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Lessons Learned

~ Ashlynne Haycock, Survivor

September 29, 2014

In 2002 I lost my dad while he was training to deploy to Iraq. I was ten years old.  College was the last thing on my mind, and it was not high on my mother's priority list either.  It was always something I knew I would do, but not something my mother and I really discussed until the end of my junior year of high school after I had taken multiple AP exams, done expensive ACT prep and testing and was now paying ridiculous amounts of money for college application fees. Getting into The American University was one of the proudest moments of my life, and I knew my dad would have been the obnoxious parent who never took off the AU Eagles sweatshirt.  I was so excited to attend that the fact that tuition was over $50,000 a year seemed unimportant until I got my first bill in the mail for the semester for $25,000. Where was this money going to come from?! Could my mom and I have done some things differently when I was ten years old to make this process easier and less stressful?  Would I be able to stay in school and pay this extremely expensive tuition for my dream school?  The answer to all of these questions is YES.

Fast forward four years and $200,000 later and I graduated ON TIME and with NO DEBT! If you had asked me this at the end of my first semester of college I would have said that's not possible.  Now that I have graduated, I am the Education Services Coordinator for TAPS.  Having lived and learned through those four years of expensive undergraduate, and seeing how finances negatively effected my GPA, and assisting survivors for the last year to access education benefits I wish there were a few things my mother had known when I was ten years old that would have made everything easier from the moment I got that exciting acceptance letter.

 

  • Start applying for scholarships early.  Just because they cannot apply for VA education benefits or state tuition waiver until they are 18 years old does not mean they cannot apply for scholarships earlier. Organizations like Folds of Honor and Children of Fallen Patriot Foundation enroll kids as early as newborns. They will make sure they have money put aside for your kids for when they are college age.  Imagine not running around like a mad person six weeks before your kids start college and instead doing it at your leisure when your kids are young?!
  • There is assistance for college prep. Eknowledge provides free SAT/ACT prep for surviving families; all they have to pay is shipping.  Folds of Honor offers the Children's Fund scholarship that pays for tutoring and other educational costs, such as books. Children of Fallen Patriot Foundation will pay the SAT/ACT test application fees and college application fees. They will even buy your child a computer before their freshmen year of college!
  • Compare schools side by side.  The Department of Veteran's Affairs launched the GI Bill comparison tool this year. It gives you a break down of how truly veteran friendly a school is. It shows you how much the GI Bill pays at that school, how many students are using the GI Bill (this does include Fry), what the Basic Housing Allowance at the school will be, and really gives you a chance to compare the schools your children are considering.
  • Try to spread benefits out. Did you know that 45 states offer tuition waivers? Neither did I at 18. Your kids could potentially save their VA education benefits for graduate school and use a state tuition waiver for undergraduate. A lot of states even allow you to combine state education benefits with federal education benefits, meaning less money out of your pocket!
  • Always apply for FAFSA. FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This is FREE money based on your income. A lot of surviving families will be eligible for Pell Grants, which is money given by the federal government to lower income families for college. If you are not eligible for a Pell Grant, and your loved one died due to service in Iraq or Afghanistan, you may be eligible for an Iraq and Afghanistan Pell Grant. It is the exact same amount as a regular Pell Grant ($5,085.50) and available to families who make too much to be eligible for the regular Pell Grant. It costs nothing to fill out FAFSA and only takes 30 or so minutes of your time and could potentially provide additional FREE money for your kids' college tuition.

 

For more information email TAPS education services at education@taps.org or visit www.taps.org/edu.

 

For information on Folds of Honor visit: www.foldsofhonor.com

 

For information on Children of Fallen Patriot Foundation visit: www.fallenpatriots.org

 

For information on Eknowledge visit: http://www.eknowledge.com/

 

For more information on the GI Bill Comparison tool visit: http://department-of-veterans-affairs.github.io/gi-bill-comparison-tool/

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Carol's Beach
Saturday Morning Message: What do Others do about Vacations

September 27, 2014

Good Morning,

Everyone's idea of a vacation is different. Mine involves either visiting relatives or going to the ocean beach. The place we go for our ocean retreat has changed. I haven't been back to the place we took our son and daughter when they were younger. However, this is a picture of a new place that was chosen by our daughter. We have added her husband to the family and now the beach lifts our spirits and renews our energy as we enjoy each other walking the shore and dining on fresh seafood.

This week survivors wrote a variety of ways they have faced the challenge of planning a respite while learning to live in the new normal. I know you will find the replies interesting. I want to thank all who wrote as well as those of you who read the message. You make the weekly message the comfortable space it has become.

The next question came from Diane. She would like to know: Do you wear commemorative jewelry or other attire, and do you wear them all the time or just to military events?

If you would like to send a response to the question of the week or have a question and would like to read strategies used by other survivors. 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. It doesn't have to be a reply to the Saturday message. Sometimes just writing to someone is helpful.

Hugs,
Carol

From TAPS Survivors:

From Mary-Ann, mother of Blake: For many years we scheduled our vacation around Blake's schedule either for his coming home to spend time with the family or us going to wherever he was stationed. Upon his death all that changed. It was somewhat confusing at first to think of vacation without including him as a part of it. It was strange to think of not having Blake at the other end of the road. A bitter reality that he was no longer with us in body to go visit, catch up on the things that were going on in one another's lives, and reminisce the past. At first we really didn't know what to do with ourselves, so we started exploring other options. We started doing trips where we could experience different kinds of things to see and do now with just the two of us. Last year we took a trip to the East coast and explored several hundred miles of different Atlantic coastal towns. We walked through them and explored a wealth of historical towns, villages, and forts as we felt, smelled, and listened to the coastal areas. We just took our time and soaked it all in. Each place we stopped had its own uniqueness. We actually enjoyed our little trip which was the first time we'd left town with the idea of relaxing and enjoying ourselves since Blake's death. No meetings no business to attend to, no schedules. Just going at our own pace, sightseeing, and relaxing. We plan on doing the same this year in another area.

From Carole, wife of Lawrence: The first year or so after my husband died, I discovered that vacations and time off from school created a lot of anxiety. My children were very young at the time. I didn't like to have unscheduled time for them, because I was afraid that it would just magnify the reality that Lawrence was gone. I remember that I used to try to take them to visit family to help pass the time. When I started to feel a little stronger, like after the first year - I tried to fill up those times by doing really exciting and special things with my children. My husband was the "fun" parent, so I worked hard to bring fun back into their lives. I guess I also kind of hoped that if they could do new and fun things, they wouldn't miss their dad so much. I'm sure I overcompensated terribly. Now (10 years out from my loss), I involve the children in planning our free time and deciding how to spend vacations. I try to let each have a say in how or where we will spend our time.  I am very aware that our time together at home is short and I try encourage activities together whenever I can. Since they are involved in planning, they enjoy it also.

From Janet, mother of Steven: My son had no children of his own, but loved his 4 year old niece very much. After his death, I planned the vacation of a lifetime for my granddaughter, daughter, and myself. We took a 7 day Disney cruise in his memory. He would have loved to see the excitement on Summer's face. It brought back so many happy memories of his visits to Disneyland as a child.

From Karl, father of Tre:  I myself go on "gambling vacations" My son knew I loved to play the mindless slots. He would go with me and play in the arcade.  When I took my boys to Vegas some of my coworkers scoffed.  My boys and I had a great time!  We went to Red Rock Canyon and Hoover Dam and the Mojave Desert.  I just can't go back to Vegas yet as I want to keep those good memories alive.  I can hardly look at the Stratosphere Hotel without tearing up.  They always show it whenever they show a glimpse of Vegas on TV or in movies.  When I go to my grief group, I always announce when someone says "I don't know what to do," that "I'm going gambling!"  It usually gets a chuckle and lightens the mood a little.  I still can't deal well with others' pain, so I try to use humor.  That's the person I used to be before my loss.

From Leslie, mother of Eugene: There wasn't much money for vacations as I raised my boys by myself.  We did get to go to a couple of places. Will I go there again? I can't put myself through the pain of reviewing what I did years ago with Gene. I go to different places. Sometimes I think about what he would enjoy.  Sometimes I think about what he would do.  And sometimes I just get to have fun with my grandkids and my music and not think. And yet, I believe he's with me always.

From Marcia, mother of Patrick: This year encompassed the second anniversary of my son's death as well as the TAPS National Seminar in Arlington, VA where I trained as a Peer Mentor.  Then, I ran away. No, not in the generally accepted meaning of the term, but yes, I did take off in early May and didn't return until late August.

It was a summer of reflection and reintroducing myself to me. For two years I had zipped myself into a fraud suit every day, putting on a face to public, family, and friends as someone well in control, marvelously strong, and totally put together. And a complete fraud. This summer in every place I visited, I walked. And walked and walked. Miles and miles every day. I attended community suppers, worked stuffing food bags for the homeless, stopped and talked to seniors on park benches, all while permitting myself to remain exposed emotionally, to actually encourage feelings to enter.

Most family and friends really enjoyed my visits and are urging me to return; some were uncomfortable with me as I am now and I doubt I'll be invited to return. It's interesting how that's now OK with me. Before this summer I would never have attempted this. Who knows, maybe I'll do it again soon.

This week's chat schedule:

General Support Chat
This chat is open for all survivors
Date: Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Time: 9 PM - 11 PM EST
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs

Survivors of Suicide Loss Chat
Date: Thursday, October 02, 2014
Time: 9 PM - 11 PM EST
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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The Dream, Revised

~ Tabitha Bonilla, Survivor

September 22, 2014

A glimpse into my thoughts this past September 11th anniversary…

I feel like sometimes the outside world looks at me differently. I feel the pressure of others that I should "move on" since my losses occurred ten years ago. It is different on September 11th though. On that day, people pause in their everyday life, even if it is just for a moment. They remember.

On this day, I feel like the world gets it, if only just for a day.  I can't even begin to express how my world has changed.  I will sum it up like this: you can't explain a person.  You have to experience them.  That is how I feel about my life.  To know would be to experience.  I truly believe that is why the TAPS mission is so essential.  You find yourself amongst a community that finally… yes, finally gets it… and it's not just for one day! They understand due to their own circumstances…EVERYDAY.  I still lay awake some nights worried about many things (obsessing a little over when I will die or who in the world is going to die next). I get lonely and often wonder if I will always be alone. I miss my husband and my dad.  Sometimes it hits me out of nowhere. The feeling and realization that they are dead. It isn't just a story people read about or share casually among their friends. It's my life now.

To be completely honest, my life as it is today sometimes makes me feel as though I am similar to a high school quarterback or college quarterback who didn't make it to the pros. I had my dreams… dreams of the future. A life with my husband and the family we hoped to raise. A life with my dad and the experiences we looked forward to after he was going to retire. I constantly relive those dreams in my head. Life… it happened...but I can't get over the "golden" years so to speak that I feel were suppose to happen in my life.  

I feel as if my golden years ended on February 20, 2004. My father, SFC Henry Bacon, was killed in Iraq. He was days away from coming home to retire. I had dreams of my "future children" visiting their papa and his horses. I didn't have horses growing up, but my father did, so it was a dream of mine to one day get to vicariously live a country life through him and his retirement. My father had served his country honorably for 21 years.  He was my very first knight in shining honor. I buried him when I was the tender age of 22.

Eleven months later I experienced the heartbreak of burying my second prince charming- my husband, Cpt. Orlando Bonilla.  He was killed in a helicopter crash in Baghdad about a month before he was scheduled to return home. In a moment my dream was lost. There went the incredible years of our lives we were going to spend together and the family I thought I would have with him. 

Now I am left with beautiful memories that finally bring me smiles and laughter rather than sobbing and tears.  But do I look back in that rear view mirror and long so much for what I had?  You bet I do. I feel like I missed the pros.  I do love to reflect on those glory days, though! I feel blessed.  I feel so blessed I had them, even if only for a short amount of time. I had my dad for 22 years of my life, and I was with Orlando for a combined six years.  Some people are worth the pain.  I think about my life and reflect. If given the opportunity and knowing what I know, I would do it again and again. Given the option to have another life that would have made me happy because the loves of my life wouldn't have died so young, I'd still choose them and "our" time.  Why?  Because, like I mentioned earlier, you cannot explain a person, you have to experience them.  The love and connection I experienced with my heroes cannot be replaced, nor do I ever want to.

I am grateful I joined the TAPS team and have the opportunity to work among a community of survivors.  Each day I look forward to listening to their stories and being there for them. We cry. We laugh. It's not a judgmental place.  There isn't angst over how do I handle him or her?  Will I upset someone if I mention their loss or my own losses? We just share. TAPS opens that wonderful window of opportunity to feel safe, and it allows our loved ones' memories to echo the halls of the rooms they are spoken in and ring in the hearts of all those surrounding us eager to listen.  The light of hope shines on each one of us as we come together and listen to stories of triumph and survival. This brings a certain bit of healing and encouragement that keeps us moving forward. 

I love this community and hearing about the loved ones that these wonderful survivors have experienced. I may not have made it to the pros of the life I envisioned for myself, but I'm not taking a backseat to life either or sitting on the bench. I thank TAPS for the experience to come aboard and help the "surviving team" by mentoring and coaching along those that are just entering this world of grief.  Getting through this together as staff and survivors is no small victory! 

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2014 Volunteer Fairfax
Saturday Morning Message: Strategies for Coping with Grief

September 20, 2014

Good Morning,

In our culture, grief is not a topic widely discussed. So when the unthinkable happens, often the survivor finds that the feelings which accompany it are not understood by those around them. Alan Wolfelt, PhD wrote an article called The Journey through Grief that defines the difference between grief and mourning as well as how to cope with emotions that can come as we walk this path.

I, personally, find that being among others is the most helpful for me. I recognize the emotions when they come now. If I go to the stores, I am bound to run into someone I know as we live in a very small community.  The regular conversation with others can help take away that ache.

Volunteering for an organization that is special to you may be helpful.  The picture today shows  a woman devoting her time putting together TAPS resource kits to go out to new survivors. There may be an organization in your local area that contributes to others. It may  put you in touch with caring souls who may give you a lift and help in your healing as well.

Others may seek solitude. Whatever works for you is right. This week survivors have shared their ideas for coping with grief. Thank you to those who wrote and to all of you who read the Saturday Message.

A survivor wrote to ask this week's question: What do others do about vacations? It may be hard to think about a vacation after the death of a loved one even after many years. The things that you used to do might not hold that appeal now or you might find comfort being in a place cherished by your loved one. Each of us has a place that lifts the spirits, but sometimes a whole new experience is what is needed. Next week let's share what you have done or where you have gone to take a break which might give others some ideas for their own retreat.

If you would like to send a response to the question of the week or have a question and would like to read strategies used by other survivors. 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. It doesn't have to be a reply to the Saturday message. Sometimes just writing to someone is helpful.

Hugs,
Carol

From TAPS Survivors:

From Anne, mother of Michael: When feelings of grief come over me, I try to remember Michael in a positive way and then go out and do something for others to get me out of the sad feelings!  I am not saying that it always works, but I try very hard!  God love us all!

From Merry, mother of Wes:  I just spent a week on Lake Michigan where Wes had such a good time.  I create beauty in my sewing room. Sometimes it's very hard to even walk into that room to create, because the sadness stops me.  I do have plans to redecorate my office and it's going to be beautiful when I'm done.  I do a lot of talking to my Heavenly Father too and listen to EWTN on my computer.  Although I'm not Catholic, it helps to hear the Rosary and listen to programs on their site. LOTS of prayer.

From Joanne, spouse of Ken: When those unexpected feelings of grief pop up, I've tried to recognize them for what they are, which is an appropriate feeling of loss for someone I've loved. Then I try to replace those feelings with something specific, such as remembering my late husband's smile. I've found this quite comforting.  I also remind myself that these current grief feelings will never hurt as deeply as in the beginning and, now, they will subside.

From Diane, mother of Caleb: I wake up to those feelings every morning. Sometimes it is hard to get out of bed, but I make myself get up, get dressed and take Griz for a walk. It's imperative that I walk, otherwise the day is even more difficult. I listen to music while we walk, and look at the sky and the beauty of what is around me - all the while thinking how much more beautiful heaven where Caleb is. I feel like I'm sharing a glimpse of heaven when I see the beauty of creation - especially the sunrise or sunset.

Please note that there is a daytime chat on Thursday this coming week for those of you who can't make the evening ones.

General Support Chat
This chat is open for all survivors
Date: Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Time: 9 PM - 11 PM EST
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs

Daytime General Support Chat
This chat is open for all survivors
Date: Thursday, September 25, 2014
Time: 1 PM - 2:30 PM Eastern
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kellie Hazlett

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

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

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The New Normal
Beginning of the New Normal

~ Bob Bagosy, Survivor

September 15, 2014

On September 11, 2001, my children were young.  My oldest daughter, an attorney, was 29; she was to be married in November. My second daughter, a teacher, was 23; she was to be married in May. My oldest son was 19 and in his first year of college. My second son was 17 and a high school student; my youngest son was 12 and a grade school student. My wife and I were working within our professions. A dog and cat rounded out our normal middle class family in suburbia. We had no idea that our normal everyday life was about to turn into what we now call the new normal.

I have this memory of my wife and me with the three boys huddled on a bed watching the news of the terrorist attacks. Like all of America, we were stunned out of our complacency.  My wife and I understood that war had been declared on our country. With tears in my eyes, I looked at our three boys and understood that this would affect their lives for a long, long time. While my sons watched the attacks on TV, I watched them and their expressions. I realized that their seemingly lack of emotions were due to the technology era that had exploded during the 90s, and the realistic action movies where death and destruction were on TV on a regular basis, not real but  the perception of reality. So how did this tragedy match up with reality and our normal everyday life?    

 I started calling my family members to check on their safety and emotional wellbeing. I called my oldest who told us that her and soon to be husband had been in New York at the World Trade Center on September 9. They had dinner at the Windows of the World restaurant at the top of one of the towers. I called my older brother, who at the time, worked at the Newark International Airport in New Jersey. He told me he and his wife had watched the second plane hit the tower.

At time I worked for Chase Manhattan Bank.  My position in the company required me to work in Midtown Manhattan a couple days a week, and as a result this necessitated me to stay overnight at the Marriot hotel next to the World Trade Center. I would arrive in New York via the train which stopped at the World Trade Center. I would take the long escalator to check in at the Marriot and walk a few blocks to the Chase building. I was not in New York on September 11. I was scheduled for surgery in Delaware on September 12, so I too had a reality with this tragedy. It's as if we all had missed boarding the Titanic but still felt a kinship with those twin towers, and the people who had died there which has remained with us after thirteen years.

As for the Bagosy normal life, it pretty much continued until my son Tommy enlisted in the Marine Corps on June 5, 2004 at the age of nineteen. As a family, we all supported Tommy with his choice. Our family was proud of Tommy; we felt it was our family patriotic response to the safety of America. I watched as Tommy changed from a teenager to a mature Marine serving two combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and a deployment to Japan. Tommy got married and had two children. Tommy had reenlisted for another four years and was well on his way to a career in the Marine Corps.

We, as his family, did not see another change in Tommy that resulted from his combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  His wife did notice the changes and was working with Tommy's command at MARSOC and with the doctors. Tommy did not want us to know he was being treated for a TBI and PTSD- both as a result of combat. We did not know but our new normal was on its way. On May 10, 2010 Tommy completed suicide while on active duty at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

 Tommy is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

 We, his family, continue to live with this new normal.

 Semper Fi Tommy!

 

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Forest Path
Saturday Morning Message: Places that Remind Us of Our Loved Ones

September 13, 2014

Good Morning,

As we walk this path of grief, it may seem dark, but there are spots of light. We are those spots! As we share how we feel, we might bring a message of hope to others. When we read the thoughts of other survivors, we connect our feelings to those words. This week survivors shared their emotions when visiting or working in places that remind them of their loved one. Thank you to those who sent in replies. Hopefully, this week's responses will be a light for you.

There are times, no matter how long it has been, feelings of grief can, out of nowhere, creep into your heart. I thought that we could share some ideas on how you cope, so the question for this week is: What are some of the strategies you use to help you when those feelings of grief come over you?

I look forward to your replies as we walk this path together. With TAPS, you are never alone.

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

Hugs,
Carol

From TAPS Survivors:

From Leslie, mother of Eugene: There is a difference between grieving and healing. I know I will grieve till my last breath for my son. However, I had to give myself permission to heal in order to function, live, love and be a good person. Will I go to places that remind me of my son? I have tried to make new memories. I visit him at the cemetery for a good talk. But there are certain places I avoid, so I don't make myself miserable.

From Karl, father of Tre: This is a question that I myself always wonder about how others deal with it.  I never realized how past places would be so haunting to me, when in fact comforting to others.   When I go to my grief group I hear others say, "Oh I would never leave the house my child lived in." I sold the home and moved from the town where I lived when my son passed. The military called and asked where I wanted him buried. I immediately said TN, because that is where he was born and what I felt was 'home" instead of Arlington which is not a place of good memories for me since my son spent much time at Walter Reed. There is one place where my son stood on a rock that I go often to stare.  It is on the end of a sea wall on the Atlantic Ocean.  It was his last trip to the beach with me before he went to basic. I stare at that rock wishing he were still standing there. It is hard to leave this place as it holds good memories for me.

From Ruth, mother of Jim: As the years slip by I find myself more and more wanting to visit the places Jim loved.  I was saddened when they closed the grocery store where he worked when he was in high school.  People still tell us stories of Jim and his good friend and the antics they pulled while working there.  They were both let go and were told they would never amount to anything.  His friend became a doctor, and Jim became an attorney.

Jim loved the beach.  He visited there as often as possible.  I love to sit on the shore and see the same things he saw, and feel the same wind that ruffled his hair.

His high school is just down the road and I was so pleased to see his daughter walk across the same platform her dad did to get her diploma.  No, I do not find it hard to go to the places he went.  I find it welcoming and refreshing, a time to remember the days of carefree living.

The other day my granddaughter asked me to drive to all of the places we had lived. We have always lived in the same town. What a trip down memory lane.  We visited the house where we brought Jimmy home, grandma's house, the house we lived in when he started school, and the house we lived in when he graduated. We cried, we laughed, but more than anything my granddaughter learned how life once was.... she now can carry some of my special memories.

My motto has always been, it matters not how he died but how he lived.... He enjoyed life, friends and family.... and we loved Jim.

From Bob, father of Louis:  When we pass locations where Lou used to live, I feel a great sadness. I try to hide it from Vivian, but she is experiencing it as well and is trying to hide it so as to not sadden me. Nine years out and we find there is no patch for the hole in our heart.

From Mary-Ann, mother of Blake: I received a call from my daughter-in-law about Blake's death with a warning that we would be getting the visit that afternoon. I had been working on bill paying at the time the call came in. After that I thought it was odd that every time I tried to pay my bills, I'd get extremely nervous and jittery. I couldn't figure it out until someone mentioned "the triggers." All of a sudden it all made sense! I tried several things like telling myself, "It's not going to happen again." I also tried my bill paying at the kitchen table! Finally the idea came to me to do some rearranging of the furniture to see if that would help. It hasn't been a cure, but I seem to be able to sit at my desk a little longer and don't get the nervousness and jitters as much as I used to. I still shake enough that my writing and typing show it quite a bit. You can see the jitters in my writing and I am having to stop and correct many errors I didn't used to have before. I tend to hit either the wrong key or hit the key one more time than I need to! And I used to be a secretary for a number of years!

General Support Chat
This chat is open for all survivors
Date: Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Time: 9 PM - 11 PM EST
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs

Survivors of Suicide Loss Chat
Date: Thursday, September 18, 2014
Time: 9 PM - 11 PM Eastern
Hosted By: Kim Suggs and Carla Stumpf-Patton

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

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

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Never forget
FACING THE THIRTEENTH ANNIVERSARY OF 9/11: TAPS SHARES TIPS FOR FAMILIES OF THE FALLEN

September 11, 2014

The thirteenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States causes us all to remember that tragic day and may stir emotions for the thousands of people in the United States who are grieving the deaths of a loved one who died during the attacks now more than a decade ago.

The anniversary also poses an emotional challenge for the families of those with loved ones who died in the Global War on Terror in Iraq or Afghanistan, many of whom enlisted in the military, in part, due to the 9/11 attacks.

TAPS, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, offers the following tips to help the surviving families of our fallen:

Take charge of the anniversary date. Anticipating the date, can be worse than the actual day. Taking charge of your plans for the day and mapping out how you will spend your time can help relieve anxiety. 

Be sensitive to your reactions to images in the media related to the attacks. Documentaries and tributes will be more prevalent in the media around the anniversary of the attacks. Be gentle with yourself and aware of your emotional tempo when watching media coverage, especially graphic images. Children who may have been sheltered from the images at the time of the attacks may now be seeing the footage for the first time and exposed anew.

Make plans. Plan to spend the anniversary where you feel nurtured, emotionally safe, and comfortable. Having a plan will help you navigate the day and its events. But remember to plan for flexibility, as you may not know how your emotions will respond.

Take stock of both joy and sadness.   Give yourself permission to feel joy as well as sadness. Don't feel like you have to "be a certain way" because of your loss. Just be yourself.

Express your feelings. Bottling up your feelings may add to distress, not lessen it. To express your feelings, use your creativity to write a poem, talk with a supportive friend, create a painting, or pen a journal entry.

Make a memorial contribution or do something for someone else, in memory of your loved one. Consider making a donation to a charity in memory of your loved one. Give a gift on behalf of your loved one to someone else. Volunteer with a charity to do something that your loved one would have enjoyed or approved of.

Don't pretend you haven't experienced a loss. Imagining that nothing has happened does not make the pain of losing a loved one go away, nor does it make a difficult day easier to endure. Even though memories may be painful, they can be comforting when they include reflections on the joy your loved one brought to your life. It is ok to talk with others about what you have lost and what your loved one contributed to your life today.

Create a tribute.   Light a candle, display a favorite photograph, or set a place at the dinner table to represent the missing loved one. Consider writing a letter to your loved one and share your special memories and thoughts.

Avoid your grief triggers. For some, it is a smell. For others, it's an image that scrolls on television screens over and over. They are instant and visceral reminder of trauma and loss. If you know something is a trigger for your grief, then avoid the trigger as best as you can.

Be gentle with yourself.   Realize that certain sights, smells, and even tastes, may be comforting, or may jolt your emotions. Be careful with your emotions and listen to yourself.

Attend public functions if you can. Consider attending public functions, especially if you will be able to spend time with supportive family members and friends. Make an escape plan in case the event is more than you can handle, and trust your hosts to understand if you need to slip out. If you think a gathering might be more than you can bear, it is ok to stay home.

Reach out for support if you need it. The TAPS Resource & Information Helpline is available 24/7 at 800.959.TAPS (8277). Caring and trained professionals are available to talk with you confidentially by phone.

Realize that what helps you, may not help others in your family.   We each grieve differently, and have unique relationships with the person who died. What comforts you, may not help others in your family who experienced the same loss.

Pay attention to your health. Make sure you get regular rest and drink lots of water. Do not over-indulge in sweets or alcohol. If you feel overwhelmed, talk with your medical care provider.

Find sustenance for the soul.   Your church, synagogue, mosque, or other faith community may offer services, resources, and support networks for the bereaved. Families who have lost a loved one serving in the military may find comfort by connecting with other survivors through the TAPS online community, peer support groups, peer mentors, or care groups.

Video Interview with the Chronicle of Philanthropy: 9/11 Spurs Growing Demand for TAPS Services

USO On Patrol Magazine Interview: Survivor Supports Families in Wake of 9/11

About TAPS

The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) is the national organization providing compassionate care for the families of America's fallen military heroes. TAPS provides peer-based emotional support, grief and trauma resources, grief seminars and retreats for adults, Good Grief Camps for children, case work assistance, connections to community-based care, online and in-person care groups, and a 24/7 resource and information helpline for all who have been affected by a death in the Armed Forces. Services are provided free of charge. TAPS has offered support to more than 40,000 surviving family members of our fallen military and their caregivers since 1994. For more information go to www.taps.org or call the toll-free help line at 1.800.959.TAPS (8277).

 

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Peggy's picture
Remembering My Son- A Dear Mother's Reflection

~ Peggy Scallorn, Survivor

September 8, 2014

Cody Allen Scallorn

15 June 1993 to 2 January 2012

 

Cody started his life out with an uphill battle. He was born eight weeks premature and showed from the very beginning of life that he was a fighter. He was so small and fragile. I wanted nothing more in life than to protect him. I had no idea what greatness lay ahead for Cody. He was our first born child of three children and our only son. He had these piercing blue eyes and bright blonde hair while growing up. He certainly knew how to keep smiles on the faces of those around him. He was a happy child for sure. He made others laugh by his goofiness like when he would throw the guts of the pumpkins out on to the dogs while we were helping him carve his pumpkin! At an early age though Cody showed such compassion for others and loved unconditionally.

Cody, at the age of ten, had always wanted to be part of something greater in life. His compassion and willingness to serve others led him in the direction of wanting to serve in the United States Air Force. During his high school career he participated in the JROTC program and excelled in it. He knew at that point that he wanted to join the military and went into an early enlistment program at the age of seventeen.

He worked hard at school and had a part time job throughout high school. He was liked well by all and showed far more compassion for others in life than most adults do. He inspired and encouraged those around him to become better people and to follow their dreams in life no matter how big or small. Cody may have had a short time here to grace this earth but made an impact on those who were placed in his path.

His hard work and dedication paid off. He completed and graduated high school an entire year early to pursue his dream of becoming an airman. Cody left July 5, 2011 for basic training to Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas. He completed boot camp and technical school in the field of security forces. Upon technical school graduation he came home on leave to spend time with his family and friends.

On December 31, 2011 Cody came home after being out with some friends. He said he had received a call from his commander and had to go back to his base earlier than expected. He had to leave the next day. I was so upset that night as I was not ready for him to go back. I gave my son his last hug on January 1, 2012 before he left to leave to drive back to Texas. Unfortunately, the morning of January 2, 2012 my son took his own life at the age of eighteen. After an investigation into my son's suicide, we found that he had gotten himself into some minor legal trouble unbeknownst to us. Cody had never been in trouble before this incident, and we know that the last phone call to my son was from his commander within minutes before my son completed suicide. No drugs or alcohol played a part in my son's death, and there were no warnings before his suicide. It is believed that Cody took his life out of fear of possibly losing his career in the military. It should have been the military's first and foremost responsibility for Cody to make it back to Lackland AFB safely.

Hearing the words that our son was found after he had been missing for two days and that he had taken his own life brought me literally to my knees. My breath was taken from me and I could not even begin to comprehend the reality. My son loved us all so very much. How could he do this to us? Why? Those questions haunted me for at least a year into my grief journey along with a million others. I felt like I must have failed my child in order for this to have happened. I was naïve to suicide thinking that things like this don't happen to families like ours. I was uneducated about suicide before my son's death and even more so about the high suicide rate among veterans and active military. In 2012 alone over 349 soldiers took their own lives which averages to one every 25 hours. A staggering epidemic that has been plaguing our military in the past several years. It is estimated 22 veterans a day take their own lives as well.

Immediately after my son's suicide I felt very alone on my journey. Just trying to function day to day proved to be quite difficult as all I could concentrate on was my last moments with my son and the last moments that we shared as a family of five. My family dynamics were forever changed. I no longer had a living son and that was a very hard thing to come to terms with. I went through denial for quite a while as it was easier to pretend that Cody was away at the base. I tried to stuff down my emotions on a daily basis only to have complete meltdowns. I couldn't concentrate even on a simple task or conversation. Life had become almost unbearable to live. It was hard to be the wife and mother to my two daughters as my grief consumed my whole being.

About four months after my son's death, I was on a mission to find someone who had gone through a similar situation as mine. I was desperate to find a connection with others who had experienced a military suicide. That is when I found TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors). TAPS is a not-for-profit organization that was founded by Bonnie Carroll in 1994 after she had lost her husband in a military plane crash in Alaska in 1992. It is a peer-based support system that provides 24/7 emotional grief support and resources for all those who have lost a loved one in the military regardless of relationship or manner of death, including suicide. TAPS was where I could openly expressed my emotions and love for Cody and the immense grief I was feeling. It is also where I received the emotional support, love and understanding of my loss. TAPS offers seminars, retreats and Good Grief Camps for children. My husband and I have been able to attend two seminars; one was specifically for suicide and my daughters were able to attend the Good Grief Camp. These seminars are so helpful as they offer many different workshops pertaining to your grief and journey. Since I came to TAPS in May 2012, I have been able to not only receive help for myself in my grief journey but also have been able to provide emotional support and understanding of the newly bereaved as well. I recently completed the training in November 2013 to become a peer mentor for TAPS. It is an honor to be able to give back what has been given to me and my family. I have also done a national radio interview on military suicides as well as help bring awareness to this subject back in December 2012. Cody's picture has adorned the "Love Never Dies" quilt the past two years which is used throughout the state of Tennessee in awareness and prevention programs for suicide.

It has now been a little over two years since Cody took his life. I have learned that the pain of losing him to suicide will always be there, but the pain changes as the time passes. I am able to look forward in my future with my daughters and husband and I hold on to hope. I am not the same person I was prior to Cody's death, and I used to long for the woman I used to be but have learned to accept who I have now become. I have found joy in my life again, and I am grateful for all of the small moments I have with my family. We are all survivors on our own separate journey. My life mission is to continue to keep his memory alive, bring awareness to others of suicide and hope to those of us who are living through the loss.

 

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Saturday Morning
Saturday Morning Message: TAPS Events

September 6, 2014

"The words of kindness are more healing to a drooping heart than balm or honey." Sarah Fielding

Good Morning,

When you walk into a TAPS event, you are met with smiles and words of comfort which bring warmth to the heart even in the midst of grief. In a past TAPS magazine article, I Knew I Was Picking the Right Table, Sarah Greene surviving spouse of Marine Lieutenant Colonel David S. Greene wrote a wonderful article that focuses on the feelings she had when she went to a TAPS event for the first time and found strangers who understood her emotions and became friends hugging each other for comfort.

TAPS offers seminars and retreats to provide connections with other survivors . In addition, TAPS is introducing one day events with the upcoming Camp Pendleton Family Reunion  September 14th. Whatever your comfort level, there is something for you at TAPS.

Regional seminars as well as the National Seminar over Memorial Day weekend are open to all survivors and include speakers, workshops, and some activities to share with your family or enjoy yourself. There is also a Good Grief Camp for children. In this camp, younger members of the family can participate in activities that are age appropriate and are matched with a mentor who is a military member. This provides them a companion for the weekend to help them cope with the loss. There is also one seminar each year providing support to survivors of suicide.

A retreat is created around a group activity which includes survivors who had a specific relationship to their loved one. There are two more scheduled for this year.

New this year as well are retreats for men and women no matter the relationship to their loved one. The Men's Retreat was in Montana at the end of August and  the Savannah Women's Retreat  is coming up on November 19th - 23rd.

You can always find a list of all the events at the TAPS Events Calendar.

If you are interested in what other survivors wrote about their experiences at a TAPS event, read Attending TAPS Events: Encouragement for the Newcomer.

You may find that you would like to meet others from the comfort of your own home. TAPS offers chat sessions. There are no specific discussion topics for each one. Survivors come in, catch up with each other, ask a question, or just read the conversation.  It is another way to connect that many find supportive. Stay as long as you like. This week there are three chats for survivors. If you are unclear how to come into a chat, please feel free to send me an email.

Several weeks ago there was a question about working at or visiting a place that brings back memories of a loved one. I thought I would open this question once more and have a chance to post more replies. The question is: What are your feelings about working at or visiting a place that reminds you of your loved one? I look forward to your responses.

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

Hugs,

Carol

This week's chat schedule:

Parent Chat
Date: Monday, September 8, 2014
Time: 9 PM - 11 PM EST
Hosted By: Carol Lane, Ron and Mary Johnson

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

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

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

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

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Woods - Autumn
Saturday Morning Message: Life Changes

August 30, 2014

Good Morning,

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

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

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

Hugs,
Carol

From TAPS Survivors:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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