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July 4th photo
Happy Birthday, America!

July 2, 2015

Happy Birthday, America! 239 years ago, our Founding Fathers set a new, unchartered course for us. It is one that has required hard work and sacrifice of so many throughout the centuries. In declaring our independence, we declared we would do whatever it takes, as long as it takes, to ensure that same right for the generations to come. The founders signed their name to a document that concluded, "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."

No group knows better the full extent of this pledge than families of our nation's fallen military heroes. For the support of that same Declaration, we pledged allegiance to a way of life that exacted the highest of prices. We endured frequent moves, long separations, multiple deployments, and final goodbyes, and we remain proud to have played our part in preserving this country's ideals.

Through mutual support, we give each other courage to move forward, to remember and celebrate loved ones whose lights shall never be extinguished. Together, bound by the honor of our heroes and the selfless lives they lived, we have found in each other the strength and hope to carry on as living legacies. We are America's Family.

This Independence Day, America's Family wishes all of our fellow countrymen a happy and safe Fourth of July. May your holiday be filled with cherished traditions and celebrations that honor all who have sacrificed to give us this free nation. And may God continue to bless the United States of America.

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Linda Ambard Colorado Race
Beyond My Fears

~ Linda Ambard, Survivor

June 30, 2015

A borrowed line from a song sums it up well. "People say that I'm amazing, strong beyond my years, but they don't see inside of me. I'm hiding all my fears." I've been afraid of my very first memories - afraid of fire, darkness, getting lost, fitting in, trying new things, you name it. I quake and feel slightly nauseated when I am confronted with new situations, decisions, predicaments and even surprises. I learned long ago, though, that waiting on the sidelines didn't allow me to ever play the game. I am good at being the mute friend and the friend that never takes the risks, but I am learning that nothing ventured is nothing gained.

This year has been about reclaiming my life and facing my fears, especially ones associated to running.  I haven't always said why I am running in certain states, but the last two marathons - the one on the United States Air Force Academy and the one in Seattle, Washington - were so much more than an athletic accomplishment. In fact, the 26.2 miles were the easy part of the journey.

I ran in Colorado Springs because, in the tumultuous, aching days after Phil was killed, I couldn't deal with the public nature of confronting my grief and trying to figure things out. I shut down and I ran away. I resorted to what worked for me even as a child. I became quiet and I internalized, facing my hurt alone. Little did I know how many people would notice the full throttle retreat and how many people would carry me for so long, who still carry me some days. It took me three years, but I recognize that Colorado is where I belong. 

Colorado isn't where Phil and I planned to stay, however. We planned to retire to Washington State. We had planned for more than twenty years to one day build our "grow old and die" house there. We had a dream of sitting on a porch outside, watching our grandchildren play. We had a dream of growing old together and having time to travel with one another. Phil's death took all of my dreams and hopes for the future. None of my life looks familiar, feels familiar, or is familiar. Our dreams are no more, and developing aspirations and dreams for my future alone is terrifying and unwelcome, yet necessary for life.

I am finding my footing and making peace with my past. I will never live in Washington because I can't live a shared dream alone. Dare I hope and dream for more? Dare I think of establishing roots and a place where I belong? I do belong in Colorado. The mountains call to me. They are my past, present, and future. I am the sum of many events, not just one. I ran to let go of the pain I carried and to light the torch of hope.

Washington was a little harder. While I have been in Seattle since Phil's death, running is personal for me. I knew that people would know my story. Running in Washington meant letting go of the dream I carried since Phil and I were dating. Even in our dating window, Phil and I wanted the house with the porch, where we could sit, like my grandparents, in comfortable companionship. On Saturday, I made my peace with all that I do not have and I started looking ahead. I started facing down the beast of fear.

The beast of fear only has power if it stops a person from acting or doing. I am still the shy friend that stands by waiting to be picked, but I am going; I am doing. I've recognized there is beauty in stepping out in faith even when a person wants to hide. I am not sure where my steps will lead me, but fear or not, I am going and trusting that somehow, some way, I will know which path to take.

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Carol's Garden Rose
Saturday Morning Message: Nature's Gifts

June 27, 2015

Good Morning,

There was a recent discussion in one of the TAPS chats that centered around flowers and other natural things that make us think of our loved ones. I wanted to share this  picture of a rose that bloomed in my garden this spring.  Not only do roses make me think of my son, Bryon, but also of my mother. Where I live in Vermont, the winters can be very cold, so the roses have to be extremely hardy. When the spring comes, they look like they will never live another year. Then with the rain and the warmth of the sun, little by little, they begin to have green leaves.  Finally,the small buds open to display a radiance that glows in the garden and brings a smile to those who see it.

That is what I have found with grief. In the beginning, there is darkness where there is so much pain that the thought is it will never end. Then, slowly, you meet others through TAPS who have walked a similar path. The shared memories start to bring a warmth when talking about our loved ones. Slowly, as the emotions calm, there is a feeling that something can be done to honor the love shared. Christi, mother of Cole, wrote an article for "TAPS Magazine" you might find interesting on this topic. It is 'A Garden Spade Can Help Heal'.

In addition, Carla, spouse of Richard, sent a song called "The Rose" which spoke to this week's question and is a must to hear. I hope you enjoy the experiences of other survivors who replied this week as they share feelings brought about by flowers, butterflies, birds, and natural sights. Would you like to share a meaningful song or see how other survivors respond to a topic or question you have?  I would love to gather some thoughts for future Saturday Morning Messages.  It can be helpful to read how others cope.

In addition to the ideas shared below, we can also honor our loved ones by communicating with each other through writing. You never know how your words may touch the heart of another. I encourage you to reply to the Saturday Morning Message by sending it directly to carol.lane@taps.org. This week's question is located below my signature. Thank you to all who replied and those who read the "Saturday Morning Message".

Hugs,
Carol

Question for Next Week's Saturday Message

With July 4th coming up, you may be invited to do things with relatives and friends. At those times when you just can't stay home, let's share: What strategies do you use to make the most out of special events?

♫ Song for the Week

This week Carla, spouse of Richard sent "The Rose" by Bette Midler. Her meaningful thoughts about the importance of this song appear in the "Answers from Survivors" section.

Answers from Survivors

Carla, spouse of Richard: "The Rose" by Bette Midler is a beautifully composed ballad and has always been a song that holds great significance for me. As high school sweethearts, Rich and I decided to get married after he graduated from Marine Corps boot camp. Later in 1988, he came home for the wedding and surprised me with a rose tattoo with my name on it.  He let me plan the entire wedding and he arrived in town the night before our big day. What he didn't know was we were getting married at John Ringling's Museum on "Mable's Rose Garden" and I was walking down the aisle with my parents to Bette Midler's song. At the time, it felt like the song spoke to our young love overcoming the obstacles which life so often presents, but yet endures.  

I didn't know that it would later take on another entirely different meaning, as it would eventually include the final chapter for us as a married couple.  At the age of 24, while on duty fulfilling his dream to be a United States Marine Corps Drill Instructor, Rich died by suicide at work, in front of his fellow Marines and recruits on Monday, October 31,1994. More tragically, I was due to give birth to our first child.  

Several days later on Friday, November 4,1994 at the same time as his funeral, I was rushed to the hospital. With my mother by my side, I gave birth to a baby boy whom I later named "Asher"- the one who brings happiness.   

In reflecting on our lives together, and what direction my own life would be taking in coping with my grief, I kept listening to "The Rose" over and over.It seemed as if it were a theme song on the soundtrack of our lives written specifically for us. The lyrics were even that much more profound- speaking to the journey of our love and marriage, his battle with personal and emotional pain, and the beautiful gift of life he left behind for me to cherish in our child; especially the last four lines that read like this, "Just remember in the winter, Far beneath the bitter snows, Lies the seed that with the sun's love, In the spring becomes the rose...."

From Donna, mother of Derek: I've heard it from others that when cardinals and butterflies appear, it means Derek is signaling me. I do believe this is true, because both have appeared at very significant times that I just know Derek is trying to communicate with me.  For example,  Derek's youngest brother had failed his first driver's test.  When I took him for his second one, I was so nervous, not only for him possibly failing again, but also because if he passed, I would be a nervous wreck worrying about him getting into an accident.  I was standing in a small inlet  between the DMV and the Sheriff's department waiting for him to get back when this beautiful butterfly flew around me.  It was then I knew Derek was telling me all would be well. To this day-it is. I have also had similar experiences with cardinals.

From Diane, mother of Caleb: I had never seen as many butterflies as I did that first year. They were everywhere. Anytime I see one or many it takes away my breath. One time, sitting in a plane on the runway, one flew past my window. To me, butterflies are a sign from God and Caleb that they are near-a  sign that God is aware of where I am on this difficult journey and He cares. Everything in nature brings me closer to Caleb. Why? I think of the beauty here - the sky, the sunlight and stars, the mountains, flowers, trees, singing birds, and butterflies. It all takes my breath away and I think of how much more beautiful everything is in heaven where Caleb is. I feel closer to him when I survey the wonders around me. One day I will be with Caleb again, and see what he now sees and that is exciting!

Upcoming Chats       

General Support Chat
Date: Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Time: 8:30 PM - 11 PM Eastern
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs

Survivors of Suicide Loss Chat 
Date: Thursday, July 02, 2015
Time: 9 PM - 11 PM Eastern
Hosted By: Carla Stumpf-Patton and Kim Suggs

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

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

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Rachael Hill Vikings Game
Finding The Sparkle Again

~ Rachael Hill, Survivor

June 26, 2015

Every year for Mother's Day I put together a photo book with pictures of my boys and myself from the past year. I give the book to my mom, my mother-in-law, and keep one for myself as well. As I work on the current year's book, I always seem to look through past books to get ideas as to how I have put them together, and as I reviewed our older books this year something caught my eye that I had never noticed before. 

The first book that always draws me in is 2011…the year that covers my husband's death. I know it is the one that has the most picture of him, so I take my time staring at his pictures. This year, however, in addition to looking at him, I actually looked at myself for seemingly the first time, and, to be honest, I didn't even recognize the woman I saw in those pictures. She was lost…and it showed.

They say you can tell a lot about a person by looking into their eyes. In the pictures of myself from the first year following my husband's death, my eyes were empty. They were flat and missed the sparkle that used to be there. It was the sparkle that Jeff brought to my life, and when he died, in a sense, so did I.  When looking at those pictures, I felt that it wasn't just the sparkle that had disappeared, but that I, myself, had also disappeared. Sure there was a smile on my face, but my eyes told an entirely different story. It wasn't until a couple years ago when a friend commented on a Facebook picture I posted that, for the first time in a long time, she could see the sparkle in my eyes again. At the time, I didn't understand what she meant by that, but I do now.

So what has changed? For me, the past four and half years have brought a lot of realization and transformation. I had to realize and accept that I could no longer have the same relationship with Jeff I had before. He was my everything and I couldn't just let that go. However, even though his physical presence was taken away, that didn't mean our relationship as a whole was taken away too. It just had to transform and take on a new shape. I know he is still with me; I can feel him in my heart. I still talk to him and I can feel his presence all around us. The relationship is still there and I know I can still count on it. I still love him and I can feel his love around me, but it has changed in that he is no longer physically present.

In addition to the transformation in our relationship there was also a transformation within myself, and I eventually realized that I didn't want to let his death take the life out of me too. In the beginning, I was just going through the motions and, while that was okay for a while, I didn't want that to be how I lived my life long term. I know Jeff wouldn't want that either. When the numbness began to thaw and I started feeling again, I knew that I also needed to start living again. I became more present in each day and when I did that, the excitement and enjoyment of life started to return…and so did that sparkle.

"Hardships forge and polish our lives, so that eventually they shine with brilliant fortune and benefit. If left in its raw, unpolished form, even the most magnificent gem will not sparkle. The same applies to our lives."  - Senora Roy

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Smithsonian
Explore Museums for Free This Summer

June 24, 2015

 

Participation in Blue Star Museums is one of our favorite ways to enjoy the summer season! From Memorial Day through Labor Day each year, Blue Star Families partners with the National Endowment for the Arts to bring you free admission to more than 2,000 museums across the country. 

We love this program because museums are great places to learn with your families, and create lasting memories. Our friends at the American Alliance for Museums found that "children who visited a museum during kindergarten had higher achievement scores in reading, mathematics, and science in third grade than children who did not." Museums are great places for exploring and discovering - whether those adventures take place with Monet, a stegosaurus, or wooly mammoth is up to you!  

The Blue Star Museums program is open to Active Duty military families and families of the fallen. The admission pass is a valid Department of Defense (DoD) dependent ID - to include a child's ID. In the case a family member of a fallen hero doesn't have a DoD ID, we advise families to call ahead to the museum and discuss with visitor services what other options of identification might be accepted. And here's the  fantastic part - you can bring up to five of your family members to join in the fun!

To find a list of participating museums, please explore the Blue Star Museums page. On it you will find helpful resources and some fun contests to enter!

Blue Star Families is happy to offer this program to TAPS families, and appreciates our robust partnership! Please feel free to email Laura at museums@bluestarfam.org with any questions. To get more information Blue Star Museums opportunities in your area, check out the Blue Star Families' website and Facebook page!

 The Blue Star Museums program is a collaboration among the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense and thousands of museums across the country. Leadership support is provided by the MetLife Foundation through Blue Star Families.


 

 

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Cait Needham Quilt
Saturday Morning Message: Your Loved One's Possessions

June 20, 2015

Good Morning, 

There were a variety of answers to this week's question about what survivors have done with their loved ones' possessions. I will make my comments short, so you can reflect on all of them.

The picture this week is from Cait, spouse of Robb. She sent it with her answer to this week's question. In addition to the wonderful replies, this week is an article from the TAPS Magazine "Boxes in the Attic: Part Two You Can't Take It With You" By Betsy Beard, Surviving mom of SPC Bradley S. Beard.

We are always working to make the "Saturday Morning Message" as supportive as possible. To help us, we are asking if you would take the time to fill out this short Saturday Morning Message Survey. Thank you so much for giving us feedback to better meet your needs.

Would you like to share a meaningful song or see how other survivors respond to a topic or question you have?  I would love to gather some thoughts for future Saturday Morning Messages.  It can be helpful to read how others cope.

In addition to the ideas shared below, we can also honor our loved ones by communicating with each other through writing. You never know how your words may touch the heart of another. I encourage you to reply to the Saturday Morning Message by sending it directly to carol.lane@taps.org This week's question is located below my signature. Thank you to everyone responding this week and those who read this message.

Hugs,
Carol

Question for Next Week's Saturday Message

A question came up in this week's TAPS General Chat. I thought it would be interesting to share answers: What flowers or natural things like butterflies make you think of your loved one and why? If you think sharing with others would be helpful, I invite you to join our chats. Our General Chat on Tuesday is open to all survivors. Look for the Online Community Link located at the top right side of the TAPS homepage if you are not signed up to access our Online Community. A listing of this week's chats are included at the end of this message.

♫ Song for the Week:

The song for the week comes from Kim, spouse of Milton: Click on the link to hear "Blessings" by Laura Story. Kim writes, "I feel a connection to the song "Blessings" because so many blessings in my life have been given to me through the tears and pain that I have experienced.I have forged so many friendships that have become my family and had many wonderful opportunities in my current life. Although Milton was here for only a little while....he continues to shower me with blessings."

Answers from Survivors:

From Jeanne, mother of Todd: Everything takes on a new meaning and everything becomes precious. What do you do when your life circumstances change? When Donn and I decided to move to Florida and a condo, we knew we would need to part with some of Todd's belongings. But how? Both of us have furniture style trunks where we placed Todd's very special things. We all have those special items which now are used or seen each day by us in our homes. We decided we needed to share Todd with others. We gave many things, including some clothing, to his friends, his nieces and nephews. Those belongings of Todd's have become special mementos to his friends and other family members. They also needed to have something of Todd. It is a very hard thing to do, but I believe that if you find a new and meaningful purpose for those things- what ever that purpose is- you will find peace in parting with some items. I carry Todd's drivers license in my wallet. I noticed it the other day and realized its renewal date is still valid. It is special to have it with me.

From Cait, spouse of Robb: I saw this week's question and I thought I'd tell you what I've done. I didn't do anything with Robb's clothes or uniforms for a little over three years. All of his shirts hung in our closet and in his military closet in the garage. I knew I didn't want to give his stuff away. My mother-in-law said I was being ridiculous for keeping all of his stuff. Good thing I didn't listen to her.

My neighbor is a wonderful quilter. She has a wonderful eye for color, pattern and shape. She approached me one day and offered to make a quilt from Robb's shirts. I couldn't believe she offered and it was the perfect solution. With all of Robb's collared shirts-- both uniform and civilian--my neighbor made a beautiful quilt in a Log Cabin pattern and she made two pillows and a lap quilt for my daughter.

So this is how I keep Robb's memory alive even though I don't think it will ever die. Eventually, the quilt will be passed down to one of my granddaughters. I think it's worth the cost to keep the memory alive. For now, the quilt is on the back of my arm chair. I don't put it on my bed (it fits the bed perfectly) because I have a large dog who jumps up on the bed and I don't want anything to happen to the quilt.

I'm now making a t-shirt quilt with his t-shirts, but I'm making it in a patchwork pattern, meaning there is no pattern. I'm making this one, but I haven't started it yet. Robb and I were married for twenty-seven years. He died eight years, eight months, and six days ago. I still miss him, but it's not as intense as it once was. So that's a good thing, right?

From Leslie, mother of Eugene: It is a question that brings up anger in me. It is unfortunate that my ex-husband let his children rifle though Eugene's things. I have some of what I wanted and have no idea where many of his things went. If I had my way I would have taken his Navy Uniform shirt and put it in a picture frame with a few momentos. I feel making a shrine out of his things would be counter productive.

From Merry, mother of Wesley: I still have Wes's uniform and casket flag out on an honor wall in my home office area.  Most of his papers are in a storage container under a bed.  Two geranium plants from a memorial service for veterans are out on my patio and a piece of his artwork is sitting on my kitchen table.  His belongings are still around me all the time.  I have a picture of him hanging from the mirror in my car.  During the dismantling of Camp Leatherneck, my daughter-in-law had a flag flown in his honor on the anniversary of his death.  That is on a shelf in my office. Obviously, if I can't have him in the flesh, I will have him with mementos and memories - almost in every room of my home.

From Georgianna, mother of Jamie: I love my son's belongings. I have his pictures, awards and reminders of him all over our house. I say our house meaning my son and I. Where I am home, he is always home with me. He knew this, and always will.  I kept a white tux I had for him when he was little and I always hung it up in my closet. He would tell his friends, "Yeah, my mom has my tux hanging in her closet from when I was little." I always cherish those words. I am so so thankful that I have his dress whites. I have them hanging in my closet. I hang them there, because in some way he knows. I am going to give his paintball gun to a young man when I find the right person, for it will bless the memory of my son. I know my son would want that.

From Roseanne, mother of Chris: I put Chris's things in three piles:

  1. Things never to get rid of or touch.
  2. Things I wasn't sure about.
  3. Things I knew I would never use, so they were donated.

It's been a long nineteen months, however, looking back, I don't regret what I've done. I've moved things to space in the attic knowing I will look at them sometime in the future. Things I've donated, I hope went to someone who will put them to good use.

This journey I am on helps me realize Chris would not want his things to rot. Someone out there will wear his clothes and feel like a new person again. Someone out there will use his fishing poles and a smile will come to a face catching a fish. Someone out there will snow ski using a pair of donated skies instead of having to buy a pair.

For me, I pray Chris is an angel right next to that person's guardian angel .

Upcoming Chats

General Support Chat
Date: Tuesday, June 23, 2015
Time: 8:30 PM - 11 PM Eastern
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs

Daytime General Support Chat
Date: Thursday, June 25, 2015
Time: 1 PM - 2:30 PM Eastern
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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Amy and Emma
Tips for Father's Day

~ Amy Dozier, Survivor

June 20, 2015

I remember, very fondly, the third Sunday of every June growing up. My dad made it so easy to pick out just the right gift for Father's Day. He loved the homemade card I made as a small child with scraps of colored paper and an array of pastel crayons. As I grew older, my gifts became a little more sophisticated. Things have changed, however, and I have learned that gifts for dad aren't always things you wrap up in colorful paper and big, fancy bows.  While I still have my dad here on earth, my daughter does not. I mourn with her as we sometimes reflect on the things that were, and what might have been.  After a long talks with family members and friends who have felt the great loss of a father, I have compiled a list of three tips to help us all get through this special day for dads. Whether you are a widow with a child, or a fatherless son or daughter, these words are for you. 

Have your moment(s): This may be the first Father's Day without dad. It may be the 10th. The loss is just so painful sometimes, especially on a day like today. My mom recalls the first Father's Day without her dad.  "I just sobbed when I realized I couldn't send a card to dad". Do you ever want to just lie down and cry? Are you angry? Numb? Wondering, "What do I do now?" That's okay. Be gentle with yourself today. Allow yourself to feel absolutely everything that comes your way. You may feel a whirlwind of emotions that seems incomprehensible. You are not alone. The elusive feelings of grief seem to catch all of us off guard at some point or another. Let these feelings come in, stay for a bit, and then kindly ask them to leave until another time. 

Keep the traditions: "I remember that first holiday without him. I couldn't function. I didn't want to function. I just wanted to sleep the day away", one person said. While this is a very natural feeling, try to lean on someone close to you who will give you the encouragement needed to continue traditions you once had with your dad. This is critical, as going through the motions during these challenging times will actually begin to change your thought process for the better. Let your friends and family members help you through the day. Write a letter to your dad for Father's Day.  Go to church if that's what you did as a family. Have a cook out this afternoon or enjoy his favorite recliner with a good book. Your dad may not be here physically, but the spirit of his memory will be near you with everything you do in his name. 

Create a life around your new normal: At some point the new normal will begin to happen organically. Life will be different. Things will naturally change. You will still have your moments and will hopefully continue the wonderful traditions that keep your dad's memory alive. What about starting something new in his honor? Did you know that you could name a star after a loved one that would be recognized on a national registry? You could also plant a tree-a very symbolic way to watch life continue go grow after the death of a loved one. One of the greatest sources of healing I have found is in helping others. Acts of kindness have this amazing way of taking you out of yourself in the midst of a hard time and redirecting that negative energy into something positive. Perhaps paying it forward every Father's Day-even in a small way-will fill your heart with the kind of love you once felt from your dad. 

Father's Day may be filled with a huge range of emotions for you. My hope for you today is that you know how much your dad loved you during his lifetime and that you will show yourself and others that same kind of love. Today, have your moments, live the traditions, and celebrate the new life you're creating in memory of a wonderful man! 

Amy Dozier
Surviving spouse, mother to 8-year-old Emma

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Terry and Brandon
Happy Father's Day

~ Terry Meyer, Survivor

June 19, 2015

Happy Father's Day. It used to be.

I can recall few details about each one I experienced, but I do remember it being special because either the kids were still at home and we did something special, or the kids were grown and I would receive a special phone call and good conversation with them. Either way, it was a day that reminded me of the special blessings that come from having children and carrying the honored title of "Dad."

I remember Father's Day from 2007. My son and I used to spend special time together by smoking cigars and talking about how we could cure all the world's ills. That year Brandon bought me one of my favorite cigars. I already had some, and I thought his was too special to smoke, so I kept it safe for another day. Thankfully, my daughter had other, less destructive, vices to share with her dad.

Terry and Desiree

That's all I can recall. Our family just had a nice time together and it could not have been better. Brandon had just finished basic training and was headed to Ft. Carson. I was apprehensive, but grateful for his courage. Months went by and Brandon grew into an incredible young man. He was becoming his own man. He married and I just knew he was going to be a wonderful father one day. Then the surge came. He was deployed to Mosul, Iraq, on December 3, 2007. He made it to Mosul. He was only there two weeks before he was killed on January 28, 2008. Everything went blank. Father's Day has never been the same. I dread it every year. It's just too much. But I still have a daughter who is trying to find her way. How selfish of me to feel this way.

Happy Father's Day. It can be.

I miss hearing his voice, his laugh, and his perfect spiral when throwing the football. But I know I will see him again one day. I know where he is and who he is with. I know the love of a courageous and beautiful daughter who continues to inspire her dad (or "dude" or "bro" depending on the day) and the love of a faithful wife. I am learning to live with wonderful friends and colleagues who fill many of the deep crevices left by the loss of Brandon.

Happy Father's Day. It is.

This is not because any of us have to put our grief or struggles aside. Rather, we embrace these moments because we have known a love that has no equal. We have had the high honor of having children, even if for only a short time. Without them we do not have such an honor. Maybe Father's Day is more about them than it is about us. In some way, maybe through our living they continue to live.

So on this Father's Day I will make that call to my daughter to thank her for being my inspiration for another tomorrow. I will smoke that special cigar and consider the actions I can take to make the world a better place. I will throw that football (wobbly, of course) and I will remember that smile and silly laugh. And I won't be afraid to let my eyes fill with tears of joy in the journey as I look forward to living each day as Brandon and Desiree's "Dad."

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Taking Back My Finish Line
Taking Back My Finish Line

~ Linda Ambard, Survivor

June 16, 2015

Nobody tells you how much grief is going to hurt.

Although I am a marathon runner, I had to fight for each and every breath I took after Phil died. I woke up from a few stolen minutes of sleep with my bones aching and my body heavy.  I went to bed exhausted and weary, but as soon as I close my eyes images began to torment and rob me of even more sleep. I’d think of my loved one, and the swollen knot in my throat would reappear, tears would flow down my face as I lay paralyzed with grief.  Mind clouded by exhaustion and grief, every day was another battle to accomplish my responsibilities.  To make matters worse, everyone seemed to think they understood what I was going through. Friends would suggest I “get over it” as if it were a simple as flicking a light switch.

At first, it felt like nobody understood the many losses I was grieving: my community, my place in society, my family, and my husband.  I began to write about my feelings. It allowed me to purge what I was fixated on and once I wrote, I was able to let the feelings go. I joke that I am an accidental author, but writing gave me a voice and a way to make meaning from the unthinkable. That ultimately led me to TAPS.

From the start, people wanted me to numb the pain with alcohol or sleeping pills. Perhaps the sleeping pills would have helped, but I worried that I might be tempted to take too many.  Every doctor’s appointment I went to, the medical staff offered me both antidepressants and sleeping pills.  I was grieving and functioning, but they automatically assumed that I wanted to numb the pain. Friends suggested I try drinking to numb the pain, but it seemed counterintuitive for me to start drinking with a shattered heart.

I unknowingly found what would help me the most in my darkest hour. I knew something bad had happened when I saw those blue uniforms. I was so overpowered with grief I barely listened to the devastating news they told me. I thought to myself, “how can I claim to have faith if I turn from it when I need it most?” I wasn’t fully aware of it at the time, but it was then that I turned to my faith to console me. My spiritual resiliency does involve some church elements, but it's so much more than that. I decided that if I let this kill me inside, it would be a disservice to my husband. I simply couldn’t afford to lose any more to this tragedy.

Sometimes I have to fight for my happiness; by choosing not to let the death of my loved one destroy me, I honor their life even more. I honor Phil for the beautiful soul he was.  I push ahead and help light the way for the families now going down the path I have walked.

I decided to lace up my running shoes, despite the fact I could barely stand up. I pressed on hoping that if I could get outside, I would feel better temporarily.  I didn’t have to talk and I wasn’t surrounded by all the things that had defined Phil’s and my life together.  Running was the first place I felt happy.  While running, I felt normal, and those moments were lifelines when there was nothing else.

Four years out, I can say that this journey is like a marathon.  It still hurts.  A marathon runner knows that somewhere in the 26.2 miles that they are going to want to quit. But by focusing on the next step it will eventually lead the finish line. The runner looks forward to the pride and satisfaction they will feel as they take back their finish line.

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Lit Candle
Saturday Morning Message: Special Days

June 13, 2015

Good Morning,

Survivors ask the question, "How do others mark those days such as birthdays, anniversaries, or angelversaries that are etched in memory?" For some, music is how they choose to honor their loved one. This week, Monica shares a song that was her husband's favorite and how the family used it. Others may bring flowers to the gravesite or light candles. Some may choose to just ignore the day. You can also change from year to year. Whatever way you choose is the right one for you. This week, in addition to survivor comments, I have included a portion of an article written by Betsy Beard, editor of TAPS Magazine, which lists a variety of ways to observe these dates. Thank you to all who participated.

Would you like to share a meaningful song or see how other survivors respond to a topic or question you have?  I would love to gather some thoughts for future Saturday Morning Messages.  It can be helpful to read how others cope.

In addition to the ideas shared below, we can also honor our loved ones by communicating with each other through writing. You never know how your words may touch the heart of another. I encourage you to reply to the Saturday Morning Message by sending it directly to carol.lane@taps.org. This week's question is located below my signature. Thank you to everyone responding this week and those who read this message.

Hugs,
Carol

Betsy Beard, mother of Bradley shared this list of ideas in her article for TAPS Magazine titled, "Anniversary Blues: Handling the Most Dreaded Day of the Year."

  • Plan a memorial ceremony. The creation of memorial rituals can be part of the ongoing healing process, and these remembrances can take many forms. In the first weeks of loss, rituals helped to carry us through the pain-filled days and brought some meaning and stability to our otherwise chaotic lives.
  • Light a candle in honor of your loved one.  In the Jewish tradition it is customary to light a special candle that burns for 24 hours. The candle is lit on the anniversary date of the death, as well as during the initial mourning period immediately following a death.
  • Take a personal day off work to sleep and rest. Grieving is hard work and takes its toll on your mind, body, and spirit. Do what you need to do to care for yourself. You will be better able to function in the future when you take time to be kind to yourself.
  • Read letters from others about your loved one. Ask friends and family members to write their memories ahead of time and then gather to read them on the anniversary date.
  • Cook your loved one's favorite meal or special treat and remember how much joy they derived from the time spent together over a favorite dish.
  • Engage in one of your loved one's favorite activities. It could be watching the latest movie, going bowling, boating, gaming, hiking, or even skydiving.
  • Host a fundraising event for something your loved one cared about. Many survivors plan 5K walks, motorcycle rides, book drives, mission trips, or garden tours.
  • Plant a tree or dedicate a bronze plaque or a flagpole (or all three) in honor of your loved one.  This provides a tangible link to your loved one and is visible to the world.
  • Visit and tend to the gravesite. Some survivors bring chairs, food, books, and music and spend the day there. One tradition is to scatter rose petals over the grave. Another is to pour their favorite drink there or "share" it with them.
  • Write a letter to your loved one. Say what was left unsaid, or repeat what needs to be said again-that you love them and that your love is for always.
  • Spend time with others looking through family photographs or watching home movies. Honor the good times you shared.
  • Start a new tradition and do something outside of your normal routine: take a walk, watch the sunrise or sunset, volunteer with an organization that helps others.

Question for Next Week's Saturday Message

Annette, mother of Joseph sent an email to say her daughter and husband are moving into their house while they await  their first child and a new home for the family. She has to move some of Joe's things to make room. Her question for next week is: What have you done with your loved one's things?

♫ Song for the Week

Monica, spouse of Dameshvar: "Three Little Birds" by Bob Marley & The Wailers was one of my husband's favorite songs. His musical therapist played it live while we scattered his ashes at sea seven months ago. We accompanied her voice with instruments. This song brings me a lot of joy and comfort.

Answers from Survivors

From Robert, father of Lou: On Lou's anniversary of death, June 8th we attend Mass and the pastor comes home with us for breakfast. Then we go to the cemetery for prayers with Father. Lou's birthday is also the same as mine and Sean's, his son. If it weren't for Sean, we probably would try to ignore the day. We have a frame with pictures of the three of us on our birthday. I try not to look too much. As for holidays, we observe them in the traditional manner, but there is always that elephant in the room. We have a large family, so we can't make them think they don't count. That isn't fair to them.

From Diane, mother of Caleb: My son, Caleb's birthday is February 25th. He went to heaven February 26th. To honor him, I write an article called "Tribute To SSGT Caleb Medley." I publish it in our newspaper. It's a birthday/remembrance article about this amazing person. I lit 26 taper candles this year to honor the 26 years he lit up our lives and the lives of others. The candles signify how his life still lights up so many lives. There are thoughts I have for future ways to honor him--just not the energy yet to do those things, but they will come.

From Ruth, mother of Jim: Oh those special days--they always bring memories of our little boy--his blond hair shining in the sun, scampering in the sands of the Pacific Ocean.  A gentle wind blew as the plane crossed the bridge leading into town bringing Jim home for the last time on his birthday. His birthday would become so hard to celebrate, or so we thought.

One day we were introduced to TAPS and we found ourselves with people who had experienced the same pain we had--we shared a small journal called Saturday Morning Messages.  We read each one and found so much love spilled out on paper.  As special days arrived, we found that when we lit a candle for our son that we would reach over and light another candle for our TAPS family.  Our knees would bend on each birthday, each Easter, each Christmas and every other holiday and include each and every one of you in our prayers for our son.

You have been like a bouquet of flowers. Each time you write a reply for the Saturday Morning Message, you touch my heart. You make those special days more meaningful. God has been good to us.   I find that my vase is filled with those beautiful flowers called friends.  Without your wisdom our road would have been so bumpy. We have used so many of your ideas.  God bless you all.

Upcoming Chats

General Support Chat 
Date: Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Time: 8:30 PM - 11 PM Eastern
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs

Survivors of Suicide Loss Chat 
Date: Thursday, June 18, 2015
Time: 9 PM - 11 PM Eastern
Hosted By: Carla Stumpf-Patton and Kim Suggs

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

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

By Richard W.M. Jones (Self-photographed) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

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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