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Promises
Promises

~ Linda Ambard, Survivor

October 27, 2014

Sometimes I feel like a poser playing a part upon the stage.  This isn't supposed to be my life.  At times, times like now, I can barely recognize the girl I have become.  The person I have become was so far from my realm of possibility that it literally brings me to my knees at times.  How could a quiet homebody become the girl with a voice?  How is it that I am considered to be a subject matter expert in military loss and resiliency when my life before was being a subject matter expert in running, swimming instruction, and youth?  Who is this girl peering back? 

Three and a half years ago, my life was following the trajectory that I expected.  Things were falling into place.  My children were grown and out of the house, and Phil and I were starting to talk about where we wanted to retire and build our "death house."  Phil's retirement seemed really far away and on the e-mails or in the conversations we had, life was filled with promise and hope.  I was content being Phil's wife and watching all of my children stepping into the world.  It wasn't as if I felt marginalized, I had grown to embrace being the pillar of strength behind Phil and my children.  While everyone else pursued lofty goals and had important jobs, I was content to be the person in the shadows quietly supporting, encouraging, and creating a positive environment that was able to put a positive spin on the military life style.

Somehow that girl is gone.  While I know she is there in the shadows, it is as if I have outgrown the woman I once was.  When Phil was killed, life as I knew it ended. I was lost and adrift trying to figure out where I fit, what to do, and how to get through the days that loomed large without him.  One thing that helped me the past three and a half years was one of the two promises I made to Phil.  In the very last moments before he deployed, Phil wanted to have the "what if" conversation.  I wanted none of it, yet he was insistent.  We had never had that talk before. 

To understand the first of the two promises I made, one must understand that running was part of my life before Phil.  I ran in high school and in college.  When I was seventeen, a girl ran across the United States with her father.  I wanted to do the same thing, but my parents understandably said no.  When I dated Phil, I told him that running across the United States was my childhood dream.  Years later, as the last of our children left the house, Phil said that I needed something to put my energies into.  He was the one who came up with the plan for me to run across the United States one state at a time, one marathon at a time.

This was a costly selfish suggestion, but he wanted me to have my dream.  When he was in those waning face to face moments, he wanted me to press on and finish those last twelve states.  While I am sure that his focus was on me completing as many of those twelve as possible while he was deployed because it would give me something to connect with people and look forward to in the year of his deployment, that simple promise became something more when he was killed.

That promise became something I kept my eyes and heart fixed on.  In running, I first found happiness again.  It surprised me.  One day I was out running and I realized my heart was quiet and I felt a spark of joy.  Those races became a barometer of where I was on my grief journey.  I was that girl who second guessed every decision and who felt totally adrift.  A running promise helped me to bridge my past and my future.  Running gave me a focused dream that helped me to lace up my shoes and press ahead in the moments when I was the most broken.  I knew that if I could lace up those running shoes and go out the door for even a few minutes, I would feel better.

This weekend I finished my 50th state marathon.  That finish belies just how far I have come in the past three and a half years.  Nothing about a marathon is easy.  26.2 miles hurts and this weekend was even more fitting as it rained during the entire course- more than four hours that I ran.  Grieving is like a marathon.  Nothing is easy.  At times, the journey seems too long, too hard, and too much, but by staying the course, keeping the faith, and just putting one foot in front of the other, I am hitting my stride and finding my way.  Like a marathon, it hurts.  Sometimes it hurts so much that I literally want to quit, but I recognize that I just need to keep moving forward the best I can whether it be running like the wind or stumbling one faltering step in front of another. 

Now that the first promise is completed, I am considering how far I have come and what comes next.  Completion means that one door is closed and there is only one promise left that I made to my Phil.  That one seems harder.  While that promise has nothing to do with physical exertion, it has everything to do with my heart.  My other promise to Phil was to find a chapter two-find love again.  He loved me enough that when I protested and made nervous jokes, he stopped me with one simple question, "Linda, would you want me to be happy again if you died first?"  It is hard to think about, hard to even imagine he possibility of anyone but Phil, but I recognize how perfect both promises were.  Those promises gave me something that I cling to and they help me step forward. I know that the journey is going to have moments that really hurt, but I also know that when I complete both promises I will have honored the love Phil and I had and I will have created a different life separate from him.  It is a little frightening, but it is fitting as I press on trusting that my feet will carry me to the finish line that I cannot see.  I know it is there and I press on through the raging storms because it will come.

 

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Stephenson, Jill
Saturday Morning Message: Honoring Loved Ones With Service

October 25, 2014

Good Morning,

There are so many ways to honor our loved ones with service to others. Jill Stephenson, surviving mother of Corporal Benjamin Kopp wrote an article in the TAPS magazine titled Traveling with Wreaths Across America. She created a written image of the convoy that goes each year from Maine to Washington, DC to bring the wreaths made by Morrill and Karen Worcester to Arlington Cemetery. She described the ceremonies along the way as she traveled through eight states to beautify the graves and give comfort to family members who may not be able to make the trip themselves.

This week other survivors have written about what they do. Their stories are full of courage and the emotions they have as they serve others while celebrating the lives of their loved ones adding to their healing at the same time. Thanks to all who participated this week as well as those who read the Saturday message. Together we can make a difference.

Some survivors experience an extraordinary incident or some people may call it a sign or a God wink. Sarah, a survivor, thought it would be interesting to share your favorites in a Saturday Message. The discussion topic for this week: Share a time or event when you  felt the presence of your loved one.

I invite you to respond to this week's question or share a topic you would like to ask the group. All messages come directly to me either by replying to this message or sending an email to carol.lane@taps.org. I would love to hear from you anytime about anything. Sometimes writing to someone can be helpful.

Hugs,
Carol

From TAPS Survivors:

From Merry, mother of Wesley: Healing continues in various ways and most likely will take a long amount of time.  A year after grieving, I joined a church choir and felt at times very close to Wes when the choir was praising collectively on Sunday morning.

During my second year of grieving, I've begun to venture out into the community and have found myself completing a Citizen's Academy with the local County Sheriff's Office.  AND---I'm not EVEN the oldest attendee!!  This has been a most amazing and rewarding academy not only for my healing, but to learn how the community is protected by a great group of officers who risk their lives every day.  We gave 40 hours of our time, but they give 24/7 hours of their time.

I've also been volunteering with a Congressional campaign, a state Attorney General campaign, and have made sure to be up on issues surrounding this midterm election.  Wes fought to defend our U. S. Constitution. Shouldn't I keep my little patch of neighborhood continuing to keep the best persons in office?

I'm keeping to very structured legal venues of everyday life.  I need that I guess, but I also raised two U. S. Marines and my daughter-in-law is currently serving.  I guess structure of towing the line is in my genes.

From Leslie, mother of Eugene: I'm proud of two things that I have done.  One is that I had the bill to enhance the Veterans education benefits pushed into law. This gives veterans a chance to go to college.

I've also spoken in a few places on the advantages of organ and skin donation. I donated Eugene's corneas, skin and organs saving or enhancing many people. It's emotionally and spiritually gratifying.

From Kitty, mother of John: With the sudden and unexpected military death of our son, John, we have become part of the TAPS family. We had the pleasure of assisting at the National Seminar in Washington, DC. giving the families their loved ones' pictorial button. This can be a difficult time for the families and for us. It was an opportunity to speak to them and offer comfort. After peer mentor training we have been blessed with assisting individuals on their grief journeys. This year one mentee was able to take the Peer Mentor training. It was quite exciting to see the healing and her interest in helping others.

At the Memorial Day Parade, we were able to represent TAPS in showcasing our float and interacting with others to make them aware of our services.

Soon there will be a community group started by TAPS here in the Santa Clarita Valley.

On the home front we are involved in GriefShare as table leaders for those who have lost children as young as 8 months to as old as 52 years of age. We are able to guide and comfort through a 13 week series with videos and discussion groups. Many repeat the series as they might have been numb the first time around.

We have also represented Gold Star Families in Southern California's largest Veteran's Day Parade held in the San Fernando Valley on 11/11 at 11:11AM. We ride with Gold Star Families in our local 4th of July Parade. This year it was over 2 miles long.

We are working with the Southern California Army Survivor Outreach Services. Our rep covers 97 cities in Southern California and needed some extra help.

We have been honored in our patriotic valley by several organizations, American Legion, Prayer Angels for the Military, Blue and Gold Star Mothers, the Chamber of Commerce, our City Council, Rotary and North Park Community Church, with plaques and memorials to our fallen heroes.

From Mary-Ann, mother of Blake: I'd never thought that the loss of my child could make me have strong desires to do things I'd never done before! I'd never headed up a fund-raiser before, but now I've done it two years in a row! The last two Septembers I headed up the committee that put together our Annual Stars and Stripes 6k Patriot Walk/Run in support of my son's scholarship fund started by the community upon Blake's death. The desire to keep Blake's name alive by helping others became a 'have to do' for me! I ran into many rejections, discouraging comments and other difficulties only to make it more important that I make it work! I felt I had no choice since it was for Blake and he was not a quitter, so I could not be one either!

I've always been a hard worker, but the behind the scenes kind of worker not the upfront one! Due to my need to do it for Blake I've been on radio, TV and have done whatever it takes to promote the yearly event! I had the courage to keep going in spite of difficulties and last May we presented 3 scholarships to local high school students! This year, thanks to God, the event brought in almost twice what it did the previous year, so I imagine we will be able to help even more! It's as if I have acquired some of Blake's strength and courage to get the job done! I'm happy to say this extra strength and courage is something that is a change in me that makes me proud since I know Blake would be proud of me!

This week's chat schedule:

General Support
This chat is open for all survivors
Date: Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Time: 9 PM - 11 PM EST
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs

The Saturday Morning Message (SMM) is a weekly communication; written and contributed to by survivors. The primary focus of the SMM is to foster peer based connection, survivors helping survivors, for support and encouragement along the grief journey. It is the goal of this communication to foster a safe, supportive atmosphere where we can openly share in a non-judgmental and caring manner. Read and contribute as you are comfortable, and explore any opinions/ideas shared that are most beneficial to you on your individual journey. Content submitted for inclusion in the SMM is edited for spacing considerations and grammatical corrections.

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Hope
Hope Against All Hope

~ Linda Ambard, Survivor

October 20, 2014

Like most people, I assumed I knew how my life trajectory would evolve and I trusted that prayers would keep Phil safe from harm.  I believed ultimately life was fair and good things happened if I just waited long enough or believed strong enough.  Phil's death caused a quake in my belief system and it has made me question who I am, what I stand for, and what I carry in my heart.  I am different because I know better.

When Phil deployed, I signed every e-mail the same:  Stay safe and come home to me.  I prayed every day for his safety even though I didn't really think he was in danger.  It was sort of a safety net and the prayers were rattled perfunctorily off in haste.  I looked at the deployment as a one year inconvenience.  I was a shy girl who invested everything into my husband and children.  The children were grown and while I knew that year would be lonely and long, there was an end to it.  I didn't stop to consider what would happen if Phil was killed because that thought wasn't part of my paradigm.

When he was assassinated, my first step of finding footing came with the choice I made as I heard those awful words.  As they read the words to me, I fell to my knees keening.  As I fell, one thought crossed my mind:  how could I claim to have faith if in my darkest hour I turn from my faith?  I chose my faith and that choice has helped carry me, but I understand those that struggle because of what feels like unanswered prayers or unfair life schematics.  There is no judgment of others because my faith was and is rocked by something beyond my capacity to understand, but I think with that choice, I can believe in life beyond what is temporal and I can see the signs that have rained down from heaven.  Maybe others get these God winks, but for me, I have asked a handful of times for a burning bush-a sign so transparent that it cannot be ignored.  Those signs have come.  These signs have not always come when I wanted them or when I demanded them, but they have been regular and out of the ordinary.

The first sign came on 24 June 2011.  Phil's autopsy report and pictures had just come.  I handle injuries and reports like this fairly well, but when it was my Phil I broke.  I read the words and when they did not match what I had been told, I looked at the pictures.  My heart broke.  My spirit broke and I crawled into bed and wept.  I was cocooned in the blankets.  I asked God why him and why not me because Phil had so much more to give.  As I wept, I felt an electric jolt.  This jolt was like a shock.  As I felt the shock, I could see and feel (I do not have the words for this) me standing at the altar with a man in front of a minister.  I could not see who it was, but it wasn't Phil and I could feel the joy in that room.  I was mortified.  I dismissed it and cried on.  I felt a jolt again-stronger-and I saw and felt  the same picture.  I was terrified.  I jumped out of bed, tripped in the covers, and fell.  When I looked up, I saw the first double rainbow I had ever seen in entirety. 

Do I think Phil can be replaced?  Never, but that sign gave me hope that one day I will find happiness again and that there might be room for a Chapter Two.  The double rainbow led to other signs being noticed.  For the longest time, when I thought of Phil and was sad, I found money-usually dimes, but once I found over 190 pennies in front of my office door at 0530 in the morning.  Another time, I found a handful of pennies together stamped with 1988, the year we got married.  On the day of our anniversary, our two songs played back to back on two different radio stations.  Our songs, songs from 1988 ("How Do I Get You Alone" and "Nothing's Going to Stop Us Now"), are never played any more.  I can never predict these God winks, but the signs come when I least expect them or when I am at some type of crossroad or crisis.

The signs have helped me stay grounded and they have given me hope.  One of my favorite Bible verses uses the phrase "hoping against all hope".  Hoping against all hope is what grounds me.  While I may not understand and I certainly cannot rejoice at how Phil's death came, I believe there is something more than what I know.  I can't say I have a Pollyanna worldview any more.  I do pray and I do believe, but I also recognize that my prayers are not to a Santa Claus and that the answer may sometimes be counter to what I want or understand.  Look at Sandy Hook.  Children should be able to go to school and should be able to celebrate the magic of Christmas without worrying that a madman will come into their school wreaking a reality far beyond any nightmare they could have conjured up themselves.  I don't have answers, I just have what works for me.  I believe and at times I question God, but essentially it comes down to one unshakeable belief. I believe that Phil's assassin had a choice and that while God knew what his choice was going to be, he let him choose.  That man chose evil and I believe that the angels wept as they received my Phil home that day.  I choose to hope against all hope that one day I will see Phil again, but until then I find peace in the God winks and in my quiet faith that blazes even still.

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Saturday Morning
Saturday Morning Message: Preserving Special Items

October 18, 2014

Mementos are those gifts we take out to help make it through the rough days.

Good Morning,

It can be challenging to think how to preserve those precious items from your loved one or letters that have come from close friends and relatives. Some find that scrapbooks are the answer. Others may have purchased a piece of furniture to hold those items as well as the uniforms that were worn. Jeanne Harris Weaver, mother of Todd, wrote a beautiful TAPS magazine article titled Losing Todd, A Mother's Journey. She writes about her struggle and the journal in which she wrote and kept letters given to her. Since she is an artist, she also included her website with the oil paintings she made that capture items and times that she wanted to remember. You can see them on her website under a Tribute to 1LT Todd W. Weaver.

Survivors have written this week about ways they have kept these items, so they will always be close at hand. Thanks to all for the replies that came this week to share the ways these special items are preserved.

As you move along on your journey, you may have found  the support you received has helped you accomplish things to make you feel rewarded. Perhaps you now do a special project, support a charity,  gone back to school, started a new career, or found new friends  when you attended a TAPS seminar or retreat. The question for this week is: What have you done since the passing of your loved one that has made you proud?

To respond to the question of the week or to share a question you would like to ask the group, you can reply directly to me by replying to this message or sending an email to carol.lane@taps.org.  I would love to hear from you anytime about anything. Sometimes writing to someone can be helpful.

Hugs,
Carol

From TAPS Survivors:

From Leslie, mother of Eugene: I have Eugene's dog tag, the mini medals, and his flag pin.  I have a table in my living room where I have a large shadow box. The top half holds his flag where I put his ID's in the folds. The lower half has 3 compartments. The middle one has a copper photo of him in uniform.  The surrounding areas have his medals and coins. I have his dog tag necklace on it and his religious necklace.  On the table are photos of my two sons through their years.

From Kitty, mother of John: The first of many memorable items accumulated was, of course, the flag. It is displayed in the wood triangular case with his bars, pins, and awards in our living room. Another item is his complete uniform which is in a garment bag hanging in our master closet among my husband's suits.

Our Military Care Group at church sends cards to members who have lost loved ones on the anniversary of their deaths. This last year there was a note attached from the group leader saying she realized that John was in her math class at Saugus High School. She said, "He was always sweet and gentle. He was helpful and always smiling. Nothing mean ever came out of his mouth. He was lovely and kind." She concluded that "she only knew him while in high school, but he was a wonderful guy". This note is in a photo album displayed with the flag in our living room.

From Merry, mother of Wesley: I have saved all Wes's letters from boot camp and they are in a decorative box that he had to present to a class in high school.  We went shopping together to buy the box, because he needed it the very next day for some sort of class - I can't remember what the class was.  We found it at World Market and I've kept it at my home since he graduated and left for the Marine Corps.

From Mary-Ann, mother of Blake:  A few weeks after our son Blake was killed, we received a beautiful box and note from his friend Dave with whom he worked and was his roommate when they were stationed in Hawaii. In Dave's letter he told us how our son's friendship had been special to him. He told us that he was going to start having a run in his honor as soon as he could get it together. He also told us how he (Dave) had made the box for us. The box was made of a dark beautifully finished wood with a Navy medallion in the center of the top. The inside was lined with compartments and a drawer that pulled out of the bottom. We filled it with Blake's medals, ribbons and pins he had earned in the twelve years he served in the Navy. In the drawer we put the letter from Dave and other extra special ones from other friends that we received. We have his box and a picture on top of the cedar chest filled with Blake's awards and other things we were given that people sent out of their love for Blake. I thought it was a lovely gift to us that truly came from Dave's heart. It is special to us as is Dave for caring enough to build and send the box to us. I've never met Dave, but had spoken to him on the phone a time or two when I'd call Blake.

This week's chat schedule:

General Support
This chat is open for all survivors
Date: Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Time: 9 PM - 11 PM EST
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs

The Saturday Morning Message (SMM) is a weekly communication; written and contributed to by survivors. The primary focus of the SMM is to foster peer based connection, survivors helping survivors, for support and encouragement along the grief journey. It is the goal of this communication to foster a safe, supportive atmosphere where we can openly share in a non-judgmental and caring manner. Read and contribute as you are comfortable, and explore any opinions/ideas shared that are most beneficial to you on your individual journey. Content submitted for inclusion in the SMM is edited for spacing considerations and grammatical corrections.

If you ever need to speak to someone regarding an urgent matter or just need a listening ear, the loving family at TAPS is available to you 24 hours a day. Please feel free to contact TAPS at 1-800-959-8277.

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Shanette family photo
Is it OK?

~ Shanette Booker, Survivor

October 13, 2014

Every day for about the first two years after Dre's passing, I walked on eggshells and hid behind the bushes. I never wanted to be in the limelight. I didn't want to say or do anything that would offend someone. I was his wife and as his widow, I didn't want to be inappropriate in my mannerisms, words, or actions. I felt as if people would question how much I loved my husband, if I loved him as much as I said I did, or if I still loved him. It was the hardest two years of my life. Then one day it all changed. I woke up and realized regardless of what I do or say, I am going to have someone looking at me, watching me, and probably judging me and each of my decisions.

Somewhere around my 2 ½ year mark, I opened my eyes and woke up. Why should I hide the new person I had become? The person I was now destined to be? Regardless of what I did or said when he was alive, I was never worried about how people viewed me. I didn't care about people judging my love for him or our marriage, so why should I start now. I have several social media accounts and I make sure that I honor him, our love, and our marriage on them. I share videos of us, our favorite songs, pictures, the 'whole nine yards.' I have never done or said anything that would make people question us, so why was I worried? What was I afraid of? Not a day goes by I don't speak to my husband or speak of my husband. I miss him dearly. Yes I do. I am not the one who died though. I am not the one who is no longer living, so why should my thoughts and actions die while I am still living?

I've come to the conclusion that our thoughts and our actions can't die along with our loved ones. We have to continue living in the here and now and sharing with the world the person we once loved, the person that we spent their lives loving and living for. Regardless of what you say and how you say it or what you do and how you do things, there are  always going to be people questioning your intentions. I say don't worry about it. IT IS OK. Continue living for you and honoring them. The way I see it is it's your life and you have to continue living it, no one else… So live it doing everything you want, your way, because IT IS OK!

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Heart Locket - Carol
Saturday Morning Message: Jewelry Options, Part 2

October 11, 2014

Good Morning,

The question about jewelry brought in so many responses that there needed to be a second Saturday Message devoted to them. This week, I thought I would add what I do with jewelry. The picture is the heart locket that I wear every day. Inside is my son, Bryon's, boot camp picture. When I go to TAPS or military events, I wear other pins as well. However, the heart is always with me.

Thank you to all who responded to this question about jewelry as well as those who read the Saturday Message. Connecting together each week is a special experience as we walk this path. We are not alone.

The discussion for next week comes from Ruth. She is putting together a coffee table book and found a letter written by a friend of her son to include in the book. Ruth would like to know if you have received letters or other items connected to your loved one and how have you preserved them?

To respond to the question of the week or to share a question you would like to ask the group, you can reply directly to me by replying to this message or sending an email to carol.lane@taps.org.  I would love to hear from you anytime about anything. Sometimes writing to someone can be helpful.

Hugs,
Carol

From TAPS Survivors:

From Christi, mother of Zachary: Every morning I wear my Gold Star pin.  There hasn't been a day I've gone without it since I received it.  I also wear Zack's school ring and a For the Fallen bracelet. His American Gold Star coin with his name on it goes in my pocket.  His dog tag was on a picture on my desk, but now I wear it every day too.  It belongs close to my heart.  Once in a while I go without the coin, because I don't have any pockets.  Other than that this has been a daily ritual for almost a year now.  It makes me feel close to him.

Kitty, mother of John: We are truly proud parents of John, who served our country as a medic for 15 years in the US Army, before his last duty station was changed. We have car license plates that read "JMC MDC" on one car, and "SGT JMC" on the other.

We observe RED shirt Fridays--Remember Everyone Deployed- by donning our TAPS National Seminar, Peer Mentor, Camp Pendleton, Fort Bragg, or Fort Lewis shirts.

In September, in observance of Gold Star Mother's Day, the Blue Star Mothers and Prayer Angels for the Military treat Gold Star mothers in our Santa Clarita Valley to an afternoon of total pampering and gifts. Two years ago, one such gift was a dog tag replica with a photo on one side, and date of death on the other for each of the Gold Star mothers' sons which we distributed to our family members. My husband wears his 24/7. I take mine off at night. "We grieve because we love!"

Christine, mother of Adam: I have worn Adam's dog tags every day. Last year on my daughter's wedding day, I took off the one with his name on it, and pinned it inside my dress. His earring I wear in my left ear as he did. It is the first thing I put on and the last thing I take off at night.

From Georgianna, mother of Jamie:  I wear my commemoratives all the time. It makes me feel complete in God's strength to remind me of His promises that He has for my son and I. I feel honorable, compassionate, and knowing my new family from TAPS makes me feel warm, happy, whole, and normal again. I don't wear a lot, but a select few. When I see another survivor wearing jewelry, pins, or other items, I know I can ask to introduce myself, as a survivor.

Ruth, mother of James: I have two pieces of jewelry I wear all of the time.  The first is my gold star.... a friend of mine who is a jeweler made a wax form and styled my pin into a 14K necklace.  It never leaves me.   It does bring comments and depending on my mood, I either just thank them, but most generally I tell them it represents my son who died in Afghanistan.  I then let the person know who has commented that I really appreciate them noticing... It means that someone is thinking of my son.

The other piece I wear is a dragonfly pin.   It represents a story I read at my son's funeral about  how a water bug climbs a lily pad and turns into a dragonfly in a beautiful new world.  After the funeral a very large dragonfly appeared in the dining hall.  All heads were turned upward. The dragonfly flew over my head twice and left.  I know it was Jim telling me good bye and that he loved me.  I am often asked to read the same story at other funerals....  I take great pride in sharing a piece of Jim.

Jim's medals are on display in our front room along with other things he brought home. I love and miss Jim, but I know we'll be together again.

From Robert, father of Louis: I wear Lou's and my dog tags and a commemorative bracelet. Vivian wears what I do, plus his Lt bar that he wore and a unit pin from the 101 Calvary NY Army National Guard. When wearing a jacket I wear my Gold Star pin.

Virginia, mother of Patrick: We have titanium bracelets that were given to us by one of Pat's teammates. It has Pat's name, date of birth, date of death, and signature saying that was tattooed on his leg which was "Cry havoc, and let slip the frogs of war". Pat loved Shakespeare and this is a quote from that writing. Navy SEALS are sometimes called frogmen. We also had silver bracelets made by Montana silversmiths that we wear on special occasions and I have a gold Navy SEAL trident necklace that my husband gave me after Pat died. I wear it at all times and never take it off.

From Rebecca, mother of Griffin: I wear Griff's black earring posts in my ears. They never come out. Griff only wore his earrings in his civilian world. A set of Griff's dog tags is draped on the case that holds the American flag warmly given to me when Griff became one with the earth.

This week's chat schedule:

Parent Chat
Date:  Monday, October 13, 2014
Time:  9 PM - 10:30 PM Eastern
Hosted By:  Carol Lane, Ron and Mary Johnson

General Support Chat
This chat is open for all survivors
Date:  Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Time:  9 PM - 11 PM Eastern
Hosted By:  Carol Lane and Kim Suggs

Survivors of Suicide Loss Chat
Date:  Thursday, October 16, 2014
Time:  9 PM - 11 PM Eastern
Hosted By:  Carla Stumpf-Patton and Kim Suggs

The Saturday Morning Message (SMM) is a weekly communication; written and contributed to by survivors. The primary focus of the SMM is to foster peer based connection, survivors helping survivors, for support and encouragement along the grief journey. It is the goal of this communication to foster a safe, supportive atmosphere where we can openly share in a non-judgmental and caring manner. Read and contribute as you are comfortable, and explore any opinions/ideas shared that are most beneficial to you on your individual journey. Content submitted for inclusion in the SMM is edited for spacing considerations and grammatical corrections.

If you ever need to speak to someone regarding an urgent matter or just need a listening ear, the loving family at TAPS is available to you 24 hours a day. Please feel free to contact TAPS at1-800-959-8277.

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Peggy's blog photo
A Milestone- Cody's 21st Birthday

~ Peggy Scallorn, Survivor

October 6, 2014

In January of 2012, my son Airman 1st Class Cody Scallorn took his life at the age of 18. I realized very quickly there were going to be so many important things in life he would no longer be a part of and experience. I also soon came to the realization that he would be missing important milestones of his own. This past June, my first born and only son would have celebrated his 21st birthday. I knew this would be a very difficult birthday to endure, and I wanted to be able to embrace it with open arms. I didn't want to sit quietly and drown in my own sorrow. I strived to find a way to not only celebrate his life but to honor him as well.

I decided to ask others to honor Cody on his birthday by performing random acts of kindness for others. My son was a very giving child and had an amazing heart. Cody would always find a way to help his friends and strangers alike. He was always there to offer the shoulder to lean on for his friends who may have found themselves going through a difficult time. He offered advice to those who were struggling and encouraged them to become better people. In high school, he was in JROTC and helped initiate an angel tree program for children who were less fortunate. He also volunteered his time to collect food and help deliver turkey dinners to those in need.

On the day of my son's memorial, as gut-wrenching as it was, I was so honored to have his family and friends speak of Cody. I knew my son was an amazing spirited person, but that day I truly learned just how compassionate and inspiring he was to others. Cody's friends approached the podium and spoke to the 300 people about how he had encouraged them to do better in school and that their education should take the fore-front. He helped others decide to join the military and serve our country. He encouraged another to buy a bike for an underprivileged child instead of a video game for themselves. He truly was an angel that graced this earth.

I could not have thought of a better way to celebrate my son than to honor him by having others share random acts of kindness on this milestone birthday. These are things he would be doing if he were still here on this earth today. By doing this, others were helped and I know how very proud my son would have been of me to initiate something like this. It truly helped me by seeing people post on his memorial web page of their generosity to others in memory of my son. Instead of great sadness and tears on this special birthday, I had smiles from ear to ear knowing that good deeds were being done. Even in my son's death he still finds a way to inspire me.

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Saturday Morning
Saturday Morning Message: Jewelry Options

October 4, 2014

Good Morning,

There were so many good ideas that came in about the wearing and placement of jewelry in the home that there will be two weeks on this topic.  Let's broaden the subject this week to allow for other ideas on the display of these special items. The question for this week is: Do you wear commemorative jewelry or other attire or do you have a special place for them in your home? Sharing ideas is always wonderful. Thank you so much for sending in replies to this week's question.

To respond to the question of the week or to share a question you would like to ask the group, you can reply directly to me by replying to this message or sending an email to carol.lane@taps.org.  I would love to hear from you anytime about anything. Sometimes writing to someone can be helpful.

Hugs,
Carol

From TAPS Survivors:

From Terri, mother of Matthew: I love my TAPS buttons and my Gold Star pins. I also have necklaces and bracelets friends have made. I love wearing them to TAPS and Gold Star events as well as other special events. As time passes, I don't wear them all the time. I think it's all part of the healing process to let go of some things. Including wearing this jewelry on a daily basis as I did in the beginning.

From Caryn, mother of Nathan: Since the death of my son, Nathan, in 2011, I wear his dog tags. Also on that chain I have my husband's ring and mine. Most of the time I wear them whenever I leave the house, but there are those days that I feel the need to wear them at home.

From Elizabeth, fiancé of Ryan: I wear a necklace that has a claddagh which is an Irish symbol showing two hands holding a heart with a crown on top of it. The necklace traditionally used to represent love and loyalty was given to me by my Nana. I've had it for many years and it was the first thing Ryan used to start talking to me. When he died, I wanted a cremation necklace. The claddagh holds some of his ashes. His mother and sister also have necklaces in different styles. I wear it most days. It's like carrying around a little piece of him.

From Donn, father of Todd:  In the four years since Todd was killed, I have always worn for at least most of the day my Gold Star pin.  I have gone through two of them.  Every day, by pinning that device near my heart, four things happen:  Todd is with me; I do not hide or "try to forget" the reality of what happened; I immediately wonder how Emma, Todd's wife, and Kiley, his now five year old daughter, are doing in faraway Guam with Emma's great new Navy husband, Alex, and their son Shelton; and I have a conversation to respond to when asked, "What does that pin mean?".  When either the pin, or a special silver bracelet that I also wear every day sparks conversation, I can show the pride I feel as Todd's Dad.  I also always talk about the need to remember all our Fallen and hand out my personal card, the other side of which tells Todd's story and sacrifice to those I meet.  In fact, all in our extended family have a bracelet, made by Todd's father-in-law, George, a fantastic silversmith.  Many, if not most days, they too wear the bracelet and are ready to talk about a very special person, like all Gold Star families.

From Dana, mother of Andrew:  Being that I am still so new...I wear my hero bracelet almost every day, and I have 2 necklaces I wear every day. For me it is important.  It is a way to keep Andrew close to my heart not that he isn't always there. I imagine years down the road I might change, but for now I am very comfortable doing this. And it opens the door for others to ask and for me to tell Andrew's story.

From Karl, father of Tre: I ALWAYS wear the black band on my wrist that the Capt. had made and sent me.  He said he made all his platoon wear it when my son first passed. Although he was Air Force, he was attached to an Army unit at a COP (Combat Outpost) in Afghanistan.  He must have made a great impression on them.  I don't know why I feel I must always wear it.  Sometimes I wear his picture on certain days like Veterans Day.  My boy's birthday is Oct. 8 so it's a bit stressful leading up to it.

Lisa, mother of Michael: Not long after losing our son my sister presented a gift to my husband and me. She presented us each with a photo charm necklace, my husband's is in the style of a small gold dog tag which he wears on special occasions and to me a silver heart photo of Mike with his nick name Mikey down the side, for the longest time I could not breath without wearing mine, but we are now 2 years into this new normal and I am learning to breathe again.

We lost Michael Aug 2012 and as we celebrated his heavenly birthday that December his dad and I decided to give a photo necklace gift to each of his siblings. His 3 sisters wear theirs on occasion like their dad, but his only brother -best friend wears his 24/7. I imagine we all travel this road in different ways and for us this is a way of keeping mike close to our hearts...

From Christine, mother of Adam: I have worn Adam's dog tags every day. Last year on my daughter's wedding day, I took off the one with his name on it, and pinned it inside my dress. His earring I wear in my left ear as he did. It is the first thing I put on and the last thing I take off at night.

Next week's chat schedule:

General Support Chat
This chat is open for all survivors
Date: Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Time: 9 PM - 11 PM EST
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs

Widow-Widower Chat
Date: Wednesday, October 08, 2014
Time: 9 PM - 10:30 PM EST
Hosted By: Kim Suggs

The Saturday Morning Message (SMM) is a weekly communication; written and contributed to by survivors. The primary focus of the SMM is to foster peer based connection, survivors helping survivors, for support and encouragement along the grief journey. It is the goal of this communication to foster a safe, supportive atmosphere where we can openly share in a non-judgmental and caring manner. Read and contribute as you are comfortable, and explore any opinions/ideas shared that are most beneficial to you on your individual journey. Content submitted for inclusion in the SMM is edited for spacing considerations and grammatical corrections.

If you ever need to speak to someone regarding an urgent matter or just need a listening ear, the loving family at TAPS is available to you 24 hours a day. Please feel free to contact TAPS at 1-800-959-8277.

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Lessons Learned

~ Ashlynne Haycock, Survivor

September 29, 2014

In 2002 I lost my dad while he was training to deploy to Iraq. I was ten years old.  College was the last thing on my mind, and it was not high on my mother's priority list either.  It was always something I knew I would do, but not something my mother and I really discussed until the end of my junior year of high school after I had taken multiple AP exams, done expensive ACT prep and testing and was now paying ridiculous amounts of money for college application fees. Getting into The American University was one of the proudest moments of my life, and I knew my dad would have been the obnoxious parent who never took off the AU Eagles sweatshirt.  I was so excited to attend that the fact that tuition was over $50,000 a year seemed unimportant until I got my first bill in the mail for the semester for $25,000. Where was this money going to come from?! Could my mom and I have done some things differently when I was ten years old to make this process easier and less stressful?  Would I be able to stay in school and pay this extremely expensive tuition for my dream school?  The answer to all of these questions is YES.

Fast forward four years and $200,000 later and I graduated ON TIME and with NO DEBT! If you had asked me this at the end of my first semester of college I would have said that's not possible.  Now that I have graduated, I am the Education Services Coordinator for TAPS.  Having lived and learned through those four years of expensive undergraduate, and seeing how finances negatively effected my GPA, and assisting survivors for the last year to access education benefits I wish there were a few things my mother had known when I was ten years old that would have made everything easier from the moment I got that exciting acceptance letter.

 

  • Start applying for scholarships early.  Just because they cannot apply for VA education benefits or state tuition waiver until they are 18 years old does not mean they cannot apply for scholarships earlier. Organizations like Folds of Honor and Children of Fallen Patriot Foundation enroll kids as early as newborns. They will make sure they have money put aside for your kids for when they are college age.  Imagine not running around like a mad person six weeks before your kids start college and instead doing it at your leisure when your kids are young?!
  • There is assistance for college prep. Eknowledge provides free SAT/ACT prep for surviving families; all they have to pay is shipping.  Folds of Honor offers the Children's Fund scholarship that pays for tutoring and other educational costs, such as books. Children of Fallen Patriot Foundation will pay the SAT/ACT test application fees and college application fees. They will even buy your child a computer before their freshmen year of college!
  • Compare schools side by side.  The Department of Veteran's Affairs launched the GI Bill comparison tool this year. It gives you a break down of how truly veteran friendly a school is. It shows you how much the GI Bill pays at that school, how many students are using the GI Bill (this does include Fry), what the Basic Housing Allowance at the school will be, and really gives you a chance to compare the schools your children are considering.
  • Try to spread benefits out. Did you know that 45 states offer tuition waivers? Neither did I at 18. Your kids could potentially save their VA education benefits for graduate school and use a state tuition waiver for undergraduate. A lot of states even allow you to combine state education benefits with federal education benefits, meaning less money out of your pocket!
  • Always apply for FAFSA. FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This is FREE money based on your income. A lot of surviving families will be eligible for Pell Grants, which is money given by the federal government to lower income families for college. If you are not eligible for a Pell Grant, and your loved one died due to service in Iraq or Afghanistan, you may be eligible for an Iraq and Afghanistan Pell Grant. It is the exact same amount as a regular Pell Grant ($5,085.50) and available to families who make too much to be eligible for the regular Pell Grant. It costs nothing to fill out FAFSA and only takes 30 or so minutes of your time and could potentially provide additional FREE money for your kids' college tuition.

 

For more information email TAPS education services at education@taps.org or visit www.taps.org/edu.

 

For information on Folds of Honor visit: www.foldsofhonor.com

 

For information on Children of Fallen Patriot Foundation visit: www.fallenpatriots.org

 

For information on Eknowledge visit: http://www.eknowledge.com/

 

For more information on the GI Bill Comparison tool visit: http://department-of-veterans-affairs.github.io/gi-bill-comparison-tool/

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Carol's Beach
Saturday Morning Message: What do Others do about Vacations

September 27, 2014

Good Morning,

Everyone's idea of a vacation is different. Mine involves either visiting relatives or going to the ocean beach. The place we go for our ocean retreat has changed. I haven't been back to the place we took our son and daughter when they were younger. However, this is a picture of a new place that was chosen by our daughter. We have added her husband to the family and now the beach lifts our spirits and renews our energy as we enjoy each other walking the shore and dining on fresh seafood.

This week survivors wrote a variety of ways they have faced the challenge of planning a respite while learning to live in the new normal. I know you will find the replies interesting. I want to thank all who wrote as well as those of you who read the message. You make the weekly message the comfortable space it has become.

The next question came from Diane. She would like to know: Do you wear commemorative jewelry or other attire, and do you wear them all the time or just to military events?

If you would like to send a response to the question of the week or have a question and would like to read strategies used by other survivors. You can reply directly to me by replying to this message or sending an email to carol.lane@taps.org.  I would love to hear from you anytime about anything. It doesn't have to be a reply to the Saturday message. Sometimes just writing to someone is helpful.

Hugs,
Carol

From TAPS Survivors:

From Mary-Ann, mother of Blake: For many years we scheduled our vacation around Blake's schedule either for his coming home to spend time with the family or us going to wherever he was stationed. Upon his death all that changed. It was somewhat confusing at first to think of vacation without including him as a part of it. It was strange to think of not having Blake at the other end of the road. A bitter reality that he was no longer with us in body to go visit, catch up on the things that were going on in one another's lives, and reminisce the past. At first we really didn't know what to do with ourselves, so we started exploring other options. We started doing trips where we could experience different kinds of things to see and do now with just the two of us. Last year we took a trip to the East coast and explored several hundred miles of different Atlantic coastal towns. We walked through them and explored a wealth of historical towns, villages, and forts as we felt, smelled, and listened to the coastal areas. We just took our time and soaked it all in. Each place we stopped had its own uniqueness. We actually enjoyed our little trip which was the first time we'd left town with the idea of relaxing and enjoying ourselves since Blake's death. No meetings no business to attend to, no schedules. Just going at our own pace, sightseeing, and relaxing. We plan on doing the same this year in another area.

From Carole, wife of Lawrence: The first year or so after my husband died, I discovered that vacations and time off from school created a lot of anxiety. My children were very young at the time. I didn't like to have unscheduled time for them, because I was afraid that it would just magnify the reality that Lawrence was gone. I remember that I used to try to take them to visit family to help pass the time. When I started to feel a little stronger, like after the first year - I tried to fill up those times by doing really exciting and special things with my children. My husband was the "fun" parent, so I worked hard to bring fun back into their lives. I guess I also kind of hoped that if they could do new and fun things, they wouldn't miss their dad so much. I'm sure I overcompensated terribly. Now (10 years out from my loss), I involve the children in planning our free time and deciding how to spend vacations. I try to let each have a say in how or where we will spend our time.  I am very aware that our time together at home is short and I try encourage activities together whenever I can. Since they are involved in planning, they enjoy it also.

From Janet, mother of Steven: My son had no children of his own, but loved his 4 year old niece very much. After his death, I planned the vacation of a lifetime for my granddaughter, daughter, and myself. We took a 7 day Disney cruise in his memory. He would have loved to see the excitement on Summer's face. It brought back so many happy memories of his visits to Disneyland as a child.

From Karl, father of Tre:  I myself go on "gambling vacations" My son knew I loved to play the mindless slots. He would go with me and play in the arcade.  When I took my boys to Vegas some of my coworkers scoffed.  My boys and I had a great time!  We went to Red Rock Canyon and Hoover Dam and the Mojave Desert.  I just can't go back to Vegas yet as I want to keep those good memories alive.  I can hardly look at the Stratosphere Hotel without tearing up.  They always show it whenever they show a glimpse of Vegas on TV or in movies.  When I go to my grief group, I always announce when someone says "I don't know what to do," that "I'm going gambling!"  It usually gets a chuckle and lightens the mood a little.  I still can't deal well with others' pain, so I try to use humor.  That's the person I used to be before my loss.

From Leslie, mother of Eugene: There wasn't much money for vacations as I raised my boys by myself.  We did get to go to a couple of places. Will I go there again? I can't put myself through the pain of reviewing what I did years ago with Gene. I go to different places. Sometimes I think about what he would enjoy.  Sometimes I think about what he would do.  And sometimes I just get to have fun with my grandkids and my music and not think. And yet, I believe he's with me always.

From Marcia, mother of Patrick: This year encompassed the second anniversary of my son's death as well as the TAPS National Seminar in Arlington, VA where I trained as a Peer Mentor.  Then, I ran away. No, not in the generally accepted meaning of the term, but yes, I did take off in early May and didn't return until late August.

It was a summer of reflection and reintroducing myself to me. For two years I had zipped myself into a fraud suit every day, putting on a face to public, family, and friends as someone well in control, marvelously strong, and totally put together. And a complete fraud. This summer in every place I visited, I walked. And walked and walked. Miles and miles every day. I attended community suppers, worked stuffing food bags for the homeless, stopped and talked to seniors on park benches, all while permitting myself to remain exposed emotionally, to actually encourage feelings to enter.

Most family and friends really enjoyed my visits and are urging me to return; some were uncomfortable with me as I am now and I doubt I'll be invited to return. It's interesting how that's now OK with me. Before this summer I would never have attempted this. Who knows, maybe I'll do it again soon.

This week's chat schedule:

General Support Chat
This chat is open for all survivors
Date: Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Time: 9 PM - 11 PM EST
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs

Survivors of Suicide Loss Chat
Date: Thursday, October 02, 2014
Time: 9 PM - 11 PM EST
Hosted By: Carla Stumpf-Patton and Kim Suggs

The Saturday Morning Message (SMM) is a weekly communication; written and contributed to by survivors. The primary focus of the SMM is to foster peer based connection, survivors helping survivors, for support and encouragement along the grief journey. It is the goal of this communication to foster a safe, supportive atmosphere where we can openly share in a non-judgmental and caring manner. Read and contribute as you are comfortable, and explore any opinions/ideas shared that are most beneficial to you on your individual journey. Content submitted for inclusion in the SMM is edited for spacing considerations and grammatical corrections.

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