Coping with loss

Co-workers and peers are in the best position to identify when someone is struggling.  Having the courage to reach out to another Airman who is having a difficult time is the first and most critical step toward suicide prevention.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo)

Co-workers and peers are in the best position to identify when someone is struggling. Having the courage to reach out to another Airman who is having a difficult time is the first and most critical step toward suicide prevention. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo)

SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras -- I didn't know them. Not personally, anyway.

But when two members of a base with little more than 600 people die, it's hard not to be affected.

On Aug. 2, I had to photograph the ceremonial loading and departure of the remains of two 1-228th Aviation Regiment Soldiers who died recently in an off-base car accident.

Even though Army Sgts. Luis Brito and Leodegario Lizárraga didn't die in combat, or even because of it, their deaths were tragic and left unexpected holes in the lives of many.

I was going to write this commentary as a message on safe driving to tell you, the reader, to take care on the road, be aware of your surroundings, etc. While that's all good advice and something to consider while you're on the road here or anywhere else in the world, what's more important immediately after a tragedy like this is making sure you seek help if you need it.

I've lost friends to vehicle accidents throughout the years -- car, motorcycle and boat -- and it never gets easier. And though my heart still aches that I'll never be able to see those people again -- never be able to laugh with them or play X-Box with them or tell them what good friends they were, I always take comfort in the fact that I still have friends with whom I can talk. There are still family members and buddies who will understand my grief, take the time to share memories of our departed comrades, and be there to lean on.

Even if you're not personally affected by a loss, you should still offer up your help. If you're a supervisor, take the time to talk to your troops. If one of your friends or co-workers seems down, take him aside and check up on him. Be good battle buddies and wingmen, and remind your friends that they can talk to you.

When a friend or co-worker does turn to you, don't offer false comforts, though.

According to Mental Health America, "It doesn't help the grieving person to say ... 'You'll get over it in time.' Instead, offer a simple expression of sorrow and take time to listen."

Mental Health America's website also states that effective coping includes telling your friends and family how you feel.

As a military member, you may be in a remote location where you feel like you don't have anyone, but one of the great things about being a servicemember is that you do have people to talk to, from chaplains to mental health professionals.

Whether you're looking for advice or just an ear to listen, the military offers resources to help you work through your time of grief and loss. Take advantage of them.

Always remember that asking for help and talking about your feelings are not signs of weakness; those actions are important for your health.

Whenever the military suffers a loss, no matter the mission, location or number of people, it is a difficult period of adjustment. In these times, we must take care of each other, reach out a hand, and most importantly, accept the help.


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