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Sarah's family
This is Happening...

~ Sarah Greene, Survivor

December 16, 2014

I accomplished what I have been aiming to do for the last ten years. Since my husband died in 2004, it has been my main focus. I got both kids off to college. In the midst of raising them as a single parent, fighting to overcome their "at risk" status, investing hours on long talks about missing dad and wishing dad were still here, acknowledging the anger, facing the "I don't knows",  trying to be supportive, being both parents, and loving them through every single step. Through it all, my constant aim was to get them to college. Then I could dissolve. Both bright and amazing kids made it there and I am still intact. Of course, I experienced a small hiccup when I took my youngest off to college this fall.

We traveled more than halfway across the country. We loaded his room with essentials and attended new student seminars and meetings. He went off to an orientation camp while I faced the college VA Affairs representative to explain the various scholarships my son was "lucky" enough to receive. These unique scholarships were being offered because his dad died in service. I decided to meet with the VA rep because I figured the college might not be familiar with these specific scholarships. They weren't.

So, there I was, sitting in the VA Affairs office facing a Marine at his desk. It had been an emotional few days getting my son settled in, while hoping he would make friends and like this next life experience. All the while, we were aware of this missing man in our formation. We all had the same thought: "Dad should be here." As I sat there, the weight of the 1" thick folder on my lap registered in my mind and I realized it was no comparison to the sudden weight on my chest. A lump developed in my throat....  I looked at the Marine and a physical chain of events began that I could not stop. The emotional stress of the last ten years reached a culmination in that moment in the VA Affairs office. Before I could release the words; "I want to explain ...." the tears started.... And they came easily and irrepressibly and I could not stop them. I am not one to cry openly and I can usually stifle emotions, but I kind of gave up that day and surrendered.  All I could think was:  "THIS IS HAPPENING..." So I cried and tried to apologize. I used my shirt to wipe my nose and cried some more. The poor Marine just looked helpless and grasped clumsily among his desk papers as though to offer me one to wipe my tears. (No tissues in a Marine's office!) I kept apologizing between bouts of wanting to release real sobs, and he kept apologizing and saying he was so sorry for our loss.  I would try to explain the scholarships then cry some more, back and forth this went for a few minutes. I never really gathered myself together the entire time I was in his office- which was not long because I needed to get out of there. I kept wondering what he was wondering about me. Probably thought I was a crazy mother... which I am.  However, I knew as I left the office, puffy eyed mess that I was, I would some day laugh about it.

A few weeks ago, I was lucky to spend a weekend with some of my survivor buddies. I relayed the story of my breakdown in the VA Affairs office at my son's college. I was able to laugh about it and share the story with humor. I explained that all I could think was: "THIS IS HAPPENING...". We all laughed because we have all been there and this phrase is a fairly accurate way of acknowledging when a grief trigger occurs. You just can't stop it. During that weekend, we started to use this phrase when plans went awry, if there was a challenge, or a fitting time to bring it up. Usually said in a sing songy voice with a lilt at the end:  "this is happening....".

Yup, it has been ten years and there have been trials and tribulations a plenty... there will be many more for sure. Now, I have a catch phrase that describes that moment when I have hit the point of no return and grief comes knocking. I will share my "THIS IS HAPPENING..." stories with my buddies... and I hope my future breakdowns can lead to breaking up again.

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Gift Red Paper White Bow
Saturday Morning Message: Loved Ones' Gifts

December 13, 2014

Good Morning,

When we are experiencing the "new normal" after the death of a loved one, we may look at traditional gift giving in a slightly different light. Some of us choose to do what we have always done. Others take a new path. In looking through articles from the TAPS magazine, I found several that may be of interest. "Traveling with Wreaths Across America" by Jill Stephenson talks about her travels through eight states with this noteworthy organization. "Support Yourself & Your Children Through the Holidays" by Andrea Hug, MaPC, MPS, LCPC outlines some steps to help children during the holiday season. Finally, "The Holidays Are Here Again" By Jill Harrington-LaMorie, LCSW, DSW not only includes ideas to help manage the holidays, but she also writes about alternative giving like volunteering and developing a ritual that honors that person who continues to be so special in your life. It is important to remember that whatever decisions are made are right for you and the traditions set aside this year can be reinstated when the family feels ready. 

This week's topic was about the gifts our loved one gave us. This question has been in the Saturday Message before and the responses it brings are heartwarming to me and I hope to you. Sharing memories and the traits possessed by our special loved ones, help us to get to know them better.

As the holidays get closer, there could be some tension coming into our lives. Let's share some of the ways we have found to reduce those feelings. The discussion topic for next week is: What do you do to help take the stress out of your life during this season?

I invite you to respond to this week's question or share a topic you would like to ask the group by hitting the reply button or sending a message 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 Wes: I would have to say that a trait he was born with was the ability to find a comical solution to small problems.  Once while taking a family weekend outing, (I was pregnant with Eric at the time), I forgot to pack a change of clothes for myself and him.  Can you believe that????  I had packed pj's and bathing suits, but not clothes. We both laughed at it and said, "Oh well, we'll just have to wear the same clothes."  We could not stop giggling about it. It was not so funny to another person along for the weekend. His 8th grade teacher and I agreed that he would be a comedy writer someday.  He would have been great at stand up if he were not so shy.

Christine, mother of Adam: One gift was just the precious gift of his birth. He was a "go to guy".  We always had fun.

Bob, father of Louis: Lou gave us Trevor, Colin, Sean and Jeremy. They are growing up to be fine young men, despite the hand that was dealt them. They are now 15, 14, 13 and 11. Whenever we meet anyone who knows them, there are remarks about their great manners and deportment. Lou would be proud.

Diane, mother of Caleb: One gift my son's life gave me...there are so many! One gift is the new family we now have. Caleb's Marine Reconnaissance community and his many friends have been such a godsend to my life. I don't know how I would have made it this far without them. They are wonderful. They have called, texted, sent letters, and come to see us - on a regular basis. Their kindness, support, and "Caleb stories" have lifted my heart and given me strength - more than they will ever know. These outstanding individuals are a reflection of Caleb. I am blessed.

From Mary-Ann, mother of Blake: When I think of Blake and his gifts I'd have to say his special talent would be sharing his love for life with everyone. He had a heart of gold, always extending a helping hand to anyone in need of one. He was well loved by those who knew him, because he brought the best out in others leaving them feeling good about themselves. He was always like that from when he was a little boy 'till the day he died. He always thought about and did for others. He had a sincere love in his heart that showed through in all he did!

From Sarah, spouse of David: I loved to take a walk with my husband, Dave. This is a gift he gave me. We would try to do it almost every day. We were always accompanied by a dog and eventually kids. I treasure the times we walked hand in hand not needing to speak, but just enjoying the nature of it. My first walk alone after his death was really painful. I thought about him constantly and cried throughout. I hated the feeling that he would not be joining me anymore on these walks, but I also knew he would want me to continue to take them. So I did. At first with my kids, friends... and  the dog! Eventually, I returned to trekking with only the dog.  I found my way back to enjoyable moments on the trail and I love that it makes me still feel close to my husband.  I know he is happy that this still brings me joy. I  am glad I made myself "get back out there," because my husband would hate for me to stop doing something I loved just because he was not there with me. In fact, I  just returned from a good  walk in the woods one this morning ... with the dog! :)

From Ruth, mother of James: Jim was a brilliant man.  He would sit down and read an entire book in an evening and tell you exactly what he had read.  He is the only one I know who read the Bible through three times.  He used it to negotiate himself out of trouble quoting scriptures...  He would always say, "Now mom, in the bible it says...  so I guess I am okay to continue with what I am doing."  By the time he was through negotiating, we would be laughing.  I miss his laughter, his love and his conversation.  I still laugh when I think of the fun times.  I still love him and am grateful for the time we had together.  I still have silent conversations with him.  I know he hears me and at times I feel I can hear him as the wind kisses my cheek.  So you see, in the beginning we have laughter, love and conversation. Now we continue to do that for I know he laughs with me, he loves me and he speaks to me from the edge of a cloud....

This week's chat schedule:

General Support
Open to all survivors
Date: Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Time: 8:30 PM - 11 PM EST
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs

Survivors of Suicide Loss Chat
Date: Thursday, December 18, 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 at 1-800-959-8277.

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running pic for blog
Keeping Pace

~ Rachael Hill , Survivor

December 8, 2014

On October 26th, 2014 I ran the Marine Corps Marathon with TAPS, my second ever full marathon! Now I have never claimed to be a runner, but completing a marathon had always been on my bucket list. The way I see it if you can run a marathon, you can do just about anything! While training for this marathon, I had to complete many long runs, and while on these long runs my mind would often wander through all sorts of things. One run even brought me to the realization that running is actually a lot like grief.

For starters, running and grief are both extremely hard, physically and mentally. When running, my chest hurts, my legs hurt, and it often becomes a mind game in telling myself I need to keep pushing forward regardless of the hurt, and that eventually it will get better. For me, it is an amazing similarity to how I feel in grieving the loss of my husband. My heart hurts, my mind hurts, and sometimes it all hurts so badly that I am not sure how I can continue to live my life without him. Those are the times it becomes a mental game in not only knowing that I can continue on, but believing that I can do this without his physical presence in my life. It's hard, it sucks, and I miss him terribly, but I know that I can't give up and that at some point through this journey it will get better.

Long runs often bring the proverbial "walls" where you just feel like you can't go any further and all you want to do is quit. However, inside you know that if you keep going just a little bit further you will find a second wind that will keep you going with the run. Since my husband died four years ago, I have run into many "walls" in my grief. Most days I feel pretty good and am accepting of the path this life has put me on, but then all of a sudden, virtually out of nowhere, there will come a day that it all feels too much and I miss Jeff so deeply I can physically feel it. Those days cannot only feel like walls, but giant skyscrapers that won't let me by. Sometimes these walls only last a day or so, but then other times they can last much longer. Ultimately I know I have to continue to push through and the walls will eventually break down, but it can be so hard. It's not always easy reminding myself it will get better when I feel so down, but eventually it does, and each time the walls seem to get a little further and farther between.

Perhaps the biggest difference between running and grief is when running, I know there is ultimately a finish line. Whether it be a time, a distance, or a finish line at a race, there is a definitive end and at that point I will be able to recover and rest. Grief doesn't have that definitive end. However, what it does provide is the understanding that as time goes on it will start to get easier. The hurt and pain will always be there in some respect, but you learn how to maneuver through it in a different way. 

This is why grief in itself is not a short sprint, it is a marathon. It is a marathon with no training and you have to learn as you go. While some people seem to master their grief in a short amount of time (the key word here is "seem"), others take it at a bit of a slower speed, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with either of these options. I have learned to follow my own timeline and do things at my own speed, regardless of what others are doing around me. It's a marathon, so I have learned to take my time and listen to my mind and body along the way. I have to continue to remind myself that I can do it. I have to believe in myself and trust that Jeff's memory, as well as his new form of presence in my life, will help me through. Then at the finish line when I see my husband again in Heaven, I believe my own steady pace in the journey of this race will have all been worth it.

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Computer Mouse
Saturday Morning Message: Shared Activities

December 6, 2014

Good Morning,

As people come into our lives, we find activities that we enjoy doing together. When those interests are things we did with our loved ones, continuing to do them may keep these special people close to us.  This week survivors wrote  how they have maintained and enjoyed those pursuits. Thank you to all who replied and to those who read the Saturday Message.

One way that TAPS helps survivors share their feelings, questions, and their loved ones' lives is through the TAPS Online Community. In this article written in the TAPS magazine by Ellen Andrews, she describes how the chat rooms, peer group sites, and message boards can help not only during the upcoming holiday season, but throughout the year. Participation helps you connect with others in a safe and supportive way.

This is the season when homes and workplaces are decorated and shoppers are buying gifts. For those who are grieving, this can be stressful. The TAPS Magazine-Winter 2014 contains articles from survivors and professionals sharing helpful ideas as we walk together. My friends and family have a slightly different way to look at traditional giving by focusing on the interests and talents of each person. For example, someone in your family may enjoy going to plays at a local theater or they may love a certain sports team. Buying tickets for yourself and that person to attend one of these special events together provides a memory that will last a lifetime.

The joy that our loved ones brought to us continues to be their contribution to our lives. We remember the little things that made them so special. I know that when I think of my son, I remember the times we spent together and his ability to bring a smile to my face when he unexpectedly called from wherever he was. Now I make sure that I call those who are close to my heart every once in a while just to say that I was thinking of them.  I hope it warms their heart as those calls did mine. So the discussion topic for next week is: What is one gift that your loved one's life gave you? I am looking forward to reading your thoughts and sharing them next week in the Saturday Message.

I invite you to respond to this week's question or share a topic you would like to ask the group by hitting the reply button or sending a message 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 Georgiana, mother of Jamie: My son and I worked out a lot together as he was growing up. When he went in the Navy, we would share our workouts over the phone. I am really picking my workouts up now, because I kind of ate too much for the holidays already and from missing him. I don't want to eat on my emotions. I recently moved to a new area, and joined a gym. This gym has a pool. My son was on the swim team in high school and received honors. What is going to be great is when I am swimming, I know he is swimming with me. It is a new normal way of life to learn to live. I have to go swimming now.:) God bless everyone.

From Annie, mother of Michael: Every time we were with our sweet son, Michael and his family we always enjoyed doing things together and having fun and we still continue that tradition in our family whenever we get together.

This week's chat schedule:

Parent
Date: Monday, December 08, 2014
Time: 9 PM - 10:30 PM Eastern
Hosted By: Carol Lane, Ron and Mary Johnson

General Support
Open for all survivors
Date: Tuesday, December 9, 2014
Time: 8:30 PM - 11 PM EST
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs

Widow-Widower
Date: Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Time: 9 PM - 10:30 PM Eastern
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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Healthy Diet
Saturday Morning Message: Honoring Our Loved Ones

November 29, 2014

Good Morning, 

This is a time many come together with friends and family to share holiday recipes and memories. For many survivors, it can also be a time of sadness. Contemplating what you might do to pay tribute to your loved one might can ease those feelings. Honoring your loved one can be on a traditional holiday or one that is special just to your family and friends. This week survivors shared some of the things that are done to show these wonderful people are continuing to touch lives. There are some ideas here that gave me inspiration and I hope you will find them motivating as well. Thank you to those who reply to the Saturday message question of the week and all of you who read it. Together we grow stronger. 

It can be nice to reminisce about time spent with our loved one.  Sometimes we continue to enjoy an activity or event that we shared. Let's write about some of those interests, so the discussion topic for this week is: What is something that you and your loved one enjoyed doing together that you still do now? We look forward to your thoughts. 

I invite you to respond to this week's question or share a topic you would like to ask the group by hitting the reply button or sending a message 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 Deb, mother of Beth: Starting with Thanksgiving and ending with Valentine's Day, that three month span is hard for us deal with since Beth's passing. Beth was our miracle baby. The doctors had told me they could save my life, but the baby I had carried for nine months was going to die. Eighteen hours later Beth was brought into this world through C-section. The doctors said they did not understand how she had survived, because all medical science said she would not. She died in an aviation accident on her 'final exam' just two weeks before her 24th birthday. We celebrate Beth's January birthday by going to a transitional and extended housing unit established by our local Catholic diocese for veterans who have faced the horrible challenges of homelessness, unemployment, and, in many cases, addiction problems.  These vets have turned their lives around, with help have found employment, live a clean life, and share housing in a vet's only apartment complex.  The community remembers these vets on Veteran's Day and during the holidays, but for 10 1/2 months no one comes around, so our late January celebration broke up the long days of winter. 

Last year, my husband and I decided we wanted to have a dinner with these vets and those who live in the community portion of this program.  Tom and I spent a full day cooking and then sat with these vets for a family style dinner in the community room of the campus.  We thought this day would be difficult, but instead we found a camaraderie with this new family.  They understood how we felt, because many faced those tough times and felt the same pain from losing their brothers and sisters during service to our country.  We sat with vets from WWII to a 24 year old mom who is a vet who had buried her veteran husband four years earlier from a death in Afghanistan and her little girl.  One gent was 93 years old and asked me to share my recipe for roast beef with his wife. Tom and I thought this whole thing would be over by mid-afternoon, but we found ourselves not leaving until late into the evening.  And the vets asked us to please come back to visit and especially to come and celebrate Beth's birthday again. As a treat, we had take-out containers, so everyone could make up a few dinner plates for the coming week.  Needless to say, we took very few leftovers home. Cooking all that food ourselves was tiring, but the day went better than we could ever have imagined.  When we returned home we were exhausted, but we agreed that Beth would definitely have loved this sharing event.  

From Bill, father of Brandon: We lost our precious son on 3/15/11. And from that day we have undertaken every option to insure that our son is not forgotten and remembered for his service. We have or will participate in the Run For The Fallen, Fallen Warrior Memorial, Walls Of Remembrance, and National Operation Enduring Freedom Memorial to be built in Kansas City, Kansas in the future. Every day is special since he left this world and they are lived with our special thoughts of Brandon and all of the other men and women that have given their lives so that we and world may be free. 

From Merry, mother of Wesley: The 28th of March is when Wes was born.  On the 28th of each month, I sit and reflect by the tree that was planted in his memory at a park in Lonetree, CO. I then visit his grave at Fort Logan National Cemetery and leave a U.S. Flag or a memento.  I've just ordered a wreath from Wreaths Across America and I'm hoping they can place it on his grave at Fort Logan.  

From Ginny, mother of Pat: Our family and many of Pat's friends often set a place for Pat at special events. They sent us a photo from a teammate's wedding. A place was set for Pat and fellow Teammate Dave, killed together when their Helo was shot down, August 16, 2012. Often the boys will post or text us photos of a Bud light and a RedBull indicating a toast was made in their memory. It warms our hearts to know our sons are remembered. 

From Jessie, father of Isaac: When my son passed, we decided to donate his organs and two people have come forward who wanted to meet us. Just a few weeks ago I met the person that received my son's heart. One man, aged 60, sent me a letter and we met in Los Angeles. It was OK at first, but when he let me hear his heart through a device that the doctors use to hear your heart, I wept very much knowing that it was my son's heart. It was in the newspaper in Los Angeles. They are thinking of putting a story of my son on a Spanish talk show. 

From Melinda, mother of Christopher: My son, Chris, has been gone for 3 1/2 years. One way we have honored his memory is by setting up a fund through our local community foundation.  On Chris' birthday and Christmas we give to this fund.  Chris was a very generous person and was always concerned about the well-being of others.  By doing this I feel that his memory will live on for many years.  I know this makes Chris happy. 

This week's chat schedule:

General Support
Open for all survivors
Date:  Tuesday, December 2, 2014
Time:  8:30 PM - 11 PM EST
Hosted By:  Carol Lane and Kim Suggs 

Survivors of Suicide Loss
Date:  Thursday, December 4, 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 at 1-800-959-8277.

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letter
A Father's Quest to Honor his Son

~ Bob Bagosy, Survivor

November 24, 2014

Okay, it's finished! The quest to honor my son, SGT Thomas R Bagosy USMC is complete. On October 16, 2014 the Commandant of the Marine Corps General Amos approved the awards committee recommendation for Tommy to be awarded a Purple Heart for injuries he received in Iraq on December 18, 2006. According to one of Tommy's battle buddies, my son and four other Marines were in a Humvee providing security for an EOD team in Fallujah when they ran over an IED. It exploded next to the right rear door where Tommy was seated.

The Marines were treated by the corpsmen at Fallujah's main medical center and released back to duty. The Gunner was treated for a TBI and received the Purple Heart. All of the Marines in the Humvee survived the IED and served their time in Iraq and arrived back in the United States in April 2007.

In April 2007 Tommy reported to the Camp Lejeune Deployment Heath Center and complained of headaches, sleeplessness, irritability, and depression. Tommy's wife told the doctors that the man who went to Iraq was not the same man who came home. Tommy was miserable and depressed. He began drinking a lot. He spoke with doctors who gave him medication; he also spoke with a psychologist for 15 minutes. Follow up appointments were scheduled and a MRI to see if he had a TBI.

The follow up appointments resulted in more medications and time spent with the psychologist. The MRI was positive for a TBI and PTSD. Tommy was placed on light duty and restricted from further deployments. Tommy continued to see his psychologist and take his medications which continually changed through 2007 into February 2008 with very little improvement.  

Tommy was due to complete his Marine Corps four year enlistment in March 2008. In February 2008, Tommy called me and told me he had reenlisted for four more years. I was amazed that he was allowed to reenlist due to his condition of a TBI and PTSD. Tommy told me that it was as good as it was going to get, and he felt they did all they could. In March 2008, Tommy reenlisted with MARSOC and left for Afghanistan in June 2009 and returned November 2009. In January 2010 he went back to the deployment health center with the complaints of headaches, sleeplessness, etc. Tommy went downhill from there. In February 2010, he threatened suicide. In March 2010, he threatened to shoot up his shop and threatened his wife. In April 2010, Tommy's wife was asked by his command if he was faking his TBI and PTSD. She denied he was faking. Tommy's gunnery sergeant called him a coward. Tommy continued to see the psychologist plus a psychiatrist. He spoke of suicide but the doctors said he did not have a plan so he was given more medication. Tommy was found by a medical board to be suffering from a condition that he did not have prior to entering the Marine Corps; the board recommended that he be retired from the Marine Corps.

On May 10, 2010 Tommy was to enter the Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune for further treatment but refused to go and instead completed suicide.

My wife and I were not aware of what Tommy was going through; he told his wife not to tell us.

I first became aware of Tommy's TBI and PTSD during his funeral on May 16, 2010 when I asked his battle buddy what happened in Iraq. I was told that Tommy was involved in at least six IED blasts while on patrol in Iraq. I started my quest to find out why he had not been awarded a Purple Heart.  It took seven years to find out all the details of what happened. I spoke with President Obama, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps who is now the Commandant, Tommy's platoon lieutenant, and his executive officer (XO). I reviewed his medical file at the Camp Lejeune Deployment Heath Center. It took me three years, but I found Tommy's battle buddies who witnessed the IED and gave statements as to what occurred on December 18, 2006. Tommy was tossed around in the Humvee and struck his head so hard that it damaged his kevlar helmet. He had to be escorted by his battle buddies to chow and to his shop. He was not allowed on patrol for at least four days. All of this should have been in his medical records but his Iraq records were lost. Finally all the reports and witness statements were sent to the awards committee for the final review. A week later I received a call from the investigator that the award had been approved and a letter was forthcoming from the Commandant.

I believe in Semper Fi.  It won't bring my son back but it does bring a closure to the Why question of Tommy's suicide. The award of Tommy's Purple Heart will be given to his wife Katie, his eight year old son Nathan, and his six year old daughter Avery. It will show Tommy's bravery for the silent wounds he suffered during combat, and perhaps his story will help other silent wounded Marines not to give up, not to ever give up.

Semper Fi!

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Smiling Snowman
Saturday Morning Message: Grief Meltdowns

November 22, 2014

Good Morning,

Grief episodes or meltdowns are times that are hard to control. Sometimes they arrive when you are at places or at times when you don't expect them. Sarah, spouse of David wrote: "I was walking my dog this morning and thinking about a recent grief episode I had. It was at my son's college vet affairs office of all places! It got me to thinking about the many places where these bouts of grief arise- and for so many reasons.  I have talked to survivors who have shared that they have had 'grief meltdowns' in strange and non-typical places too." She thought this question could be posed: "Where are some of the places that you have experienced a grief episode?" This week's question was a chance to share these times with others who read the Saturday message. Often these episodes come during this time of the year when we are encouraged to stay inside by the shrinking daylight hours, the colder temperatures, and the holiday seasons that are upon us. I thought sharing some articles from past TAPS magazines that give strategies might be of help in addition to those given by the survivors later in this message.

Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD gave permission to the TAPS magazine to print an article of hers titled "Looking for Sunshine in the Dark Winter Months"  . In it she lists ways to help keep spirits lifted during this time of year.

In Physical Reactions to Loss and Grief It Isn't All In Your Head (or Your Heart) by Susan R. Blankenship MS, BSN, RN, CCM and Rebecca I. Porter PhD, ABPP, LTC US Army, the authors not only talk about why you may feel as you do, but also give some helpful suggestions on how to help yourself feel better.

These articles are among a group in the Holiday Survival Guide on the TAPS website including one listing ideas for coping with any special dates by Darcie D. Sims, PhD, CHT, CT, GMS titled "Handling the Holidays".

There are days throughout the year that are special to your family and your loved one. It could be a birthday, a holiday, or any other time of year that has particular meaning. The discussion topic for next week is: What is something that you do or have thought of doing to honor your loved one on these days that are unique to your family? We look forward to your thoughts.

I invite you to respond to this week's question or share a topic you would like to ask the group by hitting the reply button or sending a message 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: Yes, I had a complete meltdown recently while on vacation in London.  This is more than 3 1/2 years since Eugene passed.  I was in the Church at Windsor castle.  I couldn't breathe. My husband didn't know what to do. I just wanted my son. One of the ladies (not a nun but close to it) saw I was having an issue and brought me to the Vicar. We had a short conversation about my son. He had me write some details about Eugene.  He promised to include him in the service that weekend when the Queen came. For some reason I was functional after that. This was not fun.

From Carol, mother of Bryon: This is an interesting question. I had one of these episodes happen in church during the Veterans' Day service this year. Now I know that is not an unusual time for it to happen, but I have lived thirteen years without Bryon and these episodes are rarer than they used to be. It took me by surprise, but I have learned that it is best for me to go to a quiet place to calm the tears that come. Then I am able to tell those who come to comfort me what is happening and not apologize. Also I keep a supply of tissues with me at all times even now.

From Mary-Ann, mother of Blake: When and where have I had melt downs and what did I do about them? WOW! That's a loaded question!

When have I not had melt downs? The first two years I seemed to have them everywhere, anytime, any place no matter how hard I tried not to have them. I live in a small town where everyone knows everyone so I was constantly having people asking questions or telling me they were sorry for our loss. That did not make it easier, because I could not get away from the constant reminders. I finally got where I figured, "Oh well, I can't control it and they keep asking questions." So I just kept tissue with me at all times and let the tears flow. I felt like I was a broken dam. There was no controlling the tears.

For months we would go out of town every weekend to do our grocery shopping or to eat out. That helped a little bit, but the helicopter crash was in the news for weeks, so people would hear our name and automatically ask if we were related to that sailor that was killed in Afghanistan. I finally realized we were fighting an endless battle and that people would just have to accept the fact that tears were going to flow.

Thanks to God things have gradually gotten easier to deal with on most days anyway.  I try not to be around people on those more emotional days. I rearrange schedules around my moods as much as I can, but that's not always possible either. I really don't think there is an answer as to how to deal with the melt downs other than handling them one at a time as best you can. Every day and situation is different, so all you can do is your best under the situation.

This week's chat schedule:

General Support Chat
This chat is open for all survivors.
Date:
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Time: 8:30 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 at1-800-959-8277.

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Linda and another survivor
Once Upon a Time...

~ Linda Ambard, Survivor

November 17, 2014

People often put off doing the things they want to do because they believe there will be a better time for it. I know that Phil and I put off those couple's only dates and vacations because we thought we had time.  In fact, I pushed for a Phil and Linda vacation together before his deployment, but he wanted to wait because it wasn't his top priority.  It became the desire of his heart while he was deployed, and we had plans for that magical day that we were to meet in Italy for a Mediterranean cruise.  While he was deployed, we also talked often about our dream house and our next base.  We made plans to run the Paris Marathon.  I had dreams of growing old together, being grandma and grandpa together, watching Phil commission our youngest, and of Phil walking Emily down the aisle at her wedding.  Not one of those dreams came true, and all of my hopes have changed and shifted in a major transformation.  As I ran the hills of the Athens Marathon today, I recognize a huge change that I have made. 

While I believe Colorado is the place that is home in my heart, I am not sure because home was always him, yet I see a day when I will own a house and when I will be retired.  I hope there is a chapter two, but I am not sure if that will happen.  I know that I will be okay alone, though, and that is where the change has occurred.  I am living my dreams.  Some of these dreams have a financial commitment; some an emotional and time commitment, and still others a physical investment.  I no longer wait for the "right" day. I look for opportunities to live my dreams.  I recently finished my 50th state marathon and celebrated by using my vacation time from work to fly to Europe to visit my daughter and to run the Athens Marathon.

The Athens Marathon is special because the race follows the original marathon course from Marathon, Greece to Athens.  The original participant ran the 26.2 miles to deliver a military message and then promptly keeled over and died.  I am sure his intention that day wasn't to die, but it happened.  His dreams ended that day.  Pondering that story and thinking about Phil's life being gone far too soon made me think about all of the dreams and all of the events that were deferred for a better time.  I am living my dreams because Phil's death changed me, changed my dreams, and opened me up to possibility.  While I would choose the life and dreams I once held over these possibilities that is not an option.  Recognizing what once was is not coming back has opened my heart to possibility and looking at what I want.  Does it gouge my heart and do I long for wanting to grow old with the husband of my youth?  You bet.

As I have opened my eyes to figuring out how to live without the man who knew me almost as well as I know myself, my dreams have evolved.  One of the biggest shifts is in the fire that blazes within me for my military brothers and sisters who have served, are serving, or will serve.  That raging blaze led to me walking away from a teaching job I loved to go back to school in military resiliency counseling.  Every day I get up and go to work with a sense of purpose and meaning born of heartbreaking loss.  I simply must make something positive come out of the ashes, and I must do what I can to help those in the midst of the raging storms of military moves, family separations, injury, loss, or having seen too much. 

With my completion of my 50th state marathon which was one of my two promises to Phil, I have begun to reach for other things.  I want to run The Great Wall of China Marathon and the Dublin Marathon.  I am not recklessly pursuing my dreams, but I am coming up with a plan to make them happen.  Like the ancient runner in Greece, I am well aware that there is always a cost-time, money, emotional, and physical, but the possibilities have opened my eyes to a new day and a new type of future.  While this chapter may look nothing like the future I saw for myself, I recognize that I have the ability to make my dreams possible as long as I have breath.

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Rose Saturday Morning
Saturday Morning Message: Holiday Thoughts

November 15, 2014

Good Morning,

Survivors wrote in sharing their experiences about how they mark the November/December holiday and offered so many thoughts especially those who described how things changed with the years that I will keep my comments short this week. Thanks to all who wrote answers and those who read the Saturday Messages.

I did want to share an article called The Empty Chair by Darcie D. Sims, PhD, CHT, CT, GMS. In it she tells that her family decided to place a single rose on their loved one's plate by his empty chair for the holidays. The story is very uplifting.

Her quote from this article seemed appropriate for today's topic:

"We join hands in thanksgiving, completing the circle with the empty chair within our family circle, for even though death may have come, love never goes away." ~Darcie Sims

The question for the week comes from Sarah, a surviving spouse who wrote, "I was walking my dog and thinking about a recent grief episode I had. It was at my son's college veterans' affairs office of all places!" The discussion for the week comes from her query about how others handle these situations: Where have you experienced a grief meltdown and how did you handle it? I look forward to reading your replies.

I invite you to respond to this week's question or share a topic you would like to ask the group by sending a message 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 Mary-Ann, mother of Blake: From September, the month Blake was killed, till the end of the year has always been the hardest and longest 4 months of the year. November is not only the start of the seasonal holidays, but also Blake's birthday. There are so many memories  getting stirred up during this time of year that I just kind of go with the flow as best as I can one day at a time. I keep hoping that things will get closer to what they once were, but so far even though things are somewhat better, there is a long way to go.

Veteran's Day happens to be my birthday as well, so the family always seems to come up with something or other birthday wise. As for the holiday itself our area has started having many discounts, free meals, and other freebies for our vets and active military. My husband, brother-in-law and I are all vets ourselves, so we go out to eat at one of the places in town that always offers a great meal for vets. There is also a Veterans' Day parade that was started the year our son was killed, but I still have a hard time dealing with it and have only gone once in the 4 years since Blake's death. I couldn't stay without the tears flowing, so I really don't think I'll go this year. The memories are still too painful after 4 years! Once you lose a loved one in the military the true meaning comes to life during this type of holiday and seems to hit you like a led balloon. They have become harder to deal with than the other holidays. I keep hoping things will get better and they have somewhat, but there's still a long road ahead.

From Peggy, mother of Cody: Holidays are stressful enough, but when you add grief into the mix it can be overwhelming. The past couple of years, I have tried a few different things to lessen the burden of the holidays after the death of my son. Still having two daughters at home, I wanted to make their holidays as special as I could given our circumstances.

Sometimes grief zaps the energy from us and the horrible thought of that empty chair at the table can be too much to bare. You can try changing the room in which you would normally celebrate or take others up on the offer to spend the holiday at another house. It eliminates cooking, the empty chair at the table, and you can leave when you're ready.

We decided to sponsor a child for Christmas through the Salvation Army. My son, Cody, was a very giving child and I knew that he would really want us to do this as he loved children and had a special place in his heart for them. It really brought a lot of joy to our family to do so as well. You may find volunteering your time at an organization around the holidays may lessen the grief. There are many organizations who really need help around this time of year.

Many of us experience a great deal of anxiety before the actual day itself so try to keep that in mind. The holiday is only one day. Remember good self-care during this time. Do only what you feel comfortable doing and take it one step at a time. If you need to reach out and speak to someone, remember that the TAPS hotline at 800-959-8277 is open 24/7 and someone will be there to speak to you directly. Ask for help when needed. If you would like a tree, but just can't bring yourself to put it up, ask a friend or family member to help. If you need help with Christmas shopping or any other task, ask. Many people would love to help us in our time of sorrow, but really don't know what we need unless we let them know.

From Tara, spouse of Jay: This will be the fifth holiday season without my best friend, husband of 15 years, and father of my two children.  The first Thanksgiving, I had no appetite and no amount of family could satisfy the empty hole in my gut.  No one could meet my need for intimacy or companionship.  The first year, my cookie baking marathon weekends that used to summon Jay helplessly to the kitchen for his favorite chocolate chip cookies were a fog.  There was no Christmas tree and I believed there never would be again.  I visited Jay's grave every single day, sometimes twice a day.  People were afraid to mention Jay's name, so as to not upset the children or me.  My large and close extended family offered love and support and plenty of hugs and tissues, but the truth is, there was nothing that was going to make Jay hang the stockings over the fireplace, or go outside with our children to leave reindeer food for Santa's reindeer.  He was no longer going to be a physical part of our holiday celebration ever again.

The second year was less of a fog, with a greater sense of permanence.  I actually baked a few pies for Thanksgiving dinner, and even shopped for a few Christmas presents.  My visits to Jay's final resting place were saved for Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.  By the third year, I was able to tell stories of Christmases past and encourage others to tell stories about Jay up on a ladder or dressed as a not-so-shapely Santa.  A few laughs were exchanged in memory of Jay, along with a teary eye.  Jay's stocking continued to hang alongside mine and the children's.  My daughter and I baked cookies together.  My son hung the lights using the ladder Jay used to climb.  We talked about "Daddy" and the fun we used to have.  The fourth Thanksgiving, family members mistakenly called my son by his father's name.  People openly talked about Jay as if they had seen him last week.  Even though he is dead, the love I feel for him continues through our children and through the joyful stories and memories of holidays shared with him.

For me, there was no planning for the holidays.  There were times over the years when I wanted to be alone and the thought of attending a holiday party nauseated me, so I declined.  There were times when I could not bear to be alone, so I reached out.   There is no magic formula.  I am grateful that I possessed the wisdom to be gentle and loving toward myself.  This year, five years later, I still have no plans.  Waves of grief come and go (especially during the holidays), so I maintain a plan that allows for me to feel the grief when it comes, and to recall the joyous memories when they come.

From Leslie, mother of Eugene: Eugene was born in December. In addition we celebrate Chanukah and Christmas. So, December is not easy. What works is not doing anything we did prior to his sudden death. We have made new memories. The first Christmas without Gene I went swimming indoors in my building.  Then I went to friends in the city.  We are all pianists, so we played for one another. Now I am remarried so we go out East on Long Island. We enjoy it there. The kids are with their father. I get them for Chanukah and with grandkids it's a nice party.

This week's chat schedule:

General Support
Open to all survivors
Date: Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Time: 8:30 PM - 11 PM Eastern
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs

Daytime General Support
Date: Thursday, November 20, 2014
Time: 1 PM - 2:30 PM Eastern
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kellie Hazlett

Survivors of Suicide Loss
Date: Thursday, November 20, 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 at 1-800-959-8277. 

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Apple - Health
Saturday Morning Message: Self Care

November 8, 2014

Good Morning,

The old adage about an apple a day keeping us healthy can apply to both physical and mental health. When we become survivors, keeping ourselves healthy may be the farthest thing from our thoughts. We concern ourselves with other family members at a time when our world has changed rapidly. We are called on to make major decisions when we find ourselves in a fog. Then after all the activity has slowed, just getting out of bed in the morning may seem like a major task.

It is at that time many find it helpful to read or talk to others who can offer support. Personally, I found that being around others has always been healing for me, so I joined a physical fitness organization in my town where I could work out and yet talk to others at the same time.  I was working as a teacher at the time of my son's accident. By going back I found that preparing lessons and working with students gave me a sense of order which I needed to keep my mind functioning. Then I found TAPS and made a connection to others who had suffered a loss. Talking to others who had been where I was and had picked up the pieces was comforting. There is a group of articles written by others for health and wellness on the TAPS website that give more ideas on this topic.  Survivors have written in this week to share what they have found beneficial. Thanks so much to all who read and those who reply to the Saturday Message each week. As we support each other, we grow stronger.

This Tuesday is Veterans' Day. Other major holidays follow closely. The discussion for this week will be: Tell us your plans for this year or if you have been through a few seasons, share what has made you more comfortable during the November and December holidays.

I invite you to respond to this week's question or share a topic you would like to ask the group by sending a message 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 Janae mother of Brandon: What do I do to keep myself physically and mentally fit? That's an ongoing ordeal. Brandon was with me for 25 years, 6 months, and 13 days. I was so busy trying to keep my other kids together, I didn't care about myself. One day about at the year date, I looked in the mirror and couldn't believe what I saw. I weighed 87 pounds and was falling apart fast. I quit my job. Most people thought I was crazy for leaving because of the pay, but I just couldn't do it anymore. I took about a year off life and it was lucky I saved through the good times. I have been single a long time, so I didn't have anyone there for me. I also am dealing with another son who was in the military with severe PTSD who has moved in with me. I have to fight everyday to keep myself together. 

I needed to feel passion for something again. I decided to make a change and I took a job in sports marketing. I have gotten involved in a charity that helps military kids get hockey gear so they can play and many other things for military families. This job doesn't pay anywhere near what I am used to, but it makes me feel something again and I needed that. I also play hockey and that helps me stay physically active. I always wear #4, because that's the number my Brandon wore during high school. They let me play on the local military team in his honor. My life and family have changed forever and we will never be the same again, but for now I take it one day at a time and try to find things that make me feel something besides pain. I still haven't been able to let myself have a social life, but I'm trying to work on that. The changes I made for myself saved me from a deep dark place. I moved away to another state. It was hard to leave my family and everything I knew, but I guess it's my way of dealing with this nightmare.

From Leslie, mother of Eugene: After Eugene died, keeping healthy was the last thing on my mind. Since I was the one with several nasty health issues, I never would have thought Eugene would die before me. I ignored doctor visits of every kind. I can advise those of you doing the same. ...don't.  Take care of yourself. I'm now swimming 4-5 days/week and have healthy habits.

From Mary-Ann, mother of Blake: This is an excellent question especially for those who are just at the beginning of their journey. I know that for me I had absolutely no interest in preparing or eating anything! Not a good way to be. Thanks to a good friend and mother of one of Blake's high school buddies, I started to get back on track. She came to our house with a bowl of homemade soup and told me I'd either eat or she was going to spoon feed me! Believe me she meant it, too! She grabbed a spoon out of the drawer and was ready to start shoveling the soup into my mouth. She actually made me laugh at a time all I wanted to do was hide away from everyone and cry. Her efforts to get me going in the right direction were memorable for me. I couldn't get myself to eat all the soup, but ate enough to get a desire to at least eat a little each day. I feel I owe her a lot for going out of the way to do what she did for me. Now four years later, I try to eat healthy foods, go to water aerobics, and walk as much as time and weather permit me. I also spend as much quality time with my family as possible, read more, and do word exercise games. I stay busy helping others through different church ministries and by working on the annual walk/run that we have to raise money for scholarships given in our son's name each year. I also try to make a point to counteract negative memories of my loss with the good ones I have of Blake. I've even started a journal of the good memories of Blake growing up and how proud I am of the man he became!

This week's chat schedule:

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

General Support Chat
Open to all survivors
Date: Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Time: 8:30 PM - 11 PM Eastern
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs

Widow-Widower Chat
Date: Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Time: 9 PM - 10:30 PM Eastern
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. 

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