I'd like to hear from you

Brian Isfeld

Although I had not realized it, the various methods I had used subsequent to the death of my son in Jun 1994 in a Combat/Peacekeeping related death to deal with the incident, had been used by many others in different and varied circumstances.

In my own view the actions carried out by myself were a natural and desirable course to take; one that would ensure the remembrance of a dedicated and proud soldier whose life had been forfeited to the ravages of war and politics. He would be remembered by all I had the opportunity to approach with my story, and to all who would take the time to view the Film made by the National film Board of Canada about him and his Landmine removing fellow soldiers in the former Yugoslavia.

Initially this almost fanatical desire to have people see and hear about Mark was, I thought, the sole purpose of the actions I was taking. I have since come to realize, and continue to learn daily, more about the "cause and effect" implications of my reactions; That there is a much deeper underlying motive to be explored.

I have learned that certain things I did in time were "Classic" examples of a Man's approach to the grief process. I had, and still have difficulty expressing emotion outwardly. Tears do not readily flow. Anger dwells deep inside, occasionally coming irrationally to the fore, only to be quickly suppressed.

A book was written, encompassing many, many letters from Mark while on his tours, combined with much of my own thoughts and experiences. It was written with the express idea of being a "Family" record, not for publishing. However, through having several persons read it and make statements such as "Oh, that should be available for others to read," an attempt to publish was started and ended like most do. It is now back in the bailiwick of a family document, myself having learned the true "ins and outs" of the publishing community.

A memorial was set up by me on the internet. I did not view it as a memorial at first, but have come to realize since, that the page on the internet is no different than the elaborate monument placed on a street corner of "Anytown ,Anywhere", or the elaborate headstone handcrafted to be placed at the grave site of the departed, for all from far and wide to view and comment on.

I addressed clearly the deficiencies in government and military support of those people left to carry on the peacekeeping job, directing my anger and frustration towards the politicians and hierarchy of the military in my country. I wrote many letters to media and political sources addressing my concerns to them.

I presented three mementos in memory of my son. Handcrafted plaques with suitable inscriptions on them, to be obtrusively placed in the halls of the military establishments where Mark had worked and lived. A handcrafted (By myself) Trophy of Macassar ebony, In the name of Peace, to be awarded to the most deserving recipient on any given peacekeeping tour carried out by the soldiers who followed in his footsteps, in the regiment he had well served.

I became involved with another grieving father, whose son had been killed in different circumstances, but in the same conflict. Together we addressed some very contentious issues relating to that Death.

I had the opportunity of being casually asked to visit a University in the United States to present my story if I was "ever down that way." This was a result of them using some of my material on the internet in a class being taught on peacekeeping. This casual invitation ultimately resulted in My wife and myself flying from the West Coast of Canada to Washington DC, and addressing the class at the University, and also the United States Institute of Peace.

All of the above, and it does not encompass all the events that have happened in the two years since Mark's death, simply serve to reiterate the natural process of ritual in grieving. But what have I learned in the meantime?

I have learned that the age old cliches used by persons far and wide do not "wash." Do not say to me "I know how you feel." Unless you have experienced the actual circumstance surrounding the grieving ones reasons for grieving, it is impossible for you to "Know how they feel." Even persons in similar situations "feel" differently. A far better reaction would be simply "I'm sorry." period.

Do not try to justify the passing of a persons loved ones with statements such as "That's awful, but he knew what he was getting into when he took up the profession." No profession one elects to follow has the foregone conclusion that one is going to die carrying it out. Say simply, and with sincerity , " I'm sorry." Period.

On the other hand, do not avoid talking about the situation and circumstances when someone in grief broaches the subject. Be a listener, not an orator when dealing with that person, and in the long run you will be much better off, and of more comfort to the person grieving.

But most important, acknowledge his or her distress, and acknowledge the tangible efforts made by that person to attempt to resolve that distress.

I have come to believe that all the actions carried out by me in my situation were carried out for all the reasons I have espoused above, but what is most important, with the desire to have my plight, and my actions, Acknowledged. Acknowledged by the people responsible for having caused my son to be where he was that day, acknowledgement that I understand the ramifications and results that are inevitable in such situations, acknowledgement that he was a caring and highly professional person, Acknowledgement by people who talk about my situation that they know the name of my son when they are dealing with me, casually or in depth.

Thus, the reasons for the action taken in setting up the memorials, the mementos, the memories, The voluminous writing on the internet and in letters of all kinds, all protract into one narrow channel. That of acknowledgement by those people known to me, and by those I have yet to meet; That acknowledgement being a written, spoken, confirmation to me that people do care, and are concerned.

Had I followed the actions taken, and received from no-one acknowledgement of my story, I would be far behind the point I am now in my process of resolving grief. So, in future when you see something in the internet page of some obviously bereaved person, a simple act of dropping a line to that person will enable you to be part of the solution to grief resolution, rather than part of the problem. And it may be well to know that some day you may yourself require the services of some person you never met , but who had the compassion to simply and sincerely acknowledge your circumstance.

For those interested in the circumstances surrounding my endeavours in resolving my own grief, a visit to my page honoring my son Mark would be welcomed. Most important, to me, if you do visit my page please acknowledge the fact by responding to one of my mailers interspersed throughout the pages of information and pictures available.

Brian Isfeld,
Courtenay, British Columbia,

If you wish to write Brian you can find him at: [email protected]
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Crisis, Grief, and Healing: Tom Golden LCSW