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Memorial Day is our time to join together to remember and honor the men and women who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice serving and dying for our country. Originally it was known as Decorations Day to place flags, wreaths and flowers at the gravesites of Civil War soldiers who died in battle.

Remembering the Fallen

Military service runs deep in the heritage of Suncoast Hospice bereavement counselor Greg Kaufman, LMHC. He is a former Army brat and served in the military in non-combat working with special weapons during the Vietnam era.

“My father and every uncle I had served in the military. We sometimes forget that although the service members are the ones that go into harm’s way, the families are the ones that stay and wait, and that’s extremely hard in times of war. I grew up in an Army family and when I was in high school in 1965, the Army 1st Cavalry had gone to arms. There were so many of them killed that the death notices were sent out by taxi cabs. Every night we’d watch the news, see the death lists and look for any names of our family or friends,” Kaufman shared.

He holds Memorial Day dearly, saying, “It’s the most special day of all days because everybody becomes aware of the sacrifices made on behalf of the nation by soldiers, Airmen, Marines and others who’ve served. I love going to the Bay Pines VA cemetery in St. Petersburg. I go this time of year because of the beauty of Memorial Day with all the flags flying and all the people putting flowers on the graves. It’s spectacular, especially at sunset.”

With such a heavy toll of loss and sacrifice, Kaufman encourages the community to pay respect.

“There are still many conflicts around the world and the loss of each service member is like dropping a pebble into water that ripples out to families, communities, states and the nation. I think about all the people who’ve sacrificed everything to keep this nation safe and free. Our greatest generation WWII veterans are fading away very quickly and other generations will be gone in the future. It’s up to us to honor their sacrifice the best we can. You can go to Arlington or another veteran cemetery and sit quietly around the crosses and trees letting the full meaning of sacrifice really get into your soul,” he said.

Caring for the Grieving

Two years ago Kaufman joined as a bereavement counselor at Suncoast Hospice after spending a year as a therapist at EPIC (Empath Partners in Care), a member of Empath Health.

He shared, “I was working for other agencies in the community and retired twice. I wanted to work for Suncoast Hospice ever since my mom passed at our mid-Pinellas Care Center in 2005. When the bereavement position opened up, I jumped on it.”

Up to 13 months of bereavement counseling and support is available to help bring healing to families whose loved ones died in our care.

“Family members will somehow recognize that they have an issue that they’ve got to deal with. Our care team members can pick up on that and our counselors can suggest that families give us a call. We can do a mini-phone assessment and usually suggest a combination of individual and support group counseling,” Kaufman explained.

Kaufman guides families in their journeys of bereavement recovery, and sometimes their grief can be complex, he says.

“I hope that our families can find closure. We learn a lot of things in life but we’re not taught how to bereave a loved one’s death. Grief can become even more complicated once you get older because you have multiple losses, whether they are deaths, illnesses, accidents, divorces or other loss. You grieve not only the most recent loss but all of the losses that came before that.”

Nowadays many families he sees have been touched by military service.

“Almost everybody has had family members who’ve served in the military. The greatest generation is coming into advanced old age and they’re dying leaving their spouses, primarily women, to survive them.”

Honoring His Family

In honor of Memorial Day, Kaufman shares his poem dedicated to his father and uncles.

A Million Baby Dragonflies

A million baby dragonflies
Darting to and fro
Over the graves of fallen heroes
Buried long ago.

Guardians of the honor there
In each and every row
Life is what they bequeathed to us
A long, long time ago.

Remains of soldiers all together
Buried side by side
Comrades each and every one
From families that have cried.
A million tears for those lost souls
A million tears are shed
A million soldiers honored there
A million fathers dead.

Dragonflies and flags that fly
Remind us every day
Freedom is a costly gift
And death is what we pay.

By Greg Kaufman

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