provide counseling services to family members other than the surviving spouse, according to Dr. Al Batres, chief officer of the readjustment counseling service for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington. The Iraq war spurred an expansion of that policy.

"We had family members showing up at veterans centers who weren't necessarily the next of kin, and because they were not eligible under normal circumstances we extended the eligibility," Batres said.

Groups such as the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) and Gold Star Mothers provide peer-based support and can serve as liaisons with the veterans centers. TAPS has offered direct assistance to more than 10,000 family members since its inception in 1992, according to founder Bonnie Carroll.

Still, the system is not perfect. Fenton said casualty assistance officers handed him their cards after his son's funeral and told him to call if he had any questions, but that he only heard about the VA counseling service from a co-worker who had served in the Marines.

"If he hadn't told me, I might have looked into it, but I don't know," Fenton said.

On the Net:

U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs Facilities Locator: www1.va.gov/directory/gui...center.asp

Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS): www.taps.org

Friends of the Fallen for Change: www.fofchange.org

American Gold Star Mothers: www.goldstarmoms.com

February 9, 2007 11:36 AM