Excerpt from “Healing Your Grieving Heart After a Military Death”

Authors: Bonnie Carroll , Alan Wolfelt

Healing Your Grieving Heart

Visit the great outdoors

For many people, it is restorative and energizing to spend time outside.

You may find nature’s timeless beauty healing. The sound of a bird singing or the awesome presence of an old tree can help put things in perspective. Rediscover what it feels like to walk barefoot in the grass or the sand and breathe the fresh air. Mother Earth knows more about kicking back than all the stress management experts on the planet — and she charges far less.

Team TAPS Runners

Go on a nature walk. Or camping. Or canoeing. The farther away from civilization the better.

I (Alan) remember a recent time when I was feeling overwhelmed, and I just went for a walk. I saw beautiful flowers. I saw leaves falling from the trees. I watched my Husky dogs leap with joy. I took long, deep breaths. I felt a sense of gratitude. After the walk, I felt renewed, changed.

Remember others who had a special relationship with the person who died

At times, your appropriately inward focus will make you feel alone in your grief. But you’re not alone. There are many other people who love and miss the person who died.

Think about others who were affected by your loved one’s death: parents, children, siblings, friends, neighbors, distant relatives, battle buddies.

After a death, the primary mourners receive sympathy and attention. Is there someone outside the main circle who nonetheless had a close relationship or history with the person and may be struggling with the death? Perhaps you could call her and invite her out for coffee.

Give a gift to one of these people. If you have extras of your loved one’s insignia, consider offering them to those who were close to the person who died as a way for them to carry your loved one’s legacy forward.

Watch the sun rise

The sun is a powerful symbol of life and renewal. When was the last time you watched the sun rise? Do you remember being touched by its beauty and power?

Think about our certainty that the sun shines elsewhere, even when we are in the darkness. Perhaps our loved ones are also “shining” elsewhere, even if we can’t see them any longer.

Plan an early morning breakfast or walk in a location where you can see the sun rise. Hike to the top of a hill. Have coffee next to a lake.

Maybe you could make a sunrise ritual a tradition on your loved one’s birthday or anniversary of the death.

Take a mini-vacation 

Always keep in mind that when you're grieving, self-care is essential not only to your survival but also to your long- term healing. 

Don't have time to take time off? Plan several mini-vacations this month instead. 

What creative ideas can you come up with to renew yourself? Here are a few ideas to get you started: 

  • Have a spiritual growth weekend. Retreat into nature. Plan some alone time.
  • Go for a drive with no particular destination in mind. Explore the countryside, slow down and observe what you see.
  • Treat yourself to a night in a hotel or bed and breakfast.
  • Visit a museum or zoo.
  • Go to a yard sale or auction.
  • Go rollerskating or rollerblading with a friend.
  • Drop by a health-food store and walk the aisles.
  •  Schedule a massage with a professional massage therapist. 

Create a sanctuary just for you

Mourners need safe places where they can go when they feel ready to embrace their grief. 

Create a sanctuary in your own home, a retreat that's just for you. Furnish it with a comfy chair, reading materials, a journal, a music player. No TV or computer. Or, you may want this to be a room dedicated to silence. As Thomas Moore has noted, "Silence allows many sounds to reach awareness that otherwise would be unheard." 

In your sanctuary, display photos of the person who died if you think that will help you meet some of the six needs of mourning (acknowledge the reality of the death, embrace the pain of the loss, remember the person who died, develop a new self-identity, search for meaning, and receive ongoing support from others). 

An outside "room" can be equally effective. Do you have a porch or patio where you can just "be"? Locate a comfortable chair and install a tabletop fountain. 

Your sanctuary, even if just a simple room or nook, can become a place dedicated exclusively to the needs of the soul. The death of the person you love requires "soul work." Your creation of a sanctuary honors that reality. 

Spend time in "thin places" 

In the Celtic tradition, "thin places" are spots where the separation between the physical world and the spiritual world seems tenuous. They are places where the veil between heaven and earth, between the holy and the everyday, are so thin that when we are near them, we intuitively sense the timeless, boundless spiritual world. 

There is a Celtic saying that heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places the distance is even smaller. 

Thin places are usually outdoors, often where water and land meet or land and sky come together. You might find thin places on a riverbank, a beach or a mountaintop. 

Go to a thin place to pray, to walk or to simply sit in the presence of the holy. 


"Healing Your Grieving Heart After a Military Death" is available at no cost to survivors. If you're a survivor and would like to get a copy of the book, email info@taps.org. Please provide your current mailing address.

Grief professionals and supporters can order copies of the book in our TAPS Online Store

By Bonnie Carroll and Dr. Alan Wolfelt: Bonnie CarrollBonnie Carroll, a People Magazine “Hero Among Us” and retired Air Force Reserve Officer, founded the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), following the death of her husband in an Army plane crash. She has held political appointments in the White House, DOD, and VA; served in Baghdad as an Advisor to the Iraq Ministry of Communications; and has been appointed to numerous DOD and VA advisory boards and taskforces.

Alan WolfeltDr. Alan Wolfelt is a noted author, educator, and grief counselor. He has written many compassionate, bestselling books that help people mourn well so they can go on to live well and love well, including Healing Your Grieving Heart After a Military Death (coauthored with TAPS' own Bonnie Carroll), Healing A Parent's Grieving Heart, and The PTSD Solution: The Truth About Your Symptoms and How to Heal.  Visit www.centerforloss.com to learn more about the natural and necessary process of grief and to order Dr. Wolfelt's books.