Healing Your Grieving Heart

Authors: Bonnie Carroll , Alan Wolfelt

Excerpt from book by Bonnie Carroll and Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D.

The TAPS family is always reaching our arms to you. Whether at seminars, retreats, or virtually through our online resources, we understand the need to have the support of an understanding community as we navigate the grief journey. We share our grief, our memories and our daily experiences to build strength and hope.

When we cannot be together physically, there are still ways to experience the love and take part in activities that can enrich and sustain us. We share with you a few ideas from the book “Healing Your Grieving Heart After A Military Death – 100 Practical Ideas for Families and Friends” written by TAPS Founder and President Bonnie Carroll and Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

Book cover of Healing Your Grieving Heart After A Military Death

Keep a Journal

  • Consider jotting down your thoughts and feelings first thing when you wake up or each night before you go to sleep. Your journal entries can be as long or as short as you want.
  • Don’t worry about what you’re writing or how well you’re writing it. Just write whatever comes into your mind. To get started, set a timer for five or ten minutes and write as much as you can without stopping.


Turn to Social Media

  • Social sites like Facebook and Twitter can be supportive gathering places for families after a military death.
  • On Facebook, you can create a memorial page for the person who died, or you can convert his or her existing Facebook to a memorial page. This then becomes a location for news of the death and other updates as well as a perpetual spot for mourners to gather, share memories and photos, and support one another.
  • But, a caution: If social media ever starts to feel more like a burden or a drain than an asset, step away from it for a while. You don’t have to delete the accounts. You can simply ignore them for a time. They’ll be there if and when you want to return.


Organize a Memory Book

  • Assembling a scrapbook that holds treasured photos and mementos of the person who died can be a very helpful activity.
  • You might consider including a birth certificate, schoolwork, newspaper clippings, locks of hair, old letters, military communications or commendations, the obituary – anything that helps tell the story of this unique and precious life.



  • When the demands of your grief – not to mention the demands of your daily life – feel overwhelming, stop what you’re doing for a few minutes and just breathe.
  • Breathing opens you up. Grief may have closed you down. The power of breath helps to fill your empty spaces. The old wisdom of “count to ten” is all about taking a breath to open up space for something else to happen.
  • Consciously breathe in and out; you can slow the world down and touch the edges of your true self.


Write a Letter

  • Write a letter to the person who died telling her how you feel now that she’s gone. Consider the following prompts:

    What I miss the most about you is…

    What’s hardest for me now is…

    What I’d like to ask you is…

    I’m keeping my memories of you

  • Write a thank you note to helpers such as neighbors, funeral directors, medics, or other service members who tried to help or were close to the person who died, etc.


Visit the Great Outdoors

  • For many people it is restorative and energizing to spend time outside.
  • Go on a nature walk.
  • 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.


Create a Sanctuary

  • 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.”
  • An outside “room” can be equally effective. Do you have a porch or patio where you can just “be?”
  • 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 a person you love requires “soul work.” Your creation of a sanctuary honors that reality.


Find a Grief “Buddy”

  • Find a grief “buddy” – someone who is mourning a similar military death, perhaps someone from your loved one’s unit, someone you can talk to, someone who also needs a companion in grief right now.
  • Make a pact with your grief buddy to call each other whenever one of you needs to talk. Promise to listen without judgment.


Watch the Sun Rise

  • 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.


Know That You Are Loved

  • As Jane Howard wisely observed. “Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” Yes, love from family, friends, and community gives life meaning and purpose. Look around for expressions of care and concern. These are people who love you and want to be an important part of your support system.
  • Feeling connected to people around you can be a great source of joy and a cause for celebration. When you reach out to others, and they to you, you remember you are loved even during days of darkness and grief.

“Healing Your Grieving Heart After a Military Death" is free to survivors. If you don't have a copy and would like one, email us at info@taps.org.