Orthodoxy Today
Book Review: Surviving the Folded Flag

Surviving the Folded Flag
Author: Deborah H. Tainsh
Publisher: Elva Resa
Binding: Softcover
Pages: 184
Price: $14.95
Publication date: 2010

Most of those who make a decision to serve our country in the armed forces take the military oath, receive training and then many are sent into harm’s way. Some will make the ultimate sacrifice of their lives. Their loved ones, family and friends become members of the military family much less formally, but certainly as deeply. They do not take the oath of office and receive no training for what they may encounter. The “insignia” of informal members of the military family for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice is the “Gold Star” flag.

As explained by Mrs. Tainsh, this flag started in World War I. For a family with two sons serving in the U.S. armed forces the flag originally had two blue stars. After one was killed in action the color of one of the stars was changed to gold. A congressman read into the Congressional Record the significance of the flag: "The world should know of those who give so much for liberty. The dearest thing in all the world to a father and mother — their children."

This book, however, is about more than a flag. It is about the emotional anguish, grief, attempts to understand, and survival strength of those who have lost a loved one in war. It is impossible to read this book without sharing the extreme pathos of the "gold star" parents and other loved ones. The book is mainly a compilation of the personal accounts of 27 fallen heroes by their mothers.

There is a common pattern to each very personal story. First is a recollection of one or more salient memories of their lost one before they entered the military service. For one mother it was the recall of her son's "prized possession," a vintage Oakland A's hat. For another mother, her memory of her son was more about his compassionate personality, and her picturing him at parties he attended making sure "all the girls danced."

The second shared feature of the stories is the vivid, grim recall of the trauma of hearing about the loss of their son. For most it was the sight of a person in military uniform (usually the notification officer) coming to the door of their home. The sight immediately presaged the extreme emotional reality of the loss. Most mothers have vivid flashbacks of this painful apprisal.

The third salient feature of all the accounts is the place of 'symbols' of their lost heroes in their coping. One family maintained a room in their home as a "cradle of honor" of their son. His photos, dog-tags, 21 gun salute shell casings and his football signed by a professional NFL quarterback. In her case, her son's room remains the same blue color they painted it.

Last but not least, is the striking role of God, spirituality and their clergy or chaplains in the lives of the survivors. To quote but one mother: "I still return to believing that God has been in control . . . from the beginning, and what has happened did not catch the Lord off guard. . . He allowed the events to happen. I do not understand it or even agree with it, but my trust lies with Him."

A very important part of the book is the last section entitled: "Advice from Gold Star Parents." It actually is an annotated checklist for the families and their supporters who have walked the path of losing a loved one and receiving the "folded flag." Prominent among these counsels: grieve at your own pace; wait on big decisions; stay connected with others; give people permission to talk about your child; indulge in hobbies, and accept help.

I pray this urgently needed book leads families to an exceedingly important support group, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), in which the author, Deborah Tainsh is actively involved. And remember: 'Forget about spilt milk and the little things, be there for your children.'

Fr. George Morelli

V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist.

Be sure to visit Fr. Morelli's new site Orthodox Healing  for the latest essays and information.

Published: July 19, 2010

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