In the aftermath of the Nov. 5 shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, soldiers, family members and civilians are looking for answers, but they’re also looking for help.
Following any loss, individuals and communities go through a grieving process which can be complicated, unpredictable and long-term.
Fort Hood has set up a Grieving Center at the Spiritual Fitness Center within the Resiliency Campus, and it’s staffed 24 hours a day with chaplains and military family life counselors to help anyone in need, no matter what the time.
Since the incident, the Spiritual Fitness Center has doubled the number of chaplains and military family life counselors on duty to ensure there are enough on call so all people who needed to talk would have someone to talk with, Chaplain (Maj.) David Waweru, on-site coordinator, Spiritual Fitness Center, Resiliency Campus, said.
Although the event happened in a matter of minutes, the grieving and healing process will take much longer to run its course. "An event takes a second, but the complete ramifications can take months or years to show the strain it’s put on people," said Chaplain (Capt.) Edward Harris, 4-4 Attack Reconnaissance Battalion.
The grieving process outline developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler is widely accepted as a standard list of steps taken by someone who is moving through a healthy process of grieving, according to the National Institute of Health.
The first stage is denial and denial, along with shock, helps numb people to the event and enable them to keep moving through each day.
Stage two is anger, where the individual lashes out at many different people in an attempt to channel all the denied feelings into something tangible.
Stage three is filled with "If only" and "What if" statements. The bargaining stage deals with people trying to "make a deal" in order to make the pain stop.
Stage four is one of the most widely known stages of grieving – depression. This is when a person truly deals with their feelings of loss. While painful, it is a necessary step towards healing.
The final stage of the grieving process is acceptance. It doesn’t mean that you’re alright with losing someone; it just means that you’ve learned to live with the event.
People begin to enjoy the activities and people in their lives again. It is necessary to reach this final stage in order to fully cope with a traumatic event or loss.
While it seems structured, the process isn’t actually a checklist and it has no timeline. "People will grieve differently," Waweru said. "The process of getting back to normalcy is different from one to another. There is no time limit. Some will be done as soon as this week, but others will take longer.
"The Fort Hood family is dealing with a tragedy, which is initially accompanied by shock and, later, denial," Waweru said.
Adding, "Everyone is holding up together right now, but as time goes by you’ll start seeing the individual reactions. Unfortunately, many soldiers are used to these kinds of tragedies in combat."
One of the best ways to better cope with the feelings and issues arising from an incident like this is to try and return to a regular schedule, Waweru said. Getting involved in hobbies and interests again is a good way to help readjust to life following a traumatic event, he explained.
Soldiers are encouraged to look out for themselves and others in the coming weeks to make sure everyone is learning to cope with these tragic events. According to Harris, difficulty sleeping, withdrawal, depression and coping difficulties are signs that indicate soldiers are having issues with the grieving process.
"Everyone knows himself; if you feel you’re not where you’re supposed to be, that should be a red flag to seek help," Waweru said.
Following the initial adjustment period, the Spiritual Fitness Center staff will be working with brigade and battalion elements to ensure that soldiers having coping issues receiving long-term help and care, Waweru said.
(Editor’s note: This article is based on a story by Staff Sgt. Joy Parliante, Special Troops Battalion, III Corps, Fort Hood, Texas.)