When Karolyn Rogers was 5 years old, she became one of the millions of Americans who’ve lost a parent to war.
“My father, Pfc. Tom T. Wilmeth, died in the waning days of World War II and for most of my life, I felt a haunting absence and the grief of wondering about what my life might have been like had he survived the war,” says Rogers, author of the new book, “When Daddy Comes Home,” which details her journey of healing through researching her father’s family and military experience.
“I’ve experienced what many are now experiencing for the first time – the shocking agony of losing someone you couldn’t ever imagine losing. I’d like those people to know that there are people like me who have managed to overcome their sorrow and live a fulfilling life.”
Military families tend to suffer more than others, not only when losing a member killed in action, but also when returning loved ones suffer devastating physical and mental injuries, including PTSD, she says.
“As I experienced with my father, families and veterans of recent wars may wonder about the life they could have had without ravages experienced by war,” says Rogers, who offers tips for achieving a sense of closure, no matter what the nature of the tragedy may be.
• Understand the path in front of you today. The path to healing is a lifelong process; the loss is something you’ll continue to palpably feel. However, you have to create closure in your life, as best you can, after the loss of a loved one who would want you to live a full and happy life.
• Closure has no deadline. It doesn’t matter how much time has passed since your loved one passed away. The psychological effects remain with you, right below the surface, and they need to be dealt with.
• Don’t be afraid to explore who your loved one was. It’s worth the effort to make the journey to discovering who your loved one was—either through going online and learning what you can, or visiting sites that were important to him or her, or doing traditional research.
• Know that your journey will likely help others. When I read my book to my mother in the months before her death, she would nod and say, “That’s him. That’s exactly who your father was.” Not only was I healing myself, I was also reliving with my mother some of her life’s best years.
• Whether implicitly or explicitly, do NOT follow the no-talk rule. The pain of losing a precious, noble, honorable and loving family member can be so overwhelming that the bereaved often find the prospect of speaking about the loss intimidating and overwhelming. Don’t be afraid! Talking about your loved one keeps their memory alive, and discussion is healing for the bereaved.
• Appreciate the closure you have, at any given point in time. There’s no such thing as absolute closure, but the focus of this journey is feeling better. We can certainly find more psychological equilibrium by pursuing the stories of our departed loved ones.