Following on the heels of last year’s hugely successful Veteran Family Virtual Summit, the Atlas Institute for Veterans and Families is finalizing preparations to host their second Family Summit on January 26 and 27, 2024.
Focusing on empowering Families through knowledge, community and hope, this year’s summit again features Family members of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Veterans. They will share their experiences when it comes to dealing with a variety of topics, such as posttraumatic stress, the impact of living with a Family member with an operational stress injury (OSI), compassion fatigue and others.
Understanding Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from the inside
An RCMP Veteran, Daphne McFee, will share her story of how she was able to help her children understand the challenges of living with a parent with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Her husband, also a retired RCMP member, lives with complex PTSD. McFee wrote the children’s book It’s Not Cuz of Me to aid her children in coping with these challenges. McFee’s book aims to explain PTSD to children and initiate discussions about the topic. She emphasized that children should know they are not responsible for their parents’ condition and cannot fix it.
“We tend to focus on who has the PTSD. And then maybe the spouse is included (i.e. therapy). Children often get left behind, unintentionally forgotten in the process, and they are an important part of the healing journey,” explained McFee. She noted that children may blame themselves for their parent’s shortcomings and try to regain some form of personal control through behaviours like being quiet or keeping their room clean.
At the summit, McFee will speak to her experiences living with a spouse with a mental health injury and share her personal strategies for managing her own path while supporting her Family. Her talk will cover how PTSD can change relationships and ways to navigate these challenges.
A journey through military Family life
Christina Harrington, a grief therapist and daughter of a sailor in the Canadian Armed Forces, will also share her personal and professional experiences with attendees to the summit. “Growing up, my dad was away for long periods of time,” Harrington said about her childhood with a father who was deployed, adding that this experience profoundly influenced her interest in and understanding of grief in military Families.
“I have limited memories from my childhood with him. It wasn’t until young adulthood that I really felt I had more of a relationship with him, which is amazing today. I knew he loved me, but I didn’t really have the connection as I did with my mom. Birthdays were often a telegram message and a rose he had my mom select for me,” explained Harrington.
Her exploration of grief therapy, informed by her personal journey and doctoral research on wartime bereavement, has given her deep insights into the nuances of grief. “I hope to share evolved understandings of grief that move beyond traditional models,” Harrington said, noting that she aims to reshape conventional views on grieving. Her goal at the summit is to enhance understanding, prompt self-reflection and equip attendees with practical tools for coping with grief.
A barrier-free world to good mental health care for Veteran Families
Along with McFee and Harrington, the Atlas Institute’s Veteran Family Virtual Summit will also feature a keynote from Lieutenant Colonel (Ret’d) Stéphane Grenier, a CAF Veteran and author, presenting his vision of a world without barriers to good mental health. His autobiography, After the War: Surviving PTSD and Changing Mental Health Culture, details his experiences from the Rwandan genocide and his efforts to transform mental health culture in the Canadian military.
By Veteran Family members, for Veteran Family members
Co-hosted by CAF Veteran spouses Laryssa Lamrock and Polliann Maher, the summit will feature speakers from across Canada and panels with people with lived experience and concurrent sessions. Both hosts live with a spouse with PTSD and are passionate about helping Families who have supported a loved one in uniform. Driven to help identify the gaps and share lessons learned from the military and Veteran community, Lamrock shares, “I have realized that it doesn’t matter what uniform you or your loved one wear.”
Platform for shared experiences and collective support
Atlas’ Veteran Family Virtual Summit 2024 offers a unique platform for participants to delve into topics including grief, chronic pain’s intergenerational impact, fostering intimacy in relationships and the effects of traumatic brain injuries on Families. More than just a series of talks, the two-day summit is a collective journey towards understanding, healing and resilience. Like Harrington’s and McFee’s contributions, all presentations will be rich with stories and expertise, promising to enrich participants’ journeys.
The Veteran Family Virtual Summit will take place on January 26 and 27, 2024 from 11 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. and is free to attend. Registration is open online here.