Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Caring for the Families of the Fallen
Call 24/7
800-959-TAPS (8277)
Caring for the Families of our Fallen Heroes
Donate Today
TAPS Online Community - Blog
add this iconsPermanent link  (select to share)

Learning to Live Again

~ Linda Ambard, Survivor

October 6, 2015

I am at a Tragedy Assistance Program (TAPS) retreat this weekend.  A woman said something to me that hit really close to home.  She is a year and a half out from her husband’s death.  She told me she feels like she is going through the motions and keeps wondering if she will feel happiness in her life again.  She pondered enjoying life and looking forward to the next events unfolding.  Four and a half years later, I wonder the same thing.  I wrap myself in business so I do not have to figure out how to fill the waking hours.  I work full time, go to school full time, and I run marathons.  When any one of those activities drops off, I spin like a broken top—off kilter and with a stuttering step.

I have to be on at work every day.  There is no room for me to consider having an off -day because I feel (the word feel is the key word) like people look at me as a fragile person who is going to break if something is said or done wrong.  Where normal people do have off days, I feel I must put on the mask to prove how all right I am all of the time.  I teach resiliency and positive coping, thus breaking and hurting publicly negates what I am doing.  I don’t feel like I can talk about how I feel because I am the only widow I know with my story at my age.  While my work is very meaningful and helpful to make something positive come out of the worst day of my life, it isn’t a place where I can be transparent.

I leave work to go to school all evening.  I wrap myself in my studies of how to help people dealing with loss.  It gives me skills, confidence, and on some levels, it allows me to consider my own way forward.  It is another area where my eyes are set on something higher than me leaving very little time for introspection or alone time.

Running is the place where I do allow myself to feel and to ponder the life I have now.  Running is a small portion of my day.  After four and a half years almost, I am at that point of looking at removing school and learning to enjoy life again.  Until now, it has been survival shrouded in business.  I do not know how to thrive versus survive to face another day.  The laughter is long gone and I do not remember a time since Phil’s death when I got excited for something coming.  It feels foreign and unwelcome to want to look at how to fill my empty school hours with something I can be excited about.  I do not even know what would make me excited.

This weekend with other military widows brought me clarity.  It is the place where I could see how far I have come and where I need to dare myself to go.  My shattered heart is knitting together.  Like a broken bone, it is stronger than it once was, but it will always bear the scars of being broken.  My heart aches sometimes.  It aches now.  I do not want to have to figure out how to enjoy my life or how to anticipate my life, but I know that it is what comes next.  I haven’t ever learned to navigate how to have fun alone and living in this mode of total immersion into business isn’t about thriving or enjoying life.  I think the day has come to stop waiting and to start going.  Perhaps I will climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Maybe I will try out for Survivor again.  Maybe I will join a running group.  Maybe I will even go to a singles church group.  The possibilities loom and I am poised to take the first tenuous step .

add this iconsPermanent link  (select to share)

Playing TAPS - Cemetery in Winter
Saturday Morning Message: Honoring Our Loved Ones

October 3, 2015

Good Morning,

The opening picture is Roger Meyer with his bugle. Since the name of our group is TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors), I thought it would be a fitting opening for this week's Saturday Morning Message about ways to honor our loved ones. You can read what he does to honor his son in The Twenty-Four Toughest Notes Honoring Our Loved Ones With "Taps" by Roger Meyer, surviving father of Army Private Michael Meyer.

There were many interesting replies from survivors on this week's question. In addition, I found several articles from past TAPS Magazines that talk about ways other survivors have found to honor their loved one. You will notice that survivors choose ways that have always been of interest to them and now they have expanded those interests to pay tribute to the ones held so close. Thank you so much to all who contribute to the weekly message.

Jessica Dumont-Oatman, surviving sister of Sergeant Paul Dumont, Jr., writes in Living the Legacy ~ Picture the Fallen about using her talents as a photographer to take and send pictures of headstones to those who are unable to travel to Arlington Cemetery.

Christi Larsen, surviving mom of PFC Cole Larsen, organizes a garden tour each year with donations going to support TAPS and the Wounded Warrior Project. She writes how she decided to do this in A Garden Spade Can Help Heal: Fertile Ground For A Fundraiser.

West Point cadets write about running to honor those who have died in Run And Remember: 2011 Team Long Gray Line.

As for me, this Saturday Morning Message came about through wanting to honor my son Sgt. Bryon Lane and also to connect weekly with survivors.  I hope you find this week's message helpful as you search for a meaningful way to honor your loved one.

Would you like to share a question or read how other survivors respond to a topic or question you have?  I would love to gather some thoughts for future Saturday Morning Messages.  You can also submit favorite songs that are meaningful to you. It can be helpful to read and hear how others cope.

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


Question for Next Week's Saturday Message

This question came from a survivor named Caryn, mother of Nathan: "Did your loved one have a Facebook or other social networking page and, if so, have you chosen to maintain it or close/delete it?"  I'm sure in this age of social media, this question has come up for many of us. Looking forward to sharing what others have done.

Photo of Eugene

Photo Courtesy of Leslie, mother of Eugene

♫ Song for the Week

Leslie, mother of Eugene, sent in the song of the week which is Not a Day Goes By with Lonestar Lyrics. Leslie wrote, "I chose this song because the words could have been mine as I sometimes speak to my son. These are my feelings sung beautifully. I am sure Eugene is grateful I am not singing while he knows how much he is missed and loved."

While listening to this song, the lyrics, "If you asked me how I'm doing, I'd say just fine," made me think about the blog written last week by Marcia McCormick Tomlinson, mother of Patrick,  titled Zipped Into My Fraud Suit. How many of us tell others we are "just fine" when really we are hurting inside? Thanks to both of these survivors for touching on a subject that many of us face.


Answers from Survivors

From Robert, father of Louis: Our family formed a foundation which endows a scholarship in Lou's name and also supports the following: food pantries, soup kitchens, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Project Safe Homes (protects spouses from abuse), emergency housing, and several veteran charities. We keep his name out there and help the community that was so generous to us when Lou was killed. In October, our foundation, 1LT Louis Allen Scholarship & Community Foundation, a 501 (c ) (3) will be honored by Orange County Safe Homes for our support.

From Leslie, mother of Eugene: I have done some nice things to memorialize my son. What I think is the biggest tribute to him is keeping him alive by telling how he lived; the good, the bad, the funny and the absurd. Stories are now told to my grandkids.

From Susan, spouse of Charles: My beloved husband was a "clotheshorse"... tweed, linen, blue wool blazers, "Nantucket" Red pants. He had the best shoes--all those good leather shoes, white bucks, and leather loafers. Yesterday, perhaps with the change of weather, I felt I needed to make a practical change. All his clothes have gone to the attic. But the shoes were still everywhere downstairs.  So, I packed up each pair in plastic bags and dropped them in a "Donate" box near my home. It physically nauseated me. When I got to the white bucks and leather loafers, I just couldn't do it. There will be a time. This is not the time. I guess that time is different for everyone, but my beloved TAPS family may be the only ones who can relate, so I gratefully write to you.

Edward III, Tribute

Photo Courtesy of Ed, father of Edward III

From Ed, father of Edward III: We do not have a lot of our son's things. He left home some eighteen years before he fell. We have flags, letters, patches and other odds and ends that have been given to us. The aircraft model is a 747 with the space shuttle on its back. This was the last thing he sent me for Father's Day. I opened his gift the day we were notified of his death. It came with a note telling me that this reminded him of an event that we had shared and he would never forget. The event was around 1981. I was assigned to Tinker AFB, and one day the 747 transporting the shuttle Enterprise had to land at Tinker to have a mechanical problem checked out. I was able to get him in close to see it. He was only about seven at that time. I did not realize till I received his gift just how important that day was to him. On the bottom shelf there are some small wooden toys that he and my grandson put together and gave me. This display allows me to remember the good times we had together and to honor his sacrifice.


Upcoming Chats

Chat Calendar - General Support

General Support Chat 
Date: Tuesday, October 06, 2015
Time: 8:30 PM - 11 PM Eastern
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.

add this iconsPermanent link  (select to share)

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

~ Linda Ambard , Survivor

October 1, 2015

I liked the person I became in the 23 years I was married to Phil.  I learned to trust myself and to dream big. Life was filled with possibility, fun, and the comfort that came from knowing that even if I fell or failed, someone, my someone, believed in me and would love me anyway.  It was strength forged of time tested hurdles, life events, and the moments.  Like most people, I thought there would be more moments.  

The day after Phil was killed was the day we were supposed to find out if we were going overseas again or if we would be returning to finish out his career at the Air Force Academy.  We stood poised.  There was the excitement of the what ifs and what next.  When Phil was killed the what ifs and what next became two questions I no longer wanted to consider.  Life was survival; possibility and dreaming big became a desperate whimper.  Stuck in the horrible vicious cycle of trying to figure out who I was without my Phil, where I fit, dealing with trust issues, and the loss of my military culture and the place I once fit, left me standing on the curb hiding as the parade marched on.

Four and a half years later, I am still figuring out possibilities and learning to dream again.  Where once I was pretty confident about where the road would lead and what my gray haired years would look like, my prisms have shifted.  Quite simply, I am struggling with figuring it out.  I am no longer paralyzed with fear, but the reflections are warped and the way ahead is fraught with my own confusion and doubt about who I am now and where I fit now.

Like a teenager, I am trying new things and finding that certain things still work.  Running is one thing that still fits.  I am able to bridge my past, my time with Phil, and my way ahead in the miles and miles covered.  I found my confidence in traveling and in fulfilling the dreams Phil once had for me, but once I finished a marathon in every state, I needed a new goal or a new dream.  The Great Wall of China Marathon and the marathons I want to run in Dublin and Avignon or Marseille are part of that plan.  Phil was never a part of this dream, but as sure as I breathe and as sure as I live, I know Phil would support these endeavors because he believed in me.

Other areas of my life are harder to navigate.  I still struggle with where I fit in.  I knew who I was as a military spouse.  Now?  I am part of the military world through work and through the benefits I received by Phil’s death, but I don’t fit.  I am no longer a key spouse and I no longer have that strong dashing man in a blue uniform next to me.  Even something as simple as going to the base chapel isn’t so simple.  Everyone else has a family and the focus is on family connections.  It leaves me wanting and wishing.  I navigate all of my boundaries with one foot in the past and one foot in the future.  There are good days and bad days, but the confusion  and shaky confidence are new.

I figured at 54, I would have more answers and my life would be more than it is now.  I don’t want to figure out the way ahead, yet I know I must.  I must because Phil had no choices and he died before he could realize many of his own dreams.  To quit, to stop looking ahead to the possibilities, is to be waiting for my own final breath.  The answer is evident.  I have to fight for it.  No retreat, no surrender, and I have to trust at some point the way ahead will become clearer and more comfortable.  I step forward knowing by learning to dream again is what Phil would want for me and what I want for myself.  

add this iconsPermanent link  (select to share)

United Through Darkness, Shining Together

~ Rachel Hunsell, Survivor

September 29, 2015

As I lay on my sleeping bag surrounded by my new family scattered across the beach, I looked up at stars. This was my nightly routine on my sandy bed, keeping my eyes open as long as they could to gaze upon the magic of these stars. These weren't like the stars back home in the rural Midwest; no, these stars made you truly feel your place in the universe. You could see the Milky Way Galaxy stretch across the sky and continue to move as our Earth turned. 

As the hours, even minutes, passed layers upon layers of stars would appear. "Stop, take a second and look up," Gabe would say in between shared thoughts in our final chair circle of the week. Those moments of stillness as we all took in the magnificence of the night sky brought an overwhelming awareness of the bond our group had formed over the last week journeying down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. These moments we took together to breathe in the night sky reminded me of how important TAPS truly is to each of us, how life-changing the selflessness of others can be.

There are no words to truly describe the Grand Canyon. From the moment I laid eyes on the Canyon and the river during our flight to Bar 10 Ranch I knew everything I would experience for the next few days would be like nothing I'd ever experienced, from the sunsets to the rapids to the billions of years passed in rocks to the sand in my toes. But what I didn't expect was the magnitude of each emotion and adventure or how I would walk away from this retreat a changed soul with a heart overflowing with more love than it could hold. This is what an experience with your TAPS family can do.

I was submerged in one of the Seven Wonders of the World with people who, without speaking, knew my heart and its pain. This unspoken understanding gives a freedom that allows your mind to ease. The freedom to share my brother, Kyle, without fear; to share his humanitarian spirit, his ever-present positive attitude, his quirky sense of humor, and to share my pain, my missing piece, my longing for his big brother advice. The magnitude of the Canyon walls; the power of the river's rapids; the kinetic energy could be felt everywhere. We were a family down in that Canyon. Mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, widows; all the pieces were there and allowed us to connect in a way only an all populations retreat can.

One of our guides, Mariah, gave us the greatest piece of advice during our first dinner. "There's a give and take on this journey. Let the river wash away what it must, and take from this beautiful place, from these walls, what you need. The Canyon has a way of changing you."

My heart and my spirit are not the same as they were when I arrived that Monday morning. Friday I returned a changed woman, with an even larger family; a woman with a spirit of gratitude. We'd all give anything to have our hero home again, to have them back in our lives. But, their deaths give us a voice unlike most to share their love and passions, and an opportunity to truly live a life fuller and more grateful than before. The Grand Canyon Retreat impacted my heart and soul through connections with each other and the nature around us. I'll be experiencing that impact for many years to come. I couldn't be more grateful to TAPS for giving me the opportunity to experience overwhelming love, take my brother on all of my adventures, and for giving me the tools to create a positive impact on the world.

add this iconsPermanent link  (select to share)

Close In Our Memories, Forever In Our Hearts

~ Leila Murray, Survivor

September 28, 2015

My name is Leila Murray, widow of LCDR Gary E. Murray, Ret. USN. Gary was a 30 year veteran of the U.S. Navy and highly-decorated. He served in Desert Shield, Desert Storm, and other conflicts of war. While serving his Country, he received (5) Navy Commendation Medals, (5) Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, (8) Sea Service Deployment Ribbons, (2) National Defense Service Medals, (3) Good Conduct Awards, Navy Expeditionary Medal, (3) Navy Meritorious Unit Commendations, (2) Navy "E" Ribbons, (2) Navy Unit Commendations, Kuwait Liberation Medals, NATO Medal, Navy Recruiting Ribbon, (3) Southwest Asia Service Medals, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Armed Forces Service Medal, and the Joint Meritorious Unit Award. He served his Country proudly with dauntless courage, dignity, and the type of leadership that paved the way for others in the military. 

Two years ago on September 4, 2013, Gary took his own life by gunshot and was lost in a lake. Two years later, the grief is still unbearable at times. I am thankful we were able to find his body and bury him with dignity and honor at Florida National Cemetery. I came across a letter I wrote to him after the funeral and wanted to share here:

I wish I had been with you when you took your last breath, but I know that God was. I wish I had been there to hear your last word, but I know that God heard it. I wish I had been there to wipe your last tear away, but I know that God did. I will never be able to tell you enough how much you were loved, and how much you truly meant to us. Even if not often said, you were my protection, anchor and my life. I feel so hollow and meaningless without you now, but I know that God will see me through. You were so good to me and everyone else. I can't stand to think of your pain and fear during the final minutes of your life. But rest and know that your life was not in vain. You touched so many people's lives and will always mean so much to so many people. You served your country proudly and we are proud of the fight that you gave for our freedom! We thank you for that! I would give anything to spend more time with you, but I realize that this all has purpose in God's timing. I know that you have peace and rest now. Today we will honor you and celebrate your life and set you in your final resting place. We will see your smiling face again! You are close in our memories and forever embedded in our hearts! Forever and a day! 
Love, Leila.

There is no timeline on grieving no matter how long it is or even if you have moved forward in life. 
To all of the survivors, you are just that, a survivor! Hold dear to the memories of your loved ones past!

add this iconsPermanent link  (select to share)

A Gold Star Mother's Day Reflection

~ Carol Lane, Survivor

September 27, 2015

Gold Star Mother’s Day is recognized the last Sunday of the month of September. Each year I wear my pin to church as a remembrance of my son, U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Bryon Lane, who died in July 2001.

This has been quite a journey. It all started with a phone call to me while I was at a summer curriculum meeting at school. I was told to come home as there had been an accident. All the way home, I wasn’t sure what to think or which of my two children were involved. When I turned the corner to my house, I saw the government car and knew something was very wrong and that it was Bryon.

After I got over the shock, the casualty officers gave me a leaflet about TAPS. I called very soon after the funeral and felt the support immediately from the person who answered the phone. I was invited to the National Seminar the next May and decided to go mainly to meet this person who had listened to me while I sobbed on the phone for all those months.

I wasn’t disappointed. Not only did I receive hugs and support from her, but also the others who were there. I liked the fact that we could tell stories about our loved ones no matter our relationship and that is still something I like whenever I go to a TAPS event.

As time went by, I retired from teaching and was asked if I would like to work part time for TAPS. Now I work in the Online Community. One of my tasks is putting together the Saturday Morning Message. Through that I meet other survivors who write in answer to the question each week. Then when I go to a TAPS seminar, I meet these people personally and there is always a reunion full of hugging and talking. An interesting aside is that the person who first answered the phone is the director of the Online Community. I hope that through this work I honor my son and also give back to the organization that gave me so much.

So this Sunday, I wear my pin. When someone asks about it, I tell them about Bryon and also talk about TAPS. Without TAPS, I don’t know what I would have done.

add this iconsPermanent link  (select to share)

Boxes in the Attic, Part 2
Saturday Morning Message: Caring for Your Loved One's Belongings

September 26, 2015

Good Morning,

The question about what we do with our loved one's things is one I put in the Saturday Morning Message at different times since it frequently comes up with new survivors. Sometimes, we are told by well-meaning people to put everything away, but as you already know, that does not take away the pain of grief.

In addition to the replies submitted by survivors in the "Answers from Survivors" section of today's message, there are two articles from TAPS magazines that address this query. They were both written by Betsy Beard, surviving mom of Specialist Bradley Beard. They are Boxes in the Attic and Boxes in the Attic: Part Two.

In our family, we bought a large piece of furniture with two glass doors and put it in our son's bedroom which now serves as my husband's office. Behind the glass doors, we hung our son's dress uniform and some of the pieces that were given to us by the military at or around the time of his funeral. In the drawers, we put scrapbooks and some of his favorite clothes.

I hope you get some ideas from this message about what others have done. Whatever you decide to do is right for you and your family.

Would you like to share a question or read how other survivors respond to a topic or question you have?  I would love to gather some thoughts for future Saturday Morning Messages.  You can also submit favorite songs that are meaningful to you. It can be helpful to read and hear how others cope.

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


Question for Next Week's Saturday Message

Recently, I read an article on the TAPS Facebook page called, "How Children of 9/11 Turn Tragedy Into Inspiration". This made me think of the times I listened to survivors talk about taking their personal tragedy and finding a special way to honor their loved one either through their jobs or volunteer work. I thought it would be interesting to share these ideas, so the question for this week is, What have you done in your life to honor your loved one? No matter how big or how small, I look forward to hearing from you.

♫ Song for the Week

From Georgianna, mother of Jamie: Through the years, as my son was becoming the great gentleman of God he was, we would always sing "Tell Me Something Good" by Rufus and Chaka Khan to one another. When he was deployed, all I had to do is text him on his phone, and say, "Tell me something good." He would text me back saying, "I love you mom."

Answers from Survivors

From Diane, mother of Caleb: What a tough thing to deal with - my son's things. I have transferred them from the boxes to camouflage totes.  That was after a year or so of not being able to look at the boxes, let alone take things out to sort through it all and organize it. I have hung his uniforms in the closet and put some of his books and mementos on a bookcase in his room. When his siblings come to visit, they will sometimes go downstairs alone and look through the totes for the memories, and sometimes they will find something they would like to have. It is all in good time, I think. I will not rush to do anything with Caleb's stuff. It's tangible--it belonged to my sweet son, and it helps to see it and touch it.

From Mary-Ann, mother of Blake: Monday will make five years since we lost our dear sweet Blake and I still haven't had the heart to get rid of a lot of his items. Many of them I offered to Blake's brother, sister, and nephew who adored Blake. Some of his clothes his dad and his best friend were able to wear and have done so. There are items up in the attic from his childhood. I still haven't been able to get myself to go through them to decide what needs to be done. I just can't find it in my heart to part with them at this time. They aren't in the way or hurting anyone, so I have no intention to do so anytime soon! Other items, his military treasures, I have stored most of them in a cedar chest in our bedroom. I look at them when I feel the urge to feel close to him. Then there are all the plaques and flags that I haven't a clue what to do with. A couple are displayed in our den and the others are stored in a huge draw at the bottom of a curio cabinet we have. We must have three or four flags, not counting the one in the den and about half a dozen more plaques in that drawer. I just don't know what to do with them so 'til I figure it all out, they aren't in the way or hurting anyone, so there they will stay!

From Ruth, mother of Jim: Jimmy had been gone from our home for many years when he passed into his new life.  Jim had grown into a generous man who loved to help others.  We received several boxes after Jim's death.  Three t-shirts were in the top of one of the boxes.  I picked them up and smelled them and yes--Jim was there.  At first, I wanted to keep the shirts, but then as though a small voice was whispering in my ear, I knew that others would need these as the winter weather set in. I took the shirts to the mission and waited until I saw a man who I knew would use them. I told him about my son and how much it would mean to him for this man to have them.  Both of us had tears in our eyes.  I started to leave when the man I had never met, stood tall and saluted--not me I am sure, but my son who was in the shadows behind me.

It was after this time that I realized that I did not want to take out possessions and show them off.  I wanted the world to remember Jim as a kind and generous man.  A tea set that Jim and I had shopped for went to a niece in Eugene.  A note was included in the teapot. Someday our niece will sit down and share tea with her own child and tell of the wonderful uncle who served his country.

Last year, Jim's dad took a knife that Jim had given him as a Christmas gift and placed it in the hands of our youngest son. The knife had never been used. Rick told his dad, "I hope you don't mind, but I plan to use this knife.  Each time I open it I will think of my brother.  Thank you, dad, for giving me a piece of my brother that I know you treasured."

I still have things to give, but each will have a meaning.  The items I have will one day be lost to the wind unless I share a moment of his life.  A dear friend has a nut cracker he bought in Germany.  Each year she puts it out, smiles, and says God Bless you Jim. We all love you.

Jim was a storyteller. He personally wanted you to remember why he talked to you. He was well known for his stories. Now his stories will go on with the possessions we have to share.  

An announcement about accessing the chats: The Chrome Browser has discontinued use of the JAVA Applet, so please use another browser (Safari, Firefox or Internet Explorer) or the TAPS Chat Mobile link below to access the TAPS Chat Room. Instructions on accessing the mobile site »

Upcoming Chats

Chat Calendar - General Support

General Support Chat 
Date: Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Time: 8:30 PM - 11 PM Eastern
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs

Chat Calendar - Suicide Survivor

Survivors of Suicide Loss Chat 
Date: Thursday, October 01, 2015
Time: 9 PM - 11 PM Eastern
Hosted By: Carla Stumpf-Patton and Kim Suggs

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

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

add this iconsPermanent link  (select to share)

Zipped Into My Fraud Suit

~ Marcia McCormick Tomlinson, Survivor

September 25, 2015

The moment I received the news that my son was dead by suicide I changed. Everything about the life I had planned for myself changed in an instant. Everything about me changed, too. That was the moment I reached down and stepped into my Fraud Suit.

“How are you?” concerned friends asked. “Fine,” I lied. And thus I began to zip myself into the Fraud Suit I wore everywhere, to church, to the store, to the library, to the Post Office. No matter where I went, no matter who I was with, I was well zipped into that suit.

A zipper is a marvel of engineering. It is one of the least essential inventions yet immeasurably useful and incredibly secure. When I received the news of Patrick’s death I immediately pulled my disbelief around me, not even realizing I was inserting the pin of despair into the box of anguish in order to seal shut my heart from the world I had to face once dawn broke that first day of the rest of my life.

When the sun rose I slid the pull tab up, hooking closed the first set of teeth so I could call my other children, my family, my minister. With each call I slid that pull tab up another set so I could speak the news. Much later, my family and friends told me I had sounded so calm, so comforting of their shock and grief. It was the Fraud Suit that made it possible. Zip, zip, zip.

Picking the plot, choosing the scriptures, writing the obituary, with each task I zipped up that suit another set of teeth. Zip, zip, zip. Arranging to fly across the country to the Base, meeting with the Staff Sargent assigned to me, identifying my son’s body … oh yes that last one bit hard, required many teeth. Zip, zip, zip. My Fraud Suit was fast becoming my new skin.

Going with the hearse to the airport to bring my son home, watching as the plane stayed on the tarmac until after we left, zip, zip, zip. Seeing that young woman pushing a baby carriage stopping and placing her hand on her heart. Zip, zip, zip. The funeral, hearing Taps, that flag placed into my hands. Zip, zip, zip. Each day, another zip. Day after day as caring family and friends hurt to see me hurt. Zip, zip, zip so they wouldn’t hurt.

By the time I called TAPS almost six months later, when I didn’t think I could breathe anymore, I was fully encased in that Fraud Suit. But with TAPS came the help I didn’t even know I needed. “Would you like me to contact a counselor with the Vet Center?” the TAPS angel caringly asked me that dark January night when I sat alone on my cold kitchen floor. “I don’t know. Oh God, yes, I think so,” I admitted as I felt the slide on my Fraud Suit zipper go down one set of teeth.

The very next day I got a call. I hadn’t answered my phone for weeks but this afternoon I picked up the receiver. “Hello?” “My name is Dan. I am a Bereavement Counselor at the Vet Center and I would like to help you.”

Unzip. Unzip, unzip. For the next two years, between the counseling and TAPS’ seminars I slowly, carefully permitted that slide to separate the despair and anguish from my hope. Unzip, unzip, unzip.  I still wear the Fraud Suit, oftentimes loosely draped about my shoulders as I attend to this business called life. Sometimes I need its subtle protection, sometimes I leave it hanging on the coat rack. Maybe one day I’ll leave it off at the thrift store. Or maybe not. There’s no timeline here. TAPS has taught me that.

add this iconsPermanent link  (select to share)

Among the Zebras

~ Judi Swenson, Survivor

September 23, 2015

For those planning on attending the TAPS National Suicide Seminar in October for the first time, this is for you. Please don't get cold feet. Don't be scared. There is nothing else like it. I know this is very long. Please take a few minutes to read it through. I unfortunately will have to miss this years seminar. Don't you. You will find love, support, and understanding. HUGS.

I lost my son, Davey, to suicide on June 16, 2005. My family has attended many regional TAPS Seminars, and every TAPS National Suicide Seminar since we discovered TAPS in 2009 at Ft. Hood 

My 15-year old son and I were very much looking forward to the 2014 TAPS National Suicide Seminar in Florida. (Due to work obligations, my husband had to miss this one.) We were excited at the prospect of seeing old friends and reconnecting with our dear TAPS family. At TAPS, we, and our emotions, were safe. We could take a deep breath, and know we were not alone. We were FREE to laugh, cry, talk, listen, and share. THIS is the family that got it! We could hardly wait!

I didn't have to wait long. Deplaning at the Tampa/St. Pete airport, I could hear several people talking and wondering what do we do now? How do we find TAPS? I happily introduced myself, and informed them, "you can't miss them. They will be everywhere with TAPS shirts on, carrying TAPS signs, and guiding the way." And of course, they were.

I was so looking forward to my TAPS family hugs, squeals when a friend was found, and catching up with what had been happening in their lives since last seminar. I knew we would laugh and cry a lot. We would eat constantly, do art, share in groups, listen to panels, have yoga on the beach, have music, quiet time, reflections, and crazy pool time. We would comfort and be comforted. Here we could and would be open. We would not be judged. In this family we are FREE. There is no shame. There is no stigma. We don't have to worry about letting something slip. Newly bereaved, or out by many years, we are accepted and understood. Simply amazing.

On the bus in from the airport I was anticipating which friend I might see first. So excited. Then I looked up at the tall young blonde man "Is this seat taken?" I said "No, and Welcome". This was his first TAPS Seminar. He was attending with his parents. He had lost his brother, their son. I told him not to worry. Here he would be among a whole herd of zebras. He would be welcomed to the family with open arms. We would be a huge herd of zebras. At most seminars we are a zebra amongst a herd of horses. The same, yet different. Here he would be among other zebras. Herds of zebras. And not to be startled by how loud and even happy many are. We are family. TAPS is family.

We never really talked again that whole weekend. As we saw each other, there was always a friendly wave but we each had our own sessions to attend or not. Our own personal benefits to be had from this seminar. I knew he would be fine, surrounded by love, support, and understanding.

I was seeing, hugging, and sharing with so many of my dearly loved TAPS family members. Then, in the lunch buffet line, a young man was trying to balance his plate, while pouring his drink. I offered to hold his plate while he also poured my coffee. He was attending his first TAPS seminar with his mother and sister. He graciously asked me to join them at their table where they shared the loss of their son and brother. Quick hugs, and a little explanation of how to navigate the weekend. No pressure. Many activities and sessions to choose from, and if needed or wanted, quiet reflection time, even had a room for that. Or of course they could go to the beach, pool, room, or whatever fancied them. As we looked at our printed schedules, the young man and I chose the same upcoming session. I had never attended this particular group and was curious. If I didn't care for it, I could always just quietly leave. It was a blast! My new friend and I were partners. He was asked to use his imagination and lasso a cow! We all had tears of laughter streaming down our faces! (you had to have been there!). Later in the seminar, his family and I found ourselves together in a room listening to a panel discussion on how the loss from suicide of our loved one affected our family dynamic. I knew many on the panel, yet I still was able to take away some better understanding, of why my family is the way it is.

Taking a few quiet minutes for myself to walk around and take in the beauty of the resort, I came across a beautiful mother and daughter doing the same. I asked if I could take a photo of them in this beautiful setting, as they were taking pictures of each other. Of course we briefly shared and found out we were all from Texas. We have since become close and visit with each other frequently.

On the final night there was a steel drum band playing for us on the beach while we ate s'mores and said our farewells. I was walking along the fringes of darkness, enjoying the sounds of the surf, laughter, and music when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to see the smiling face of my young bus seat partner. He hugged me and said "I’ve been looking everywhere for you! I made you something." He handed me a heart. A zebra paper heart, decorated with hearts and red ribbon. He grinned as I gushed and after another quick hug he was gone. A bit later, seated near the lights of the patio, I turned the heart over. Through tears I read:

From one zebra to another...Thanks for being a friend and making me feel at home.

I keep this paper zebra heart on the desktop with my son's flag case, photos, and medals. TAPS is the family I found when I lost my son. I wish I had never had to even know TAPS existed but I am so very, very, glad I found them.

add this iconsPermanent link  (select to share)

My Journey as a Survivor of Suicide Loss

~ Mike Aldapa , Survivor

September 21, 2015

My journey as a survivor of military suicide loss  began July 18th, 2012, when our son Paul, a young 22-year old Petty Officer in the Coast Guard, took his own life from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in what was determined to be a homicide-suicide. Paul died 3 years and 10 months into his 4 year enlistment. At the time of his death, Paul was actively pursuing a career in law enforcement that he was looking forward to after he got out of the Coast Guard. He knew he had an issue with anger management and mentioned to co-workers he thought he needed help, but they dismissed it as Paul not being serious. Paul sought and paid for counseling outside of the Coast Guard, fearing that if he sought help through official channels, there would be something in his records.

Looking back for signs that something wasn't right, this is the only thing I can really think of. There are times I feel like I'm the stranger in this group because Paul was not involved in combat and was not diagnosed with PTSD; in the TAPS groups I've been involved with, I've never been treated like an outsider. In fact, I've been told that Coast Guard members can also be exposed to situations that could lead to PTSD.

My initial "grief" experience, I think was delayed at least a year.  Being the husband and father, my first priority was taking care of my wife. I spent days trying to get her into some kind of counseling. At the time, we did not know about TAPS or other resources about dealing with grief.  After what seemed like weeks, I finally found a therapist for my wife that she felt comfortable with. We found a suicide survivors group in the area that met twice a month. This group was okay at first, but something was missing, and that was the military service connection. It wasn't until I found TAPS and went to our first TAPS National Military Suicide Survivor Seminar that I felt like I had a real connection with other people who understood the unique experience we were going through.

About a year and a half after Paul's death, I decided to attend a local TAPS care group. The counselor running the group pointed out to me that taking care of myself was important. She used the analogy to put your oxygen mask on first before helping someone else; something told to us when we fly. That was something I could understand and I finally gave in, and sought one-on-one counseling for myself. It was during this time I learned it was ok for men to shed a tear now and then, and it was ok to share my feelings. Continuing on, I decided to become a TAPS Peer Mentor, feeling I could help another father out by guiding him through this new way of life.

This year I finally made the decision to really get out of my comfort zone and attended the TAPS Montana Men's Retreat. I had a lot of reservations about attending because I knew there would be survivors of all deaths-not just suicide survivors. I'm glad I stuck with it and attended. I discovered I wasn't the only man who had reservations about attending, but was also reassured I belonged with them like any other survivor, no matter what the cause of death. My wife made a comment about the pictures I showed her- that I "looked so happy"; I will definitely make plans to attend a future TAPS retreat.

So what does the future look like for me? This year I will be attending my fourth TAPS National Military Suicide Survivor Seminar. I would like to get involved in helping to facilitate the groups for survivors of homicide-suicide loss at the breakout sessions, and I'm looking forward in volunteering anywhere where needed in future TAPS events. This is one organization I wish I never would have had to join, but I'm glad I found them, as they have been there through my journey.


This blog is copyrighted by the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). These blog posts may not be reproduced in whole or in part by any means, electronic or otherwise, without prior written approval. It is permissible for an individual reader to view, reproduce or store a copy of this article, provided it is used only for their own personal and non-commercial use. Uses beyond that allowed by the “Fair Use” limitations (sections 107 and 108) of the U.S. Copyright law require permission from TAPS. Please contact blog@taps.org to request permission. All other rights reserved.

Go to:

Icon-Facebook Icon-Twitter Icon-Youtube Icon - Instagram Icon-Shop Icon-Photos