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Jackie Syverson and Ben Stein
Saturday Morning Message: Helping Other Survivors

January 24, 2015

Good Morning,

The compassion that survivors have for those who are new to grief is so overwhelming that it has taken two weeks to include all the ideas that have come into my email. I found two articles in the TAPS magazine written by survivors which also can be helpful. Exercise Can Help your Grieving Heart By Jackie Syverson, BSN, RN describes several forms of exercise that can help manage those sleepless nights and other emotions of grief. Finding comfort by talking to one another either in person at a seminar or retreat can be comforting as well as the connection survivors find online. The article TAPS Online Community By Ellen Andrews, Manager, TAPS Online Community, explains these resources that offer that link to others as we walk on this journey. Thanks to all who wrote in their thoughts these two weeks as well as to those who read the Saturday Morning Message. 

This week the question will be a bit difficult, because I am asking you toIntroduce us to your loved one in one paragraph. Describe one thing that will tell us what your loved one was like. It can be a serious or a funny detail. Looking forward to the responses and meeting your loved ones. 

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 Ginny, mother of Patrick: One of the best things anyone said to me was that confusion, memory loss, inability to concentrate, and accomplish tasks is normal in grief. My mom had died in June while suffering from dementia. My confusion after our son was KIA really had me scared that I had early onset dementia. What a relief to know it was normal in grief! I went back to my riding lessons to help me focus. I think having something pleasant to help focus my mind really saved me. 

From Trish, spouse of Garrett: For those who suffer a loss of their spouse and have children at home, offering to help meet the needs of the children is crucial. Food for the hungry mouths that aren't suffering the appetite suppression of grief, a couple hours out  of the house away from their heart-broken parent who can do barely more than cry. Go over at bedtime, read a story, make sure their teeth are brushed and tuck them in. 

From Lesia, mother of Christopher:  As far as what I would offer another person who lost a loved one, I would genuinely look into their eyes, hold their hands, and compassionately say how sorry I am and bless their strength for acknowledging their loved one and their own grief and sorrow.  All too often, in my case, people stood as far away as possible from me (as if I was contagious) and they felt uncomfortable and couldn't wait to end the conversation and step away. For a grieving person to have their hand held, or a tight long-lasting and meaningful hug could mean the world to a person with an empty and broken heart.  

From  Donn, father of Todd: Since there is no way to prepare for the crushing blow of losing a son, daughter, husband or wife, the four years since we lost our son, Todd, have shown our family experiences that may be something others might consider.  One lesson we learned is that in the first few months we should have had more "family meetings" even by phone about how we wanted to honor his service and sacrifice.  Even if our others in our family may not have wanted to do some of the things his mother, Jeanne, and I decided to do, they would have better understood why.  Next, if the family decides to establish a lasting legacy, the closer to the tragedy, the better.  Our community was moved to action on college and high school scholarships for example, because coverage in the media was fresh in the minds of those who "wanted to do something.   We have never stopped being sad and having that hole in our hearts, but knowing Todd's sacrifice is remembered by helping others brings many smiles, too. Finally, I would have liked to do a better job of taking stock every three months or so.  How am I coping with my own grief?  How does working hard to honor Todd impact our other children and his widow?  How can we do more to soften the impact on our grandchildren?  What does the family want in the longer term to be Todd's legacy? We have learned one important truth.  There is no right or wrong about how anyone grieves, but loved ones need to understand how each copes.  The best way we have found to do that, probably after many mistakes along the process, is to always remember one tenet:  Todd gave his live in part for us.  He would not want our lives to also be given or given up.  Finding strength to move forward and be strong, helping many others is what Todd would want.  We all have done so in very different ways with the help of TAPS and so many others.  We will live every day with more impact, in part because we know Todd cannot.  His influence has to be in other ways now and we hope, forever.  For me, personally, as his father I have pledged to live up to his legacy. 

PS:  From Todd's Mom:   Through time, if you have a forgiving heart, your address book does not have to change.    Though it may be difficult, allow yourself that forgiving heart for those friends and associates who cannot understand or share your grief, especially as the months and years go by.  

Annie, mother of Michael: In response to this week's question knowing what I know now how will I help new survivors, I am kind to other people who are hurting and give them a hug. I suggest doing volunteer work. For example, I volunteer in an assisted living home and uplift the residents that are in the home.  I try to be a better human being each day that I have here on earth.  I love this world and I am happy to be in it. Honor your loved one through laughter and passing this on to others. 

Lynette, mother of Rachel: Knowing what I know now after losing a daughter in the Air Force to suicide I would offer another person that you can and will survive. I joined a Survivor of Suicide (SOS) group to talk with those with similar experiences. Now I am a facilitator for SOS and I present at Middle Schools, High Schools, and our community college about suicide prevention and awareness. Number one rule take care of you. If you know you need help, seek the help until you get what you need. Life can be difficult, but keep in mind every day is a new day.  Keep moving forward and you will survive. 

This week's chat schedule: 

General Support
Open for all survivors.
Date:   Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Time:   8:30 PM - 11 PM Eastern
7:30 - 10:00 PM Central
6:30 -   9:00 PM Mountain
5:30 -   8:00 PM Pacific
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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Michele Marcum
Coping with Guilt

~ Michele Hiester Marcum, Survivor

January 20, 2015

We are coming up on the ten-year anniversary of my brother's death, and I simply cannot believe it's been that long. Seriously, where did the time go? And who the heck am I now? A decade of rolling emotions have reshaped me into someone else…and I haven't yet decided whether I like her.

I remember learning in my college psychology classes that there were only six basic emotions in the human population: anger, disgust, sadness, fear, surprise, and happiness.  I don't remember the details, but I do know that I bought the theory - hook, line, and sinker. But now? Now, I have a hard time believing there would be only six hundred emotions, let alone six. I'm sure there's some truth to the theory that all emotions sprout from this small handful, but I feel as though the gamut I've experienced since Michael's death vine out from feelings that haven't even yet been identified. But there is this one emotion that holds all of these together in its clenched fist and forces me to think about it often. Guilt.

I should have written him more while he was deployed. I should have been more understanding of his situation. I should have paid more attention to my mom's fear that something bad would happen. I should have mailed his last Christmas package earlier so he would actually receive it before the holiday. I shouldn't have antagonized him when we were young. I should have taken more pictures. I should have been kinder.

And then there's the here-and-now. I should think about him more, visit the cemetery more, smile less, forget nothing, remember more. Guilt is an unrelenting beast that can suck the joy out of every tomorrow.

Who needs a judge or jury when you're a survivor, right? We have a litany of "would have, should have, could have" running through our heads at any given time. But here's the thing I'm learning about my self-imposed guilt; it doesn't honor my brother.

If he were here beside me right now, I know he wouldn't want me to feel guilty. He wouldn't want that thundercloud of shame hovering over my head or stabbing at my heart. He would want me to be happy…to enjoy the very freedoms for which he was fighting. He would want me to live in the way he would have, had he not fallen. He would want me to be brave and daring and seize every opportunity. And he would want me to forgive myself.

I know that I will never be one hundred percent happy ever again. I promise you that. But I can choose joy. I can choose to hold tight to the little moments and let them build a new life. Not a life void of memories but a life built on the knowledge that his death made a difference. And more importantly, that his life made a difference. He changed me because of who he was and because he loved me, not because of how he died. I can best honor him and his sacrifice by choosing how I live each day now.

Guilt. Regret. Sorrow. They all have their place. But so do joy, humor, and forgiveness. I have countless emotions to still work through, but I know that guilt should be the least of them. Easier said than done, of course, but it's a tangible goal for me.

Maybe I do like this new me. Just a little. But I'd much prefer I never had to meet her. 

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Healing Peace Book Cover
Saturday Morning Message: Helping Others Who Are Grieving

January 17, 2015

Good Morning,

This week's question was: Knowing what you know now, what will you offer another person who has lost a loved one? One of the things that I do is to give a book like Healing Grief, Finding Peace by Dr. Louis E. Lagrand to the survivor. When I was in early grief, I found that I couldn't read anything for a very long period of time. This book has short articles which you can read in sequence or take one that appeals to you out of order which makes it something that gives the griever a feeling of control when their world is turned upside down. You can find a review in the TAPS Magazine article titled: Healing Grief, Finding Peace.

There were so many wonderful responses and thoughts about sharing with another person in their time of grief when someone needs that compassionate person to connect with them, that I thought I would keep the same question for another week, so those who did not have a chance to reply could send in an idea this week to post for January 24th.  Therefore, the question for the upcoming week is the same: Knowing what you know now, what will you offer another person who has lost a loved one?

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:

Valerie, mother of Kevin:  I try to bring food or things from the store I think they may need or be able to use to function day to day. And I would be willing to just listen whenever they want to talk about the person who died.

Merry, mother of Wesley: I think listening would remain high on my list if I were getting together with someone who lost a loved one.  It would not be the only approach as I would respond to what they were saying as well.

From Robert, father of Louis: No platitudes, just a hug and an "I'm sorry". If you ask what they need, be prepared to try to help with their answer.

From Bob & Kitty, parents of John: John died almost seven years ago and our stable world was turned inside out. We always knew he was in harm's way, but to die at home from some mysterious cause was not only hard to accept, but was surreal. The numbness and fog that surrounded the news of his sudden death threw us into a world unknown in many ways.

In TAPS, we found families who had lost sons and daughters through sudden unexplained deaths, too. We were honored to train as mentors four years ago and currently have a face to face mentee, and three phone mentees. We also work with  Grief Share at our home church with families who have lost children ranging in age from 8 months to 52 years old. Same kind of pain and grief.

We are much more aware and ready to help anyone going through this grieving process. On the plus side too, we have learned that wherever we are, and whatever we are doing, God has a plan for your life and will sometimes make you uncomfortable to move you out of that "stable world."

We grieve because we love.

Laura spouse of Greg:  I believe that being understanding and non-judgmental is important to responding to another's loss. I also believe as a true friend we should always reach out in kindness and check on one another from time to time. We all deal with and grieve our losses differently.  This is important to understand. Sometimes, it's important to take a step back and give space if you are unsure what to offer someone.  However, the best advice is to always remain as kind as possible to a survivor or someone experiencing a loss even through any concerns you may have about them or their situation.

From Mary-Ann, mother of Blake: This week's question is one that hit home for me as I lost one of my brothers Friday night. My heart really went out to one of his daughters who lived a couple thousand miles away and was asking for flier miles that anyone could let her have to go home. Luckily, she received those flier miles and is now home with her family. Family is so important in a crises like this. In the past, I helped a neighbor and friend who could not drive who lost her husband, by taking her to church and to get groceries each week until she could get a license. I also would drop by the store she worked at to see if she was doing ok or if she needed anything. I've also helped with food and helping to prepare the reception after a funeral. I think being a friend to the one who has lost their loved one and to help wherever needed is the most important thing since everyone has different needs.

Christine, mother of Adam: Knowing what I know now, I would tell someone: don't blame yourself, do anything on your timetable, don't let anyone tell you what is right or wrong, and take it easy on yourself.

From Leslie, mother of Eugene: What I would say to someone who just lost their loved one? You have a right to grieve any way you need. While you are in pain remember that you have other family members who are hurting. Share stories while trying to remember the time you had. Do not dwell on the death, but the life your child lived.

Annette Mom of Joseph: I would tell them what my dear friend who had lost a son 20 months earlier told me.  You will enjoy things eventually, but you will always have a lump on your belly, a pain on your heart.  I would also tell them that I would not want to lose that pain as that is what I have left along with beautiful memories. Also, take it at your own pace and be easy on yourself.

This week's chat schedule:

General Support
Open for all survivors
Date: Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Time: 8:30 PM - 11 PM Eastern
7:30 - 10:00 PM Central
6:30 -   9:00 PM Mountain
5:30 -   8:00 PM Pacific
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs

Daytime General Support Chat 
Date: Thursday, January 22, 2015
Time: 1 PM - 2:30 PM Eastern
12:00 PM - 1:30 PM Central
11:00 AM - 12:30 PM Mountain
10:00 AM -11:30 AM Pacific
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kellie Hazlett

Survivors of Suicide Loss Chat
Date:  Thursday, January 22, 2015
Time:  9 PM - 11 PM Eastern
8 PM - 10 PM Central
7 PM - 9 PM Mountain
6 PM - 8 PM Pacific
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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Linda's picture
I'm All About That Bass

~ Linda Ambard, Survivor

January 13, 2015

There is a song that says, “I’m all about that bass, about that bass.” That song means something different to me than others, I am sure. When I hear it, I immediately consider my attitude. It’s all about that attitude. While I cannot deny that I still have pity parties and days that I break down in tears, I can say that each and every day I make the choice to be happy. How can I subtly shift my paradigms when the very person I built my past and my future on was unfairly taken from me? I fight for it.

Every day I get out of bed and I lace up my running shoes. That simple choice is one that I made from the start. I don’t always feel like it and running doesn’t always work, but in the early morning hours I find grounding. I am able to work through my fears, tears, and a crushing grief that threatens to steal my life. When I am running, I can feel sparks of happiness, and I can see that if I press on one second at a time, one minute at a time, one hour at a time, one mile at a time, one marathon at a time, I can do it. There will be times that hurt and times when I am consumed with thinking that I cannot face what lies ahead, but if I press on through the ache I will find my footing and I will find joy in the journey. Easy? Never, but the choice is to face the darkness and fight the will that is sometimes counter to what I should do.

Five days after Phil was buried, I made the choice to return to work. I didn’t have to, but I needed a reason to get up in the morning. I needed to take my focus off the crushing pain that was consuming me and focus on finding a new normal. It would have been easier to hide—to isolate myself. It felt like nobody knew what I was going through and I had no roadmap to help me navigate. Work gave me connections and it showed me that even in my broken state I had worth and that there were people who valued me.

Work also gave me a platform to help others and then it gave me a platform to affect change in the military world. Because of Phil’s death and the way I have processed my grief through writing and speaking on military loss, the brotherhood, and the resiliency that defines my choices, I have grown as a person. I surely would choose to have the life I once had—a life where I lived in the shadows of my very successful family, but I cannot live my days wishing for what can never be. I cannot let anger, regret, or living in the past consume my actions and thoughts. It is in that choice, I can make something light and positive come from the darkness.

Three and a half years later, I find meaning and purpose in helping others and knowing that I’m making a difference for those families coming after me. On Phil’s angelversary, however, I have found that while my heart is bleeding, if I reach out and do random acts of kindness for other people, I feel better. It gets the focus off of me and those thoughts of what should have been…what I thought my life was going to be in my fifties.

One of the biggest shifts in my paradigms happened this fall. One day I realized that life isn’t always fair and that I had come to peace with the fact that I had prayed every day for Phil to come home to me. He didn’t and it rocked my assumptive world view. My shift was in realizing that bad things happen to good people, children even, and I had been blessed to have had a man who loved me well for twenty-three years. Many people want what we had and I am blessed that I had it for so long. I know what it is to love well, to be loved well, and to be part of a good marriage.

In the choice to embrace gratitude for the twenty-three years we shared, my focus shifted from the pity party of one when I am lonely. Do I still get lonely and cry? You bet, but I breathe through the storms and concentrate on the aspects of what I can control. On those days when darkness closes in, I embrace pink polka dots, bubbles, sparkles, and my friends. I know that soon the sun will rise again and I choose happiness because it is all about “that bass.” My attitude says it all.

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2014 Marine Corps Marathon  Photos
Saturday Morning Message: Honoring our Loved Ones in the New Year

January 10, 2015

Good Morning,

In response to the question about what we do to honor our loved ones, survivors shared about the different ways that help our lives and respect our loved one's service. Sharing is a wonderful way to give ideas to each other. Each time you write a response, you are honoring your loved one. More than once I have received an "Ah Ha Moment" after reading a reply that has been sent. That is actually how the Saturday Morning Message came to be. When I went to a TAPS seminar, I met people from all over the country and we wanted to stay in touch to give each other support and share thoughts, so the Saturday Morning Message was born. In the beginning, the Saturday Morning Message was only sent from my email address. Now the message goes out to several different places through the TAPS webpage and I put those answers together so you can see what everyone wrote.  I hope that seeing the Saturday Morning Message in your email each week is a comfort.  I know that hearing about your loved one's lives and meeting them through your replies is something I look forward to every time I open the email. 

The discussion topic for next week is a reflection: Knowing what you know now, what will you offer another person who has lost a loved one?

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 Chris, mother of J. Darin: This week's question is one I have been pondering. It will soon be three years since my son died. The first year I was pretty much numb, just getting used to it. The second year I threw myself into a project to raise funds to help endow a scholarship initiated by his high school classmates. "Art in the Garden" raised enough money to complete the requirements for the endowment and two $1000 J.Darin Loftis Memorial Scholarships were presented this past spring.  Darin felt strongly about the importance of education. He believed education is the key to winning the war on terrorism. I think he would want to be honored in a way that reflects these beliefs. I am asking myself if there is something I can do to help in some way to continue his mission of education, especially for the people of Afghanistan. 

From Karl, father of Tre: I have just passed the 4 year mark, five Christmases, without my son.  Every year I go to "Let Us Never Forget" banquet in Cincinnati, OH.  As long as I attend, my son represents the state of TN.  It is quite an honor and humility to be amongst so many heroes from ALL branches. I am given scholarship money which I then give to a recipient of my choice who submit applications to his high school. 

From Ruth, mother of Jim:  As I read this I thought of an idea that a friend has passed on to me.....  I added to it and tweaked it just a bit and came up with a plan.  Starting January 1, there is a jar on the kitchen counter.  Each time someone reminds me of Jim, I write down that memory on a piece of paper, add a certain amount of money and place both items in the jar.  For instance, I read about a person on Facebook who wanted a 1979 annual from North Bend High School.  I had two copies as that is the year that Jim graduated. I took the books out and went through each page.  I could hear the laughter of these young people, their voices echoing through my mind.  I found the name of the young man who wanted the copy and yes, there he was, in Jim's class.  I hadn't recognized his name, but his face I knew in a moment. I wasn't certain if I could let go of the book..... what if I lost one.... now stop and think about it.... if they are both on the shelf together what are the chances of one getting lost.  What would Jim do? I could hear him saying, "Hey, I have an extra copy.  You can have it." With that I messaged the person wanting the book and told him I would mail it him.  His wife responded with an address in Texas along with a message that she was not going to tell her husband until it arrived. 

From Leslie, mother of Eugene: I honor my son. I honor him on my home with a memorial. I honor him when I speak about him. I honor him and the Navy with my support. There's continuing honor as the Enhanced Education law signed by President Obama January 2011 was done, because Veterans weren't getting the education benefits they needed and deserved. I honor my son every day as I always think of him. 

From Sherry, spouse of James: My husband was a very devoted nurse and took great pride in caring for the wounded warrior soldiers.  He also valued education and ensured that his nieces and nephews were provided an opportunity to continue their educations after high school.  To continue to provide remembrance of how special he was, I am in the process of establishing a nursing scholarship in his name.  Just the thought of someone else following his career path and hopefully giving back to their patients just as he did, brings me a little peace.  And it is as if he is continuing to provide care, albeit in a different venue. 

From Merry, mother of Wes: I gave this some thought - and other than visiting his grave and tree - I'll attend the Veterans' celebrations that Louetta Smith puts together.  I appreciate those so very much.  I am travelling to San Diego soon to visit my son, Eric and his wife, Rebekah.  Every time I fly in or out of Sky Harbor Airport, I catch a glimpse of MCRD (Marine Corps Recruit Depot) and remember the graduation week and how proud we were of Wes and how proud he was of himself.  It was a wonderful family time together.

From Mary-Ann, mother of Blake: I intend to continue putting on the Stars and Stripes 6k Walk/Run to earn money to provide high school kids with scholarship money in Blake's name as long as I have the ability to do so. At my age there is no way I know how long that will be, but my desire is to raise enough money that when I can no longer do the races we'll have money to continue giving the scholarships for years to come.

We received a call from an organization that wants us to be present to place a brick in Blake's honor in their museum. We try to attend as many of those type of events to honor our fallen, not just Blake's, but to honor all of our brave men and women!

This week's chat schedule:

Parent Chat 
Date: Monday, January 12, 2015
Time: 9 PM - 10:30 PM Eastern
8 - 9:30 PM Central
7 - 8:30 PM Mountain
6 - 7:30 PM Pacific
Hosted By: Carol Lane, Ron and Mary Johnson

General Support Chat 
Date: Tuesday, January 13, 2105
Time: 8:30 PM - 11 PM Eastern
7:30 - 10:00 PM Central
6:30 - 9:00 PM Mountain
5:30 - 8:00 PM Pacific
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs

Widow-Widower Chat 
Date: Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Time: 9 PM - 10:30 PM Eastern
8 - 9:30 PM Central
7 - 8:30 PM Mountain
6 - 7:30 PM Pacific
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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2013 National Banner Image
Saturday Morning Message: Welcome to the New Year

January 3, 2015

Good Morning,

With the dawn of a new year, our thoughts may turn to looking for ideas to help us plan for trips and other adventures. A TAPS seminar or retreat may be just what you are looking for. One survivor gave me the idea for this message when she wrote about an upcoming journey with an interesting TAPS connection. 

Winona, spouse of Clifford wrote about her travel plans: Now that Christmas is behind us and family returned home, I've decided to go on a road trip from Missouri to Arizona.  Every year my parents winter in Cochise County just east of Tucson at my cousin's ranch.  There is nothing but beautiful skies and wide open desert land at the base of the mountain range.  Last year my husband and I were able to take the trip to Arizona (the first time for my husband) and I am so grateful we did!  I am hoping this trip will give me time to think, grieve, relax and regroup my thoughts from the last few months.  Just my dog and I.  I am looking forward to meeting my TAPS mentor along the way. 

Winona talked about meeting her TAPS mentor in her travels. Connecting with TAPS friends at a seminar or a retreat can be a moving experience. If you haven't attended either, you may want to know the special qualities of each. 

All survivors are welcome to attend a seminar. They are located in many various areas. There are workshops to understand grief, support groups to meet in a gentle environment with others who have experienced a similar death allowing a safe and supportive environment to talk with others, special events that are held in the local area around the seminar, and good grief camps for children with activities that are selected specially for them. Something relatively new is the track system in the local seminars which combine survivors in activities with those who are on similar paths in their grief journey. When you click on a seminar on the TAPS website under EVENTS, you will find information about these tracks at the bottom of the page. 

Retreats are also located in different areas around the country. They are limited to a small number of survivors and registration is open a few months before the event.  The retreats are active and have a level of physical activity posted on the registration page. Group activities as well as mutual support are provided. You can also find them under EVENTS on the main TAPS webpage

Since some may have been away this past week, I thought it would be a good idea to extend last week's question which was: What do you plan to do to honor your loved one in the coming year? It could be a continuation of something you have been doing or a new idea that you have never done. I look forward to reading your thoughts. 

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

This week's chat schedule: 

General Support
Open for all survivors
Date: Tuesday, January 6, 2015
Time: 8:30 PM - 11 PM Eastern
7:30 - 10:00 PM Central
6:30 -   9:00 PM Mountain
5:30 -   8:00 PM Pacific
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs

Survivors of Suicide Loss
Date: Thursday, January 8, 2015
Time: 9 PM - 11 PM Eastern
8 - 10:00 PM Central
7 -   9:00 PM Mountain
6 -   8:00 PM Pacific
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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Clock - New Year's Eve
Saturday Morning Message: Plans and Reflections

December 27, 2014

Good Morning,

The question for this week asked what survivors planned to do to treat themselves after the bustle of the holidays.  Survivors sent in a variety of answers including their plans for a treat, a continuation of activities done in the past,  as well as reflections on the gifts they have been given.   Thanks to all who responded this week and those who read the Saturday Morning Message.

This is a time when many make resolutions for the new year and make plans for what they would like to accomplish. It would be interesting to share those thoughts when it comes to our loved ones, so the question for this week is: What do you plan to do this year to honor your loved one? It could be a continuation of something you have been doing or a new idea that you have never done like attending a TAPS seminar or retreat. I look forward to reading your thoughts. 

There were two articles of interest this week in my searching based on caring for yourself. In Self Care Reconnecting…with myself By Leslie McCaddon,  a surviving spouse writes about how she would like to achieve this with three small children. The other, A New Year Without My Loved One In It By Betsy Beard, lists a group of ten things this surviving mother devised to help her through. Both give insight to their own personal paths and may give us all some ideas as well.

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 Dave, father of Trevor: Ever since we lost Trevor three and a half years ago, we needed to change the way we celebrate Christmas. We still enjoy the holidays with our family members, but Christmas morning we knew would be a different kind of challenge. Waking up to open presents with our immediate family, without our son, would not be easy, and just reflect our sorrow. So we decided to go to the local City Mission on that morning, and serve / deliver Christmas Day meals to those less fortunate. It started with my wife Carol and me. Now it has grown into a family tradition, with nieces, nephews, sister in law, and others all pitching in. We share memories of Trevor on the way to the event, and enjoy a nice brunch after. But the four hours we spend helping the needy in our community is uplifting, and a nice "feel good" on a day that could be very painful.  It also reminds us that he is watching over us and we are happy, productive, and giving in his memory. 

From Diane, mother of Caleb: My daughter and I have had a Christmas tradition of shopping. We have to go to the city for mega shopping. At the end of the day, we'd do something fun and then spend the night. I don't remember much from last year, our first year without Caleb...and my daughter didn't come home as she lives in another state now. What I do remember from last year - I shopped (I guess I did,) and was so drained by the end of the day....I took myself to a movie and spent the night in a hotel. I am looking forward to doing something like that at the end of the season this year when I go to the city - a little shopping, maybe a pedicure, a movie, seeing another GS mom for dinner, and spending the night in a hotel. 

From Leslie, mother of Eugene: What am I going to do to treat myself?  I have a great husband. ...we're going on a date! I'm going to play with my one year old granddaughter who loves music and shaking her tushie and making squishy faces. They're both giving with kisses. 

Tim, father of Thomas: When Thomas was born, I marveled at the gift that God had given to his mother and me. Though I believed at the time that he was 'our' gift, I would come to realize when he had departed this world that his life had come to mean much more. I came to see that Thomas's life was a gift to every person whose heart he had touched during his short time here on earth. And seeing the impact that Thomas's life had on the lives of just a few of those people led me to understand that God's purpose was different than the purpose that I wished.

During this season of remembrance and giving, it is so comforting to know that this gift that God gave to his mother and me is remembered by so many and that Thomas's spirit is still touching lives and giving in some way through those lives. It is comforting to know that even though my heart will never be the same since Thomas died, his heart still beats within me. Knowing these things and understanding that God had a special purpose for this child who came into our lives twenty-eight years ago, is the present I give myself this Christmas and every Christmas to come. 

From Merry, mother of Wesley: It's been two years since Wes has been gone.  Last year, I did one thing I always do for the Christmas season and that is to put my electric candles in the five front windows of my home.  I do this the day after Thanksgiving and it was the only activity I accomplished.  

This year is quite different as I am decorating lots more, inviting just a few people over - sort of an open house on their schedule - playing Christmas music, etc.  Since my birthday is the day before Christmas, I thought this year I would treat myself to a massage at my favorite spa.  Also, a local restaurant gives a birthday coupon and takes a percentage off the bill according to your age.  And that means a whopping discount for me!!  Plus it's great seafood!!  Wes and I celebrated two of my birthdays there in a row.  Good memories.

I took in a good friend's puppy this Xmas since she and her family are travelling to South Africa for two weeks.  It's a good thing.  I may just drive to Winter Park on Christmas Day and tool around Main Street.  If there is good snow, the town will be busy and it will be fun to cruise through. 

This week's chat schedule: 

General Support
Open for all survivors
Date: Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Time: 8:30 PM - 11 PM Eastern
7:30 - 10:00 PM Central
6:30 -   9:00 PM Mountain
5:30 -   8:00 PM Pacific
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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picture for linda
Scars at Christmas

~ Linda Ambard, Survivor

December 22, 2014

 Most people have scars from past injuries. Some are noticeable and red, while others are nearly visible. Some marks are invisible to the naked eye, but can be seen on an X-ray whose picture is a silent testimony of past pain. Scars are a testimony of the body healing, however those welts are not the whole story. Initially a wound scabs and bleeds. It takes very little pressure or trauma to reopen the wound. As time goes by and the wound looks healed, it is easy to forget the pain of the initial trauma, yet sometimes the injured site aches or uncomfortably itches. My journey of loss has left many scars-some are visible to the naked eye, while other marks lurk far below the surface. In the days following Phil's death, the wound was raw, deep, weeping, and red. No matter what I did, I could not staunch the flow of the bleeding of my heart.

 In the immediate days after Phil's death, my body hurt more than it did in childbirth and nothing I did eased the agony. Even my breathing came in short gasps as I struggled to endure the seconds and minutes that slowly elapsed. I could see nothing except for darkness in front of me and all I wanted was for the pain end. People could see my pain in the unbroken sobs that filled the spaces and in the ravages of my face. My own mother pointed out the obvious when she told me that I had aged. Pain has indeed carved crevices in my face. My eyes belie wisdom and an understanding that comes through having been through something unspeakable. Time, however has softened the gaping wounds to an invisible scar that runs silent and deep. People can no longer see the ravages of the trauma, but far beneath the surface the scars can belie an invisible dull ache. Like a broken bone the pieces of my heart have knit into a stronger version of what once was, but the scars stands a testament of the agony endured. That scar can hurt for the smallest reasons and it can beat angry and red at other times. Some moments I can predict, others are like the sneaky intruder who enter unbidden.

Christmas is one of those times that I can predict the dull ache. My Phil was due home on 24 Dec-Christmas Eve. Christmas was magical to him. He did not grow up with the family chaos of get-togethers, the tree, intentional gift giving, merriment, gratitude, or faith, thus when as an adult he had a large family and a wife who loved the holidays, he was bewitched. He was like an overgrown child who wanted it all-most of all the family togetherness. He had moved on past his lonely childhood to a grown man-child who was giddy as the holidays approached. With his death, Christmas is a silent record of a life gone far too soon.

 I have to prepare my heart for the onslaught of pressure to the healing wounds. I know that from Thanksgiving (our anniversary) through Christmas, I will hurt. I will be bombarded with images of happy families, airport reunions, happy music, traditions that no longer mean anything, and bright decorations. I know that families come together for the holidays and the holidays just bear witness to loneliness and want. As a military family with four of my five children serving, I do not even have the children that flock home. My children live all over the world and it has been many years since we all came together. Three and a half years out, I still do not celebrate the holidays, but I am taking small steps because I am testing the scars of my heart. I am watching National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, listening to Christmas songs, and I even wrapped a few gifts this year because it is as simple as I do not want the ravages of my loss to define the days of my future. I do not want my children avoiding me during the holidays. I hope that one day, next year, I can create a semblance of what was once. Yes, like the mark the scar leaves, it will look different, feel different, and be different, but there will be good memories and good times. I can feel it even if I cannot see it.

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Snowflake
Saturday Morning Message: Reducing Stress

December 20, 2014

Good Morning,

The month of December can cause stress for many. One thing that I have found helpful when going to events is to plan ahead. Trying something you have not done before or for the first time since your loved one's passing can be easier if there is an exit strategy thought out in advance. Knowing that there is a graceful way to retreat without making things awkward for yourself or others can make these special times more comfortable and even enjoyable. This week survivors wrote about stress reduction in their lives. Some tell us what they do to relieve those feelings throughout the year and continue to use during this season. Others write about changes made or new traditions started. Thank you so much to those who respond and also to those who read the Saturday message. Sharing together helps us know that we are never alone. 

For additional reading focusing on stress reduction  and getting through the holidays: Nutrition and Stress Finding Strength for Your Grieving Body  By Ruth W. Crocker, PhD and Helping Yourself Heal During the Holiday Season By Alan D. Wolfelt, PhD 

Darcie Sims was a wonderful speaker and supporter of TAPS. She saw snowflakes as a way to describe ourselves, our loved ones, and each person's grief, because there are no perfectly identical snowflakes. Each one is unique. In her article, "Snowflakes Surviving the Winter Season" By Darcie D. Sims, PhD, CHT, CT, GMS, she not only talks about understanding these differences, but one of her suggestions is to, "Buy a gift for yourself. Wrap it, but don't hide it! Just when you think you are going 'off the deep end,' open it up and enjoy." Even survivors who  have reached a point where holidays are not so difficult may find that the bustle of the season leaves them a bit drained.  You may not have thought about treating yourself after the season, so the discussion topic for the week is: What are you going to do to treat yourself for getting through this holiday season? This doesn't have to be elaborate. It could be an actual present or if it is something like lunch with a friend, just wrap a note to yourself describing what you are going to do. Then share your idea with us.  I look forward to reading your thoughts. 

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 Leslie, mother of Eugene: To take the stress away I swim. While swimming I talk to my son. Sometimes it helps. ...Sometimes I need to turn to my other way to de-stress....practicing the piano. 

From Merry, mother of Wesley: Stress?  What stress?  The emotions of sadness for me just pop up on their own unannounced especially during holidays when we're supposed to be having wonderful family time. I am not alone though as I have great friends and lots of places to go.  However, the difference between my family picture and that of another's sometimes makes me compare myself and then I get down and I get stressed. I have to remember to take deep breaths, stay calm, and have a cup of tea.

From Mary-Ann, mother of Blake: This will be our fifth Christmas season since our Blake died and each year has been a little different. The first year I really didn't want to do a single thing pertaining to celebrating of any kind. No cards, no Christmas cookies, no parties, no parade or festivals. I felt I just couldn't seem to do any of those. I half decorated a tree and did my share of the pot luck Christmas lunch that we go to at my in-laws every year and that was about it. I wouldn't even have done the tree if not for grandchildren pushing me into it! My heart just wasn't into it. In fact I really don't remember much about that first Christmas.

There have been changes each year as to what I do and how much I do. We have scaled down a lot. I just try to take it one day at a time without making a big deal of anything. If I feel up to doing some of the Christmas things we used to do, I give it a try. This, our fifth Christmas without Blake. I've started looking at things a little differently. Instead of what I feel or want, I've started looking at it as how it would make Blake feel if he thought he took the joy out of our Christmas. I still don't have that excitement over the holidays and don't know if I ever will. I haven't made the parties, parade or festivals. I find being around all that is still more than I can handle. I have gone back to doing Christmas cookies with the grandchildren and have managed to send out a few cards and make a couple gifts for the kids. That is a big accomplishment for me since I've only had the desire to be creative again in the last 6 months or so! I don't go at it like I used to do, but it's a start. I just don't push myself to do more than I feel up to doing.

Diane, mother of Caleb: I don't stress about getting things done. Things I always did, I don't necessarily do now. If I start to feel overwhelmed I just stop, listen to Christmas music, or watch a Christmas movie. I don't have the energy to be in the Christmas race these days. I love Christmas, and decorate, buy gifts, and bake, but I relax and enjoy the moment. Christmas is the reason I know I will see Caleb again, so I can celebrate the season, even through tears.

Ruth, mother of James (Jim): The stress will never go away, but I do have ideas that I use.   First, there are ready to make cookies, a wonderful thing Jim loved.  The shopping is done and now the chore of wrapping presents goes on. We will remember to have a sword fight with the paper tubes as wrapping progresses. Laughter will fill the room, but as I look around I can see a tear or two. The turkey is bought and waiting for stuffing. The potatoes are peeled and ready to go. Then we feel Jim takes over and plans the rest.... we just know how to follow in his step.  The cookies are wrapped upon a plate, the gifts are neatly placed in a basket.  We clean up the mess while the turkey is baking and wait for the sweet potatoes to absorb the marshmallow.  Finally, as the turkey has cooled and is ready to move, we make the gravy to complete the meal. A pie was baked late last night and waits for slicing.  We went to Goodwill and bought a set of dishes that we washed and placed in a box.  Now everything is ready and we hop in the car....  off to deliver Christmas to someone afar.  A family who would not celebrate.... a family who would not know that an angel is watching them from high above.....  Merry Christmas my son and to you we send our love.

This week's chat schedule:

General Support
Open for all survivors
Date: Tuesday, December 23, 2014
Time:  8:30 - 11:00 PM Eastern
7:30 - 10:00 PM Central
6:30 -   9:00 PM Mountain
5:30 -   8:00 PM Pacific
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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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.

 

This blog is copyrighted by the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). These blog posts may not be reproduced in whole or in part by any means, electronic or otherwise, without prior written approval. It is permissible for an individual reader to view, reproduce or store a copy of this article, provided it is used only for their own personal and non-commercial use. Uses beyond that allowed by the “Fair Use” limitations (sections 107 and 108) of the U.S. Copyright law require permission from TAPS. Please contact blog@taps.org to request permission. All other rights reserved.

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