This article is a guide to what happens, and what support the bereaved can expect from the Armed Forces and others, following a death in Service. When a Service Person dies there are various processes that kick into action; processes and procedures that are documented in a large manual full of acronyms. Even families who have lived “behind the wire” and are familiar with Service jargon can be mystified, and the parents of deceased personnel and those who try to help the bereaved can be totally confused.
Why is a death in Service any different from any other death?
In some respects death of a Service Person is no different to any other death, and at the end of the day losing your loved one is devastating under any circumstances. However in some ways it can be very different, and there may well be factors that complicate the grieving process.
- The deceased are normally young adults in the prime of life or embarking on adulthood
- Where families are left behind they are often young with young children
- Death is often sudden, traumatic and in the public eye with significant media intrusion
- If it is an operational death in a combat area, there may be mixed feelings as to whether the death was in a good cause or not.
Change from a 'Service-centred' life
Where there is a widow (and children) it is likely that that family lived a “Service centred” life: a way of life that was dominated by the Services and at the same time supported by the Services. In many cases the family’s life may have been exclusively centred on the Service station, base, regiment, etc. Under such circumstances losing a spouse can and often does mean, losing not just one’s loved one, but also one’s entire way of life. It is almost like losing one’s identity - a double bereavement. Furthermore in the not too distant future after the death, those living in “base housing” will have to move out and all the familiar landmarks and people will be lost.
Even for those not living “on the base” the only reason for being in that location may have been the spouse’s job. Although all three Services have their own particular way of doing things the principles are the same. Service personnel often meet their partners away from their parental home. They may come from very different backgrounds and, due to geographical separation there may be little or no contact between the marital and parental families. When death occurs this lack of cohesion often results in further stresses on an already fragile relationship.