On Memorial Day, the hardest lesson of all

SALT LAKE CITY – For the families of Utahns who have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it means someone important won’t be at this season’s graduation or wedding. 

Over this Memorial Day weekend, about 500 kids from across the country have been in Arlington, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., to attend what’s known as “Good Grief Camp.” As part of the group <a href=”http://www.taps.org/survivors” target=”parent”>TAPS</a> – the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors – it helps children heal after losing a parent serving in the military. 

According to TAPS spokeswoman Ami Neiberger-Miller, the kids learn, among other things, how to manage their feelings during life’s milestone moments.

“Children are a lot like adults; they will often compartmentalize or hide their grief from other people in the family, just because they don’t want to upset those people or remind those people of the loss, too,” she said. “Knowing these different coping skills is really helpful for them.”

The kids also come away from Good Grief Camp with mentors. Some 500 active-duty military volunteers maintain their relationships with the campers, in case the kids need someone to talk with in the future.

Neiberger-Miller said it’s critical to offer children a way to express their grief. At camp, they make collages about their loved ones, pound out their anger on Play-Doh, and more. 

She said TAPS’ clientele grew by 4800 people just last year. Thirty percent had lost a family member in combat.

“The other 70 percent have lost their loved ones in other ways; through military training accidents, sudden illnesses, many of them linked to deployment, and also to suicide,” she specified. “And so, we are seeing an increasing need at the same time that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are winding down.”

She explained that it takes about five to seven years for a family that has suffered a traumatic loss to create a “new normal” in their lives, and that the need for support from friends and the community never goes away.

The TAPS website is <a href=”http://www.taps.org/survivors” target=”parent”>TAPS.org</a>.

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