What to Look For |
What to Do |
What to Avoid
What to Expect |
Unlike a physical loss, a symbolic or psychosocial loss is the loss of something intangible. This might include a divorce, the break-up of a romantic relationship or the end of unit relationships through a PCS move. It may include retirement or separation from the Marine Corps or the development of a chronic illness. This could even be the loss of innocence following combat or a dream for the future that was shattered by some event. The grieving process is often just as real for these losses as it is for a more obvious loss. The loss is still real, but may not be recognized by others around the Marine. Grief is the process of experiencing the feelings, thoughts, physical, social and behavioral reactions to the loss that may impact the readiness of the Marine or even the entire unit. A leader should be ready to normalize these reactions as much as possible and allow time for the Marine to grieve, but also remind the Marine that there is a mission to accomplish. Providing helping resources to your Marine can help keep the mourning process from getting out of control and ensure a smooth return to mission readiness.
Grief reactions include anger, guilt, depression, and a search for meaning, but may also involve crying, loss of appetite and sleep, feelings of going crazy, numbness, helplessness, and shock. Physical sensations may include emptiness, a pit in the stomach, lack of energy, and fatigue. There may also be the sense of disbelief, confusion, and preoccupation. There may also be behaviors that are noted such as appetite changes, absent-minded behaviors, social withdrawal, dreams or nightmares, restlessness, crying. All of these can be disruptive to the unit as they witness or experience with, the Marine's grief reactions.
- Behavior changes.
- Difficulty focusing on work.
- Social withdrawal.
- Poor self-care.
- Increased alcohol use.
- Fluctuations in coping over time (this is not a linear process)
- Denial and isolation
- Rage and anger
- Take the loss seriously even if it is not socially recognized as a loss or validated by others.
- Name the loss.
- Ask open-ended questions.
- Ask about how the loss occurred.
- Listen and respond to feelings.
- Listen more than you talk.
- Allow the expression of guilt and anger.
- Encourage the Marine to speak with the unit chaplain.
- Ask if your Marine would like to talk to other Marines who have suffered similar losses. The unit chaplain may be best able to arrange this in a sensitive manner.
- Allow for pauses and periods of silence
- Referral to Marine & Family Services if adjustment counseling is needed, or to Mental Health if at risk for self-destructive behavior or development of a mental disorder.
- Allow the Marine to tell the story. Be present on a “gut level”, and realize your own limitations. Your job is to get them the help to understand how they feel about the situation and to express their feelings. Most people want to talk about the loss. It helps them believe it really happened, helps them tell their story and then to move on.
- Do not rescue by trying to solve your Marine's problems.
- Avoid imposing your feelings or attitudes.
- Don't minimize the loss just because it wouldn't affect you in the same way.
- Do not tell them to just get over it.
- Stay away from clichés.
- Never say, “It wasn't meant to be,” “You're better off now,” or “I know how you feel.”
- Do not be judgmental.
- Do not talk too much about your experiences. Your Marine needs to tell a story rather than hear your stories.
- Do not hesitate to offer resources such as the unit chaplain, out of fear that you may imply weakness on the part of your Marine.
- Do not order your Marine to talk to the Chaplain or Mental Health unless you are concerned for the Marine's safety.
- Eventual acceptance of the reality of the loss.
- Ongoing pain and grief for an undetermined period of time.
- Eventual readjustment to normal functioning.
- Most Marines will appreciate continued support over time as needed.
- Coping will fluctuate over time. An improved Marine may suddenly become more depressed or angry for brief periods. This is normal.
- Some Marines may not improve, but become more depressed and withdrawn, and need the additional support of the unit chaplain or mental health.
- Loss is not considered valid by others. Grief is dependent only on the individual Marine's experience of loss, not whether the circumstances of the loss is considered valid or recognized by others in the unit. This however, often makes it more difficult for the Marine to find support in the grieving process. Your Marine may be embarrassed to discuss feelings around the loss or even to admit that it is significant. You have an opportunity to validate your Marine's grief by recognizing the significance the loss has to the Marine whether or not you attach the same level of importance to the loss. If you are unsure of your ability to recognize your Marine's experience of grief, talk to the unit chaplain about the problem and see if supportive validation may be offered through the chaplain.
- Complicated grief. A decision that grief is “complicated” can only be made with regard to the specific loss for the specific Marine and the specific circumstances of the loss. It is a hazy distinction, but you may know of someone who really seemed to grieve longer and harder than you thought was normal under the circumstances. The result of a complicated mourning process may result in a Marine who is not functioning well in any realm including mission readiness, and requires more intervention and professional assistance.
- “I am fine” syndrome. The Marine is trying to cope with grief without seeking help because of the appearance of weakness and a need to feel back in control immediately. Honor your Marine's desire to “forge ahead,” but watch for grief symptoms that may indicate your Marine is not “doing fine.” Ask fellow Marines who know of the loss for their opinions of your Marine's coping and make referrals as appropriate to the unit chaplain or mental health. Asking your Chaplain to talk to the Marine may help determine if the Marine is in fact fine or needs additional support.
- Faith concerns may be hampering the healing process. Religious teachings can direct the way a person responds to loss but not take into account what is going on inside of the Marine. These two may be in conflict. Contact your unit Chaplain for assistance with a Marine who appears to be struggling to find meaning internally, despite “going through the motions” of mourning publicly.
- Issues at home. Family concerns, legal concerns, or financial concerns may cause the Marine to experience extra stress on top of the grieving process. These must be resolved for grieving to continue. Extra support may be provided through the family service center, financial counselor, legal support and chaplain to ensure that all of the Marine's stressors are being addressed.
- Grief seems to be continuing too long.When grieving is extended and you do not see signs of improvement, you may need to strongly encourage or arrange for them to voluntarily talk to someone who is trained in working with persons in grief, such as the unit chaplain or Marine and Family Services counselors. Make sure adequate services are available before taking this route. It is not helpful to send them for help to someone who is not proficient in grief issues. What the Marine does not share about the problems related to the death is often more emotionally stressing than coping with the death itself. If symptoms are bad enough, you may need to make a Mental Health evaluation mandatory for the Marine, but this action has specific legal and procedural requirements to protect their due process rights (see Command-Directed Evaluation).