Once upon a time, I had all the answers. Or at least, I thought I did. My life was more predictable than not, and with all the wisdom of my youth, I just knew that I could handle any roadblock I encountered… all by myself. Independence is a good thing, right?
All that changed on a chilly, sunny day in March of 2005. That’s the day I received the call that many of you have experienced. Someone you love isn’t coming home. Looking back on that time in my life, there are many things I wish I’d done differently. Thoughts I wish I’d shared, choices I wish I hadn’t made, questions I wish I’d asked. And that’s the problem with wishes. They are so much more exciting when you think of them ahead of time. Like candles on the cake, wishes are fun when they are bursting with high hopes and lofty dreams. Wishes that come later, however, are just agonizingly heavy with sadness and regret.
It’s the thought of those sad wishes that compels me to write today. A neighboring community lost another soldier yesterday. With every service member we lose, my heart breaks all over again for the friends and family members left behind. I remember the agony and confusion of those early days. And just like that, all those sad wishes I’ve experienced start marching across my mind all over again. I wish. I wish. I wish.
But above all else, my biggest wish on this journey of mine has been the same… I wish I had found TAPS sooner. I discovered TAPS about four years ago, after being on the grief journey for three years. My parents had gone to a seminar and encouraged me to attend the following year. And so I did, but more for their sake than for mine. After all, I was independent and didn’t need to share my feelings with anyone else. What I encountered that weekend was more than I could have fathomed.
I admit… walking into the room the first night was a bit overwhelming. I didn’t want to cry, and I certainly didn’t want anyone else to see me cry. But within moments, I had connected with dozens of other people. Just. Like. Me. Extraordinary people who had lost people they loved and who were just trying to figure out where to find “normal” again. I returned the next year and attended the peer mentor training. And then I started writing for the publications and the blog. In just a month, I’ll be attending another seminar where I’ll again connect with these amazing people who are far more than friends… they are family!
Is this a shameless plug for TAPS? You bet it is! If you’re reading this, then I have a wish for YOU! Not a wish that speaks of regret, but one that leads to healing. I wish for you that if you haven’t already done so, you might explore the opportunities TAPS provides. The first step is undoubtedly the most difficult, but I promise you will find yourself sheltered in a safety net of caring, compassionate people who truly “get” what you’re experiencing.
You could make this journey alone. But I wish you wouldn’t.
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