Supporting Military Families After Combat Death

The devastating loss of 30 military service members in Afghanistan has left more than 300 people grieving the death of someone they love. Many people, even if they do not personally know the families of those who died, want to know how to express their condolences and support the families left behind.

Reaching out to express condolences is a natural and heartfelt reaction to tragedy.  TAPS, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, offers the following tips for those seeking to express sympathy and support to the families of those who died recently in Afghanistan:

Be understanding. The surviving families are in tremendous shock in the immediate days and weeks following the death of their loved one. Understand that families may need to be focused on making important decisions about funerals, memorial services, benefits, and a host of details. The family may not be able to respond to you right away or express their appreciation for your thoughtfulness.

Respect their privacy. Grieving families who have experienced the traumatic death of a loved one may especially need their family and close friends around them. Please allow them the privacy and space they need to get through what are going to be difficult days.

Think beyond flowers and food. Often bereaved families will be overwhelmed by gifts of food and flowers.  Consider making a contribution to a charity or memorial fund in honor of their loved one. Often families will specify a charity or organization that their loved one was involved with or supported, and find this type of donation particularly touching.

Send a card. A card can express your sympathies and be an important reminder to a grieving family of your care and concern.

Simply express your condolences. If you talk with a family member, say you are sorry for their loss, or say you want to offer your condolences. That’s enough. Avoid saying things like “I understand exactly how you feel,” or “It was his (or her) time,” or “He (or she) wouldn’t want for you to be sad.”

Show your support. In many communities, a procession is held when a fallen service member’s remains are brought home. Consider standing near the processional route to show your support for the family. Bring an American flag, carry a sign that expresses your feelings and stand in respect to honor the sacrifice their loved one has made for our nation.

Attend a memorial service. If a memorial or funeral service is open to the public, consider attending. Your presence can be a valuable support to the family, which appreciates knowing that their loved one is being remembered by many. Some families may need to observe their funeral ceremonies in private. If that is the case, please respect their wishes and be with them in your thoughts and prayers.

Offer skills or services to help the family. If you are a business person who can offer an in-kind donation to help the family that will help during the funeral or memorial, such as limousine services, public relations assistance, or event management aid, consider donating your time and services.

Support programs that provide long-term bereavement help to families of our fallen military. It takes on average 5-7 years for people to reach a new normal following the traumatic death of a close loved one. Bereavement support can be vital in the months and years to come as families work toward this new normal. Donate or volunteer with TAPS through 800.959.TAPS (8277) or www.taps.org.

Ami Neiberger-Miller 2011

Ami Neiberger-Miller

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Ami Neiberger-Miller, APR, Public Affairs Office - work with TAPS includes working with the news media, designing strategic outreach campaigns, advising surviving families on media relations, speaking to organizations about TAPS, conducting online outreach to raise awareness with core audiences, writing press releases and other materials, and forging partnerships that help build support for TAPS and surviving families. Because she is a surviving family member, Ami brings a unique perspective to her role with TAPS. Ami’s 22-year-old brother, U.S. Army Specialist Christopher Neiberger, was killed in August 2007 by a roadside bomb while serving with the U.S. Army in Baghdad, Iraq. She managed an avalanche of media attention focused on her grieving family and tries to use her personal experience and professional expertise to help others. Ami has emerged as a leading advocate for surviving families through her work with TAPS and the media. She authored a guide to managing the news media for military families dealing with traumatic situations. She has written for PRSA’s Tactics, been interviewed for the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, and spoken at Columbia University on media coverage and trauma survivors. She has been interviewed by CNN, CBS Sunday Morning, the Pentagon Channel, the Voice of America, and many other outlets. She also appears in the HBO documentary “Section 60: Arlington National Cemetery.” As an active member of the TAPS Sibling Support Network, Ami says she finds strength in connecting with others who have experienced the similar loss of a loved one serving in the military. She devoted more than 12 years of her career to helping organizations improve how they communicate and work with the media. She has worked with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, the Nature Conservancy, the National 4-H Council, the University of Florida, the National Veterans Legal Services Program, and Sister Cities International. She founded Steppingstone LLC in 2003 and works as a consultant. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Florida and is accredited in public relations. To learn more about Ami and her work with TAPS, go to: www.taps.org. Ami appeared on the radio show Healing the Grieving Heart to discuss “Loss & the Military.” To hear her interview with Dr. Gloria and Dr. Heidi, click on the following link: www.voiceamericapd.com/health/010157/horsley121108.mp3

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