FORT RICHARDSON, Alaska (Army News Service, Jan. 19, 2007) - Describing the day her husband died, Bonnie Carroll said, "Life just stopped, and it stopped for a long time."
Carroll's husband, Brig. Gen. Tom Carroll, an Alaska Air National Guardsman, was killed Nov. 12, 1992, in a plane crash in Juneau. Seven other servicemembers also died.
Carroll said she connected with those widowed spouses in a way she found few other people understood.
Two years after her husband's crash, Carroll transformed her small group of bereft widows into a national nonprofit organization called TAPS - the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.
"I wanted to create a safe place to go to find support," Carroll said.
Her mission through TAPS is to connect people who understand what it means to lose someone in the military. "There are no eligibility rules; we're here for everyone - whatever surviving families need."
Carroll said losing a loved one in the military is different for many reasons:
* The death notification and military burial is so tough;
* Living overseas and moving within 180 days takes away your support system:
* Death benefits can be very complex; and
* Losing the military lifestyle can be traumatic.
In the process of grief, people used to follow the KAfA1/4bler-Ross model discussing denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Carroll said that model was actually based on anticipatory grief - for example, knowing a loved one had a terminal illness and preparing for their death.
In the last 15 years, these four tasks of grief were developed:
* Accept the reality of the death;
* Experience the pain of grief;
* Adjust to the environment in which the deceased is missing; and
* Form a new identity and reinvest energy without forgetting the past.
Carroll said every griever has a different timeline; some may accept the reality of death right away, while others may not fully understand until months afterward.
She also said some families may not want emotional support initially. Instead, Carroll said caregivers could offer logistical support - cooking, cleaning or babysitting - until family members are ready to discuss their loss.
"Say, 'I'm very sorry.' 'You have our support.' Say he or she will be greatly missed, but use that person's name. Remember to honor the dead by focusing on the life and the service," she said. "Don't say, 'I know exactly how you feel,' unless you really do."
Carroll also discourages caregivers from using such phrases as "closure," "goodbye," "get on with life" and "move past this" when talking to bereft spouses and families. Because a person may not know what to say to a widow, Carroll said they are sometimes avoided.
"Companioning is about being present to another person's pain. It's not about taking away or relieving the pain," she said. "(It) is about discovering the gifts of sacred silence. It's not about filling every painful moment with talk." Simply being in the room with that person can be enough, she said.
Carroll stressed the need for caregivers to take care of themselves so they can be available to support others.
Signs of caregiver stress include:
* Headaches or stomach aches,
* Sleeping difficulties,
* Weakened immune system, and
* Lack of concentration.
"Stay in touch with friends. Social activities can help keep you feeling connected and help with stress," Carroll said. "Find a support group for you and your fellow caregivers. Have fun, laugh (and) do things that bring you joy."
Carroll said while the process of grieving is a long one for everyone involved, it's important to remember two things about recovery.
"Many people live through a trauma and are able to reconstruct their lives without outside help," she said. "(However,) most people find some type of benign, outside intervention useful in dealing with trauma."
The TAPS call center is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at (800) 959-TAPS or on the Web at <a href="http://www.taps.org"target=_blank> www.taps.org</a>.