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Smiling Snowman
Saturday Morning Message: Grief Meltdowns

November 22, 2014

Good Morning,

Grief episodes or meltdowns are times that are hard to control. Sometimes they arrive when you are at places or at times when you don't expect them. Sarah, spouse of David wrote: "I was walking my dog this morning and thinking about a recent grief episode I had. It was at my son's college vet affairs office of all places! It got me to thinking about the many places where these bouts of grief arise- and for so many reasons.  I have talked to survivors who have shared that they have had 'grief meltdowns' in strange and non-typical places too." She thought this question could be posed: "Where are some of the places that you have experienced a grief episode?" This week's question was a chance to share these times with others who read the Saturday message. Often these episodes come during this time of the year when we are encouraged to stay inside by the shrinking daylight hours, the colder temperatures, and the holiday seasons that are upon us. I thought sharing some articles from past TAPS magazines that give strategies might be of help in addition to those given by the survivors later in this message.

Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD gave permission to the TAPS magazine to print an article of hers titled "Looking for Sunshine in the Dark Winter Months"  . In it she lists ways to help keep spirits lifted during this time of year.

In Physical Reactions to Loss and Grief It Isn't All In Your Head (or Your Heart) by Susan R. Blankenship MS, BSN, RN, CCM and Rebecca I. Porter PhD, ABPP, LTC US Army, the authors not only talk about why you may feel as you do, but also give some helpful suggestions on how to help yourself feel better.

These articles are among a group in the Holiday Survival Guide on the TAPS website including one listing ideas for coping with any special dates by Darcie D. Sims, PhD, CHT, CT, GMS titled "Handling the Holidays".

There are days throughout the year that are special to your family and your loved one. It could be a birthday, a holiday, or any other time of year that has particular meaning. The discussion topic for next week is: What is something that you do or have thought of doing to honor your loved one on these days that are unique to your family? We look forward to your thoughts.

I invite you to respond to this week's question or share a topic you would like to ask the group by hitting the reply button or sending a message to carol.lane@taps.org.  I would love to hear from you anytime about anything. Sometimes writing to someone can be helpful.

Hugs,
Carol

From TAPS Survivors:

From Leslie, mother of Eugene: Yes, I had a complete meltdown recently while on vacation in London.  This is more than 3 1/2 years since Eugene passed.  I was in the Church at Windsor castle.  I couldn't breathe. My husband didn't know what to do. I just wanted my son. One of the ladies (not a nun but close to it) saw I was having an issue and brought me to the Vicar. We had a short conversation about my son. He had me write some details about Eugene.  He promised to include him in the service that weekend when the Queen came. For some reason I was functional after that. This was not fun.

From Carol, mother of Bryon: This is an interesting question. I had one of these episodes happen in church during the Veterans' Day service this year. Now I know that is not an unusual time for it to happen, but I have lived thirteen years without Bryon and these episodes are rarer than they used to be. It took me by surprise, but I have learned that it is best for me to go to a quiet place to calm the tears that come. Then I am able to tell those who come to comfort me what is happening and not apologize. Also I keep a supply of tissues with me at all times even now.

From Mary-Ann, mother of Blake: When and where have I had melt downs and what did I do about them? WOW! That's a loaded question!

When have I not had melt downs? The first two years I seemed to have them everywhere, anytime, any place no matter how hard I tried not to have them. I live in a small town where everyone knows everyone so I was constantly having people asking questions or telling me they were sorry for our loss. That did not make it easier, because I could not get away from the constant reminders. I finally got where I figured, "Oh well, I can't control it and they keep asking questions." So I just kept tissue with me at all times and let the tears flow. I felt like I was a broken dam. There was no controlling the tears.

For months we would go out of town every weekend to do our grocery shopping or to eat out. That helped a little bit, but the helicopter crash was in the news for weeks, so people would hear our name and automatically ask if we were related to that sailor that was killed in Afghanistan. I finally realized we were fighting an endless battle and that people would just have to accept the fact that tears were going to flow.

Thanks to God things have gradually gotten easier to deal with on most days anyway.  I try not to be around people on those more emotional days. I rearrange schedules around my moods as much as I can, but that's not always possible either. I really don't think there is an answer as to how to deal with the melt downs other than handling them one at a time as best you can. Every day and situation is different, so all you can do is your best under the situation.

This week's chat schedule:

General Support Chat
This chat is open for all survivors.
Date:
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Time: 8:30 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 at1-800-959-8277.

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Linda and another survivor
Once Upon a Time...

~ Linda Ambard, Survivor

November 17, 2014

People often put off doing the things they want to do because they believe there will be a better time for it. I know that Phil and I put off those couple's only dates and vacations because we thought we had time.  In fact, I pushed for a Phil and Linda vacation together before his deployment, but he wanted to wait because it wasn't his top priority.  It became the desire of his heart while he was deployed, and we had plans for that magical day that we were to meet in Italy for a Mediterranean cruise.  While he was deployed, we also talked often about our dream house and our next base.  We made plans to run the Paris Marathon.  I had dreams of growing old together, being grandma and grandpa together, watching Phil commission our youngest, and of Phil walking Emily down the aisle at her wedding.  Not one of those dreams came true, and all of my hopes have changed and shifted in a major transformation.  As I ran the hills of the Athens Marathon today, I recognize a huge change that I have made. 

While I believe Colorado is the place that is home in my heart, I am not sure because home was always him, yet I see a day when I will own a house and when I will be retired.  I hope there is a chapter two, but I am not sure if that will happen.  I know that I will be okay alone, though, and that is where the change has occurred.  I am living my dreams.  Some of these dreams have a financial commitment; some an emotional and time commitment, and still others a physical investment.  I no longer wait for the "right" day. I look for opportunities to live my dreams.  I recently finished my 50th state marathon and celebrated by using my vacation time from work to fly to Europe to visit my daughter and to run the Athens Marathon.

The Athens Marathon is special because the race follows the original marathon course from Marathon, Greece to Athens.  The original participant ran the 26.2 miles to deliver a military message and then promptly keeled over and died.  I am sure his intention that day wasn't to die, but it happened.  His dreams ended that day.  Pondering that story and thinking about Phil's life being gone far too soon made me think about all of the dreams and all of the events that were deferred for a better time.  I am living my dreams because Phil's death changed me, changed my dreams, and opened me up to possibility.  While I would choose the life and dreams I once held over these possibilities that is not an option.  Recognizing what once was is not coming back has opened my heart to possibility and looking at what I want.  Does it gouge my heart and do I long for wanting to grow old with the husband of my youth?  You bet.

As I have opened my eyes to figuring out how to live without the man who knew me almost as well as I know myself, my dreams have evolved.  One of the biggest shifts is in the fire that blazes within me for my military brothers and sisters who have served, are serving, or will serve.  That raging blaze led to me walking away from a teaching job I loved to go back to school in military resiliency counseling.  Every day I get up and go to work with a sense of purpose and meaning born of heartbreaking loss.  I simply must make something positive come out of the ashes, and I must do what I can to help those in the midst of the raging storms of military moves, family separations, injury, loss, or having seen too much. 

With my completion of my 50th state marathon which was one of my two promises to Phil, I have begun to reach for other things.  I want to run The Great Wall of China Marathon and the Dublin Marathon.  I am not recklessly pursuing my dreams, but I am coming up with a plan to make them happen.  Like the ancient runner in Greece, I am well aware that there is always a cost-time, money, emotional, and physical, but the possibilities have opened my eyes to a new day and a new type of future.  While this chapter may look nothing like the future I saw for myself, I recognize that I have the ability to make my dreams possible as long as I have breath.

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Rose Saturday Morning
Saturday Morning Message: Holiday Thoughts

November 15, 2014

Good Morning,

Survivors wrote in sharing their experiences about how they mark the November/December holiday and offered so many thoughts especially those who described how things changed with the years that I will keep my comments short this week. Thanks to all who wrote answers and those who read the Saturday Messages.

I did want to share an article called The Empty Chair by Darcie D. Sims, PhD, CHT, CT, GMS. In it she tells that her family decided to place a single rose on their loved one's plate by his empty chair for the holidays. The story is very uplifting.

Her quote from this article seemed appropriate for today's topic:

"We join hands in thanksgiving, completing the circle with the empty chair within our family circle, for even though death may have come, love never goes away." ~Darcie Sims

The question for the week comes from Sarah, a surviving spouse who wrote, "I was walking my dog and thinking about a recent grief episode I had. It was at my son's college veterans' affairs office of all places!" The discussion for the week comes from her query about how others handle these situations: Where have you experienced a grief meltdown and how did you handle it? I look forward to reading your replies.

I invite you to respond to this week's question or share a topic you would like to ask the group by sending a message to carol.lane@taps.org.  I would love to hear from you anytime about anything. Sometimes writing to someone can be helpful.

Hugs,
Carol

From TAPS Survivors:

From Mary-Ann, mother of Blake: From September, the month Blake was killed, till the end of the year has always been the hardest and longest 4 months of the year. November is not only the start of the seasonal holidays, but also Blake's birthday. There are so many memories  getting stirred up during this time of year that I just kind of go with the flow as best as I can one day at a time. I keep hoping that things will get closer to what they once were, but so far even though things are somewhat better, there is a long way to go.

Veteran's Day happens to be my birthday as well, so the family always seems to come up with something or other birthday wise. As for the holiday itself our area has started having many discounts, free meals, and other freebies for our vets and active military. My husband, brother-in-law and I are all vets ourselves, so we go out to eat at one of the places in town that always offers a great meal for vets. There is also a Veterans' Day parade that was started the year our son was killed, but I still have a hard time dealing with it and have only gone once in the 4 years since Blake's death. I couldn't stay without the tears flowing, so I really don't think I'll go this year. The memories are still too painful after 4 years! Once you lose a loved one in the military the true meaning comes to life during this type of holiday and seems to hit you like a led balloon. They have become harder to deal with than the other holidays. I keep hoping things will get better and they have somewhat, but there's still a long road ahead.

From Peggy, mother of Cody: Holidays are stressful enough, but when you add grief into the mix it can be overwhelming. The past couple of years, I have tried a few different things to lessen the burden of the holidays after the death of my son. Still having two daughters at home, I wanted to make their holidays as special as I could given our circumstances.

Sometimes grief zaps the energy from us and the horrible thought of that empty chair at the table can be too much to bare. You can try changing the room in which you would normally celebrate or take others up on the offer to spend the holiday at another house. It eliminates cooking, the empty chair at the table, and you can leave when you're ready.

We decided to sponsor a child for Christmas through the Salvation Army. My son, Cody, was a very giving child and I knew that he would really want us to do this as he loved children and had a special place in his heart for them. It really brought a lot of joy to our family to do so as well. You may find volunteering your time at an organization around the holidays may lessen the grief. There are many organizations who really need help around this time of year.

Many of us experience a great deal of anxiety before the actual day itself so try to keep that in mind. The holiday is only one day. Remember good self-care during this time. Do only what you feel comfortable doing and take it one step at a time. If you need to reach out and speak to someone, remember that the TAPS hotline at 800-959-8277 is open 24/7 and someone will be there to speak to you directly. Ask for help when needed. If you would like a tree, but just can't bring yourself to put it up, ask a friend or family member to help. If you need help with Christmas shopping or any other task, ask. Many people would love to help us in our time of sorrow, but really don't know what we need unless we let them know.

From Tara, spouse of Jay: This will be the fifth holiday season without my best friend, husband of 15 years, and father of my two children.  The first Thanksgiving, I had no appetite and no amount of family could satisfy the empty hole in my gut.  No one could meet my need for intimacy or companionship.  The first year, my cookie baking marathon weekends that used to summon Jay helplessly to the kitchen for his favorite chocolate chip cookies were a fog.  There was no Christmas tree and I believed there never would be again.  I visited Jay's grave every single day, sometimes twice a day.  People were afraid to mention Jay's name, so as to not upset the children or me.  My large and close extended family offered love and support and plenty of hugs and tissues, but the truth is, there was nothing that was going to make Jay hang the stockings over the fireplace, or go outside with our children to leave reindeer food for Santa's reindeer.  He was no longer going to be a physical part of our holiday celebration ever again.

The second year was less of a fog, with a greater sense of permanence.  I actually baked a few pies for Thanksgiving dinner, and even shopped for a few Christmas presents.  My visits to Jay's final resting place were saved for Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.  By the third year, I was able to tell stories of Christmases past and encourage others to tell stories about Jay up on a ladder or dressed as a not-so-shapely Santa.  A few laughs were exchanged in memory of Jay, along with a teary eye.  Jay's stocking continued to hang alongside mine and the children's.  My daughter and I baked cookies together.  My son hung the lights using the ladder Jay used to climb.  We talked about "Daddy" and the fun we used to have.  The fourth Thanksgiving, family members mistakenly called my son by his father's name.  People openly talked about Jay as if they had seen him last week.  Even though he is dead, the love I feel for him continues through our children and through the joyful stories and memories of holidays shared with him.

For me, there was no planning for the holidays.  There were times over the years when I wanted to be alone and the thought of attending a holiday party nauseated me, so I declined.  There were times when I could not bear to be alone, so I reached out.   There is no magic formula.  I am grateful that I possessed the wisdom to be gentle and loving toward myself.  This year, five years later, I still have no plans.  Waves of grief come and go (especially during the holidays), so I maintain a plan that allows for me to feel the grief when it comes, and to recall the joyous memories when they come.

From Leslie, mother of Eugene: Eugene was born in December. In addition we celebrate Chanukah and Christmas. So, December is not easy. What works is not doing anything we did prior to his sudden death. We have made new memories. The first Christmas without Gene I went swimming indoors in my building.  Then I went to friends in the city.  We are all pianists, so we played for one another. Now I am remarried so we go out East on Long Island. We enjoy it there. The kids are with their father. I get them for Chanukah and with grandkids it's a nice party.

This week's chat schedule:

General Support
Open to all survivors
Date: Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Time: 8:30 PM - 11 PM Eastern
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs

Daytime General Support
Date: Thursday, November 20, 2014
Time: 1 PM - 2:30 PM Eastern
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kellie Hazlett

Survivors of Suicide Loss
Date: Thursday, November 20, 2014
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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Apple - Health
Saturday Morning Message: Self Care

November 8, 2014

Good Morning,

The old adage about an apple a day keeping us healthy can apply to both physical and mental health. When we become survivors, keeping ourselves healthy may be the farthest thing from our thoughts. We concern ourselves with other family members at a time when our world has changed rapidly. We are called on to make major decisions when we find ourselves in a fog. Then after all the activity has slowed, just getting out of bed in the morning may seem like a major task.

It is at that time many find it helpful to read or talk to others who can offer support. Personally, I found that being around others has always been healing for me, so I joined a physical fitness organization in my town where I could work out and yet talk to others at the same time.  I was working as a teacher at the time of my son's accident. By going back I found that preparing lessons and working with students gave me a sense of order which I needed to keep my mind functioning. Then I found TAPS and made a connection to others who had suffered a loss. Talking to others who had been where I was and had picked up the pieces was comforting. There is a group of articles written by others for health and wellness on the TAPS website that give more ideas on this topic.  Survivors have written in this week to share what they have found beneficial. Thanks so much to all who read and those who reply to the Saturday Message each week. As we support each other, we grow stronger.

This Tuesday is Veterans' Day. Other major holidays follow closely. The discussion for this week will be: Tell us your plans for this year or if you have been through a few seasons, share what has made you more comfortable during the November and December holidays.

I invite you to respond to this week's question or share a topic you would like to ask the group by sending a message to carol.lane@taps.org.  I would love to hear from you anytime about anything. Sometimes writing to someone can be helpful.

Hugs,
Carol

From TAPS Survivors:

From Janae mother of Brandon: What do I do to keep myself physically and mentally fit? That's an ongoing ordeal. Brandon was with me for 25 years, 6 months, and 13 days. I was so busy trying to keep my other kids together, I didn't care about myself. One day about at the year date, I looked in the mirror and couldn't believe what I saw. I weighed 87 pounds and was falling apart fast. I quit my job. Most people thought I was crazy for leaving because of the pay, but I just couldn't do it anymore. I took about a year off life and it was lucky I saved through the good times. I have been single a long time, so I didn't have anyone there for me. I also am dealing with another son who was in the military with severe PTSD who has moved in with me. I have to fight everyday to keep myself together. 

I needed to feel passion for something again. I decided to make a change and I took a job in sports marketing. I have gotten involved in a charity that helps military kids get hockey gear so they can play and many other things for military families. This job doesn't pay anywhere near what I am used to, but it makes me feel something again and I needed that. I also play hockey and that helps me stay physically active. I always wear #4, because that's the number my Brandon wore during high school. They let me play on the local military team in his honor. My life and family have changed forever and we will never be the same again, but for now I take it one day at a time and try to find things that make me feel something besides pain. I still haven't been able to let myself have a social life, but I'm trying to work on that. The changes I made for myself saved me from a deep dark place. I moved away to another state. It was hard to leave my family and everything I knew, but I guess it's my way of dealing with this nightmare.

From Leslie, mother of Eugene: After Eugene died, keeping healthy was the last thing on my mind. Since I was the one with several nasty health issues, I never would have thought Eugene would die before me. I ignored doctor visits of every kind. I can advise those of you doing the same. ...don't.  Take care of yourself. I'm now swimming 4-5 days/week and have healthy habits.

From Mary-Ann, mother of Blake: This is an excellent question especially for those who are just at the beginning of their journey. I know that for me I had absolutely no interest in preparing or eating anything! Not a good way to be. Thanks to a good friend and mother of one of Blake's high school buddies, I started to get back on track. She came to our house with a bowl of homemade soup and told me I'd either eat or she was going to spoon feed me! Believe me she meant it, too! She grabbed a spoon out of the drawer and was ready to start shoveling the soup into my mouth. She actually made me laugh at a time all I wanted to do was hide away from everyone and cry. Her efforts to get me going in the right direction were memorable for me. I couldn't get myself to eat all the soup, but ate enough to get a desire to at least eat a little each day. I feel I owe her a lot for going out of the way to do what she did for me. Now four years later, I try to eat healthy foods, go to water aerobics, and walk as much as time and weather permit me. I also spend as much quality time with my family as possible, read more, and do word exercise games. I stay busy helping others through different church ministries and by working on the annual walk/run that we have to raise money for scholarships given in our son's name each year. I also try to make a point to counteract negative memories of my loss with the good ones I have of Blake. I've even started a journal of the good memories of Blake growing up and how proud I am of the man he became!

This week's chat schedule:

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

General Support Chat
Open to all survivors
Date: Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Time: 8:30 PM - 11 PM Eastern
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs

Widow-Widower Chat
Date: Wednesday, November 12, 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. 

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Saturday Morning
Saturday Morning Message: Feeling Your Loved One Close

November 1, 2014

Good Morning,

Sometimes odd things happen that make you take notice. The discussion for this week focuses on a time or event when something happened and you felt your loved one close. This could be something spectacular or a smaller event that almost went unnoticed. This past week, I had one of those times I almost missed. Three years ago, Hurricane Irene destroyed one of the libraries in our town and also a garden that had been planted to honor the three service members who had perished from my community since 2001 including my son. Through much hard work, the library was completed and the garden moved to a safer place right beside it. Last Saturday there was an open house which I attended in order to thank those who had worked many hours to make this remodeling a reality. As I was standing there, a bee landed on my sleeve. Now this may not seem eventful, but I live in Vermont and we have already had a frost. Bees should be warmly cushioned in their winter abodes at this time of year. When I shared this oddity with my daughter by phone, she pointed out that it might be her brother saying he was there. His name is Bryon hence the B (bee) on my sleeve. Her thoughts brought a smile to my face and I hope it will to you as well.

Survivors added to this week's message by writing about times when they felt their loved ones close. Thank you to all who contribute and read this letter. Writing can be helpful in the healing process. We receive support through each other's thoughts each week.

When we are grieving,  self-care may not seem to be important . When we are worn out, it is hard to think about ourselves, perform everyday tasks, or help others in our family.  Next week, let's share what has worked for you, so the discussion topic is: What are you doing to keep yourself physically and mentally healthy?

I invite you to respond to this week's question or share a topic you would like to ask the group by sending a message to carol.lane@taps.org.  I would love to hear from you anytime about anything. Sometimes writing to someone can be helpful.

Hugs,
Carol

From TAPS Survivors:

From Sarah, spouse of David: On the first anniversary, one year to the day that my husband died, I took the kids on a mini vacation to learn to surf. We wanted to do something fun and adventurous on this very difficult day and it was a good way to honor my outdoorsy husband. As we paddled out in the waves and repeatedly struggled to get up on the boards, we heard the very familiar and distinctive sound of a military helicopter off in the distance. The sound got closer and closer until the exact type of aircraft that my husband once piloted was a couple hundred feet overhead. I was so overcome and excited for my kids to see this magical appearance! We waved and I yelled, "It's Daddy sending a helicopter to say, 'Way to go family. Get out there and LIVE!' " I wept and added a few extra drops of salt water to the ocean in those special moments. The odd thing about it was there was no military base nearby and none with aircraft for hundreds of miles. We don't think of it as completely random and unexpected.... we think of it as a God wink and we've had a few more since then. We love God winks!

From Dana, mother of Andrew: Andrew did a lot in a joking manner. Whenever we used to walk down the same hallway he would playfully shove me into the wall then laugh and ask me if I was drunk! LOL Right after he died...probably 2 days after...I was walking down the hallway. Out of nowhere, I felt this shove and ran right into the wall. I know in my heart he was telling me that he was there and that he was OK. It hasn't happened in quite some time now, but, oh, how I wish it would.

From Anne, mother of Michael:  I feel that Michael is present with me each day and in everything that I do to honor him. Just by  being friendly to people who are total strangers in my life on a daily basis, I feel that I am honoring my son.  He is in me and I feel that presence every day! Our journey on earth is a short one, so why not make the best as we travel to our final destination where we will once again embrace our loved ones.

From Rebecca, mother of Griffin: When Axela, a four pawed gift from Griff when he joined Heavens' military, and I are in the living room, we hear some creaking above like someone is walking. I feel this is Griff's spirit letting me know that he is here.

From Lisa, mother of Michael: Our family has been blessed by a few signs from above. The one that stands out would be: At our son's service, the church entrance went down a long hallway and then into the main church where we all were. Family was seated way down in the front. As the service began, a bright blue dragonfly appeared. It circled our son's casket and after each circle it came forward hovering first in front of me, then my husband, and finally our youngest daughter before it went back up the aisle and out the door. Our little girl, Michael's youngest sister, who was only 11 placed her head on my shoulder and said, "Mom I'm not going to cry anymore today, because I know Mike was just here with us." To see her smile for just a moment and have that sense of peace was God's work. I believe our angel found his way to us in the most difficult time.

This week's chat schedule: 

General Support
This chat is open for all survivors
Date: Tuesday, November 4, 2014
Time: 8:30 PM - 11 PM EST
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs
**Note earlier start time**

Survivors of Suicide Loss Chat
Date: Thursday, November 06, 2014
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.

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Promises
Promises

~ Linda Ambard, Survivor

October 27, 2014

Sometimes I feel like a poser playing a part upon the stage.  This isn't supposed to be my life.  At times, times like now, I can barely recognize the girl I have become.  The person I have become was so far from my realm of possibility that it literally brings me to my knees at times.  How could a quiet homebody become the girl with a voice?  How is it that I am considered to be a subject matter expert in military loss and resiliency when my life before was being a subject matter expert in running, swimming instruction, and youth?  Who is this girl peering back? 

Three and a half years ago, my life was following the trajectory that I expected.  Things were falling into place.  My children were grown and out of the house, and Phil and I were starting to talk about where we wanted to retire and build our "death house."  Phil's retirement seemed really far away and on the e-mails or in the conversations we had, life was filled with promise and hope.  I was content being Phil's wife and watching all of my children stepping into the world.  It wasn't as if I felt marginalized, I had grown to embrace being the pillar of strength behind Phil and my children.  While everyone else pursued lofty goals and had important jobs, I was content to be the person in the shadows quietly supporting, encouraging, and creating a positive environment that was able to put a positive spin on the military life style.

Somehow that girl is gone.  While I know she is there in the shadows, it is as if I have outgrown the woman I once was.  When Phil was killed, life as I knew it ended. I was lost and adrift trying to figure out where I fit, what to do, and how to get through the days that loomed large without him.  One thing that helped me the past three and a half years was one of the two promises I made to Phil.  In the very last moments before he deployed, Phil wanted to have the "what if" conversation.  I wanted none of it, yet he was insistent.  We had never had that talk before. 

To understand the first of the two promises I made, one must understand that running was part of my life before Phil.  I ran in high school and in college.  When I was seventeen, a girl ran across the United States with her father.  I wanted to do the same thing, but my parents understandably said no.  When I dated Phil, I told him that running across the United States was my childhood dream.  Years later, as the last of our children left the house, Phil said that I needed something to put my energies into.  He was the one who came up with the plan for me to run across the United States one state at a time, one marathon at a time.

This was a costly selfish suggestion, but he wanted me to have my dream.  When he was in those waning face to face moments, he wanted me to press on and finish those last twelve states.  While I am sure that his focus was on me completing as many of those twelve as possible while he was deployed because it would give me something to connect with people and look forward to in the year of his deployment, that simple promise became something more when he was killed.

That promise became something I kept my eyes and heart fixed on.  In running, I first found happiness again.  It surprised me.  One day I was out running and I realized my heart was quiet and I felt a spark of joy.  Those races became a barometer of where I was on my grief journey.  I was that girl who second guessed every decision and who felt totally adrift.  A running promise helped me to bridge my past and my future.  Running gave me a focused dream that helped me to lace up my shoes and press ahead in the moments when I was the most broken.  I knew that if I could lace up those running shoes and go out the door for even a few minutes, I would feel better.

This weekend I finished my 50th state marathon.  That finish belies just how far I have come in the past three and a half years.  Nothing about a marathon is easy.  26.2 miles hurts and this weekend was even more fitting as it rained during the entire course- more than four hours that I ran.  Grieving is like a marathon.  Nothing is easy.  At times, the journey seems too long, too hard, and too much, but by staying the course, keeping the faith, and just putting one foot in front of the other, I am hitting my stride and finding my way.  Like a marathon, it hurts.  Sometimes it hurts so much that I literally want to quit, but I recognize that I just need to keep moving forward the best I can whether it be running like the wind or stumbling one faltering step in front of another. 

Now that the first promise is completed, I am considering how far I have come and what comes next.  Completion means that one door is closed and there is only one promise left that I made to my Phil.  That one seems harder.  While that promise has nothing to do with physical exertion, it has everything to do with my heart.  My other promise to Phil was to find a chapter two-find love again.  He loved me enough that when I protested and made nervous jokes, he stopped me with one simple question, "Linda, would you want me to be happy again if you died first?"  It is hard to think about, hard to even imagine he possibility of anyone but Phil, but I recognize how perfect both promises were.  Those promises gave me something that I cling to and they help me step forward. I know that the journey is going to have moments that really hurt, but I also know that when I complete both promises I will have honored the love Phil and I had and I will have created a different life separate from him.  It is a little frightening, but it is fitting as I press on trusting that my feet will carry me to the finish line that I cannot see.  I know it is there and I press on through the raging storms because it will come.

 

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Stephenson, Jill
Saturday Morning Message: Honoring Loved Ones With Service

October 25, 2014

Good Morning,

There are so many ways to honor our loved ones with service to others. Jill Stephenson, surviving mother of Corporal Benjamin Kopp wrote an article in the TAPS magazine titled Traveling with Wreaths Across America. She created a written image of the convoy that goes each year from Maine to Washington, DC to bring the wreaths made by Morrill and Karen Worcester to Arlington Cemetery. She described the ceremonies along the way as she traveled through eight states to beautify the graves and give comfort to family members who may not be able to make the trip themselves.

This week other survivors have written about what they do. Their stories are full of courage and the emotions they have as they serve others while celebrating the lives of their loved ones adding to their healing at the same time. Thanks to all who participated this week as well as those who read the Saturday message. Together we can make a difference.

Some survivors experience an extraordinary incident or some people may call it a sign or a God wink. Sarah, a survivor, thought it would be interesting to share your favorites in a Saturday Message. The discussion topic for this week: Share a time or event when you  felt the presence of your loved one.

I invite you to respond to this week's question or share a topic you would like to ask the group. All messages come directly to me either by replying to this message or sending an email to carol.lane@taps.org. I would love to hear from you anytime about anything. Sometimes writing to someone can be helpful.

Hugs,
Carol

From TAPS Survivors:

From Merry, mother of Wesley: Healing continues in various ways and most likely will take a long amount of time.  A year after grieving, I joined a church choir and felt at times very close to Wes when the choir was praising collectively on Sunday morning.

During my second year of grieving, I've begun to venture out into the community and have found myself completing a Citizen's Academy with the local County Sheriff's Office.  AND---I'm not EVEN the oldest attendee!!  This has been a most amazing and rewarding academy not only for my healing, but to learn how the community is protected by a great group of officers who risk their lives every day.  We gave 40 hours of our time, but they give 24/7 hours of their time.

I've also been volunteering with a Congressional campaign, a state Attorney General campaign, and have made sure to be up on issues surrounding this midterm election.  Wes fought to defend our U. S. Constitution. Shouldn't I keep my little patch of neighborhood continuing to keep the best persons in office?

I'm keeping to very structured legal venues of everyday life.  I need that I guess, but I also raised two U. S. Marines and my daughter-in-law is currently serving.  I guess structure of towing the line is in my genes.

From Leslie, mother of Eugene: I'm proud of two things that I have done.  One is that I had the bill to enhance the Veterans education benefits pushed into law. This gives veterans a chance to go to college.

I've also spoken in a few places on the advantages of organ and skin donation. I donated Eugene's corneas, skin and organs saving or enhancing many people. It's emotionally and spiritually gratifying.

From Kitty, mother of John: With the sudden and unexpected military death of our son, John, we have become part of the TAPS family. We had the pleasure of assisting at the National Seminar in Washington, DC. giving the families their loved ones' pictorial button. This can be a difficult time for the families and for us. It was an opportunity to speak to them and offer comfort. After peer mentor training we have been blessed with assisting individuals on their grief journeys. This year one mentee was able to take the Peer Mentor training. It was quite exciting to see the healing and her interest in helping others.

At the Memorial Day Parade, we were able to represent TAPS in showcasing our float and interacting with others to make them aware of our services.

Soon there will be a community group started by TAPS here in the Santa Clarita Valley.

On the home front we are involved in GriefShare as table leaders for those who have lost children as young as 8 months to as old as 52 years of age. We are able to guide and comfort through a 13 week series with videos and discussion groups. Many repeat the series as they might have been numb the first time around.

We have also represented Gold Star Families in Southern California's largest Veteran's Day Parade held in the San Fernando Valley on 11/11 at 11:11AM. We ride with Gold Star Families in our local 4th of July Parade. This year it was over 2 miles long.

We are working with the Southern California Army Survivor Outreach Services. Our rep covers 97 cities in Southern California and needed some extra help.

We have been honored in our patriotic valley by several organizations, American Legion, Prayer Angels for the Military, Blue and Gold Star Mothers, the Chamber of Commerce, our City Council, Rotary and North Park Community Church, with plaques and memorials to our fallen heroes.

From Mary-Ann, mother of Blake: I'd never thought that the loss of my child could make me have strong desires to do things I'd never done before! I'd never headed up a fund-raiser before, but now I've done it two years in a row! The last two Septembers I headed up the committee that put together our Annual Stars and Stripes 6k Patriot Walk/Run in support of my son's scholarship fund started by the community upon Blake's death. The desire to keep Blake's name alive by helping others became a 'have to do' for me! I ran into many rejections, discouraging comments and other difficulties only to make it more important that I make it work! I felt I had no choice since it was for Blake and he was not a quitter, so I could not be one either!

I've always been a hard worker, but the behind the scenes kind of worker not the upfront one! Due to my need to do it for Blake I've been on radio, TV and have done whatever it takes to promote the yearly event! I had the courage to keep going in spite of difficulties and last May we presented 3 scholarships to local high school students! This year, thanks to God, the event brought in almost twice what it did the previous year, so I imagine we will be able to help even more! It's as if I have acquired some of Blake's strength and courage to get the job done! I'm happy to say this extra strength and courage is something that is a change in me that makes me proud since I know Blake would be proud of me!

This week's chat schedule:

General Support
This chat is open for all survivors
Date: Tuesday, October 28, 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.

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Hope
Hope Against All Hope

~ Linda Ambard, Survivor

October 20, 2014

Like most people, I assumed I knew how my life trajectory would evolve and I trusted that prayers would keep Phil safe from harm.  I believed ultimately life was fair and good things happened if I just waited long enough or believed strong enough.  Phil's death caused a quake in my belief system and it has made me question who I am, what I stand for, and what I carry in my heart.  I am different because I know better.

When Phil deployed, I signed every e-mail the same:  Stay safe and come home to me.  I prayed every day for his safety even though I didn't really think he was in danger.  It was sort of a safety net and the prayers were rattled perfunctorily off in haste.  I looked at the deployment as a one year inconvenience.  I was a shy girl who invested everything into my husband and children.  The children were grown and while I knew that year would be lonely and long, there was an end to it.  I didn't stop to consider what would happen if Phil was killed because that thought wasn't part of my paradigm.

When he was assassinated, my first step of finding footing came with the choice I made as I heard those awful words.  As they read the words to me, I fell to my knees keening.  As I fell, one thought crossed my mind:  how could I claim to have faith if in my darkest hour I turn from my faith?  I chose my faith and that choice has helped carry me, but I understand those that struggle because of what feels like unanswered prayers or unfair life schematics.  There is no judgment of others because my faith was and is rocked by something beyond my capacity to understand, but I think with that choice, I can believe in life beyond what is temporal and I can see the signs that have rained down from heaven.  Maybe others get these God winks, but for me, I have asked a handful of times for a burning bush-a sign so transparent that it cannot be ignored.  Those signs have come.  These signs have not always come when I wanted them or when I demanded them, but they have been regular and out of the ordinary.

The first sign came on 24 June 2011.  Phil's autopsy report and pictures had just come.  I handle injuries and reports like this fairly well, but when it was my Phil I broke.  I read the words and when they did not match what I had been told, I looked at the pictures.  My heart broke.  My spirit broke and I crawled into bed and wept.  I was cocooned in the blankets.  I asked God why him and why not me because Phil had so much more to give.  As I wept, I felt an electric jolt.  This jolt was like a shock.  As I felt the shock, I could see and feel (I do not have the words for this) me standing at the altar with a man in front of a minister.  I could not see who it was, but it wasn't Phil and I could feel the joy in that room.  I was mortified.  I dismissed it and cried on.  I felt a jolt again-stronger-and I saw and felt  the same picture.  I was terrified.  I jumped out of bed, tripped in the covers, and fell.  When I looked up, I saw the first double rainbow I had ever seen in entirety. 

Do I think Phil can be replaced?  Never, but that sign gave me hope that one day I will find happiness again and that there might be room for a Chapter Two.  The double rainbow led to other signs being noticed.  For the longest time, when I thought of Phil and was sad, I found money-usually dimes, but once I found over 190 pennies in front of my office door at 0530 in the morning.  Another time, I found a handful of pennies together stamped with 1988, the year we got married.  On the day of our anniversary, our two songs played back to back on two different radio stations.  Our songs, songs from 1988 ("How Do I Get You Alone" and "Nothing's Going to Stop Us Now"), are never played any more.  I can never predict these God winks, but the signs come when I least expect them or when I am at some type of crossroad or crisis.

The signs have helped me stay grounded and they have given me hope.  One of my favorite Bible verses uses the phrase "hoping against all hope".  Hoping against all hope is what grounds me.  While I may not understand and I certainly cannot rejoice at how Phil's death came, I believe there is something more than what I know.  I can't say I have a Pollyanna worldview any more.  I do pray and I do believe, but I also recognize that my prayers are not to a Santa Claus and that the answer may sometimes be counter to what I want or understand.  Look at Sandy Hook.  Children should be able to go to school and should be able to celebrate the magic of Christmas without worrying that a madman will come into their school wreaking a reality far beyond any nightmare they could have conjured up themselves.  I don't have answers, I just have what works for me.  I believe and at times I question God, but essentially it comes down to one unshakeable belief. I believe that Phil's assassin had a choice and that while God knew what his choice was going to be, he let him choose.  That man chose evil and I believe that the angels wept as they received my Phil home that day.  I choose to hope against all hope that one day I will see Phil again, but until then I find peace in the God winks and in my quiet faith that blazes even still.

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Saturday Morning
Saturday Morning Message: Preserving Special Items

October 18, 2014

Mementos are those gifts we take out to help make it through the rough days.

Good Morning,

It can be challenging to think how to preserve those precious items from your loved one or letters that have come from close friends and relatives. Some find that scrapbooks are the answer. Others may have purchased a piece of furniture to hold those items as well as the uniforms that were worn. Jeanne Harris Weaver, mother of Todd, wrote a beautiful TAPS magazine article titled Losing Todd, A Mother's Journey. She writes about her struggle and the journal in which she wrote and kept letters given to her. Since she is an artist, she also included her website with the oil paintings she made that capture items and times that she wanted to remember. You can see them on her website under a Tribute to 1LT Todd W. Weaver.

Survivors have written this week about ways they have kept these items, so they will always be close at hand. Thanks to all for the replies that came this week to share the ways these special items are preserved.

As you move along on your journey, you may have found  the support you received has helped you accomplish things to make you feel rewarded. Perhaps you now do a special project, support a charity,  gone back to school, started a new career, or found new friends  when you attended a TAPS seminar or retreat. The question for this week is: What have you done since the passing of your loved one that has made you proud?

To respond to the question of the week or to share a question you would like to ask the group, you can reply directly to me by replying to this message or sending an email to carol.lane@taps.org.  I would love to hear from you anytime about anything. Sometimes writing to someone can be helpful.

Hugs,
Carol

From TAPS Survivors:

From Leslie, mother of Eugene: I have Eugene's dog tag, the mini medals, and his flag pin.  I have a table in my living room where I have a large shadow box. The top half holds his flag where I put his ID's in the folds. The lower half has 3 compartments. The middle one has a copper photo of him in uniform.  The surrounding areas have his medals and coins. I have his dog tag necklace on it and his religious necklace.  On the table are photos of my two sons through their years.

From Kitty, mother of John: The first of many memorable items accumulated was, of course, the flag. It is displayed in the wood triangular case with his bars, pins, and awards in our living room. Another item is his complete uniform which is in a garment bag hanging in our master closet among my husband's suits.

Our Military Care Group at church sends cards to members who have lost loved ones on the anniversary of their deaths. This last year there was a note attached from the group leader saying she realized that John was in her math class at Saugus High School. She said, "He was always sweet and gentle. He was helpful and always smiling. Nothing mean ever came out of his mouth. He was lovely and kind." She concluded that "she only knew him while in high school, but he was a wonderful guy". This note is in a photo album displayed with the flag in our living room.

From Merry, mother of Wesley: I have saved all Wes's letters from boot camp and they are in a decorative box that he had to present to a class in high school.  We went shopping together to buy the box, because he needed it the very next day for some sort of class - I can't remember what the class was.  We found it at World Market and I've kept it at my home since he graduated and left for the Marine Corps.

From Mary-Ann, mother of Blake:  A few weeks after our son Blake was killed, we received a beautiful box and note from his friend Dave with whom he worked and was his roommate when they were stationed in Hawaii. In Dave's letter he told us how our son's friendship had been special to him. He told us that he was going to start having a run in his honor as soon as he could get it together. He also told us how he (Dave) had made the box for us. The box was made of a dark beautifully finished wood with a Navy medallion in the center of the top. The inside was lined with compartments and a drawer that pulled out of the bottom. We filled it with Blake's medals, ribbons and pins he had earned in the twelve years he served in the Navy. In the drawer we put the letter from Dave and other extra special ones from other friends that we received. We have his box and a picture on top of the cedar chest filled with Blake's awards and other things we were given that people sent out of their love for Blake. I thought it was a lovely gift to us that truly came from Dave's heart. It is special to us as is Dave for caring enough to build and send the box to us. I've never met Dave, but had spoken to him on the phone a time or two when I'd call Blake.

This week's chat schedule:

General Support
This chat is open for all survivors
Date: Tuesday, October 21, 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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Shanette family photo
Is it OK?

~ Shanette Booker, Survivor

October 13, 2014

Every day for about the first two years after Dre's passing, I walked on eggshells and hid behind the bushes. I never wanted to be in the limelight. I didn't want to say or do anything that would offend someone. I was his wife and as his widow, I didn't want to be inappropriate in my mannerisms, words, or actions. I felt as if people would question how much I loved my husband, if I loved him as much as I said I did, or if I still loved him. It was the hardest two years of my life. Then one day it all changed. I woke up and realized regardless of what I do or say, I am going to have someone looking at me, watching me, and probably judging me and each of my decisions.

Somewhere around my 2 ½ year mark, I opened my eyes and woke up. Why should I hide the new person I had become? The person I was now destined to be? Regardless of what I did or said when he was alive, I was never worried about how people viewed me. I didn't care about people judging my love for him or our marriage, so why should I start now. I have several social media accounts and I make sure that I honor him, our love, and our marriage on them. I share videos of us, our favorite songs, pictures, the 'whole nine yards.' I have never done or said anything that would make people question us, so why was I worried? What was I afraid of? Not a day goes by I don't speak to my husband or speak of my husband. I miss him dearly. Yes I do. I am not the one who died though. I am not the one who is no longer living, so why should my thoughts and actions die while I am still living?

I've come to the conclusion that our thoughts and our actions can't die along with our loved ones. We have to continue living in the here and now and sharing with the world the person we once loved, the person that we spent their lives loving and living for. Regardless of what you say and how you say it or what you do and how you do things, there are  always going to be people questioning your intentions. I say don't worry about it. IT IS OK. Continue living for you and honoring them. The way I see it is it's your life and you have to continue living it, no one else… So live it doing everything you want, your way, because IT IS OK!

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