More than 100 family members of fallen servicemembers gather in Springfield May 5 to celebrate the life of their hero; By Spc. Jason Dorsey, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
SPRINGFIELD, IL (05/07/2012)(readMedia)-- Two Soldiers carefully and quietly placed a wreath between the American and Illinois state flags during a moment of silence, while families of fallen servicemembers reflected on memories of their loved ones.
"We are not here for a solemn remembrance, however, today is celebration of life," said Maj. Gen. William Enyart of Belleville, the Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard.
The Illinois Connections for Families of the Fallen (ICFF), hosted the third annual "Connections in the Capital City: Bringing Together Families of the Fallen," on the campus of Lincoln Land Community College May 5. ICFF encompasses numerous organizations, including the Survivor Outreach Services (SOS) program.
"ICFF is a collaborative effort of representatives of over 25 different local and national agencies, dedicated to helping Illinois families of fallen servicemembers," said Bob Gillmore of Petersburg, the SOS support coordinator.
The conference was open to all family and friends of fallen Illinois servicemembers. Participants were given the opportunity to remember their loved ones and meet and bond with others who have experienced the same tragedy.
Group workshops, creative arts and a family fair called "Celebrating their Lives," comprised a bulk of the day.
"These events were carefully chosen to aide in the process of finding their new normal," said Gillmore.
During the groups and workshops, families discussed the wavelengths of emotion they experience and what they do to cope with hardship.
"It's very hard for me sometimes, but the hardest part is being strong for my kids and showing them that everything is going to be okay," said Helen Durbin of Chatham, who attended on behalf of her late brother, Pfc. Adam E. Dobereiner of Moline.
Counselors were readily available throughout the day for anyone who sought services through discussion and on-site consultations.
"The counseling sessions were very insightful, in that I learned better ways to grieve," said Erin Hotchkins, who attended on behalf of her late husband, Spc. Gunnar Hotchkins of Hinsdale.
During the resources portion of the day, they worked on moving forward and remembering significant benchmarks as well as choosing a counselor and therapist that best meets their needs.
Later, families reminisced about their loved ones on camera.
"The testimonials were very meaningful to me, and ideas on how to commemorate our loved ones were very helpful," said Ruth Christine Hotchkins of Downers Grove, who also attended on behalf of her grandson Spc. Gunnar Hotchkins
As an additional extension of counseling services, families were provided with a list of the Mourner's Bill of Rights, to help them remember a healthier, more constructive way to grieve.
Mourners Bill of Rights
1. You have the right to experience you own unique grief.
2. You have the right to talk about your grief.
3. You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions.
4. You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits.
5. You have the right to experience the "grief burst."
6. You have the right to make use of ritual.
7. You have the right to embrace your spirituality.
8. You have the right to search for meaning.
9. You have a right to treasure your memories.
10. You have the right to move toward your grief and heal.
During the creative arts portion, adults and children alike were allowed to channel their emotions through creativity.
"The art class was a lot of fun and it made me happy to work with other kids who were feeling the same way I felt," said Anna Borders of Springfield, a family member with Cpl. Chad Young of Rochester.
The day concluded with the family fair simply named, "Celebrating Their Lives."
One activity was the rock climbing wall, where participants both received inspiration and remembered their fallen servicemember.
After scaling a rock climbing wall, children placed a written memory of their loved one's courage and strength as high on the wall as they could.
"I like to climb things all the time and I had a lot of fun doing this event," said Ethan Hotchkins of Montgomery, who attended on behalf of his father Pfc. Gunnar Hotchkins.
At the conclusion of the day's events, family members wrote the names of their fallen loved ones and a personal message on a piece of paper and attached it to a balloon. After a small countdown, the balloons were released as a symbol of remembrance.
"We remember," said Enyart. "We will always remember, because we are a service of tradition."
A total of 247 servicemembers from Illinois have made the ultimate sacrifice since 9-11. Of those servicemembers killed, 34 were part of the Illinois National Guard.