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Courage 3
Kicking Off Our 21st Year - TAPS 2015 Winter in Review

March 3, 2015

Happy March, America’s Family!

We are thinking spring here as much as possible in D.C. after the latest ice storm.  It’s been a cold winter here, but there’s been so much to warm our hearts this past month as the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) geared up for our 21st year of caring for the families of America’s fallen heroes.

Our staff has put together an awesome schedule for 2015! We hope to see many of you at our TAPS Seminars, Retreats, Camp outs, and Team TAPS race events across the country this year. To check out the full list of events, visit TAPS Calendar of Events page.

USNA 1

The journey began on the chilly final day of January, when TAPS went anchors aweigh to the United States Naval Academy (USNA)!  Nearly 50 surviving children of America’s fallen military heroes took part in “A Day in the Life of a Midshipman.” The children, ranging from ages 4 to 19, learned about leading and mentoring others, overcoming adversity, and being physically fit from third-year Midshipmen (Mids) who themselves took part in the event as part of the Academy’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day service project.  The first of its kind Good Grief Camp held on the campus of a service academy was a tremendous success and an absolutely fun filled day for kids, staff, and Midshipmen.

USNA 2

The kids had a terrific time exercising with the Midshipmen and forming connections with a generation who themselves share the unique legacy of service and sacrifice with our young survivors. The Mids were just extraordinary with their young charges, with both an instinctual sensitivity to each child’s grief and an unswerving energy that helped keep the kids entertained. We heard the word, “Awesome!” quite a bit from our smallest reviewers when describing their experience.

We hope to continue this partnership between the USNA and TAPS in the future as it provides young survivors with the military connection so many feel they lose after the death of their loved one in service to our nation.

Gasparilla 2

As we rolled on in to February, TAPS Retreats got underway with the first parents gathering of the year in Tampa.  40 parents of fallen service members came together in Tampa Bay, Florida the weekend of February 19-21 to remember the love and celebrate the lives of their children who dies in service to the country.

The retreat included the physical challenges of a low ropes course, raft building, and the Gasparilla Distance Classic with Team TAPS.  The race is part of the famous Gasparilla celebration held annually in Tampa.  Parents walked or ran in the 5K to honor their sons and daughters and made it made part of a fundraiser for Team TAPS in order to help support additional TAPS programs like this retreat.

MedalSpeaking of running . . . TAPS is marking the 15th anniversary of Team TAPS in 2015 with a virtual run and commemorative medal! We know for many, taking part in a race is a fitness goal.  So, we’re making it easy this year for you to join our team and earn that race bling!; With the Team TAPS 15th Anniversary Virtual Run, you set the distance, you set the time, you decide the ideal weather, and you set the location. Make it a group effort, an organizational fun run, or enjoy the relaxing solitude of a good jog/walk.  This is your race!  Just sign up and your registration fee goes to help TAPS mission to support families of the fallen.  For details and to register, go to Team TAPS 15th Anniversary Virtual Run.

Courage 1

Just because we’re dreaming of warmer weather, doesn’t mean we’re missing out on winter fun!  Team4TAPS unleased the courage on ice in just last week with the Washington Capitals Courage Caps Campaign.  More than 150 children and adults connected by the TAPS took part in a skating party on February 24th at Kettler Capitals Iceplex hosted by the team and Monumental Sports & Entertainment Foundation.  Families enjoyed time on the ice with Washington Capitals players John Carlson, Jack Hillen, Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik; all of whom took the time to sign autographs, guide kids around the rink, and learn about the heroes we honor.

The event kicked off the 2014-15 Courage Caps campaign presented by Telos Corporation - the fourth-consecutive season, TAPS is the beneficiary of Courage Caps. TAPS will receive 100% of the proceeds raised through sales of Courage Caps and Courage shirts. You can buy your Courage gear beginning this week online on the Washington Capitals website, at the Washington Capitals Team Store at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, and at the Team Store and at stands throughout Verizon Center during Capitals home games.

Now the journey continues on in to March with the Alaska Widows Retreat, Charleston Moms Retreat, TAPS Honor Gala, and San Antonio Regional Seminar and Good Grief Camp!   It’s going to be an amazing year!

Oh and don’t forget to register for the National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp in Washington, D.C. this Memorial Day! The deadline for flight assistance is March 13th.

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Ambard, Linda - Celebrate Life
Today Is My Day

~ Linda Ambard, Survivor

March 3, 2015

So many people spend their lives in quiet desperation thinking of one day - someday. I was no different and, at times, I am still stuck in the rut of day-to-day responsibilities and routines. Mired in the frenetic pace and wanting more, never quite reaching that elusive someday, is exactly where I was when Phil was killed. I was happy sitting on the sidelines waiting, but I knew something was missing for me and for my life.

When Phil married me, he married a family. We were too poor to have magical vacations or meals out without our children. Our fun was family fun. There was no point wanting what we couldn't afford, but when we finally reached that place where we could have vacations together, we were stuck in the thought of "one day we will." One day we'll go to Venice. One day we'll have the honeymoon we never took. But Phil's days ended long before anyone could have thought and the opportunity to live that dream is gone.

Phil's death ended every dream I had for the future I envisioned with the two of us. It ended the opportunity for the someday. Langston Hughes wrote, "Hold fast to dreams for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." With no dreams, what was there to work for? To get me through the day for? To live for?

Part of learning to live without Phil has been finding the will to dream and hope again. I spent my days from the time I was twenty-one and became a mother for the first time, dreaming for others. I didn't consider what I wanted. Other than running, my eyes were focused on survival and that proverbial thought of "one day when we are retired." Developing new dreams when one stands alone is difficult at best. This struggle is ongoing, but as part of living and loving life, I simply must dream again.

I have three simple dreams. The first is to watch all of my children get married and find happiness. A parent worries and wants better for her children. I have little control over this dream, thus I must quietly hope.

The second dream is running The Great Wall of China Marathon. That dream is within my grasp. May 2016 is my projected date. Yes, there are other ways I could spend my money, and, yes, perhaps there are be less painful ways to go to China, but my dream includes running. Yesterday, I signed up for the travel agency's newsletter to remind me when I can act on my dream. To make a dream come true, action is required.

The last dream is the most difficult of all because it involves being vulnerable, opening up, and letting go of what once was. While Phil's death shattered my dreams of our future together, it gave way to dreaming of a different future. One of learning to love again and establishing a future with another person. It is terrifying and this dream seems far beyond my reach. But I do know that if I do not reach for this dream, I have limited myself.

It is breath taking to even imagine a future with someone other than Phil, but I know that it would crush Phil if I stopped living and loving because of his death. He would want this for me. He told me so in our last face to face conversation. "Linda, would you want me to be happy again if you died first?" Why yes, yes I would.

This dream is easier said than done, but as part of living my dreams, I am reaching. I no longer sit in quiet complacency. I act on the dreams that I have the power to achieve and when I reach my dreams, I find more. I am no longer the broken winged bird that cannot fly. Someday is today.

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Huey - blog post
Vacationing

~ Sarah Greene, Survivor

March 2, 2015

I have felt the pull to visit places and take vacations that my husband talked about but never got the chance to visit. I want to visit these places for several reasons: to honor him, feel close to him, fulfill his vision of seeing the parts of the world, and see the world for myself. Alaska was highest on his destination wish list, so that will be a must. We used to say, "When the kids are up and out, we are going to rent an RV and travel cross country." Sadly, I am now at that point in my life, and although I may not get to do that, I will see many other things and I will think of him everywhere I go.

On the first anniversary of his death, I took my kids on a mini vacation to the beach to learn to surf. I hesitated to do this activity because I did not want my kids to think I was disrespecting their dad by indulging in a fun day at the beach. But I explained that their dad would want us to "get out there" and enjoy life and do new things. I said we could do these things for him since he was not here to do them; it would be a way to honor him, and he would truly want us to have fun. They seemed to be fine with this explanation and excited for the day at the beach. 

On that beautiful, yet emotionally heavy, July day, we paddled out into the unknown. I tried to relax although my thoughts were in a different place. I did my best to show my enjoyment and grief conquering determination. My kids tumbled in the waves and smiled as they struggled to get on their boards. We tried and failed repeatedly. The surf was strong and overpowering. And it was loud. However, once we were out beyond the breakers, I heard another hauntingly familiar sound off in the distance. It became louder and nearer. Then it was upon us.

Directly overhead, only a few hundred feet above us, was the exact type of military helicopter my husband used to fly. We were nowhere near a military base and not in any known flight path for aircraft like this. I could not believe what I was seeing. Without thinking, I smiled and waved, bobbing up and down. The surf instructor must have looked on in puzzlement but I lost track of why we were there. The salty ocean waves washed my tears as they came in torrents. I choked on my words as I said "Daddy sent a helicopter to say "Hi" and he is so glad we are doing something fun on this day. My kids were thrilled, smiling, and waving too. 

The next attempts at riding waves were more successful. Each of us managed to get up on the board at some point and ride a wave in. Perhaps, it was the lift from seeing that familiar symbol, or the rush of remembering and knowing, but more importantly we were out doing what he would want us to do. We were living. I am so glad we did not stay at home that day or we never would have gotten that sign from above.

I will say that in the years since my husband died, there has been a learning curve on how to travel again with kids. The first trips were difficult. At first, I remember constantly thinking "he should be here" and worrying about security in hotel rooms, etc. I hated requesting a table for three at restaurants. Also, it was hard to enjoy the trips because I was event planner, security guard, tour guide, food provider, shelter provider, transportation provider, etc. With the insult of missing my husband and all of the responsibility, there was little room for relaxing or enjoying. I have a distinct memory of a trip to visit Gettysburg Battlefields. It was late in the day, we were all tired, and the only hotel I could find was in a bad part of town. Some of the people hanging around the pool were drunk and disorderly. We checked in, I discreetly told my kids the room number and asked them not to say it out loud for security reasons. As we walked along the corridor by the pool, my pre-teen daughter announced, "We're in room 226, right, Mom?" Haha.

Since then, we have been on some great memory-making trips, and they have been very rewarding and healing. It takes time to find your comfort zone and if you like control, I would advise taking small trips close to home to start the "traveling again" phase. Even in a smaller family unit, it is worth seeing the wonders of the world together. Maybe, someday, I will convince my kids to join me on an RV excursion.

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Rope Hammock
Saturday Morning Message: To Leave or Stay

February 28, 2015

Good Morning,

This week a survivor asked how others felt about leaving or staying in the home once shared with their loved one. For me, it wasn't the home, but rather my workplace that became the problem. I am a retired elementary school teacher who was working at the time in the school both my children had attended. After the trauma of losing Bryon, I had a very hard time teaching there. When a job came up in one of the other schools in our town, I applied for it and went there. My life was much more settled after that move.

The replies this week covered a variety of thoughts from survivors talking about why they made the decisions they did and I thank those who wrote and also those who read this message. When we share our thoughts or read about how others cope, we heal together.  

The discussion topic for next week: Do you have a special song that is uplifting? Tell us what it is and why is it important to you?

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 Annette, mother of Joe: This is a dilemma that I think about often.  How can we ever leave the house that Joe grew up in?  He is everywhere inside and out.  He planted so many shrubs and trees for me since his high school years. How do I sell my house and let someone else possibly decide to change the landscaping?  The pool he swam in is here.  His room is still full of all his belongings from childhood on.  Right now our house is often full as our daughter lives in New York City, so is at our house many weekends with our son-in-law and grandson. They will be buying a home in the suburbs soon and will not come as often.  Nicholas, her son, will get involved in sports and go to school, so they will not be as flexible. I foresee a time when we will be at their home more than they are at ours.   This house is big, costly, and the time will come when we have to make the big decision.  In my heart I know Joe is with us wherever we are and that I am focusing on the physical. For now I will just live in the moment where I am.

From Leslie, mother of Eugene: I left my home of twenty-six years very shortly after Eugene died. I know he wanted me to change residences, because he sent emails with advertisements for smaller places just before he passed. I had to leave. There were too many memories both good and bad. I couldn't look at his room even though for several years it was only used for his visits. I must say I did move to one of the places he strongly suggested, but had never seen in person. I have a much better life here. His memories are in my heart. I have some of his photos about my home. I met a super guy,married, and moved in with him. It's a whole new life that still includes my son, but I now have tons of additional people in my life. I can't change what is, but I know that my son is smiling down from heaven about my choices.

From Mary-Ann, mother of Blake:  Leaving our home has never been something we've thought about due to our loss. In the beginning leaving town to get away for a while was something we felt the need to do often, but it was mostly to run from all the people we'd meet with their constant questions and comments. Our home is full of many memories of our children's childhood. Blake was two when we moved in and we've lived in the same house for over thirty years so, yes, there are many memories. I look at them as a little bittersweet at times, but now that time has continued to move forward I find them making me feel warm and fuzzy inside as I think back to the good old days. I cherish the good memories of my children and our lives with them as they all went from stage to stage working their way to adulthood. When we have our family time with our remaining children and their families, we find ourselves sitting out on the patio talking about all the good times we've had here. I feel we are blessed to have them. We've planted a memorial tree with a bleeding heart from Blake's wife, Kate, near one corner of the patio. We feel connected to him somehow and feel like he's still with us only in a different way. I'm glad we didn't leave our home for another house somewhere else. The bond with our children feels closer here than I would expect elsewhere. I try to look at the memories of the good old day as a special gift from God himself. They help keep me going lots of times when I otherwise would be fighting the blues and missing him! Hope this will help some newcomers to the journey think before acting on something like making a major move. I feel certain it was the best thing for us and am grateful that we did stay.

From Karl, father of Tre: As for me, I had to leave. I lived in a Navy town and seeing all the young men in uniform saddened me before it brought comfort.  His bed is in the guest room in the new house though and I have good memories of the other house which was the place where the men in uniform came, where I had to plan a funeral, and where all the people and the press came to speak of his passing.  I guess there are different circumstances for different people. The military family that bought the house seem to really love it. They were already renting and living in it, so I asked them if I could go to the room and say good-bye.  They agreed.  I know he would love the new house more than I do and I have a bench out back overlooking the pond that I imagine him sitting in.  Sometimes I still drive past the other house and sigh. I say if only....

From Roseanne, mother of Christopher: Chris bought his condo in 2008. He was proud of his accomplishments. He had the entire family, thirteen in total over for Thanksgiving dinner and for other smaller occasions. His culinary skills were unmatched to most others. He loved food and cooking from scratch. I feel much comfort in cooking with his knives, eating off of his plates, drinking from his glasses, etc. I feel I am honoring him by using his prized things. I bought self adhesive letters and put on the back of his chairs courage, honor, loyalty and duty. I also purchased one of these rub offs on a side cabinet in Chris's  kitchen that says, "The love of family is life's greatest blessing".  My sister-in-law made a comment that her girls, Chris's cousins, didn't feel comfortable coming over to their dead cousin's house. I forgive them for their thoughts. For they are not thinking clearly.

I feel just the opposite. I am honored to be in his house to live out his legacy. My thoughts are that Chris is with me in the kitchen when I most need help in making a dish. Every room has a similar story. I find peace here knowing that Chris is at peace. I live here half the year and at my house the other half.

This week's chat schedule:

General Support
Open for all survivors
Date: Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Time: 8:30 PM - 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

Survivors of Suicide Loss Chat 
Date: Thursday, March 5, 2015
Time: 9:00 PM - 11:00 PM Eastern
8:00 PM - 10:00 PM Central
7:00 PM - 9:00 PM Mountain
6:00PM - 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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Rachael Hill - Feb. 2015
Working Through the Hard Times

~ Rachael Hill, Survivor

February 24, 2015

It's been a while since I wrote my last blog…not because I didn't have anything to share, but because I found myself in a place I didn't know how to get out of. Our move last summer took a lot more out of me than I had anticipated and I just wasn't handling it well. I found myself doing all the things I said I would never do. I laid on the couch all day, I gained weight, and I lost all motivation. Ultimately, I just wasn't adjusting well.

 

So what do we do when those times roll in that we don't know how to get out of? It's almost scary how those feelings can so quickly spiral out of control to the point where before you know it, you're so down that you're not sure how you will get up again. Then what? For me, there was a point when I realized it was becoming unhealthy and I knew I had to make some changes.

 

First, I started exercising again. I enlisted a friend and we started going to the gym together. Before moving I worked as a group fitness instructor, and I don't think I ever realized how important that was for me. It was one hour where I didn't have to think about what was going on in my life. One hour to focus on my class and without even realizing it, focus on me. Exercising can be a huge energy booster, but the hard part is getting yourself going. The key is finding something you enjoy, or someone you enjoy doing it with.

 

I have found that being around people is a huge booster for me as well. It can be hard to make myself do this though because often times when I am feeling really down, I honestly don't want to be around people at all. On the flip side, I know that people are a huge factor in keeping me uplifted, so it's a bit of a double-edged sword. That was one of the hardest things with this move in that I didn't know anyone here. I met people, but it takes a while to go from "acquaintances" to "friends," and that has been tough for me. Civilian life is different than military life. Not good or bad…just different.

 

Finally, having something on the calendar to look forward to is a huge asset. We have done a lot of traveling since my husband died, but after our move (which included driving 4,300 miles in sixteen days) I was done travelling. What I didn't realize though was that without having something on the calendar, I didn't feel like I had a whole lot to look forward to. I felt like I was just going through the motions of each day and it wasn't really getting me anywhere. These trips give me something to be excited about. It doesn't even have to be anything big, but just something fun to look forward to and to work towards.

 

I think we all go through these down periods at times, don't we? Something happens that throws our lives out of sync and sometimes it's hard to get everything back. Since losing my husband, I have found that it is often easier for things to get thrown off and harder to get myself back together again. Harder, but not impossible. It just takes a little more effort on my part to be aware of what is going on and to realize the steps that I need to take to get myself back on track. Grief is hard. Living this life without my husband is hard. It's hard and can take a lot of work at times, but I know that the work is worth it in order to continue living the way I want to live, which is to simply be happy.

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Red Rose - Blurred
Saturday Morning Message: Dreams

February 21, 2015

Good Morning, 

This week's question was about dreams. There were so many beautiful responses to this question including one about a time when a survivor felt the closeness of her loved one, that I will keep my comments to a minimum today.

Bob, father of Louis, asked for our ideas about this question: We can't imagine leaving the house all our kids grew up in. Sometimes it's sad, but we cherish all the memories this house holds. Several friends of ours in similar circumstances had to leave their homes, because the memories hurt too much. What do others think? I love getting questions from our survivors, so 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 Bob, father of Louis: In the beginning I had several dreams in which I would see Lou at a distance, but when I got there he was gone. Several years later I felt his presence in a few dreams. It almost seemed as if I were hugging him.

Lynn, mother of Blake:  I had dreams much more in the beginning. I wrote one of them down to remember. In the dream, I was at my parent's house sitting poolside with my mom, Blake, and his brother. We did that a lot when my boys were much younger and my mother, their grandmother, was still alive. In this dream, we were all splashing each other and laughing until we had laughing tears with not a care or a worry in the world.  When I woke, I felt so calm and at peace. It was a gift of a time when we were together, loving life and each other.  I thought, thank you Blake for helping me remember. There were experiences, too. Several experiences that occurred during the first year. I thought I was going crazy, because of my grief. They seemed surreal. I was told by a friend to embrace these experiences. I did and I am grateful that they happened. I choose to look at them as visits that reassured me my son is near and he's ok. I miss them now. I haven't had those types of dreams or experiences for a couple of years now, and I miss them although I know in my heart he is and always will be close. I may not feel that intensity, and I suppose it's a sweet sorrow. Maybe letting go in some sort of way.  But for all the sorrow and sadness, I accept it, because I would not exchange the love he gave for any seconds of never being able to have such a gift as Blake in my life.

From Valerie, spouse of Steven: It's been 11 years since Agent Orange took Bouncer from us. It almost seems impossible that it has been so long ago.Our son who was 6 years old when his dad died is now 18. He just went out and bought his first used car. All by himself as I was sick with the flu and could not be out there with him. He came home with a 1990 Toyota Celica. He actually did an outstanding job picking up this car. I am so proud of him.  As I watched him look underneath the car at the muffler and exhaust system I found myself talking to my husband. There's our little man all grown up becoming the man we knew that he would. I asked him if he was as proud of him as I was and if he wished I had done anything different. I then felt this warm happy comfort come over me. I do feel it was his way of telling me that we had done well. My son says he doesn't remember his dad so much. But everyday I see his dad shine through him in so many ways it's almost scary!  I thank God everyday for giving us our son to watch him blossom into his own man with his dad at his side.

Mary, mother of Nick: About one year after my son  was killed in Iraq...I had a very vivid dream.  Really, I believe it was more like a "dream visit." I was in a very dark and depressed state of mind as Nick was my only child and I couldn't see any reason for continuing on with life and him not being a part of it. He was my whole world.The circumstances of his death made it that I was not able to see him one last time and I was having a very difficult time. This may sound strange to some of you, but I really felt like Nick came to visit me to let me know he was ok.

I was asleep.....but kept waking up and feeling like I was dying.I felt myself somehow struggling to get out of my body and down on to the floor.I started crawling down the hall into the guest room. Nick was already there wearing his black and yellow surfer shirt and shorts with a huge smile. He had 2 other young men with him. I started crying when I saw him  and he  kneeled down on the floor and wrapped his arms around me in the tightest hug ever and said, "Mom...Mom...I'm here and I'm Ok. I love you!!  I want you to meet my 2 buddies".He then said to his buddies "This is my Mom". I was crying and telling him how much I loved and missed him.He then said, "Mom.I know and I'm so sorry...but you can't stay. It's not your time...you have to go back!"

I didn't want to leave him, but when I woke up I had a feeling of peace and calm.

 Everything was so vivid and real and even though this dream took place several years ago...I still remember it very clearly.....unlike other ones that are fuzzy and vague the next day.

From Mary, mother of Blake: I've only have one dream that Blake was actually in. Holidays always hit hard and this past year was no different. However a couple days after Christmas I couldn't help fight bittersweet tears as I told my husband that I had seen Blake in my dream! All that stood out about the dream was that Blake appeared out of the blue, ran to me, gave me a big hug, smiled at me, said "I love you mama" then disappeared in a flash. In my dream his appearance was short and sweet and when I think of the dream I can still feel his wonderful arms around me as he gave me his hug and hear his voice and the words he said to me. I think about that dream a lot. It gives me comfort each and every time I do. Mama loves you too Blake!

From Ruth, mother of James:

I had a dream the other day, the noon day sun had slipped away.
Clouds and stars flew overhead. I knew I could not slip into bed.
I waited for you to come into view.
A tear reminded me of the morning dew.
My heart beat fast as I watched the clouds dimming as evening fell.
The stars sparkled so bright, I knew you had something important to tell.
I heard the laughter of a little boy, and there you were out to play.
I watched you grow before my eyes laughing and romping throughout the day.
Suddenly a uniform was on and my soldier son was off to war.
Proud of our nation you promised to come back to my door.
You kept your promise as I knew you would.
Our door was open and all was good.
I am home mom, not as the young man who went away.
But I am here to love you everyday.
You whispered good night and kissed my cheek.
You left me feeling very weak.
I know you love me and you are always with me....
Not as I want, but as it will be.

This week's chat schedule:

General Support
Open for all survivors
Date: Tuesday, February 24, 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, February 26, 2015
Time: 1 PM - 2:30 PM Eastern
12PM - 1:30 PM Central
11 AM - 12:30 PM Mountain
10 AM - 11:30 AM Pacific
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kellie Hazlett

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

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

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Shanette Booker
It’s a Title, Not a Life Sentence

~ Shanette Booker, Survivor

February 17, 2015

I am a widow.

That doesn't mean that I have the plague or I walk around with a scarlet letter "W" on my chest. It simply means that the man I fell in love with and married passed away.

Dre was an amazing son and brother, a wonderful husband and father, and a dedicated Marine and Soldier. He put his best into everything he did and was greatly appreciated for it. He left behind a legacy and memories to be honored and cherished. And he left me behind - his widow, Shanette Booker. I went from being a wife and mother to being a widow and only parent.

Normally when given a title, I know just what to do in the position, but not this time, not this one. I have been a widow for more than three and a half years, and I still don't know exactly what "being a widow" means. I have been approached and asked by several people, "What's it like being a widow?" My response is normally, "I miss my husband, but I am okay."

But the truth be told, "Widow" is just a title; it's not a life sentence. And it's not the end of the world. It's just the opposite; it's the start of a new journey and a new adventure. It's scary at times, but it's how you face those moments and carry on that matters.

It's up to me to keep Dre's legacy alive by sharing his story and living my life to the best of my abilities. His life came to an end, and it pains me every day to know he's no longer a living part of this world. But being the widow of SSG Andre Booker doesn't mean that I am sentenced to a life of darkness and despair.

Dre fell in love with and married me because of my smile and the happiness I brought to his world, for all the positivity I had inside me, and those are the reasons that I will not allow myself to be sentenced as a widow. "Being a widow" doesn't mean I have to stop living as I once did, it just means that I have to adjust to the changes that have taken place in my life because of his death.

So next time someone asks me about "being a widow," I will proudly answer that I am Shanette Booker. I am a widow. It's not who I am; it is what I am, and I am also a proud mother, a great sister, wonderful friend, and still the wife of the late Andre Booker.

I have a life to live and I am not going to live it consumed by a title or by death. Our children still need me and they still need to know who their father was and how he lived, and I am that link for them. I will not let his death end his life or mine for that matter. He shall live on as long as I live on. And even after I am gone, I know that his legacy will carry on through our friends and family's memories. 

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Camillia Bouquet
Saturday Morning Message: Encouraging Self Care

February 14, 2015

Good Morning, 

Since today is Valentine's Day and the topic is finding comfort or enjoyment through grief, I thought it would be a friendly gesture to send you some flowers to express the love and care that we share in our TAPS family.

Self care can be different for each survivor. Some may even feel guilty for taking time to replenish energy, but it is so important to the healing process to take a few moments each day just for you. As time goes by you may find that things that were helpful in early grief change as you move along on the grief journey.

Since I live in a cold climate, I find cuddling with my dogs a warming and uplifting time. Another thing that has helped was joining a workout place. In addition to the wellness activities, it is a comfortable spot in which I can chat with others as I work out. I am very social and need the companionship of others at least once a day. I was talking with another friend who told me that she likes to be alone most of the time. There is no one path that is right for everyone.

LaRita Archibald wrote an article called Self Care. In it there is a list of some other ideas for us wherever  we are on our journey. This week survivors shared ways that help them on this journey.

This is a topic that we have had before, but not for a long time. Some survivors have dreams about their loved ones, so let's share some of those dreams. The discussion topic for next week: Tell us about a dream that you have had of your loved one.

I invite you to respond to this week's question or share a topic you would like to ask the group 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.

Thanks to all of you for reading and responding to the Saturday Message.

Hugs,
Carol

From TAPS Survivors:

From Annie, mother of Michael: This is an excerpt from an article Annie wrote for the 2007 Summer issue of the TAPS magazine titled, Beyond the Grief A Life Of Perseverance showing what gives her pleasure. "Inspired by my great love for my son, I became a volunteer peer mentor for TAPS. As a peer mentor, I am connected to military families who have had recent losses similar to mine. I want to support the newly bereaved parents in their grief and let them know that eventually the pain will become more manageable. In many ways working with other bereaved parents has helped me in my healing journey as well."

From Merry, mother of Wesley: Just a couple thoughts - when I'm down about anything and not just Wes - my faith in God and prayer (which I consider dialogue) gives me hope and comfort.  I know He's listening and that I will see loved ones again.  The tangible things - I will actually put on a shirt, or wrap myself in the quilt I made Wes when he was a young boy.  I still have quite a collection of stuffed animals he had.  I can always hold his U.S. Flag that was draped over his coffin and touch the shells inserted into it from the salute he received.

I'm into a further level of healing - I've started to walk to a church in my neighborhood instead of driving seven miles out of my area.  In that church, the women I prayed with for our sons as they entered the military are still there - some sons are out, some sons are still in - we've reconnected and I'm slowly letting Wes's story known.  So-there's another level of support that I had not even thought about.  I went there on Christmas Eve (my birthday) and then returned on a Sunday and saw those friends there.  God is amazing my friend!!

From Leslie, mother of Eugene: There are no things that give me comfort and joy; my family and friends do. Took a while to let them into this place where I keep my son but I found they knew to get there all by themselves. I have a super husband who I met just after Eugene passed...he is a gem! I have very long time friends who know me better than I do. My dad is amazing as is my sister. I have one surviving son and 3 steps who are beyond fantastic. Then there's the comfort and joy of grandchildren...7 and one on the way ranging in age from 1-19.  Life goes on.....the pain is there....just have to be open to the comfort and joy or you miss living.

This week's chat schedule:

General Support
Open for all survivors
Date: Tuesday, February 17, 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 Chat 
Date: Thursday, February 19, 2015
Time: 9 PM - 11 PM Eastern
8 PM - 10 PM Central
7 PM - 9 PM Mountain
6PM - 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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Amy Dozier
Learning to Love Again

~ Amy Dozier, Survivor

February 13, 2015

We are all here because we have suffered a similar loss; the loss of a loved one in military service. Throughout the years we've had to endure the challenging task of creating our new normal. It has been exhausting, both physically and emotionally. We're strong because we've had to be. Amid the leaps forward come feelings of falling backwards with no soft landing in sight. All it takes is a song on the radio or the smell of an old shirt to remind us of our "happily never after."

Perhaps one of the most prominent triggers for many of us is the holidays. Holidays are typically synonymous with family, love, togetherness, smiles, and traditions. Many of us are still decompressing and maybe even debriefing from the most recent holiday rush just two months ago. And here comes Valentine's Day - a day meant solely for lovers. This is especially hard on surviving spouses and significant others.

I can remember vividly my first Valentine's Day after my husband died. It was five weeks after he was killed. I was still very much in shock, but also incredibly sad. I vacillated between two very different feelings of loss - the physical loss of my partner and child's father, and loss of this idea that I would always have my happily ever after. As I sat in a restaurant with my girlfriends that first Valentine's Day, I realized there was yet another grief reaction that no one ever seems to talk about. Envy.

There were couples everywhere. They looked blissfully in love.  The dim lights and sparkle of red and pink everywhere set the mood just for them. Not for me. Just them. For the next two years on the days surrounding Valentine's Day, the feeling of extreme envy crept up on me uninvited. I couldn't help but notice those who had the happiness I once had; the ones who actually got to keep it. I tried to be happy for my friends but deep down I just wanted what they had. While still processing my own grief, I now had to conquer this evil thing called envy.

I stood on a stage of envy for far too long. I robbed myself of my own happiness. This is when I truly started my quest to find love after loss. It was very difficult but I began tearing down the walls of my heart little by little. I allowed myself to feel real feelings of joy again. With the help of family, friends, and TAPS, I began to dive into some creative outlets from my past: music, photography, and writing. These things make my soul happy. I have also been encouraged to try new things - even things that scare me. I'm so blessed to have such empowering people in my life. You have suffered great loss and I'm sure you've taken lots of time trying to find meaning in it. Keep doing that. It's good for you. You've also been given an opportunity to rewrite your story. This is where you can start finding your new purpose, your new love. Incorporate memories from your past while redirecting your passions and watch how the love is orchestrated in your future.

This Valentine's Day, my wish for you is love. Love your past. Love your story-the parts you hate and wished never happened, and the parts you're in the process of writing. Love the idea of things that are new and different. Love today. Love tomorrow. Love what's yet to come. Love yourself most. 

"Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal." ~ Irish headstone

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Pro Bowl 1
TAPS Goes to the Pro Bowl

February 1, 2015

TAPS had an extraordinary weekend recently in Arizona. The NFL invited TAPS survivors to attend the Pro Bowl and practice activities. Eighteen survivors took part in this very special weekend of fun. It started on Friday when TAPS were guests of the NFL at the team practices. Going on the field after the practices and the opportunity to meet all of the players - some of the best in the league - was very exciting. We met several players who were interested in listening to our stories. They posed for pictures and took a few minutes to learn about TAPS.

For the big game we drove down to Phoenix. How exciting to be part of something so wonderful. Surviving parents, siblings, spouses, and children all donned their TAPS shirts and their special Pro Bowl hats and got ready for the big game. We had special visits from the NFL staff and leadership who listened to stories about our heroes and thanked us for our service and sacrifice. 

What a season, we are grateful for the opportunities for our families and sincerely thank our friends on and off the football field.

 

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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