Providing a support network for military widows

June 2023

To mark Armed Forces Day, we share the story of WAY Ambassador Emma Gray, who has set up a support group for members of our charity who are either serving in the military or whose late partner or spouse was serving in the military.


Emma Gray

Armed Forces Day (which this year falls on 24 June) focuses on the men and women who make up the Armed Forces community. This ranges from currently serving troops to military families, veterans and cadets, but one area that is equally important is that of the military widows. 

Across the country there are various events every year on this day… for people, communities and organisations to show their support and get involved. But WAY Ambassador Emma Gray is aware that this could be an emotional day for those other military widows and other halves like her, who are tragically have found themselves without their serving person. 

This is one of the reasons Emma set up the sub-group for WAY Widowed and Young members who are military or whose spouse or partner was military in the UK HM Forces or similar foreign organisation. Emma herself became a widow when her Royal Marine husband died in July 2016 of oesophageal cancer, leaving her with their two girls who were just 6 and 8 years old at the time. Although Emma always worried there was a risk that something might happen to her husband on operations, she never anticipated that he would die at home from cancer at the age of only 38 years old.

The military had been a part of Emma’s life since her university days when she joined the Officers’ Training Corps and then subsequently went to Sandhurst and completed the three-week Territorial Army course. Emma subsequently joined a military signals unit in London alongside her first “proper job”. It was through an OTC friend that Emma met her late husband and other like-minded individuals. As their relationship progressed, Emma gave up her own links to the military, becoming absorbed into the world of being a military spouse and mum. Although death is the only certainty sadly coming to us all, like so many others, Emma never thought it would happen to her little family.

Helping to process grief

Although the military were a huge support to Emma in the immediate aftermath of her husband’s death, over the subsequent years Emma struggled with not only losing her husband, soulmate and the devoted father to their girls but she also found that she had lost a part of her identity and her link to the military. Emma and her husband had consciously prioritised his career, meaning that they moved to six different houses in six years and he was often away. This familiarity with the ‘deployment mode’ became a useful coping strategy when the family were struggling with their grief. However, frequently living a ‘semi-solo’ life as a military spouse also meant that Emma felt that she took a long time to process the grief because they were so used to her husband being away from home.

Emma understood that the military support would not endure endlessly, and she quickly realised that she missed the banter that is unique to the armed forces, as well as help on tricky things such as the complicated military pensions, what to do with all her husband’s military uniform and helping the children to maintain a link to the organisation that was so much a part of their father and their childhood. As well as needing some practical support, Emma discovered that there are specific times of the year when she felt the need for others with a military background who would instinctively understand what emotions were bubbling up. The most notable example for her family is Remembrance Day, which ironically was a day in the year when her husband had never been hers. When he was in the UK, he would parade in uniform in their local town and lay a wreath for his fallen comrades. 

Emma’s grief journey has made her realise the significance of the secondary loss of the military that many military spouses, partners and other halves feel when their serving life partner dies. For Emma it was the loss of being a military spouse and the whole military way of life that she married into that became an obstacle to her healing. Since Emma set up the military sub-group, she has found that there are other topics that the military community can help a widow or widower with, such as advice on the Service Family Accommodation, life policies, welfare support, the various military systems, widows’ associations and the amazing military charities that cater for the bereaved forces families, such as the fabulous Scotty’s Little Soldiers. 

Emma hopes that the WAY sub-group will help other bereaved individuals in the military community to connect with each other on the Facebook page and occasionally online via Zoom. 

 

Please drop us a line at enquiries@widowedandyoung.org.uk if you’d like to find out more.

Follow Emma’s journey on Instagram @rainbowhuntingmoments

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