In the D.C. area, as across the nation, a small cadre of women help one another mourn the loss of a deceased spouse. Nancy Jackson, coordinator for the widow-to-widow network, part of the Army Community Service’s Survivors Outreach Program, has six “callers” who help her contact the newly bereaved affiliated with the Army in Northern Virginia, the District and part of Southern Maryland.
The widow-to-widow program is just one of many community services provided by the Department of Defense to active and retired military members and their families.
Mrs. Jackson receives the names of those who have passed on, along with the addresses and phone numbers of their family members from the post casualty office. She then writes a letter to each widow or widower, expressing condolences and advising each that he or she will receive a personal call in the near future.
Once a quarter, Mrs. Jackson assigns those names to her volunteer callers, all of whom are widowed. According to Mrs. Jackson, the purpose of the calls is “to make sure no one falls through the cracks.” The message is simple: “You are part of the Army family, and we care.”
When Mrs. Jackson asked widow Bobbi Green to be a caller in the widow-to-widow program, Mrs. Green eagerly consented. It seemed like the logical step for her because she also is an Arlington Lady, acting as a representative for the Army chief of staff at military funerals at Arlington National Cemetery.
Mrs. Green makes calls once she receives an assignment from Mrs. Jackson. Having widows call on fellow widowsadds a personal touch to the mourning process. Mrs. Green’s husband, Lt. Col. Richard D. Green, who was retired, died suddenly in 2000; she understands the value of speaking to someone who “has been there.”
The callers do not directly provide any additional service but can recommend other programs within ACS, such as financial advice, help with employment or a referral to a chaplain for counseling. Their most valuable service is being sounding boards.
“Grief is a very complex emotion. It is like a ball of yarn, where everything touches everything else, and you have to [unravel it all] to get through,” said Mrs. Green, who has taught a class on grief at her church.
Because there are no combat units in the Washington area, most of the funerals the widows attend are for World War II and Korean War veterans.
Mrs. Jackson began working with this program in 2004, and since then, she and her volunteers have contacted 362 widows and 11 widowers, 95 percent of whom are retired.
“It is so wonderful that we have widowed volunteers [who] are willing to give their time and hearts to help others,” she said.
As an Arlington Lady, Mrs. Green is part of a cadre of 65 volunteers who see to it that no military person, active or retired, is buried without attendants. The Air Force began this program during the Vietnam War when Chief of Staff Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg expressed concern to his wife that, as the Arlington Ladies’ Web page says, “no friends or relatives were on hand for some Air Force funerals.”
In 1973, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Creighton W. Abrams Jr. instituted a similar program for his service branch. The Navy also has Arlington Ladies for its funerals.
The Arlington Ladies “remind us that military service is often a family experience,” says Army chaplain Maj. David Baum on the Web page.