Caregiver’s Final Moments with Service Member & the Advice She has for Professionals Communicating to Families during Grieving Process
I stood by my service member’s bed; my arms were wrapped tightly around him and my head was on his chest, just as I had done every other day before– but today was different though.
His room was quiet, with the exception of the nurse who would occasionally come into the room to monitor his heart rate. There was no talking, no questions, or any of the typical noises. I’m not sure how long I actually stood there, but I would have stood there forever if it meant he would eventually come home with me.
Tears quietly fell from my eyes and I squeezed him tighter as the reality of what was happening began to sink in. The slower his breathing became, the tighter I held on hoping that the love I had for my service member, my husband, was somehow strong enough to miraculously heal his body. I stood there hoping that he would wake up and we would be a family again. “Please,” I begged him, “Please don’t leave me.”
As I was gently pulled away from him I remember looking back over my shoulder to see him one last time, and with a piece of me missing, I walked out of his room for the last time.
Advice for Professionals and Family Caregivers
What happens when a wounded service member succumbs to their injuries? As professional caregivers does your “job” stop?
In many ways I suppose it does, as there are specific agencies and programs in place for the families of our fallen that are filled with people who are willing to go above and beyond for our families during the transitioning and grieving process.
However, there are still ways to be part of this new process for the family members, should you have the opportunity.
It has been my experience both personally and professionally that families appreciate respect and acknowledgement. Loosing a loved one is unbelievably hard, as well as exhausting. In some cases, the mere presence of someone else beside them is all that is needed for an individual to feel comforted.
We do not always have to have the “right words” to say. In fact, it was my experience that many words, or innocent “meant well” phrases made the hurt worse, and some were in fact down right disrespectful and almost unbearable.
Below is a list of common sayings that I heard following my service member’s death. While the reasons I give as to why you should not say a certain phrase comes from my own personal experience and how it felt for me, I have heard many of these said to other families as well. Admittedly, I too have been guilty of saying a couple of the phrases listed below, however it was not until I lost my service member that I realized how hurtful these comments could feel.
We are taught to make meaning through the use of language, and in many instances we rely on language to be the bridge between others and ourselves in creating our “New Normal.” But as most of us know, loosing a loved one is one of the hardest experiences we will ever face and I personally feel that learning to simply sit quietly with someone during their darkest hours of grief can sometimes convey a stronger message than any words could ever express. Silence speaks volumes.
The following statements are examples of what NOT to say to caregivers during the grieving process and my own personal response or thoughts to such comments.
What NOT to say to Military Caregivers during the Grieving Process
- “I’m so sorry, is there anything I can do?”
- Personal Thought: No, because what I wanted no one could give me, which was to have my service member back.
- “You are so young, you will find someone else.”
- Personal Thought: As if my service member could simply be replaced. Regardless of age, loosing a loved one hurts.
- “Thank God your kids are so young, and won’t remember.”
- Personal Thought: Hearing this hurts, even now. My children do remember…a lot actually. But because my children were so young there were so many firsts that we went through with out him, and so many still yet to be had. Those words simply remind me of what we will never have.
- “Time heals all wounds.”
- Personal Thought: Time healed nothing; I simply learned how to live without my service member. I redefined who I was as a person because every piece of me was forever changed. The wound is still very much there, and I am okay with that.
- “I know exactly how you feel.”
- Personal Thought: No you do not, because you are not me. Hearing this completely denies a person of their ability to grieve. Grief is unique and personal to everyone who experiences it. Everyone grieves differently regardless of shared relationships to the loved one who has passed.
Missed the beginning of my series? Go to ‘The Phone Call’ to read the first installment of this caregiver series.
The caregiving mini-series, 444 Days in the First Year, was written by Tabitha McCoy. Tabitha is a contributor to the MFLN–Military Caregiving concentration team and is a former military caregiver to her husband, SGT Steve McCoy. In this mini-series, Tabitha shares her personal story of caregiving, loss, grieving, and transitioning, as well as insight and advice for both professionals and family caregivers as she recounts the 444 days following her husband’s injuries and then unfortunately his death in June 2008.
Tabitha holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, and is currently a graduate student at Valdosta State University where she is pursuing her Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy.
This post was published on the Military Families Learning Network blog on July 29, 2014.