We all know that soldiers and their families experience common types of grief when they are deployed. Things that come to mind are sadness over separation and loss of interaction with family. Also there is concern over the possibility of not returning. There is a similar barrage of emotions for those who work in Emergency Medical Services (EMS). First Responders face long shifts away from home and dangerous working conditions as well.
There are many areas of grief endured by America’s heroes that are not talked about or widely known. When it comes to grief, the journey of these brave men and women may look different than the average person.
Here are 3 types of grief experienced by individuals in the Armed Forces and First Responders that may surprise you.
1. Grief Over Returning Home
In speaking with a few different First Responders and individuals in the Armed Forces regarding the grief they have experienced, one common factor has appeared to be grief over returning home. Whether it’s returning home from deployment or adjusting to home after several days working 911 calls, there seems to be a general consensus that the adjustment is hard and causes feelings of grief.
According to Private Military Contractor, Shawn Thebigo, coming home after a long deployment creates anxiety and overwhelm.
“I’ve been away from home since the early 2000s. I guess you kinda get comfortable. Life is so much simpler at war and I feel as though war is the only thing I’m good at,” Thebigo said.
As for those returning home after a grueling 911 shift, the adjustment can be a tough one.
“You’re often still full of adrenaline. You have given of yourself from your depths. Chaos becomes the norm and going home to normal activities can be a shock. You’re still charged up and your energy doesn’t match the environment around you. This can lead to feelings of anxiety and grief over not fitting in with people who lead more ‘normal’ lives,” said Paramedic, Laney Smyth.
Daily life for these individuals involves a high level of adrenaline and processing things that most people will never see in a lifetime. Returning to simple day-to-day activities can actually cause the individual to grieve their loss of routine, especially because these professions depend largely on deeply ingrained and practiced routines. Routine is what keeps them alive in some situations, thus it is highly near and dear to them.
2. Grief Over the Loss of Their Former Identity
Individuals in the Armed Forces and First Responders can often experience the long-term stress of these careers, which can cause nightmares and feelings of depression, anxiety, panic, and even anger. Sometimes these heroes grieve the loss of their former, more ‘easy going’ self, and their families are likely to experience similar feelings of grief. A person who was once relaxed and upbeat, may become easily agitated and anxious. The loss of the ability to see life through a positive lens and feeling ‘stuck’ in this new, more intense view of the world, can be overwhelming.
When a person feels as though they have lost their self or their familiar identity and cannot find their way back, they can grieve that loss very deeply.
3. Grief Over Missed Moments
Life marches on while these heroes are in the trenches. While you are present in the day-to-day activities of your family, and ‘regular’ life activities, you progress along the journey without noticing the changes taking place. Imagine removing yourself from the day-to-day and returning months or even years later. It can feel as though you have missed out.
Feeling insignificant was a common feeling among the individuals we interviewed. Many cited that their absence in the major life events of family and friends made them feel less important in their lives. For example, some individuals mentioned feeling like they missed out on significant dates like anniversaries, holidays, birthdays, and even the birth and/or growth of their children.
Though these forms of grief can be common for First Responders and individuals in the Armed Forces, it is important to remember that these feelings of grief can be overcome. Just like when dealing with any other grief, the recovery journey is one that you must go through and you can’t skirt around it if you want true emotional healing.
This Memorial Day, let us remember the heroes in our lives and those of others. Let us remember the grief, sacrifice and service of these heroes and their families and loved ones. To those who are veterans, active military or First Responders, we thank you for your sacrifice and service for our families, our nation, and our world. May you and your families be blessed, now and always.