ARLINGTON, Va. – At his son’s funeral, Lt. Col. Jacob Cool, stood before his family and home church to deliver a eulogy to memorialize and highlight his son’s life that was tragically cut short.
“If I’ve learned nothing else yet during this tragedy, is that life is precious, fragile, and not fair,” said Cool. “But I firmly believe standing before you tonight that although sad and tragic this is for us as we grieve for him, we should not mourn his loss. Instead, we should celebrate his life and thank God that he blessed all of us for knowing Jake.”
While deployed to Afghanistan, Cool received a call on June 17, 2020. The call was to inform him that his 16-year-old son Jake had suddenly passed due to an undiagnosed heart condition
“He never had any health concerns or anything that was alarming,” said Cool. “So we weren’t anticipating anything--this was a complete surprise.”
Cool, who is a U.S. Army War College Fellow at the NATO Defense College, in Rome was deployed to Afghanistan at the time.
Immediately after receiving the news, Cool made the four-day trek from his deployed location to Tampa, Florida to reunite with his grieving wife Katie and their youngest son William. Painfully ironic, Cool arrived home the night before Father’s Day as his Family was finalizing funeral arrangements for Jake. His wife, distressed from the loss of their son, reached out for assistance to help guide them through the grieving process.
“My wife had already reached out to one of the counselors at MacDill Air Force Base and she’d already had one or two sessions in the short period,” said Cool. “She’d also scheduled an appointment for me the next day after I landed.”
Cool describes his first sessions as medical triage on a mental level. He continued to describe the first session—metaphorically--as a way to stop the emotional bleeding.
After two sessions the Cool family decided their counselor wasn’t a good fit and was directed to one suggested by their local church.
“This counselor had a similar story of loss and was able to provide us with some effective strategies to get us through the grieving process,” said Cool. “It’s important to find the right counselor.”
They also went through a 13-week grief share group which was led by a couple that had lost a child 20 years prior.
Cool wants to share his story of resilience with the anticipation to help someone else who may be struggling to work past a traumatic experience.
“I believe that developing those resilient habits holistically--well before something happens--is critical for everyone,” said Cool. “Similarly, to a tree you need strong roots to take hold and remain grounded. You can’t plan for a tragedy.”
He developed three key reflections from his own grief journey which he believes can translate to anyone at risk of depression and suicide.
First he recommends building a strong foundation of holistic resilience habits including physical, emotional, social, and spiritual. He suggests constantly working to develop this foundation.
“Waiting until you’re depressed or after a tragic event occurs to develop resilient habits will not provide you the solid roots you need to get through the dark times,” said Cool.
Secondly, Cool believes using both the formal chain of command and informal personal relationships are crucial to recovery for different reasons.
“Support from my formal chain of command and professional counseling was only part of the process- learning from others who shared my experience and leaning on close friends provided an important support dynamic that my chain of command or a counselor couldn’t provide,” said Cool. “For me, therapy was not just going to a counselor; it was also hitting the gym, connecting with a close friend, helping someone in need, and going to a church small group.”
Lastly, he states that helping others is a scientifically proven technique to improve happiness, mental health, and personal healing.
“Professor Arthur Brooks of the Harvard Kennedy School cites many studies on how giving and helping others lead to increased happiness,” said Cool. “I tested this theory and I believe helping others is an essential component to improving mental health and suicide prevention that shouldn’t be ignored. It was critical to my own recovery.”
A close friend gave him Viktor Frankl’s book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning,’ in which the author shared his personal experiences of his time spent in a Nazi Concentration Camp.
“In the book Frankl concludes even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by so doing change himself. He may turn a personal tragedy into a triumph,” said Cool.
“It’s a process and something that I will continue to refine,” said Cool of his three key reflections. “I plan to share these with anyone that is willing to listen if it will help someone through personal recovery and healing. I was leaning on a lot of people myself, so I feel that it’s time to start paying that back.”
Cool also added a 4th reflection; he recommends when going through tough times to try to find personal relationships, resources and adapt techniques to help move forward.
“You can’t go back to the way it was and it’s not good to stay stuck, therefore you must move forward,” said Cool. “Yes, we are saddened by the sudden tragedy of his passing” Cool said about his son Jake. “The pain will never leave us; but in this process, we focus on remembering and celebrating his life. We find comfort in knowing who Jake was, the life he lived, and the way he lived it,” Cool said.
Resilience resources are available on the ARD website at https://www.armyresilience.army.mil/ard/R2-home.html. Also, the Military OneSource provides grief counseling at https://www.militaryonesource.mil/family-relationships/gold-star-surviving-family/understanding-grief/grief-and-loss-of-a-loved-one/.