It was almost nine years ago when my brother, Sam, called and told me he was being deployed to Afghanistan. It truly was a dreaded word…a dreaded place. He had already been deployed multiple times and to me he was…invincible. When I got the call he had been killed in action, by a Taliban sniper…well, it destroyed me.
My entire world that I’d known ended on December 14, 2011. What made matters worse is that my then 12-year-old daughter, Kayla, was standing there when I collapsed to the floor, screaming in agony. I was paralyzed in shock and grief and anger. Of what I can remember, I screamed “those F$% (terrorists) killed my brother!” There are truly no expletives to express what I felt that day. My minister friend stood there and held me and gave me grace and love and mercy as I screamed. My fists bruised from pounding them on a marble table. Sam was 2 years older than I. He was 36.
My 12-year-old, calmly and sweetly, shushed her little barely five year old sister and one year old baby brother into a corner in their room. My five-year-old asking, “why is mommy screaming?” Kayla continued hushing and saying, “everything is ok, stay here, I have to go call daddy.” I weep as I write this.
What ensued was a whirlwind, from driving to Dover AFB to receive his remains and then his memorial. Trying to have Christmas the best way possible just days after his service. 8 ½ years later, my now 20-year-old, still suffers from PTSD, anxiety, and depression. She doesn’t speak of her uncle Sam often…it’s too hard. She loved him dearly and she lost her childhood that day.
Our family just one month before my brother was killed in Afghanistan.
I realize that most of you readers, will never experience what our family did. But, thousands and thousands of families have…and will. You know that military friend across the street whose husband is deployed? He may not make it home next week. That mom who you saw headed to her flight dressed in her military uniform after she just kissed her 8-month-old son and her 2-year-old daughter goodbye? That may have been her last time.
That is harsh. That is real. That is truth.
You see, our service members don’t get to argue about who is right or who is wrong. They don’t get to call in sick or say “I don’t agree, I won’t go.” Each and every one of them sign a blank check the day the swore an oath to defend the United States of America.
The world these days is so divided. It seems everyone is trying to pick a side, families are divided, friends are divided. So, how do we talk to our kids about war in such a divided time? How do we reassure them in a time that is so unsettling and frightening? How do we lessen the impact to their little innocent worlds as words of hate are spewed in all directions?
As a military spouse, a mom of four, and a Gold Star sister here are four ways you can help your children in these times.
1. Spare the details. They don’t need to know the details about what the bad people have done. Children are very literal and sharing details, even flippantly, in front of your spouse, friends, or family, can cause nightmares and anxiety in a child. Terrorism or the word terrorists are very scary words. It was many years before we told our children what happen to their uncle, when we felt they were ready. Of course, they knew the bad guys had killed him, but we didn’t give any details.
2. Allow them to ask questions. Encourage them to open up. Talking and opening up about real events can release fear in children. Reassure them that they are safe and so is mommy and daddy, and their friends. Explain that our military are trained to do what they do and they are the best in the world and there are mommy’s and daddy’s that are doing their best to keep us safe. We can’t always prevent harm, but reassurance and communicating is huge in their feeling secure.
3. Keep the news for after bedtime. Visions of bombs exploding, military service members running with equipment, and imagines on television of civil unrest in other countries can make children believe it’s right around the corner. They can’t understand “half a world away.” If they are seeing news at school or overhearing others talk about “war”, answer their questions and diffuse hyped up media. We can’t shield them from everything they see and hear, but we can explain the truth at age appropriate levels.
4. Let them help. This is a perfect time to teach compassion. There are many families, moms, dads, children, that are fleeing for their lives. Don’t feed into stereotypes of groups of people. If you are a family of faith, pray for them. Pray for our military. Pray prayers of protection for both our servicemembers and the civilians in harm’s way. Children will feel like they are making a difference. Allow them to assemble a small package of special treats to send to our troops and letters of appreciation.
I know this is a difficult time we are experiencing as continued tensions rise. It seems we are trapped in a never-ending war. Personally, this war is very triggering for me and I have a very hard time discussing the Iran situation with others. I am emotionally vested and that will never go away.
Please be gentle with those who have experienced a military loss or with families of deployed members. We know all of America is feeling this, but those that have first-hand loss associated with war, especially the children, need our love and support and reassurance that America stands with our service-members and their families who, no doubt, have great concern for their well-being.
My brother Major Samuel Griffith on left with his team of Marines in Iraq 2009.
If you would like to send a care package, here are a list of a few appreciated items to include:
Candy (that doesn’t melt)
Coffee (get the good stuff!)
Crystal light individual packets
Carmex (or lip balm)
Muscle ache cream
Deodorant and other small toiletries
Personal letters with pictures if you feel comfortable
REALLY GOOD SOCKS
Please do not send:
Drugs or alcohol
Baked goods that could get moldy or stale (sometimes it takes 3 weeks or more to arrive to them)
Here is a link to organizations that accept care packages: https://dod.defense.gov/Resources/Community-Resources/carepackages/
Renee Nickell, military wife, mother of four, author and Gold Star sibling to Major Samuel Griffith, USMC, penned her first non-fiction memoir after her brother was killed in action. “Always My Hero: The Road to Hope & Healing Following My Brother’s Death in Afghanistan” was released on June 14, 2019.