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It is easy to give our time and attention to veterans on days like Memorial Day. Most of us use the day as a chance to gather with family and friends and to remember those who sacrificed their lives for our country. But for those grieving the loss of a loved one or servicemember, Memorial Day can stir up feelings like anxiety and depression. And unfortunately, these feelings are not just restricted to one day.

When you lose someone in the military, especially to suicide, violence, or combat, it can feel very lonely. Not only are you grieving a sudden death, but there also may be feelings of guilt and anger. It is a grieving process that can be different than a death of a loved one by another cause. Research shows that people who experience these kinds of loss are at higher risk for depression and posttraumatic stress disorder, and can suffer a prolonged form of grief called complicated grief.

There are things you can do to work through your feelings. You should never ignore the way you feel or try to push it aside.  Below are a few ways to help carry you through this difficult time:

  1. Take a break: Take a moment to acknowledge everything you have gone through and let yourself off the hook for tasks that aren’t absolutely necessary. You don’t need to try to fill the role your lost loved one played in the family. Let friends and family step in to support and help with meals, cleaning, childcare, and other needs.
  2. Try Art: Many people turn to art as a creative release for powerful emotions. Sometimes, it is easier to put thoughts on paper rather than saying them out loud. Painting or drawing these memories and anxieties can help start the process of talking about them. Through art, you are moving the thoughts out of your mind and on to the paper. If drawing or painting isn’t your thing, consider keeping a journal, staying physically active, or finding another way to express your feelings.
  3. Reach Out for Professional Help: The loss of a loved one can affect everyone differently–some people may experience recurring dreams, some may withdraw into themselves, others may notice that their sleeping or eating patterns have changed. However your loss is showing itself in your daily life, it may be a sign that you should see a counselor. Professional therapy can provide a healthy environment to discuss your loss freely and begin the healing process. If you are concerned about depression, you should visit your doctor.

You need to honor those we have lost by taking care of yourself. Never ignore your grief, and when your feelings are overwhelming, visit a professional. Also take time to check up on the veterans in your life. Be there to listen and offer help when necessary. It is important to prioritize veterans and mental health all year long.