ARLINGTON, Va. – Coping with the death of a loved one is never easy, but a sudden and traumatic loss can raise special concerns for the family members and friends left behind. Aviation tragedies, combat, homicide and other types of violent deaths can be particularly difficult. These deaths are unexpected and survivors must grapple with the knowledge that their loved ones experienced trauma.

Founded by a military widow after her husband died in a plane crash, the nonprofit organization Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) assists bereaved military families. TAPS has assisted more than 50,000 people since 1994. More than 80 percent of the families coming to TAPS for care and support experienced traumatic losses when their loved ones died in combat, in aviation incidents, in training accidents, in vehicle accidents, by suicide, by homicide, by terrorist act, or by some other unanticipated means. It takes on average 5-7 years for people grieving a traumatic loss to reach a “new normal.” TAPS offers the following tips to help grieving families:

Realize that it is common to have physical and emotional reactions to a traumatic loss. Your body and emotions are reacting to an abnormal event. Grief, headaches, sleeplessness, heart palpitations, tightness in your chest, startling, shock, sadness, anger, disbelief, short term memory loss, feelings of helplessness or panic, depression, anxiety, hyper-vigilance, or other issues are common. See a medical provider if you feel you need assistance.

Turn off the news some of the time, if you can. Prolonged exposure to news reporting about the traumatic event can be detrimental for those who loved the people who died. If you need to get ongoing information, ask a family friend to keep you informed, or set a time of day when you will “check” on the news (so there are periods of time when you are not watching the news). Try to avoid watching 24/7 news coverage related to your loved one’s death.

Ask for help from family and friends. Contact friends and relatives. Ask them to help you make phone calls, make travel arrangements, care for other family members (such as young children), or complete other tasks while you are in the process of searching for information about your loved one, making funeral arrangements, etc.

If you are asked to comment by the media, consider carefully how to respond. In a high profile incident, any information in the public domain or on social networking websites, may be used by the news media. You can choose what level of access you want to give the news media. Your choice to speak or not to speak with reporters can impact what is said and written about your loved one. Make decisions as a family about what information to share and photos to release. Realize that what you share now, may be printed and repeated for years to come. It may be best to select one person to share information on behalf of your family.

Reach out to people you trust for care and support. Try to spend time with family and friends that you trust in a private place. If your loved one died in an event that took the lives of others, you may find it helpful to connect with other bereaved families from the same event. Your faith community may be a source of support for you.

Try to sleep. Sleeplessness is a common problem among the recently bereaved. Even if you feel you cannot sleep, it is important to try to rest.

Pay special attention to the needs of children and teens. Young people are particularly vulnerable following a traumatic event. Try to maintain routines for children, offer support and understanding, and pay attention to their needs.

Don’t feel like you have to “be strong” all the time. Feeling sad or frightened is normal. Crying does not mean you are weak or losing it. Talking about your feelings may help. You do not need to protect your relatives or friends by putting on a brave front. Showing your feelings may help others and you.

Respect individual expressions of grief. Some people may not cry openly, but will feel pain as deeply as others. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Within your family or circle of friends, allow each other the space and grace to express your grief as needed.

Do what helps you. Physical activities can help you. Try going for a walk or getting some exercise.

Consider writing in a journal, or write a note to your loved one who died. Writing down your feelings can help you to better understand the event and begin to come to terms with the loss of a loved one.

If you are comfortable doing so, participate in rituals related to the death of your loved one. Attend the funeral, memorial service, or interment, write a note to your loved one, or place an object near the grave site or interment location.

Avoid making major life decisions for at least 6-12 months after the death of your loved one. While many things have to be done in the immediate days after a person has died, try to delay making major decisions about your home, your job or your finances after a traumatic event.

Seek ways to honor your loved one. In lieu of funeral flowers, ask for donations to go to a particular charity that addresses an issue their loved one cared about. The helplessness and lack of control felt in the face of a trauma may cause feelings of guilt and hopelessness. Finding things that you can control, like your ability to help others, may help ease feelings of guilt.

Locate resources to assist you. There may be resources available to assist you through your workplace, the American Red Cross, or other sources. Bereavement counseling may be available through hospice, faith communities, grief centers, private therapists, or the Vet Centers (for families grieving active duty military casualties).

About TAPS: The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) is the national organization providing compassionate care for the families of America’s fallen military heroes and has offered support to more than 50,000 surviving family members of our fallen military and their caregivers since 1994. TAPS provides peer-based emotional support, grief and trauma resources, grief seminars and retreats for adults, Good Grief Camps for children, case work assistance, connections to community-based care, online and in-person support groups and a 24/7 resource and information helpline for all who have been affected by a death in the Armed Forces. Services are provided free of charge. For more information go to www.taps.org or call the toll-free TAPS resource and information helpline at 1.800.959.TAPS (8277).

Ami Neiberger-Miller

Ami Neiberger-Miller

Media relations, writing, strategic communications, and social media are all part of Ami Neiberger-Miller’s daily workload. She provides clients with strategic counsel, designs campaigns, builds relationships with journalists, and crafts copy for social media, press releases, and publications. Helping nonprofit organizations, associations and businesses communicate more effectively has been Ami Neiberger-Miller’s passion and focus for more than two decades. 
Ami founded Steppingstone LLC in 2003 to provide communications and graphic design services for nonprofits, associations and small businesses. Her client roster soon included the American Forest Foundation, the National 4-H Cooperative Curriculum System, and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. It expanded to include NAFSA: Association for International Educators, the Nature Conservancy and many others. From 2004-2007 while working as a consultant, Ami also served as the communications director for Sister Cities International, a national association of international city-to-city partnerships working to build understanding, education, cultural awareness, and economic ties. She supervised a staff of five and was responsible for the organization’s website, public relations, advocacy, publications, and member communications. She also published her first book in 2005 with the organization, Peace Through People: 50 Years of Global Citizenship. 
In 2007, tragedy struck when Ami’s brother, U.S. Army Specialist Christopher Neiberger, was killed in action in Baghdad, Iraq during the troop surge. Ami managed media attention on her grieving family after being notified of her brother’s death. She became a public advocate for trauma survivors and those left behind following the death of a military service member. She served as a spokesperson and public affairs officer from 2007 through 2014 for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, a nonprofit organization that assists grieving military families. Ami cultivated relationships and worked on stories with reporters from the Associated Press, Fox News Channel, CNN, ABC World News, CBS Evening News, 60 Minutes, National Public Radio, NBC Nightly News, C-SPAN, USA Today, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal and many others. She coordinated media interviews for a chapter in “For Love of Country: What Our Veterans Can Teach Us About Citizenship, Heroism and Sacrifice,” by Howard Schultz and Rajiv Chandrakesan. 
While working for TAPS, Ami continued to build and grow her consulting practice with Steppingstone LLC. She worked for several years on a grant funded project managed by the American Association of Community Colleges that supported thousands of older adults going to colleges around the country to re-train for new jobs during the Great Recession. In 2008 she began working for the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP), which provides pro-bono legal assistance to veterans and military service members seeking disability benefits. She managed media relations on behalf of NVLSP for the class action lawsuit, Sabo v. United States, which successfully won retirement benefits for thousands of service members with post-traumatic stress disorder who had been discharged without the federal benefits to which they were entitled. She continued to represent NVLSP in 2018 and worked with national and local reporters covering the military and veterans issues. 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, go to the following link: https://www.voiceamerica.com/episode/35107/loss-and-the-military

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