Mom, widow finds strength in supporting others
September 15, 2008
By Robin Brown
"The 3rd Brigade [3rd Infantry Division (ID)] has certainly paid a heavy price for the cause of freedom and our prayers are certainly with those families who have lost loved ones, and whose loved ones are returning wounded and injured. God bless them and our prayers are certainly with all of them," Secretary of the Army Pete Geren said during his speech at Fort Benning earlier this year.
Hearing Geren speak of the loss and sacrifices experienced not only in the military but, specifically, within the 3rd Infantry Division, "I felt so many difficult emotions," said Shelly Hall, the widow of one such Soldier.
"I have felt that stabbing loss firsthand when the love of my life and father of my five children was killed almost 10 years ago," Hall revealed.
Hall, who has a fondness for 3rd ID because of her involvement with the Families of fallen Soldiers, was one of the guest speakers at the Georgia Armed Forces Community Covenant signing ceremony held Tuesday at the State Capitol. The covenant is designed to develop and foster effective state and community partnerships with the Armed Forces in improving the quality of life for servicemembers and their Families.
Considered a URW - unremarried widow - by support group members, Hall said "the one thing that we have learned is that the pain never really goes away, but it seems as though your attitude is the controlling factor" in dealing with the loss.
Her husband, 2nd Lt. Kelly Hall, died Nov. 6, 1998, in a training flight accident in Germany. The Hall family had been assigned to the 1st Military Intelligence Battalion (Aerial Exploitation) and had only relocated to Germany eight weeks before the accident.
The children were just babies then - ages 6, 5, 4, 2 and 11 months.
"I made a decision very quickly after Kelly died that I was going to focus on how he lived and remember all of the good things. The children and I have been assisted by many wonderful organizations that are extremely helpful and resourceful," Hall said.
To extend that offering of help to those Families just entering the bereavement period of "massive pain and trauma," Hall attends the monthly tree dedications held at Warriors Walk at Fort Stewart.
Families adjusting after the death of a loved one are going through the most "horrible time of their lives," Hall said. "These dedications are the most breathtaking, poignant and honorable ceremonies imaginable. I am so proud of these men and women who have fought for our country and given their lives for our freedom."
As she speaks privately to the families at the ceremonies, Hall said, "in many ways, it feeds my soul to know that I can offer them hope and comfort because my children and I are living proof that you can survive a loss of this magnitude. Yet, in other ways, it opens up my wounds and puts me right back to 1998 when there were no words because - in many ways - there are none."
Within six days of receiving news of her husband's passing, Hall and the children were on a plane flying from Wiesbaden to their hometown in Michigan. The Family Support Group worked with Kelly's unit to pack the family's belongings and ship them back to the states, freeing Hall to leave quickly.
"They were phenomenal in assisting me and my children," Hall said.
Back home, the family "badly missed the military community," Hall explained. "It is just all about attitude, outlook and where you decide you want to be. So much of it is reaching out to the right resources. We stuck it out [in Michigan] for a few years, but in 2003, I packed up the kids and relocated to the Columbus and Fort Benning area, where they welcomed us and we now call home."
Since Hall's husband passed the military has given surviving spouses more support due greatly to organizations such as TAPS (the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) and others that focus on changing the military's survivors' benefits.
"The military is now making major progress in not only taking care of families after a tragedy or loss, but even making headway in the preparation department," said Hall. "I have seen many examples of things that went wrong and things that were done exemplary."
Hall has been involved with TAPS since about a year after Kelly died.
"It is a wonderful program and the children have reaped the benefits of the 'Good Grief Camp' so much that they even mentor other children experiencing loss. I will always speak highly of it," she said. "Another fantastic organization is Knights of Heroes, run by active duty Soldiers, where they work with the boys of fallen Soldiers to become men." Hall is also an advocate for other programs that help the military in positive ways.
"There are so many great programs out there; I would love to see one Web site where they could all be found. So many of these programs tend to go unnoticed and cannot be located because there are too many out there. We need to find a way to cover them all under one ceiling," Hall pleaded.
As part of her ongoing healing, Hall has facilitated Family Care Team Training at Fort Stewart. "There was no such thing back when I was a dependent spouse," she said, and as a way of healing suggests journaling to grieving families.
It is "a tremendously soothing tool to help with one's grief because it gives you a guideline to see your own personal progress. The importance of writing is twofold. One, you get to express your grief. Two, when days or weeks later you think you haven't made any progress, you can look back and visibly see just how much you have made. That is so important," she insisted. "Believe me, I did that many times in those first few months and years. I cannot believe how ripped apart I was - raw, torn - unbelievable. Now, though, I can't believe that I was ever there."
While the covenant signing was a "beautiful ceremony" designed to bring the military and civilian community together, "I know that my husband is looking down and beaming, knowing that my children and I are present and thinking of him. I have always stressed to my children that they still have a father ... although deceased. He will always be their dad," she stressed. "He was an amazing man and a fabulous father."
Regarding the covenant signing ceremony, Hall said, "All our military and Armed Forces deserve the support and gratitude of our community. These men and women so selflessly give of themselves day in and day out, and for us to even stand in their presence and honor them ... takes my breath away.