Honoring Military Families: The Real Heroes

I want to spend some time this week before Memorial Day Weekend, focusing on military families who have lost a loved one to war.  Yes, they are the parents, spouses, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends who have been left to face a future filled with grief, despair, disbelief, anger and in some cases feelings of shame.  These families are the real heroes.  Each post will be a little different, because I want to include resources and information about a number of support organizations that are available to help families begin to pick up the pieces and rebuild their lives. 

I especially wanted to begin  my posts sharing  a very compelling book, Heart of a Hawk, about one family’s sacrifice and journey toward healing,  by Deborah H. Tainsh.   Deborah and David Tainsh’s son, U.S. Army Sergeant Patrick Tanish, died while serving the military in Iraq on Feb. 11, 2004.   Sgt. Tainsh was at the end of his year-long tour making plans to return home to his family and girlfriend, when he was on patrol near the airport in Baghdad that fateful night.  A roadside bomb exploded near the convoy of Humvees.  He remained behind and defended his unit so they could reach safety, while he had taken a fatal bullet.  He received a Silver Star for his heroic efforts.

Early in her book, Deborah comments that many stories are written about the lives of soldiers and the personal battles they fight.  But, not a lot is written about the families at home.  Deborah’s words are so beautifully written, that I want to do them justice by directly quoting her:

 “Little is written about the heroes left at home, those who must smile bravely when they hug or kiss for the last time a loved one deployed to a war thousands of miles away.  These  heroes wake up every morning with a prayer on their lips, say several more during the day, and fall to sleep at night saying another.  They either watch too much news, look for a certain e-mail every morning, wait for the mail carrier, and hope the next ring of the phone is that call they’ve waited on for weeks.  They write letters every day and mail a package once a week.  They stand stoic and smile gratefully when someone asks how things are going.  Then, for some, the day comes when a military chaplain and a casualty officer knock nervously on their door and deliver the worst conceivable message.  These heroes are left with only a folded flag, a cabinet of awards and medals, a last letter, and a bittersweet pride that only military families understand.”  

It is because these stories go untold that Deborah began to chronicle her family’s life beginning with their rebellious, drug-addicted teenager who had overcome his addictions and found his calling in the military.   That transformation in Patrick and his passion for his work, only added to their grief, sacrifice, and journey towards healing.   Dave, a retired Sergeant Major in the U.S. Marines, had the hardest time accepting his son’s death, and wouldn’t talk or share his feelings with Deborah.  The book is candid and raw, portraying the depth of grief, anger and suffering, and the toll it can take on a marriage and family.   I was surprised that Deborah chose to write the book in third person and would love to know why.  Although a  moving story, I felt  it would have been even more powerful if she had told her story in the first person.   On the day of Patrick’s memorial service,  a red-tailed hawk appeared on an oak tree.  It  filled her with the memory of the spirit hawk legend and its great healing powers.  For Deborah, the hawk symbolized that Patrick had embraced his spirit hawk with all of his soul.  Thus, the title of the book.    

A year after Patrick’s death, Deborah and Dave became aware of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), a nonprofit organization that provides  support for grieving military  families.  A portion of the proceeds of her book, go to TAPS.  She also has written another book, Surviving the Folded Flag, where parents of war share stories of coping, courage and faith.   Both she and Dave are active with TAPS and mentor many military families.   In an upcoming blog, I will focus on TAPS and other support organizations.

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

6 thoughts on “Honoring Military Families: The Real Heroes

  1. Wow! This is a very powerful and moving post on a very powerful and moving book. How true that it is the ones left behind, who worry every minute of everyday, jump everytime the phone rings. Then when the unthinkable happens they go through it all again, only now they worry how they will go on, dread answering the phone calls of conerned folk.
    I agree it is interesting that Deborah wrote it in third person, it would be even more powerful in first. Still, her writing if anything like the quote, is very griping and feel she is very brave, allowing us into her very private world so that we might understand. Maybe you could ask her Pat …*hint* This book has a spiritual feel to it with the Hawk appearing suddenly like that.
    I have a long haul flight coming up, this would be a good book for it. Thankyou Pat.


    • Thank you Diane. I wanted to set the stage by reviewing Deborah’s book, because it represents the pain of every military family. The book is very spiritual, which Deborah was able to draw upon and her husband had trouble with. It was the compassion of their friends, visits from friends who served with their son and the stories they shared, a letter from an interpretor who worked with Patrick, the ceremony where they were awarded with Patrick’s silver star and the support they received from commanding officers, that helped the father, who was retired military. The father wouldn’t show his feelings, which put a stress on their marriage. I will say Deborah was patient and worked with him. What I’ve discovered in the situations I know, many spouses respond in completely different ways. They Tainsh family didn’t have young children, but I will address children in future posts.. .


  2. What a challenging topic! I suspect some of the most helpful books, such as Heart of a Hawk, on such loss, have to have at least some sort of autobiographical element, including the “that only military families can understand.” I don’t begin to pretend to understand this sort of loss. The spiritual imagery used here is very haunting and powerful. it is even more heartbreaking to read that they saw their son overcoming the trauma of drug abuse and start to lead a life of service, only to have that renewed life take from them.

    It will be good to read more about TAPS.


    • The fact that Patrick had been so rebellious as a teenager, drifted for 10 years, dealt with drugs and finally got his life together, made it nearly impossible for his father to accept. Patrick so proud of what he did, and spoke frequently of his father and how he wanted to be like him. Each soldier writes a letter before deploying to their families in the case something happens. But, after Patrick’s death a friend presented a journal he had written days before he died. It was very powerful, almost , almost as if he knew. The message to his dad focused on his ealy life and how he had to find his own way, but he had found his calling. It was very moving and healing for his father. I found the book very spiritual. The military is a close family and when there is loss, everyone appears to support. Felt it a good time, to talk about this subject with Memorial Day this weekend.


  3. Oh my. I have tears in my eyes after reading that moving post.

    Perhaps Deborah found that writing in the first person was just too painful, but by writing in the third person she was able to tell the story by removing herself one step from the grief, which must feel like an open wound at times.

    You mentioned in your comment to Joanna that it was almost as if the young man knew. There are times when it feels, eerily, like that. My uncle was killed in World War II. All through his time away from his wife (whom he’d married 10 days before going overseas) he wore a locket that she had given him. He never took it off, it was with him through every flight. Before one mission, he took it off, and asked a buddy to see that she got it if anything happened to him. He was shot down over the North Sea on his way back from that mission. Eerie.

    Thank you for helping Deborah tell the story of her son, and of the grief work of others, through making us aware of this book, and of TAPS.


    • Thank you for your lovely message. I’m glad I moved you to tears.:) I had to keep a kleenex nearby while I read the book. This was very close to home for me, but in a different way. You may be right about Deborah needing to be one step frm the grief. My other thought is something I’m struggling with in writing a story. She’s writing about the past, and I found it can be awkward to tell the story in first person past tense. I would really love to know though.

      Thank you for sharing the story of your uncle and the necklace– a chill ran through me. Sometimes I wonder if we are listening within and act on a promptings we can’t identify or put words to. There is an interesting book I read “Soul Survivor,” that I think you might find interesting. Don’t want to go into detail here, but it makes one wonder. Again, thanks for your comments.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s