about this December eclipse
will greedily win
and cease its surge
to pause in
the silently strong sunlight
returns and grows.
Supporting Those Left Behind By Military Suicides
- October 21, 2010
A spike in military suicides has led to a renewed focus on prevention efforts by the Defense Department. But the surviving family members often have an uneven network of support that allows some to work through their grief, while others are left feeling angry and confused.
The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors -- TAPS -- is trying to fill the gaps by bringing together families from across the country to share their grief and learn.
About 250 adults and children recently gathered at a hotel in Arlington, Va., to share their stories at the TAPS seminar for surviving family members of suicide by service members. Some traveled from as far as Alaska and Hawaii.
Adding Guilt To The Grief
For many, like Denise Coutlakis, the grief is still raw. Her husband, Col. Todd Hixson, committed suicide in October 2009. The 27-year Marine veteran of several wars had been home just three weeks from his only deployment to Iraq.
When Coutlakis got the phone call saying that her husband had committed suicide, she says she did not know what to do. "I didn't know ... how to get my husband's body. I didn't know what to do next, so I called the Marine Corps," Coutlakis says.
She made the call on a Sunday, and Coutlakis says it took a while for anyone at the base to respond. "They showed up at some point and ... started talking to you about, 'This is what you need to do to move on. [Here] are the things you need to do. Here are the services,' and it gives you a sense ... [that] you have a list of things to do," Coutlakis says.
But Coutlakis says the list did not help her heal, and the suicide only added guilt to her grief.
When a service member dies in combat or in an accident, Coutlakis says, "nobody looks at the family and says, 'What was their responsibility in this? What did they not do?' "
Maintaining Mental Fitness
Families are often the first witness of a soldier in crisis, according to Bonnie Carroll, the executive director of TAPS. She says that while military families need to know the signs of suicidal behavior, the military also needs to do more to encourage soldiers to get mental health treatment -- just as a coach encourages an athlete to see a trainer.
"We've gotten off track in that we don't allow our service member to do that for their mental fitness in the way we insist they do that for their physical fitness, and that has to change."
A Suicide Prevention Task Force was formed under the Defense Department last year to make recommendations on how to decrease military suicides.
Maj. Gen. Philip Volpe is co-chairman of the task force, and he oversees Army treatment and medical facilities. Volpe says one way to help prevent future suicides is giving service members more "dwell time" in between deployments "to reconnect and re-establish some of the bonds that may have been weakened and [to] get back to a sense of normalcy before they start training for the next mission."
One Of The Lucky Ones
In 2007, Army Spc. Jeremy LaClaire returned from his first deployment to Afghanistan distant and unable to relate to his family. His widow, Megan LaClaire, says the Army diagnosed him as bipolar. Less than a year later, he was scheduled to be deployed to Iraq.
"And he was not going to go is what he told me," LaClaire says. "He said he didn't care what it took, but he was not going back."
LaClaire's husband shot himself in the head on their living room couch the morning of their daughter's seventh birthday. LaClaire refused to cancel their daughter's birthday party. She says her military family helped her through the grief and enabled her to be strong.
"The Army has been amazing for me. They have done nothing but support me in every way possible. I was one of the lucky ones. A lot of people weren't that lucky," she says.
LaClaire lives near an Army base and always has access to the support resources offered there. Others, like many who attended the TAPS seminar, travel across states to get that same support. [Copyright 2010 National Public Radio]
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I expect to hear his sister is bleeding or the house is on fire.
He is standing in the bathroom doorway, feet tapping so impatiently he
"Guess what? Guess who's on Family Guy tonight?"
"Spongebob?" I guess, and he frowns audibly.
"No, Mom, this is good! Guess?! GUESS!"
His feet continue their tango and I suspect he has to go to the
bathroom but I don't dare ask; he is six now, it's embarasing for his
mother to mention such private matters.
I play his game. "Better than Spongebob?! Who can be better than
He nods, feet twisting below him, and before I can compose a thought
he blurts out, "Oh my God! Mom!! Its Rush Limbaugh! Rush Limbaugh!
Tonight! On Family Guy!"
I adjust my towel and thank him with a motherly kiss on his forehead.
He looks up at me, completely still for a minute, then races away.
After that, I lock the door, turn the radio back on and get back into
the shower to finish shaving my legs.
> Yesterday I enthusiastically cleaned off all the papers on the
> counter and mistakenly tossed out Zoes wordlist, rendering her
> incapable of doing tonight's homework of putting those words in
> alphabetical order.
> I know this is her responsibility, but I feel awful.
> I watch Hoarders too much and have been overcompensating.
> Melissa (Zoe's Mom)
Instead of picking my kids up at carpickup, I've parked my car and
I'll meet them in the courtyard.
Because I'm trafficphobic, I arrive twenty minutes early and back into
an easy to get out of spot.
So far three minvans (white, blue, copper) have slowed to a stop in
front of me, scowling slightly into my unfamiliar vehicle.
I think I might be in someone's usual spot.
I imagine a tow of ponytailed khaki wearing brunette usually park
here, next to each other, and my presence has wrecked their afternoon
Because of me, theyll probably drink too much tonight, maybe one of
then will burn dinner.
I could be wrong.
Either way, I hold my ground, sitting in my car alone and furiously
write something important. (This).
"If you had one wish would you wish for no burglars? Or for me? Or for
no burglars AND me?"
"All of the above," I answer, the most words I've gotten in with him
in over thirty minutes of nonstop interrogation.
Zack lifts himself up, raises his eyebrows and pats me on the head
like a proud uncle.
"Good answer. I would wish for Africa to have food and peace" he
proclaims, then leaves me alone to write while he fiddles
unsuccessfully with my Shake Weight.
"Pick seven guys' names. Chose an M name for Monday (Mike), a T name for Tuesday (Tom), etc. Write one name in silver fabric paint across the front center of each pair of panties. Let dry 2 hours."At that, I put the book away library books, and danced back into the living room, feeling like writing again.
Zoe woke up and was incredibly disappointed to find only $3.
And also she thinks you took the money from her July 4 tooth-loss and
gave it to her again.
Whatever you did just know that $3 " buys her nothing at Starbucks,"
and she's a bit grumpy. I told her I'd lend her $2.
You're welcome, again, but listen --(( I need to know you know I'm
serious) PLEASE stop hiding teeth in my bra. That is not a secure,
tooth fairy approved location, and it's awkward when they fall out.