It's a sad fact of military life: We all go to war but some of us do not come home. When a service member is killed in action or in a training event, the pain reverberates through the community. Other members in the unit, spouses and family members are all affected deeply.
My next door neighbor was killed while deployed to Afghanistan. His wife was naturally devastated. She had two boys under the age of three and now, their dad was not going to be coming home in the way they wanted. While Gold Star Families are given counseling resources when a loss happens, there are other parts of life that can be overlooked. Like how do you keep the memory of your child’s father alive when they were too young to build memories?
This Father’s Day, reach out to Gold Star Families and see what you can do to help.
Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Honor the fallen: Create a photo bookA spouse of a fallen hero might have a million and one ways to remember her spouse, but her children may not. If you know a Gold Star Family, a gift that would be amazing is to create a photo book or video with people who knew the family telling stories about Dad. Of course Mom has many stories but co-workers hear different stories, funny ones, sad ones, times when Dad just missed his baby and wanted to chat. Creating a memory book and giving it to the child of a fallen hero can be a gift that will be cherished forever.
Honor the fallen: VolunteerThere are many events that honor fallen heroes. My neighbor started an annual 5K on her late husband's birthday to keep his memory alive. Another fallen hero had a stretch of highway named after him. Look around your community for similar events. Often times, the founder or organizer is the wife or child of the fallen hero and they 100 percent need help. Every organization needs volunteers. Even if you did not know the service member, offering to help out with their event is a way to keep their memory alive. If there are no events, you can still remember a fallen father by visiting the local military cemetery and placing flowers on gravesites. Families will appreciate the gesture, even if they do not know where they came from.
Honor the Fallen: Host an eventIf there are no events around, create your own! Seek out a local space to either rent or just borrow -- most military installations have classrooms you can reserve for free -- and start an event specifically for children of fallen fathers. This should be a mix of celebration and remembrance. Children who lost their father early on may not fully understand their dad being gone forever so having a chaplain on hand to help explain the situation would be very helpful.
As a capstone activity for the event, have the children make a craft or art project that celebrates their dads. Something they can make, take home, and look at for years to come. Having a room full of children who all have this in common can help them feel a sense of community. I have spoken with many Gold Star Wives and the loneliness has been at times overwhelming. If the wives feel this way, imagine what their children are feeling. Creating an event to let Gold Star children meet and bond is a great way to help local Gold Star Families build a bigger community.
Father’s Day is a great day to celebrate our dads. Many people, myself included, consider their father their hero. I cannot think of a bigger hero than the father who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country and we should not forget those men. Since Father’s Day typically does not fall during the school year, children do not have to face their classmates during craft time, they could go the entire day as if it was a regular Sunday but they should not have to.
This June, I implore you to reach out to a Gold Star Family and ask what you can do to keep their father’s memory alive in their minds.