On May 31, 2006, the Canadian Forces-Veterans Affairs Canada
Operational Stress Injury Social Support (OSISS) management met
with family members of deceased Canadian Forces members and
veterans to conduct a needs analysis and determine if OSISS could
expand peer-support services to the families of those veterans and
serving CF members who die as a result of military operations, suicide,
illness or accident.
The rationale and vision for this initiative was that OSISS having
designed a solid framework to provide peer-support services to OSI
victims and their families, was capable of extending service to this
client group using the same philosophy, management framework,
volunteer management protocols and policies, recruitment safeguards
and self-care interventions.
During the opening remarks and introduction from each participant,
there was a great deal of validation for the need to offer this type of
support and that in cases where this support was offered, it was
deemed the most helpful intervention that had taken place after the
loss of their loved one.
The concept of expanding peer-support services to bereaved family
members following the loss of a military member has been under
consideration by OSISS program management for several years. The
impetus behind such an initiative is due to the following factors:
Marley Léger, widow of Sergeant Mark Léger who lost his life in
Afghanistan in the ‘friendly fire’ incident in April 2002, has told OSISS
management of the need for such a service; the recent significant
increase in casualties in Afghanistan; the chief of defence staff and
Canadian Forces leadership’s commitment to better look after those
left behind; and the commitment by VAC in the New Veterans Charter
to help family members of CF veterans through difficult times.
Using existing OSISS policies, referral procedures, training curriculum,
volunteer management policies, OSISS planned the expansion of this
component of peer-support services and delivered formal Bereavement
and Peer Support Worker training to nine carefully selected volunteers
in September 2006 in Ottawa. It is now able to deliver services to
bereaved families through a volunteer network across Canada.
At this stage, interim policies regulating this new component of the
OSISS program focus on providing bereavement peer support to both
the next of kin and families of military members who die in service;
and to the next of kin and families of veterans who die.
All bereavement volunteers are individuals who have suffered the loss
of a serving CF member and/or veteran. Their role is to provide peersupport
services as a non-clinical intervention to those who have lost a
loved one through active listening and empathy, and by encouraging
peers to reach out to available resources.
As of now OSISS volunteers have been providing support to several
families and their feedback is positive towards the service they are
receiving. Although there is a limited capacity at this time, OSISS will
draw upon the lessons learned of the first group of volunteers to
expand in the future.
The following is a testimony of someone helped through bereavement
I had brought my young sons to the airport to pick up my husband
who was flying home from Denmark, this was also supposed to be his
last flight with the United States Marine Corps. We were almost at the
end of a three-year posting in the U.S. and soon to be back home in
Canada. My husband was a CF-18 Hornet pilot and was going home as
A group of five planes flew over, so we waited as each one taxied in
front of us and shut down the engines. I kept looking to see which one
was Derek. The fourth pilot came up to me and said “Crush is right
behind me Deanne. Don’t worry, he’ll be here soon.”
It didn’t take long to know that something went wrong when you see
emergency crash vehicles racing around the taxiways and helicopters
flying low across the air. He had crashed on landing. Later I found out
that there had been a maintenance “mistake” on the landing gear. As
the medical evacuation helicopter flew overhead his commanding
officer came over to me and said that his plane went off the runway, it
broke apart and that my husband was in critical condition. He was
going to drive me to the hospital to be with him. I handed over the
stroller with my 10-month old, my two-and-half-year-old and my car
keys to one of the women standing near me and said I have to go. I
just walked away.
I got to the hospital to hold my husband’s hand and say goodbye to
him. I have to admit though that through out the time in the hospital
and even after the dire prognosis I still didn’t believe that he was
really about to die. The last day my life felt normal....June 28, 2004.
When I got finished with the memorial services, and the temporary
plans for our belongings I moved in with my parents in Winnipeg. This
was only a landing place for us. As I said we were a week away from
moving. I felt lost, misplaced. I had no home, no military unit that was
there to support me and no friends to check in on me. And that damn
elephant was still sitting on my chest. I had no idea how to lift it so I
could breathe again without forcing myself to take each breath. It was
a week later that a military widow who happened to live in the
neighbourhood my parents did, reached out and contacted me through
my assisting officer. We met and had a coffee…talked and did a lot of
crying. Then we started walking and talking. We began a relationship.
I could ask her anything, from finances to spirituality, and our
children, to finding love again. Not that I was looking, but it gave me
such hope that my life could be fulfilling one day.
Since those very early days other widows reached out to me. It was a
support that no one else could fill. They understood my mix of
emotions, my challenges and my fears. My family and friends were
both grieving themselves. Some just couldn’t go there; they told me
that I was living their worst nightmare.
I began to reach out to others and through my personal network was
invited to participate in the bereavement side of OSISS. I am so glad I
did because it has been the single most healing thing I could have
done. Thank you to all of the past and present widows who have been
a part of my life. I am who I am today because of your compassion,
patience, love and humour! You allowed me to breathe again.
Serving You is written by Legion command service officers. To reach a service officer call toll-free 1-877-534-4666, or consult a command website.