What Is A Gold Star Family?


What Is A Gold Star Family?
by Amy Branham

It is sad that during a time of war, so many people do not know what a Gold Star Family is.  They have no idea what a Gold Star Mother, Father, Husband, Wife, Sister or Brother is.  So many times when I attend rallies, protests or other events, I have to explain what a Gold Star Mom is.   

So, let me tell you.  A Gold Star Family is a family who has lost a much loved one in a war.  It could be World War II, Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan.  The location doesn’t matter.  What matters is that these families lost someone they loved, a much-valued member of their family, in a war.   

To date, there are 2,601 American Gold Star Families from the war in Iraq alone.  http://icasualties.org/oif/

It doesn’t matter today what our feelings about the war are.  What matters is that all of us have buried someone we loved.  

Our lives changed forever the day we learned of the death of our son or daughter, brother or sister, husband or wife.  We go through the various stages of mourning which include:  denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and, eventually, acceptance.  We are all at different stages in our process… 


Staying up all night, walking the floors as we worry about whether or not the person we loved suffered or felt any pain before they died often becomes an obsession.  For many, dreams at nighttime haunt us and keep us from sleep.

We start to mark the passage of time in a way that we never did before, in a way that some might find morbid but to us seems completely natural.  This process begins soon after the funeral.  We notice a week has gone by since the Death Day.  We realize it’s been one week since the funeral.  Then it’s one month, six months, a year.  The time and date of our last contact with our loved one becomes a most remembered day.  It may have been a visit home, a letter, email or phone call.  Every little thing counts and that becomes part of our counting of the passage of time.   

Somehow, we irrationally hope against all hope that the death and burial of our loved one was some kind of sick joke.  We listen for their footsteps coming up to the door, look for their faces in the crowd at the stores.  Jump when the telephone rings with the hope of hearing their voice on the other end.  For those of us who did not see the body of our loved one, we wonder if we are going crazy.  We never had the absolute verification of seeing their face one last time. 

The birthdays of our loved ones are hard to get through, the holidays without them are excruciating.  Slowly, with the passage of time marked in this way and not so much by the traditional names of months, we begin to accept the realization that our loved ones will not ever be coming home to us.  For some this may take years. 

In the meantime, there is a tremendous emotional and physical toll paid by these families.  Some parents divorce, many people lose their jobs because they cannot focus or, because of depression, cannot get out of bed in the morning.  Many of us constantly relive the last time we saw our loved one, the last touch, the last embrace, the last of whatever it was that was the last.  We didn’t know it was the last although most of us knew it was a possibility.  But we dismissed it in order to be strong for the person we loved that was being sent to a war zone.

Some family members self medicate with alcohol or other chemicals because they cannot deal with the emotional heartache and pain they feel.  Others just drop out of life, some eventually finding their way back but some who never do. 

All of us, whether we believed the war in Iraq is right or wrong, whether we support the President or not, experience these things in varying degrees.   

This is a Gold Star Family.  This is what we live with every single day.


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