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Woods - Autumn
Saturday Morning Message: Life Changes

August 30, 2014

Good Morning,

For many of us, the seasonal changes, give cause to reflect. Pausing to consider your life can be helpful to everyone, but especially those of us who are trying to adjust to a "new normal". This week's responses show that our loved ones will always be in our hearts, although the direction of our lives may have changed. Each of us is different and we will react in our own way, but by communicating with each other, we see the similarities and celebrate the differences as well. That is one of the joys of being with the TAPS family. There is no judgment and no time lines of healing. We do it at our own pace. Thanks to those who wrote to share this week and always to those of you who read the Saturday Message.

Survivors who may not have been to a TAPS seminar or retreat might be wondering what they are like. For those of us who have attended at least one, for next week's Saturday Message, let's share: What is the best thing that you did at a TAPS seminar or retreat? I look forward to your replies.

If you would like to send a response to the question of the week or have a question and would like to read strategies used by other survivors, send an email to carol.lane@taps.org and it will come directly to me.  I would love to hear from you anytime about anything. It doesn't have to be a reply to the Saturday message. Sometimes just writing to someone is helpful.

Hugs,
Carol

From TAPS Survivors:

From Tammie, mother of Gregory:  My life has changed in many ways since Gregory departed from this life. I have become more conscious of how fragile and short life is. I am grateful every day for everything, I don't sweat the little things, but find the positive and hold on to what is good and meaningful.  I don't take anything for granted, but am thankful. Thankful for the beauty of loving memories of Gregory. I find myself talking more to people about my loss hoping that by sharing it shows the importance of spending time with your loved ones and to be thankful for family. At the end of the day all we have is each other. It is so vital to our happiness and joy that we share and create beautiful life lasting memories. Hold your love ones close to your heart and cherish every moment shared. These memories are forever beautiful and priceless!

From Leslie, mother of Eugene: My life changed the minute the doctor said those words, "We did everything we could, but we couldn't save him...."

There's a permanent hole in my heart. However, some wonderful things have happened since then. I met a girl my son dated secretly who I now consider a daughter. I love her and her daughter who calls me Bubbe Leslie. I moved to a wonderful apartment complex that Eugene picked out before he died.  This is where I met the love of my life and married him. He and his entire family are fabulous. Also, my other son had a baby girl who is a delight.

I have moved on with my life in many ways. I can even say my life improved. But there will always be that ache and the wish that he were here.

From Barbara, mother of David: Since the death of my son, David, I feel is that there is now an underlying sadness in my life that I never had before.   Things that used to be important are no longer important.  It is hard to be motivated at work regarding new technologies, ideas, etc.  It just doesn't seem important anymore.  I have begun to be more charitable mostly by donating money.  One day, perhaps donate more time, but I am not yet ready.  Also, I don't worry about things so much.  When people are in a hurry, I wonder why. I just let life and the days happen.

From Diane, mother of Caleb: In what ways have I changed since Caleb's passing? I am not the same person I was before February 26, 2013, the day Caleb left this world. I have new friends - friends who are kind, and considerate...I had to distance myself from those who are negative, love gossip and drama. My perspective on so many things has changed. Some things that used to matter, don't matter anymore. Sometimes, I don't feel like I know myself and am having to get know this new person! I don't always know how I'm going to react to things. A friend of mine likened this new 'me' to being an adolescent again...where we didn't know who we were or what we wanted or where we were going! I think that is pretty accurate!

From Mary-Ann, mother of Blake: I feel I have changed in a number of ways since the death of our son, Blake. In some ways for the better and others not. I find some emotions are temporary and I am coming back to normal after almost four years. Here are some of the ways I can see a difference in myself:

  1. Thinking clearly and focusing on what I need to be focused on.
  2. Using my imagination.
  3. I can listen to the local news, but have trouble with the world news.
  4. A lot of things I used to do for fun were of no interest to me, but the interest in things like listening to music, singing, sewing, crafting, going to festivals are returning a little along the way.

I have also found myself wanting to do things I never would have done before like:

  1. Head up an annual run to raise scholarship money to help local children better themselves.
  2. I've gotten up the courage to do things like go on the radio and TV to promote the race.
  3. I read and research much more than in the past. Many things are in areas I never thought to do before.
  4. My prayer life has increased far more than in the past even though I've always been a church goer.

The list goes on and on. I feel as if I'm evolving into a new and hopefully better me.

General Support Chat
This chat is open for all survivors
Date: Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014
Time: 9 PM - 11 PM EST
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs

Survivors of Suicide Loss Chat
Date: Thursday, September 04, 2014
Time: 9 PM - 11 PM EST
Hosted By: Kim Suggs and Carla Stumpf-Patton

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

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

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Picture of Tommy and Joe
Marriage and Death - A Semper Fi Story

~ Bob Bagosy, Survivor

August 25, 2014

The week of August 9th started out great with the marriage of my youngest son David to Janica in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. The day was perfect with blue skies, no rain and low temperatures. The wedding took place on Oak Mountain. A lift carried us to the top where sixty people welcomed the bride and groom. My Bagosy family attended and consisted of my wife Iris, myself, my daughters Stacy and Kristin and their husbands, my son Michael, my nephews Chris and Alex, as well as numerous aunts and uncles.

The wedding reception was one of the best I have ever attended but my heart ached for the one son who was missing, SGT Tommy Bagosy, USMC. As David and Michael, who was the best man, were in the process of having the wedding photos taken, I felt a sharp pain in my heart - missing from this picture was Tommy. I decided before the wedding that I would not mention Tommy since the day belonged to David and Janica. After all it has been four years since Tommy took his own life and perhaps it was best not to mention. My son Michael, as the best man, gave the toast for the bride and groom. During the toast, he mentioned Tommy in words that he spoke before his death "to appreciate the good times sometimes you need to have gone through the bad times". I was moved that Tommy was quoted, and a tear ran down my face. As the reception continued I noticed a table alone in the corner with a place setting for one with a nametag. As I approached the table, I saw on the nametag the name Tom Bagosy spelled out. At the sight of that I had to leave the reception for a moment because several more tears began running down my face. My sons had not forgotten their brother Tommy. As the reception continued I gathered my Bagosy family around the table set for Tommy, and we toasted Tommy.

On August 12th my Bagosy family traveled to Arlington National Cemetery to attend the burial of my father, PFC Joseph A. Bagosy, USMC 1942-1945, and my stepmother. The day was full of heavy rain - fitting for a burial of a Marine. The Gunny Sergeant in charge of the burial detail said that it was a day that only Marines could love. By the time we reached the Caldarium the rain became a monsoon and despite our umbrellas we all became soaked, yet the Marine detail conducting honors stood in the heavy rain in their dress blues. The bugler played TAPS while the detail fired the 21-gun salute.  The flag was presented by the Gunny to my older brother on bended knee and shook all our hands. Then we walked to the wall where the two urns were placed in the crypt. A prayer was said by the Navy Chaplin and the burial was completed. As the family left I stood alone and sang the Marine Corps Hymn; it was a final tribute to an old breed Marine.

After I returned home I received in the mail a copy of my father's Marine Corps records from his service during WW2. I read that my father enlisted on December 26, 1941 and went to Parris Island on January 2, 1942.  He served with the 1st Marine Division on Guadalcanal from August 7th to December 9th. He had over eight bouts of malaria; he was evacuated to Australia and returned to the US in May of 1943. His final discharge was Honorable with a disability on June 5, 1945. He was disabled with Psychoneurosis, which today is called PTSD. In his lifetime he never told the family of his PTSD but for the rest of his life he received a disability check from the VA.   

So my week started with my son getting married and ended with my father being buried with honor.

Semper Fi to my two Marines!

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Saturday Morning
Saturday Morning Message: Ways to Memorialize our Loved Ones

August 23, 2014

"Unable are the loved to die. For love is immortality." - Emily Dickinson

Good Morning,

When we love someone they live on  in our hearts, and also through what we may do in memory of them. Doing something in memory of your loved one allows the name to be spoken and gives a chance for others to hear about the life of this person you hold close. Through foundations, memorials as well as TAPS events, chats, or even by sending a reply to the Saturday Message you share your loved one.  I want to thank those who wrote replies for today's message.

For other ideas on what survivors have done to honor their loved one, read Bonds with the Deceased Don't Have to End by Gloria C. Horsley, PhD, MFT, RN, and Heidi Horsley, PsyD, MSW, MS from a past TAPS magazine. It is a wonderful article with some interesting ideas.

Another place to surround yourself with those who are eager to hear stories of your loved one, keep the memory alive, and help to support TAPS is by looking over TAPS EVENTS - Fundraising to see if there is anything of interest to you. The running events that are happening for the rest of this year are: Navy-Air Force Half Marathon and the Navy 5 Miler and the Air Force Marathon, Half Marathon, 10K and 5K in September, the Army Ten Miler and the Marine Corps Marathon, 10k, and Kids Run in October.

Next week's question came from Sarah G. The question is: In what ways have you have changed since your loved one's death? Perhaps there is something on which you spend more time or an organization that has attracted you to become involved. I look forward to your answers.

If you would like to send a response to the question of the week or have a question and would like to read strategies used by other survivors, send an email to carol.lane@taps.org and it will come directly to me.  I would love to hear from you anytime about anything. It doesn't have to be a reply to the Saturday message. Sometimes just writing to someone is helpful.

Hugs,
Carol

From TAPS Survivors:

From Andrea, spouse of Joe: On Aug 2nd this year, my daughter and I hosted the first annual The Dash 5K in memory of my husband / her dad. At the event we had happy and goofy pictures of my husband in many places so everyone would remember why they were there that day and smile at all the pictures.  He was such a happy man always making people smile and laugh. At every mile marker  there was  a silly picture and at the finish line we had a big picture of him doing a thumbs up. Everyone seemed to enjoy the day. We also had a BBQ which is something he was known for. He always BBQed for everyone all the time. It was one of his pleasures. We raffled off gifts as well as  had t- shirts made for the event. We carefully planned it out to represent who he was and we definitely pulled it off. It was a lot of work, but well worth it in the end. We were then able to give back to others that need it as well.  Our plan is to do it every year around the time of his birthday in June.   I hope my story gives someone else some inspiration to do the same. It really did help my family and me a lot.

From Rebecca, mother of Griffin:  I thank current and past soldiers for their service by giving them a US Flag or US Army Flag. I carry them in my car. Giving of the flag really means a lot to their heart and mine. Since I can't crochet things for Griff, I give crocheted camouflage scarves to survivors and active military. This tag goes on everything crocheted in Griff's memory: "Wraps of love in honor of Sgt. Griff." I crocheted a baby afghan in camouflage & cream for a close high school friend who is now an Army soldier and his wife. Also I made a red, white, and blue afghan for the VA Center where I am fortunate to receive compassionate counseling. There are also crocheted scarves, Afghans, lunch mats, and coasters to give away to people who've been kind and compassionate. These are the ways I honor my much loved missed son Griff.

From Leslie, mother of Eugene: These are some of the things I have done to honor Eugene so far:

 

  1. Organ Donation: Eugene died suddenly and unexpectedly.  I didn't get to donate his major organs, but I did donate his bones, skin and corneas.  He died in the morning. By the evening, two received the gift of sight and 48 others were either saved or enhanced. I have spoken to groups about organ and tissue donation.  It's easy to sign up at the DMV.  You are then put on national registry making carrying a card obsolete.
  2. I built a bench at the military cemetery to honor Eugene.
  3. Future grandkids' names will start with the first letter of his first or middle name to honor him.

He is forever in our hearts.

 

From Mary-Ann, mother of Blake: There are a number of things we've done.  The biggest one is an annual walk/run to raise money for a scholarship fund started in Blake's name. Since Blake was into physical fitness, I felt the race done on a wooded country road instead of a paved one would fit the event better as well. I felt I no longer can do for my Blake, but I can help others in his name. So far we have given out six scholarships to needy kids that are trying to better themselves. I feel since Blake was always studying to better himself, this would be pleasing to him. My husband has made a memorial garden around a tree that was planted in his memory. We plan on doing something special in his memory at our church where he was raised. I have talked to our priest about it and he was going to research ideas I had and get back with me. There are countless things we can do. I think the main thing is to do something to help make life better for others in the name of your loved one or like I say take something horrible and turn it into something good for others. We can't do anything about the past, but we can bring sunshine into others' lives with a helping hand.

From Christine, mother of Adam: I sometimes go to the last place that I saw my Adam.We had eaten at a Chinese buffet.  He had arrived after me and had parked next to me. This was the 2nd day after he was discharged from the hospital. Sometimes I stop and pick up something to eat to go. I always look at the two parking spaces where we last hugged.

From Anne, mother of Michael: What have I done since I lost our sweet son, Michael?  Well, for one thing I never stop doing things to honor him and I love keeping his memory alive, because I feel he is always with all of us.  I started the Osprey Memorial Foundation after we lost our son in hopes of raising enough money to build a monument to honor eight men who were testing the Osprey helicopter in 2000 and  died in two separate air crashes. I fulfilled my dream with lots of perseverance! The Osprey Memorial is now in the Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, VA.  I also became a peer mentor for TAPS for quite a few years to help other mothers with their loss and pain. To help ourselves we have to come out of ourselves.

General Support Chat
This chat is open for all survivors
Date: Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Time: 9 PM - 11 PM EST
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs

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

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

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Linda's picture
Three Years After Phil was Killed

~ Linda Ambard, Survivor

August 18, 2014

When Phil was killed, I felt like I was all alone and that somehow I no longer fit in the world I had been a part of since I was 21.  It had been many years since I was the center of gossip, but from the early moments less than a week after the funeral, people Phil had worked with were making bets about how long it would take for me to date and remarry.  Someone considered it funny enough to tell me about it.  Other people shied away from me perhaps feeling like Phil's death was contagious.  Maybe they didn't know what to say.  Many didn't.  Many people came and remembered Phil's life at his funeral, but I never heard from them again.  As time has marched on, and Phil's death is not such a raw event, I have become better at laughing off the inappropriate behavior and remarks, yet the pain lingers as a muted dull ache of wanting the life I thought I was going to have.

Three years after Phil was killed, I've realized that I, like most, had a skewed perception of grief.  I thought grief was finite and people could "get over the loss".  I suppose I thought that someone else who could fill the void could replace people somehow.  Yes, I had experienced death before Phil, but most of my losses followed a predictable pattern; the end either came from death at an old age or the loss was someone not close enough to create a lifetime of "what ifs" or missed family events. 

People step up willingly and provide a shroud of support in the immediate aftermath of traumatic death-any death.  They step up to provide food and a physical support.  They are willing to listen and they are willing be the hands that reach to the broken spirited griever, but people (and I am no different) quickly reach the end to their capacity to give.  It isn't that they do not want to be a good friend, but all of us have life responsibilities and the need to connect with people who bring life into our own hearts.  This time limit usually is six months for those that are the closest to those who grieve.

When caregiving fatigue kicks in, people begin to look for life to resume in what is perceived a normal way.  At this point, things may be said and done that hurt a person who is grieving, while it isn't the intention of others, many just simply do not know what to say or do. While a person would never tell another person to get over being happy, it is exactly the opposite with those who still cry, talk about the loss, or mourn in any manner six months-12 months-whatever that number is. 

I've had people in my life suggest  sleeping with someone, getting drunk to forget, self-medicating, etc. as a way of forgetting the pain.  While those things may work temporarily, I've been smart enough to realize all to soon that the pain would come rushing back and the pain would be even worse if it carried the elements of guilt, self-loathing, or delayed grief.  A person must simply continue to step and breathe one minute at a time until the pain is blunted enough that a person can grow and find meaning or remember the person lost not as the event that took their life, but as a collection of happy memories and shared events.

Another element of this journey which shifted in my paradigms is I once said to my minister that I was waiting for God to bless me like he blessed Job after all of his losses.  God did indeed bless Job after his loss, BUT as my minister pointed out, people are not replaceable.  God allowed Job to find love again and to reestablish his business again, but Job still bore the scars of having lost his family.

At this point in my journey, I still think about Phil.  There are days that will always bring with them the weight of darkness.  I can't control those days or basic time frames, but most days I am confident I am doing what I need to be doing.  I honor Phil and the love we shared even as I take small faltering steps forward.  I have begun to believe in myself and in my future without my Phil but that progress in no way means that I am "over it". 

My future does not mean replacing or forgetting Phil and what he meant to me.  It simply means learning to live as Linda instead of as the Linda/Phil team.  This future means developing a new future-one that I never wanted-because it is what he would have wanted. 

He even told me that in our last face to face conversation.  Phil wanted that what if talk right before he deployed.  I wanted none of it.  I made jokes about Raul the pool boy.  I do not know any person named Raul and I certainly do not have a pool.  He got exasperated and asked me a question that compels me forward in hope and in confidence.  He turned to me and asked, "If you died first, would you want me to be happy again?"  Why, yes, yes I would.  Phil wanted happiness for me because he loved me that much.  Perhaps the people who want us to get over it love us that much.  

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Saturday Morning
Saturday Morning Message: Places Shared with Your Loved

August 16, 2014

Good Morning,

Working or visiting places where your loved one spent time can be difficult, but as the survivors who answered this week's question found, those places are a part of our loved one and we can appreciate them at our own pace.

New survivors often ask what others have done in memory of their loved ones. It always amazes me when I talk to survivors at a TAPS event and hear the things that people have done in honor of their loved one. So the question for next week is: What would you like to do or have done in memory of your loved one? We look forward to your responses and thank you to those who wrote this week.

If you would like to send a response to the question of the week or have a question and would like to read strategies used by other survivors, send an email to carol.lane@taps.org and it will come directly to me.  I would love to hear from you anytime about anything. It doesn't have to be a reply to the Saturday message. Sometimes just writing to someone is helpful.

Hugs,
Carol

From TAPS Survivors:

From Diane, mother of Caleb: We have flown back to California a number of times to attend functions in memory of Caleb. I love being close to what was his life...at the same time it breaks my heart. I have found the first day is usually the hardest. So hard I've thought, "This was a mistake. I can't do this." By the second day I'm glad I'm there, and by the time we have to leave, I don't want to say good-bye. Since that is how it's been, I can 'ride the wave,' - even though it's not easy...telling myself, "Tomorrow will be better." I look at the places I visit as a part of his life, and I'm so glad to be able to be where he's been, to see what he's seen, and to be a part of what he was a part of. I can see him driving, running, laughing - all through tears, yes, but it blesses me to be a part of the life he lived.

From Bob, father of John: We always reminisce about what John would have thought about our being at these places. We feel immense pride in his accomplishments and at the same time shed a few tears. If it is at all possible, we like to share our pride and thanksgiving for his military life and the real sacrifices he and his wife made during his 15 years of service. Right now we have been a military family for 21 years as our youngest is in his 9th year with the CO National Guard.

From Ginny, mother of Patrick: I was at work when my husband came and brought the news about my son. My job was so kind and told me take as long as I need. I didn't go back to work for 3 months. When I did, I found I would cry all the way to work and all the way home.  This went on for 7 months. I thought it was just the 30 minute drive each way, alone, to think about my grief. I guess I was not coping as well as I thought. My boss asked me if I wanted to just go part time and let someone else run the office. I was really angry about that and said, "NO!"

Then one day I got to work and could not stop crying, I called my boss and told her I had to go home and to send someone to work in my place. I went home, worked in my garden and cried. Then the Red Cross lady who had been such a help to us after Pat died, called out of the blue. I told her what had happened. She reminded me that that office was where I got the news about Pat. She said even if I am not consciously thinking of it, it is a daily reminder of that tragic day. She said she had a similar experience when a friend at work died. She ended up quitting that job. I decided I did not need to quit my job, I just needed to switch offices. Again, my job was very supportive and not only let me go part time, but also switched me to an office that is even closer to my house. So less stress and less drive time. I try to use the free time to support veterans' causes and to spend "therapy time" with my husband, horses and dogs.

I still cry every day, but I feel more balanced and I have learned to be a bit more at peace with this new normal.

From Donn, father of Todd:  When Todd was killed, his mother, Jeanne, and I were already looking at possible retirement.  For Jeanne, who had been home alone when the Casualty Assistance Officers came at 6:10 AM that fateful morning, passing by the front door dozens of time a day was a challenge and often led to tears. However, my work supported military members among others, so I could not yet quit work since I told myself it was done in part to honor our son. We wanted to stay close to our other children who lived locally and Todd's college and high school that both have awards in his memory. For several years we dove into the work and lived in the same spaces we had shared with Todd the last few years of his life before the Army and college.

We eventually realized we needed to start that new life and moved to Florida in December 2013, but my work was in Virginia.  I returned and lived in Todd and Emma's sparsely furnished condo that she decided to keep for six months to do the work, while Jeanne stayed in our new Florida home.   I had helped him pick it out and co-signed the mortgage since he bought it as a college student using money he had earned in Iraq.  At first it was hard to be there, then I realized two things:  It does not matter where you are. The memories and sadness are always with you and will follow, but so will the pride.  And, by turning those memories into action and making sure that we live our lives in part to help others remember Todd and all our fallen, smiles will return.  It does not matter whether we look at his picture, visit his high school, stay in his old home, or walk the beach. His memory is there.  In fact, it is better to know that he is all around.  Even now that we live in Florida and work only part time in retirement, many new people will hear about his legacy.   Just as important, we believe he is pleased our lives go forward with promise.

General Support Chat
This chat is open for all survivors
Date: Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Time: 9 PM - 11 PM EST
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs

Survivors of Suicide Loss Chat
Date: Thursday, August 21, 2014
Time: 9 PM - 11 PM Eastern
Hosted By: Kim Suggs and Carla Stumpf-Patton

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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Kim's family
Finding Hope Amid Devastating Loss: A Military Widow Who Lost her Marine to Suicide Shares Her Story

~ Kim Ruocco, Survivor

August 11, 2014

My name is Kim Ruocco and I am the widow of United States Marine Major John Ruocco, who died by suicide at age 40 in 2005.

John was an incredible husband, son, father to our two boys, and Marine. He was dedicated and passionate in everything he did.

John joined the Marines in 1989 and became a pilot even though he wanted to be in the infantry. After scoring high on an entrance exam he was convinced to accept a pilot slot. He flew the Cobra helicopter and the T-37 jet for the military. He was a respected leader to his troops, who provided comic relief when everyone needed a laugh, as well as a steady hand and leadership in times of combat and operational stress.

My husband was the kind of person who made friends wherever he went. He enthusiastically met the locals in each new town every time he changed duty stations.  He loved his friends and family and was the life of any party. He even found time to coach baseball and roller hockey. Each team was named either the "Red Sox" or "Bruins" after his beloved Boston teams.

My husband gave 100% to his friends, his family, his fellow service members, and his community, 100% of the time. He only had one fear. It was not combat or flying with night vision goggles or even death. John was afraid of letting someone else down. He spent his life sacrificing and serving for the good of others.

John felt responsible for his junior Marines and their families.  Over time John accumulated scars of trauma and loss. He made life and death decisions that were hard for him. He saw friends die in military training accidents and in combat. I can remember attending memorial services for a group of Marines lost in a training accident at Camp LeJeune with John. He was back in his helicopter and flying the day after the funerals. These losses impacted him deeply and he carried these tragic scars as personal failures on his psyche.

As the senior Marine on base, John taught suicide prevention and provided resources to others. But John had a secret; he suffered from untreated depression and post-traumatic stress. Over the years he was able to push himself through it with exercise, nutrition, prayer and family support.

Looking back now, I can see how John was walking around with a full cup of water waiting for that last drop to make it overflow. He flew 75 combat missions in Iraq and returned a different man. He was withdrawn, agitated and sullen. He had nightmares and could not sleep, and he struggled to reconnect with me and our two sons, Joey and Billy, who were 8 and 10-years-old.

John started having trouble concentrating and flying the aircraft that he knew so well. He failed a routine flight test soon after his return from combat. We talked about getting help but he feared that people would lose respect for him or think he was faking. But by not getting help, his worst fears were coming true. He was letting people down.

The happy and fun John whose laugh could fill a room was gone. He couldn't find joy in anything, even the things he used to love. John was stationed across the country from our home in Massachusetts, preparing for a second combat deployment to Iraq. The boys and I called him to talk about the exciting news that one of his favorite teams, the New England Patriots, had won the super bowl, and he didn't even watch the game. As a trained social worker, I realized John was in crisis and asked him to get help. I also asked him if he was feeling so badly that he was thinking of killing himself, he replied that he would "never do that to you and the boys". Despite this response, I knew that asking for help was going to be the most difficult thing he had ever done in his life. I got on the first plane I could and set out across the country to support him.

But I didn't get there in time. In in his altered state of mind, with poor judgment and tunnel vision, John thought everyone would be better off without him and he lost hope. He died by suicide. Alone.

When my husband died, I thought I lost everything. We had been together for twenty-three years. I was overwhelmed with the path before me and was reeling in emotional pain. I had lost my life partner and my best friend. How do you tell two little boys that their dad, their hero, made it safely back from combat in a war zone, and then he took his own life?

I questioned everything I said and did in the days before John's death, and worried that I could have done something else to save him. I didn't trust my instincts because I felt like he had "died on my watch". The support systems that I usually depended on did not seem to understand the depth of my pain or the many questions that I was grappling with.

I started my grief journey by reaching out to others who had lost a loved one to suicide. I came to the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) in 2006 looking for help and hope for me and my hurting sons.

I hoped that the TAPS Good Grief Camp program could help my boys, and they made life-changing connections with service members who were volunteering at the camp to help children of fallen service members, including Matt Sterni, a Marine pilot who had flown with their dad in Iraq. Matt told them how John supported and guided him through a difficult combat situation. He helped my boys remember again their dad - their real dad - before he got mentally sick and withdrew from them.  He shared funny stories that he experienced with their Dad while in Iraq, stories that I had never heard.

I found help at TAPS for me too. The power of meeting others who had experienced a similar death, was so incredible. As I began to heal I realized that there were others that were suffering alone. With the help and support of my friend Bonnie Carroll, I used my professional training to formalize a program to provide comprehensive care to all those grieving a military suicide.

While most military deaths are traumatic and violent in nature, suicide poses special issues that the parents, spouses, children, siblings and other family members must grapple with. It's extremely important that we get these families into bereavement care and support following a death. Family members grieving a death by suicide are 2-5 times more likely to die by suicide themselves and at risk for other issues, such as depression, insomnia and anxiety. They often recluse themselves for fear that they will be judged or will be asked questions that they themselves are not able to answer.

Today we have more than 4,000 people grieving a death by suicide who are part of the TAPS community. We are holding our sixth annual national seminar for military suicide survivors in Florida in October, bringing together the best experts in suicide support and bereavement care to help hurting military families find healing and hope amid the devastation that suicide brings. We are expecting more than 500 people this year, including 150 children.

Over time, I was also able to reflect on John's life and what led to his death. I began to assemble a timeline and narrative, so I could share John's story and educate others about mental health and save lives. Last year I testified for Congress on ways to improve mental health care for our veterans, sharing information gleaned from families coming to TAPS for help and support.

By engaging in suicide postvention to assist grieving military families, I was able to find new meaning and purpose in my life.  This helped me realize that I could and would survive the trauma of John's death, and that my children and I were going to be ok. 

Kim Ruocco is a social worker and the director of suicide postvention programs at TAPS.

 

 

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Saturday Morning
Saturday Morning Message: Invitations to Events

August 9, 2014

"Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still." William Penn

Good Morning,

This week, survivors wrote strategies that should be helpful to all of us when we are asked to go somewhere  we may feel uncomfortable or we just want to be alone. The replies came from survivors who are at different places on their grief journey. Thank you to those who have contributed to this Saturday Message.New survivors often ask how to adjust to a "new normal". That is a very broad question, so I thought I would narrow it down a bit. Often we live and work in an area that we shared with our loved one. This week's question is: What strategies have you used when you need to work or visit a place that brings back memories of your loved one? We look forward to your responses.

If you would like to send a response to the question of the week or have a question and would like to read strategies used by other survivors, send an email to carol.lane@taps.org and it will come directly to me.  I would love to hear from you anytime about anything. It doesn't have to be a reply to the Saturday message. Sometimes just writing to someone is helpful.

Hugs,
Carol

From TAPS Survivors:

From Joanne, spouse of Ken: It's perfectly okay to say, "Thanks for thinking of me!  I'm not too sure I'm ready for a (fill in the occasion) right now. Can I take a rain check to get together at another time?"  The most important thing for families of the fallen to remember is…we do not have to provide a personal explanation!  And, if a well-intentioned friend or family member presses for one, simply say, "I'm sorry, but I'd prefer not to talk about it right now."  You have the right to provide explanations and information on your own terms!!

From Merry, mother of Wesley: The first year of grief, I was able to say, "Let me check my calendar" or "I would love to attend, I'll pencil that in and get back to you."  If I did attend something, I made sure I could give myself an exit plan if I felt uncomfortable.  The second year of grief is just about over - and I probably would say the same thing, and have the same boundaries in place, too.  If an activity is short - like say two hours or less, I can handle that.  Otherwise, I tend to need to "move on" to something else.

From Dana, mother of Andrew: Being so new to this process called grief, I have been asked this question many times in the past few weeks. The worst came when I was asked to go see fireworks on the Fourth of July. I just buried my son on July 1st and my heart was broken. To be honest it still is. I went and I cried the whole time. For me it was supposed to be a day of celebration. It was not until a few days later I realized that my son was one of the reasons we celebrate.

From Diane, mother of Caleb: I was always that person who had a hard time saying no. After the death of my son, I thought I should make myself go and do....Sometimes I'd find that was not the right thing for me! I'd struggle through and come home thinking, "Why did I make myself do that?" I've learned to listen to my heart a little better. I try not to commit to certain things ahead of time, because when the day comes I may not want to go! Example - we have a rodeo/concert at our county fair. I usually go to the military commemoration night. This year I didn't feel comfortable going, and told a friend of mine I'd meet her there if I was up to it. I didn't go. The next day I found out a paratrooper holding a flag opened the rodeo. I am glad I listened to my heart - I was not ready to be surprised. My son was killed in a paratrooper accident.

Now, if I'm asked to do something, sometimes I will politely decline saying, "Thank you for thinking of me. I'm not really ready to do that..." or "Thanks, but this is a tough time, and I think I'll pass this time, but call again! You never know, next time I may be ok!" If I'm with other people and need to be alone, I just excuse myself, and go somewhere to be alone. I have found sometimes it's just necessary to have a few minutes to cry, regroup, and just breathe.

From Mary-Ann, mother of Blake:  Most people who might ask me to do something are aware of what has gone on in my life, so I feel comfortable enough to just tell them something like, "Maybe at another time" Or  "Today is not one of my better days, but maybe next time". I've learned that if I try to push myself too hard in areas when I'm not feeling strong enough, I end up falling apart and/or depressed for days. It is not worth it to me. I hope others understand. Last week a friend of mine from church lost her husband to cancer and I had planned to go to the funeral to be there for her until I realized he had been retired military. I just didn't think I could handle a flag draped casket! Wanting to be there for her, I decided to stay back and help with preparing for the reception after the funeral. That worked for me and I feel she understood. I know she knew I was there for her working in the background.

Parent Chat
Date: Monday, August 11, 2014
Time: 9 PM - 10:30 PM EST
Hosted By: Carol Lane, Ron and Mary Johnson

General Support Chat
This chat is open for all survivors
Date: Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Time: 9 PM - 11 PM EST
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs

Widow-Widower Chat
Date: Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Time: 9 PM - 10:30 PM Eastern
Hosted By: Kim Suggs

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

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

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Picture to accompany Karen's poem
Please Don't Ask Me How My Son Died

~ Karen Mojecki, Survivor

August 5, 2014

Please don't ask me how my son died

His mode of death is not germane

He died while serving and defending….

Our way of life and liberty

He was upholding Army values

Of honor…commitment…integrity…

 

Your question rewinds my journey

To the "knock" on my front door

Two officers wearing uniforms

Were waiting on our porch

Their message was not wanted

They spoke those dreaded words

 

This son I had once sheltered…

I was not able to protect...

It hurts for me to think about

His pain, his wounds, his death

The grief begins again anew,

When someone asks me how he died

 

I do not want to name the projectile

That was the cause of his demise

Or how the medics tried to save him

Before he breathed his last -- and died

Perhaps others can recount those facts

I find them too horrid to describe

 

So please don't ask me how he died….

And replay that moment once again

Understand this painful journey

With compassion in your heart

Those final minutes were just a fraction

Of a unique and greater life

 

If you want to know about my son

His traits, his values, his loves

Then listen as I remember

And help me to celebrate

The life of this exceptional man

And exactly how he lived!

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American Flag Waving
Saturday Morning Message: Handling Patriotic Holidays

August 2, 2014

Good Morning,

When people think about holidays, most of us think about those that fall around December, but  other holidays happen throughout the year and they can be difficult for survivors. The songs and ceremonies can bring tears and heartache to some while others may enjoy these same events. Days set aside to honor our country and those who serve can be especially hard for military survivors. As you will see from the survivor comments this week, there are different reactions to the same situation. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Take the ideas that work for you knowing that next year, you may feel differently.

Alan D. Wolfelt, PhD offers suggestions in his article titled "Helping Yourself Heal during the Holiday Season" by.  The advice he shares was written for the holidays late in the year, but they are good for any occasion. These are just a few ways to prepare yourself for the holidays that show our Nation's respect for those who serve. Whatever you decide to do, just make sure that you are comfortable with your decision.

Some people think that if they fill up the new survivor's day with activities, grief will not be as severe. There are times when survivors just want to be alone. Have you been in this situation? Let's share how we have handled this situation in next week's message. The question is: What do you say to others when they ask you to do things, but you don't feel ready and would rather to be alone?

If you would like to send a response to the question of the week or have a subject you might want to hear responses from other survivors, email me anytime at carol.lane@taps.org. I would love to hear from you anytime about anything. It doesn't have to be a reply to the Saturday message. Sometimes just writing to someone is helpful.

Hugs,
Carol

From TAPS Survivors:

From Joanne, spouse of Ken: This is a topic I'm passionate about, because patriotic holidays are both federal holidays and deeply personal ones, too.  They drain us of emotion and resilience before, during and after, as well.  There's the anxiety in the days beforehand; then there's the stress of the holiday itself and afterwards when there's the emotional letdown.  My time-tested experiences have worked for me:  Always have a plan for the day-and the day after-and always have an exit strategy if going to an event of any kind!

From Ruth, mother of James:  I love these days, because they remind me of the men and women who gave the ultimate for our country....   Any day that shows respect for our men and women serving gives me chills.  I love the music that accompanies these days as it is like their lives have a story put to song.   The flags fluttering in the breeze remind me how much those who served respected our flag and country.  The tears that flow gently down the cheeks of those in attendance gives me the knowledge that our departed were and are genuinely loved and not forgotten.  When they stand and place their hands over their hearts for the flag passing by or raise their heads to see the planes flying above, it shows me that what our loved ones fought for is respected.  To watch a veteran stand or some not able to stand as erect as they once did and give a sharp salute, I feel they know that by serving their country they protected our rights and also respect those who served our country and paid the ultimate price.  I love military holidays. It is a chance to remember what it was that drew our loved one into harm's way.  God bless everyone who serves our country.

From Anne, mother of Michael:  I reach out to others that have had losses and remember them. Also I am really trying hard in my neighborhood to have people display an American flag to remember all of our heroes that have given so much for this country.

From Diane, mother of Caleb: I wonder myself what I'm going to do for each patriotic holiday. The one thing I do for sure, is go to the cemetery and decorate Caleb's spot. If there is anything patriotic on TV, I usually watch it. I find if I can spend time with others in the military or who are Gold Star parents/spouses it helps a lot. If there is a patriotic function in the area, I find that helps as well.

General Support Chat
This chat is open for all survivors
Date: Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Time: 9 PM - 11 PM EST
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs

Survivors of Suicide Loss Chat
Date: Thursday, August 07, 2014
Time: 9 PM - 11 PM EST
Hosted By: Kim Suggs and Carla Stumpf-Patton

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

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Rachael's picture
Four Years... And Counting

~ Rachael Hill, Survivor

July 28, 2014

I say it every year, but has another year really gone by? How is that possible? How can time move so quickly, but yet so slowly at the same time?  It has been four years. Four years since I last sent my husband to work with a hug and a kiss. Four years since that dreadful phone call bringing my world to a screeching halt. Four years since my husband died, and I was left to find my way in a world I never wanted to be in. A world in which my best friend, my partner, my everything, would not be here to be a part of.

Many people think that as time goes on it gets easier, and there must be a magical time period when I will be back to my "normal" self. In fact, I have actually had people tell me that three years is this so-called magic number. Well, three years came and went and I am still missing my husband just as much as I did before. To be honest, I don't think it ever gets easier…you just learn how to deal with it differently, and there definitely is no magical time when you return to normalcy. This is the new normal.

Even now four years later, Jeff still consumes my everyday thoughts. He is always somewhere in my mind, but as the years have gone by those thoughts have started to change. At first, many of those thoughts were about the accident and the days and weeks we spent together before he died. Now, there are more thoughts about what it would be like if he were still here, how he would love to see his boys growing up, and wondering if he is proud of what we are doing. I miss him so much. It is still hard for me to believe he isn't a part of this world anymore. Well, at least not in the physical sense.

Yes it has been four years, but I still miss Jeff all day, every day, and there were a few times this past year where the sting hit extra hard. There were some big milestones and accomplishments reached that I wished more than anything he could have been a part of. Our boys had just turned 3 and 5 when he died, and he often said he couldn't wait for them to be just a little bit older so he could teach them about all the manly things he loved to do - drive 4-wheelers and snow-machines, go hunting and fishing, and he was especially excited to watch them play sports. This past year my oldest son Tristan played football for the first time, and his team ended up winning the championship! It was one of those moments that I could just imagine Jeff's excitement, and when I closed my eyes I could even hear him hooting and hollering on the sidelines! In a hockey tournament later in the year, my younger son Tyler got the championship-winning goal in sudden death overtime, and it was another one of those situations in which I could only imagine the excitement and cheers from Jeff in that moment. After the game when everyone was back in the locker room, I had to take a moment to myself as I was overcome with emotion. I had an overwhelming feeling, thinking how these are the moments that he should be here for, and it hurt so badly that he wasn't. In June, all three of us earned our black belts in Taekwondo and once again, after the first night of testing I couldn't stop the tears. We had worked so hard to accomplish this goal and it just hurt my heart that he wasn't there to share in that excitement. He was always my biggest cheerleader, and I would give anything to have him back.

Throughout the year, however, along with the sadness that he was missing out, I also found a new awakening within myself. I was finally ready to make some of the "moving forward" decisions I wasn't ready for before. Yes it took me three and a half years to reach that point, but I finally was ready to go through his belongings, and I gave many things away. Even bigger than that, we made the decision to leave our beloved Alaska and move back to the lower 48 to be closer to family. It wasn't really a difficult decision as it was always in the plans, but I just wasn't ready for it until now. I have spent much of the time since Jeff's death making sure everyone and everything were ok - my boys, our family and friends, the scholarship fund we created, our home, etc. Now I am seeing that maybe it is time to start taking care of myself as well, and maybe these decisions are a few steps in that direction. I do know that because I insisted on my own timeline (rather than giving in to those well-meaning people that felt the need to tell me what I should be doing differently), it meant that I waited until I was ready to make these decisions and was able to make them with a sense of peace in my heart. That in itself is a great feeling and made it all easier to do.  

In one breath four years seems like an eternity, but yet in another it feels like just yesterday. It feels like forever ago that I last hugged and kissed him good-bye, but at the same time I can still feel his arms squeezing around me. I can still hear his last words to me on the phone as he stepped to fly. Within seconds he was gone but even so, I know that his presence in our lives will always remain. I will love him and miss him forever. Happy Angelversary, Jeff. Until we meet again…

 

"Love is like the wind: you can't see it, but you can feel it." - Nicholas Sparks

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