‘It’s a good weekend to celebrate, but it’s a great weekend to pause’: Colorado Springs experts offer mental health resources as many pause to remember the fallen

Published: May. 29, 2023 at 3:59 PM MDT|Updated: May. 30, 2023 at 5:28 AM MDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - As many take a long weekend to celebrate the unofficial start to summer, it isn’t uncommon to hear the phrase “Happy Memorial Day.”

It’s a day often marked by travel, barbecues and celebrations; however, for a military community such as Colorado Springs, it also provides an opportunity to remember service members who never made it home while serving. For many, it’s a somber occasion, not one that warrants a “happy” sentiment.

That’s where Next Chapter, a program launched by UCHealth, steps in. The program acts as a gateway to southern Colorado’s veteran resources. It was established after the nation saw an alarming trend in veteran suicides.

In 2021, the nation saw 176 deaths by suicide, according to Next Chapter. Of those, 30% were veterans. Damian McCabe, the director of behavioral health and military affairs with UCHealth, said El Paso County sees the problem firsthand, with much of the community coming from a military background.

“So, this weekend in particular is when we think about pausing to remember those who have lost,” McCabe said, “We also want to re-energize our efforts around providing services for those who have experienced that loss, who might be struggling day today, and make sure they have access to the help they need.”

Aside from offering those resources and focusing their efforts on making sure anyone who needs resources during Memorial Day has them, McCabe said it’s up to the community to understand the sentiment of the holiday.

“It’s a good weekend to celebrate, but it’s a great weekend to pause,” he said. “Share a little gratitude and think of those veterans and our families and our community.”

Showing an understanding of that sentiment can come from the way you speak to members of the military community.

“You know, it’s very common today to hear, ‘Thank you for your service,’” said McCabe. “It’s a very easy expression. Sometimes it can be said in a way that doesn’t have a lot of meaning to it. So I would ask people to think about, if you’re inclined to use that term, that expression, pause and think about what you’re saying and make it more meaningful.”

UCHealth said Memorial Day is only one of many reminders for military families in the month of May of those who are lost. Also in May is a reminder of those who were never made it home to their families, whether they be missing or captured. The sentiment of this time of year, they said, is exemplified by the Missing Man Table, which is set up in the cafeterias in all of their facilities.

Each item on the table holds a special meaning, representing those who might not have fallen, but are still missing in action. While it is reserved for those who are captured or missing in action, officials said it still represents the significance of reflection throughout this time of year.

- The white cloth symbolizes the purity of the intentions of those called to serve.

- The single red rose symbolizes the blood shed in the name of freedom.

- The red ribbon symbolizes the unyielding determination to account for those missing in action.

- The slice of lemon on a plate represents the bitter fate of those missing or captured.

- A pinch of salt represents the tears of the missing and their families.

- The lighted candle reflects the hope for their return, alive or dead.

- An inverted glass symbolizes their inability to share a toast.

- And the chair is empty to symbolize the seat that remains unclaimed at the table.

Many also have a book of faith.

Throughout May, and on Memorial Day especially, McCabe said it’s important to be cognizant of these opportunities many take to remember the lost and the fallen.

But, many veterans told 11 News the day, while significant, does not have to be sad. In fact, many take advantage of the celebrations, keeping the mood light and remembering the happy memories shared with those lost. McCabe said this is a great chance to reach out.

“Many veterans won’t want to talk about their experiences ever,” he said. “But a show of gratitude might provide one an opening, and if you provide an opening to one and they’re able to get care and they’re not isolated and they’re able to process the events of their lives, that’s a great thing you’ve done for a veteran.”

Next Chapter can be reached through 1-888-718-VETS, or through their website.

And if you or someone you know is struggling, you can also reach out to the national suicide prevention hotline, 988.