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Happy Thanksgiving

November 26, 2015

This Thanksgiving across our great nation, millions are honoring the tradition of gratitude for our country, our freedoms, and the values which give each of us a life of meaning and purpose. At many of these tables, TAPS knows there are chairs vacant at which a hero who helped preserve this day and our American way of life sat. Their memory is infused into every small moment of the day and their absence is as palatable as the meal we partake in. 

No matter how many years pass each of us will still recall our hero's preference for apple, pumpkin, or pecan pie, the spot of gravy that inevitably ended up their shirt, and how many helpings they went back for before the tryptophan kicked in. They are everywhere, in all the "little whiles" of Thanksgiving . . . and they always should be. They helped shape the traditions each of us hold dear this holiday and generations from now because such heroes lived the legacy of freedom, love, and gratitude will never die.

So to all our TAPS Family, we wish each of you a day filled with the best of memories that bring smiles before tears, moments which allow you to openly acknowledge your hero still has as much a place at your table as in your hearts, the peace of knowing you are never alone, and the knowledge that we are thankful your hero lived.  Happy Thanksgiving.

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Happy Thanksgiving?

~ Michele Hiester Marcum, Survivor

November 25, 2015

Ever notice how holiday greetings begin with “happy”? Happy Thanksgiving! Happy Holidays! Happy New Year! And whether you celebrate Hanukkah or Christmas, they, too, are paired with “Happy” and “Merry”. Even ordinary days like Friday become Happy Friday! It seems everyone is full of cheer.

Back in the 80s, Bobby McFerrin had a song advising us, Don’t Worry… Be Happy, and just this last year, Pharrell Williams released a ditty dedicated to (and appropriately named) Happy. Personally, I’ve endured both songs enough to last me a lifetime. It’s not that I’m adverse to all this celebrated joy and contentment. It’s just sometimes all this purported happiness is enough to shove mildly sad thoughts right into the realm of miserable.

Generally speaking, I am a fairly happy person. Not the kind of exuberance that pops champagne corks and dances in the aisles variety, but more the contented, introspective kind of happy that can be found in promising sunrises, children’s contagious laughter, cozy fires, and crisp autumn air. It’s the simple things in life that bring me the greatest pleasure. Holidays, however, have increasingly lost their simplicity, and I find if I’m not careful, the chaos and busyness of the season can really overwhelm me.

My seasonal calendar today looks quite different than the pre-TAPS version, back when my brother still joined us for holiday meals and I didn’t even know what tragedy really was. Through trial and error over the years, I’ve learned how a good dose of solitude and reflection during this season can significantly boost my personal contentment.  It’s difficult for me to find my “happy” when I don’t allow myself space in the schedule to pause, contemplate, and simply breathe.

But that’s just me. What makes me happy may be completely different than what brings fulfillment to others. The thing I’ve learned is that seeking happiness is not only defined differently by different people, but it is very much a choice. It doesn’t mean in the midst of oppressive grief, one says, “I’m going to be happy,” and a genie swishes her wand, removing every ounce of misery and heartache. It’s more like a voice which whispers, “This really sucks, but I’m going to push through.” Happiness doesn’t mean we approve of the circumstances or enjoy the process, because if that were the case, I could never, ever be happy again. marcumturkeyday

I will be honest and confess, though, this year is especially rough for me. My brother has been gone for ten years now and while I still hate this fact, I found happiness along the way. But five months ago my mom joined him, which means I’ll be coordinating Thanksgiving this year, wrangling the turkey, hunting down recipes, teaching myself to be the hostess Mom has always been. I’m exhausted, I’m frustrated, I’m sad, and I’m anything but happy about the situation, because I can’t bear the thought of facing another empty chair.

But I’m thankful, too. I have a home full of love, friends who mean the world to me, and a lifetime of sacred memories with those I’ve lost. This season, I’m most grateful for the ability to choose whether I pair the Happy with Thanksgiving. In the end, it won’t matter whether the turkey is dry, the gravy is lumpy, or the pumpkin pie even gets made. What matters most is I’ll be with the people who understand me and love me unconditionally, whether I’m happy or not.

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27 Memories for 27 Years That Linger Bringing Joy to My Life

~ Linda Ambard , Survivor

November 23, 2015


  1. Eloping to Reno, NV on November 27, 1988, three days after Thanksgiving. Phil was upset Thanksgiving because of how my father was treating me (I was the first person EVER to get divorced in our family—total ostracization.) Phil didn’t care how people treated him, but it bothered him if people messed with me. As we drove back to Mountain Home Air Force Base (MHAFB) from Boise, Phil said, “We should get married.” We had already covered that ground…my answer was always yes. This time, he added, “as soon as possible.” He picked me up from work (I worked all night long at the gas station) and he thought we would drive to Jackpot. Getting married wasn’t that easy. Apparently one needs a wedding license from Wells, NV. We arrived at the courthouse 15 minutes late. We drove on to Reno. Did I mention there was a raging snowstorm and we arrived back at MHAFB one hour before Phil was supposed to start the NCO prep school? 
  2. The total shock people expressed and still show over the two of us eloping =’s priceless. People assumed I was pregnant.  I was not.  I just knew I was better with Phil than apart and he made my life exciting and full.  For two super traditional reliable people, we did it right.
  3. Lagoon- Our first real date. He asked me out 19 times before I finally said yes.  I wasn’t counting and it had become a game to me, but he was keeping track.  It wasn’t until he told me he wouldn’t ask me out again if I said no that I had a wake-up call.  Phil was a chicken to touch me. He kept waiting for me to make the first move—as if! I am very old fashioned. After sitting close to each other on all of the rides, he finally kissed me—Fireworks.
  4. The first time we ran together was the last time we ran together for 22 years. It crushed Phil’s ego he couldn’t outdo me here. Laugh.
  5. Working to have Alex and Tiger. The prayer was for two children, but the chances were 5% for one child in the first year after having major surgery to have them. I had my tubes tied after the oldest three.  While we were okay with being mom and dad to Patrick, Josh, and Emily, I looked at what a great father Phil was and knew I wanted to grow our family.  Alex and Tiger made us one big family.  I loved the size of our family and the fact Phil never once referred to any of the children as step anything, nor did they refer to him as step-dad.  He was dad.  I super love that all the kids got angry the media referred to them as stepchildren.  It still makes my heart swell to remember them messaging the media to knock it off because their father had never referred to them that way.  My children are brothers and sisters.  One for all, and all for one.  There is no halfsies.
  6. Finally getting orders to leave MHAFB and the gossip mill. We were so excited to be going anywhere—even Holloman AFB!
  7. The day we were all a family-Patrick, Josh, Alex, and Emily (before Tiger came along).
  8. Driving across the country to move to Germany the first time. We never had money for a vacation. We made it into such an adventure. Gerbert music played non-stop in the car. 
  9. Arriving in Washington, D.C. on the above trip and having everyone get really sick. Tiger threw up in front of the White House.
  10. Living in billeting for three months until we got our apartment in Landstuhl and then Phil deploying for six months right afterwards. I was living the dream in terms of being close enough to travel to so many countries. Our children toured Europe by scouting, sports, school trips (Paris for a week in the 6th grade, Amsterdam for a week in the 7th, London for a week in the 8th grade…), and Club Beyond. We lived in Europe for 8 years as a family and loved it!
  11. The Landstuhl Allwetterbad. Phil used to bring the boys every night after work. I worked there part time. He would come to all of the baby classes and we would use the boys to demonstrate the skills. Emily was on swim team. We bonded over smelling like chlorine. Chlorine still makes my heart go pitter patter.
  12. Reading to the children. We would lay on the king sized bed where I would read for two hours every night. Phil would come in and sit or lie next to us and just listen. He always said he liked the voices I made as I read the different characters.
  13. Meeting Phil in Southern France where he was on temporary duty (TDY) as an interpreter. We put the kids in sleeping bags and we toured all of southern France as a family. To this day, none of us can eat chocolate croissants!
  14. Coaching soccer. Phil and I coached together for many, many years.  It started as a way to get free soccer for our youngest two children and our oldest son, but we both learned to love the game. 
  15. The day Phil found out he was selected for Officer Training School (OTS). He wanted his commission so badly. He was tired of living in poverty. He was so proud…we were so proud.  I was at work in a meeting when I was told I had an important phone call.  My staff probably still talk about my reaction.  There I was jumping up and down and squealing like a little girl.  It meant leaving Europe and the first real job I had since becoming a mother, but it was everything Phil had worked toward.
  16. Two months after Phil found out about OTS and we found out that our oldest received an appointment to the Air Force Academy. Phil finally felt like people wouldn’t see us as trailer court trash.  One of the things about being a staff sergeant select with five children ages ten and under, people assumed they could tell us about birth control, make jokes about getting a television, or make judgments about whether we were on welfare—we were not because Phil didn’t believe in it because he grew up in a country that didn’t have it. 
  17. Finding our family dog in Bitburg. Tiger had been praying for a dog. We felt we didn’t need a dog on top of five children at home. I was running in the farm fields of Germany in the pouring rain just after the bases closed to anyone but authorized personnel. I see this dog standing in a cage barking. I ran by wondering about it. A half a mile later, I turned around and picked up the cage. She had been abandoned 8 miles out. I thought I would drag her to the base and give her to the vet clinic. By the time I got back to the base, I had her named. She was my dog. I remember calling Phil from the Youth Center and asking him to pick up some dog food. He said to me, “Linda, what have you done?” He showed up to get me from work and the dog ran right over to him wagging her tail—smart dog!
  18. Mallorca after Phil’s OTS and before his school. He had 9 days off. He flew in and we flew out within hours. Reconnecting on the beach was wonderful. I remember my boss telling me that if the Air Force inspectors walked in, he wouldn’t be able to give me the time off.  I remember knowing that I would quit if need be. We spent 15 out of 18 months apart then due to TDY, OTS, and training after OTS.  In the end, I didn’t have to quit, but it was the first time I recognized that sometimes people are more important than any job.
  19. Ireland-going to Ireland with the youngest three. Even Phil wanted to be Irish when we were done. Emily was cranky because she only saw old people on the trip. We made jokes about leaving her at the nunnery.  We were on a bus tour and we were the only Americans. We had so much time together.
  20. Our first cruise. Phil loved that he could eat as much as he wanted at every meal. What most people didn’t know is he always over-ate on cruises and gained 10-15 pounds, but then he would work out like a fiend.
  21. Phil was on a classic reading phase when he died. Phil was never much of a reader, but he made it through Wuthering Heights, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Hunger Games series, and he was starting Sense and Sensibility (his choice).
  22. The day we went to Parent Weekend for Patrick and someone called to ask if Phil could come and talk to the department chair. Phil thought he was in trouble because he had showed up to the Parent Weekend in his only pair of jeans. We didn’t realize what a big deal it was.  Every other person was in uniform.  When the department chair tapped his shoulder and asked to speak with him, he went white with fear.  Next thing we knew, Phil was selected for an Air Force Institute of Technology sponsored master’s degree. Eventually he got an AFIT sponsored PhD. I am so thankful for that extra time he had with us and that we were in Colorado Springs for nine years.
  23. Buying our first house-Phil felt like we had finally made it when we got our first house and we moved off base. We had the house in the right neighborhood and it was big. Phil was so proud. He wanted this house. I caved in even though it wasn’t my dream home.
  24. Phil’s one and only marathon. I goaded him into running the Mesa Falls Marathon. He swore he would never again run another unless it was the Paris Marathon. I guess he will always have Mesa Falls.
  25. Family Holiday Meals-Phil loved the traditional family meals and rituals. He would never stop eating or talking about them (maybe because once I started back to work this didn’t happen every night?)
  26. Planning for the Venice Cruise-We had never been away from our children since day one. When Phil got to Afghanistan, he wanted that romantic trip. He wanted to talk about this trip every phone call.  One thing I am thankful for is he died still having that dream vacation he hoped for.
  27. The white hankie-Phil made me laugh a lot. When he would mess up, and he would say that it was often (not really), Phil would wave a white hankie, Kleenex, tee shirt, etc. or he would tie it to the antenna of the car. It worked each and every time. I laughed and all was forgiven.  He was funny and few knew it.  He would use all of his languages to chase me all over the house.  He could make me laugh no matter what else was going on in our lives.  I think the laughter is one of the things I miss the most.

I am thankful that Phil taught me what it was to be loved well and how to love well. Our last face to face conversation is a testament to being loved well.  Phil was supposed to deploy December 24th, but a freak blizzard shut down all of the major airports in Europe for almost a week. This allowed him to spend Christmas with his family and it delayed his reporting until January 11th.  Phil’s last Christmas gift to me was the Goofy Challenge at Disney World.  It was supposed to be to get through the first few days, but it ended up with me missing his last weekend at home. I offered to defer, skip, or for him to come with me.  He insisted I go so he could spend one last weekend with our baby.

I came home about midnight.  The cab was set to pick him up at 0330 hours.  We spent those hours just being together and talking.  As the time drew near for him to leave, he insisted on the what if conversation.  I wanted nothing to do with it.  I made jokes about Raul the Pool Boy.  We did not have a pool, nor did I know any Rauls.  He got exasperated and stopped me with one question—“Linda, if you die first, would you want me to be happy again?”  Well—duh.  He loved me enough to give me the gift of knowing no matter what, in life and in death, what we had was pretty darn special.  I am thankful for the man who loved me well for what would have been 27 years on the 27th.  

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Carol's Turkey Pin
Saturday Morning Message: Thankful for TAPS

November 21, 2015

Good Morning,

This is a picture of a turkey pin a friend made for me. I thought it would bring a smile to you as it is so colorful and cute. Friendships are important to me. We laugh and cry together. Through TAPS, I have made friendships when I attend seminars, events, and correspond with everyone who responds and/or reads the Saturday Morning Message. I am thankful for this organization because even though the reason we were brought together was not something wanted, we came together and formed a connection that is strong, and for that I will be forever grateful.

Last week, survivors were asked to write a bit about the TAPS program that most affected them, so this week's topic could center around thanking TAPS. There were many replies this week and so many programs were cited. TAPS has a variety of programs since everyone's grief journey is different, but there is something that should appeal to everyone. To see all the programs that TAPS offers, go to www.taps.org.

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

The holiday season can be difficult, and it may be helpful to share ideas with each other. The question is: What have you done or are planning to do to make this season less stressful for you?

♫ Song for the Week

"You'll Never Walk Alone" - Johnny Maestro

This week's song, "You'll Never Walk Alone" by Johnny Maestro, was sent by Mary, mother of David. She wrote, "The first time I heard this song after our son's passing, it took a new meaning for me. I felt like my son was saying,'You will be going through difficult times now that I am not here with you, but I want you to be strong and hold your head up high and know, Mom, that we will meet again. And when we do, the sky will be golden and beautiful once again for you. I know you will have challenges and at times you will want to give up, but don't. Mom, walk with hope in your heart and know that I will be right beside you. God and I are here with you - you will never walk alone.' So every time I hear this song, it lifts me up and I know I have to be strong, for my son and God are with me."

I want to thank Andy, father of Daniel, who makes a playlist of the songs that appear in the Saturday Morning Messages along with a few other songs special to him. It is called  TAPS Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors Playlist - Suggested Memories of Love. To hear it, you need to download a free program called Spotify.

Answers from Survivors

From Leslie, mother of Eugene: I finally went to a TAPS event. It was wonderful! It was this past Labor Day weekend at the US Open tennis match. My son and I watched tennis matches on TV. We thought we would get to a live match one day, but it never happened. It was fabulous being with a group of parents and not having to explain myself. We had all suffered a loss. We all needed this day. We needed a little pampering. We needed to bring our kids to these matches and not have anyone think we were nuts. It was a great day!

From Annie, mother of Michael: The TAPS program that I felt helped me the most after I lost my sweet son, Michael, was the Peer Mentor program. It was most helpful to me to help others who have gone through losses. As I go through my daily walk of life, I try to be kind to people who I meet by having a smile on my face and a positive attitude! The one thing to learn is to take very good care of yourself because if you don't you cannot help others!

From Merry, mother of Wesley: Oh, the program that has affected me the most!

First, the TAPS Chat Room saved my life during the first year of trying to cope. I would not have survived as well if it weren't for that connection.

Attending the National Military Suicide Survivor Seminar this past October was so healing for me. Since Wes's anniversary date falls in the month of October, I will try to attend the suicide seminar every year, no matter where it is held. There are tears and laughter and just being with families who have all suffered the same situation is very comforting. I met a couple at the Saturday night dinner and we ended up coloring the artwork on the tables while singing to the music provided by the band. How very simple and yet very sweet!

From Mary-Ann, mother of Blake: I'd say the most helpful program TAPS provided would be a toss up between all the support I received from the Saturday Morning Message at the beginning of my journey and my first seminar. Both Carol and Darcie were Heaven sent when it came to making me realize what I was going through was normal! I couldn't think straight, couldn't sleep, shook all the time, didn't want to eat, etc.! Realizing what I was feeling was to be expected made me feel somewhat confident that I was not going crazy!

From Thais, mother of Dwayne: I would have to say the survival box with the stress ball, the first TAPS Magazine, the flip booklet with suggestions on how to help yourself at difficult times during your grief journey, the great fragrance candle, the TAPS pin which I pinned on my driving cap, the journal, and writing pen. Most of all, the many volunteers who share their time and talents.

From Ed, father of Edward: The Tuesday evening survivors TAPS chats are what helped me the most. It allowed me to say things I am afraid to say to others outside the chat group. It reminds me I am not alone and that it is all right to cry. I also want to thank those at TAPS who provided tickets for my wife and me to see Celtic Woman.

Upcoming Chats

General Support Chat - Coping with the Holidays 
Date: Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Time: 8:30 PM - 11 PM Eastern
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs

Daytime General Support Chat 
Date: Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Time: 1 PM - 2:30 PM Eastern
Hosted By: 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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A Shared Grief

November 19, 2015

November 19th is Children's Grief Awareness Day.  Today and every day, TAPS is dedicated to the mission of caring for our nation's tiny heroes whose loved ones died while serving our country.  TAPS is able to give the level of care we do in our Good Grief Camps across the country because of the wonderful support of friends like the New York Life Foundation.  We're grateful for the dedication they've given to ensuring no child grieves alone in their generosity to TAPS and by helping launch the Shared Grief Project.

Childhood bereavement is surprisingly common: 1 in 20 children in the U.S. will lose a parent before the age of 16, and the vast majority of children experience the death of a family member or friend by the time they complete high school. Children often struggle under grief’s burden, facing social, academic, behavioral, and psychological challenges in the aftermath of a loss.  Too many children have faced this grief journey alone with feelings that make them feel isolated and with no one to share the deepest thoughts of their small but brave hearts.

The Shared Grief Project ensures a world where no child feels they are alone in their grief or that no one understands their loss.  Through shared stories, people who have faced similar losses let kids know even though your loved one is always a part of you and always missed, you can go on to live extraordinary lives.  Participants in the project include Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, pro athletes Gabrielle Reece and John Wall, singer Sean Combs, and talk show host Stephen Colbert.

On this day and every day it's important to support children of our nation's fallen heroes.  We thank those taking part in the Shared Grief Project for their willingness to talk open and honestly about their own loss of a loved one and helping our tiny heroes know, they are never alone.   

If ever there is tomorrow when we're not together... there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we're apart... I'll always be with you. 

~ A.A. Milne

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Anxiety? What Anxiety?

~ Jenna Henderson, Survivor

November 18, 2015

Eight and a half years after Chris’ death in Afghanistan, had anyone told me I would be still struggling to find a sense of normalcy, I would have laughed at him or her. Had anyone told me I would be struggling with anxiety some days that almost swallows me whole in one gulp, I would not have believed it. Up until two years ago, I had never had an ounce of anxiety or experienced anxiety or panic attacks in my life, not even for Chris’ funeral or burial (remember many of us go into frozen and get it done mode). 

Over the years, I got caught up in the belief grief gets better with time even after having been told this is not the case in many group sessions through various organizations.  I managed to convince myself I would somehow return to a sense of normalcy after the five-year mark. Boy was I WRONG! Today almost nine years after Chris’ death, I struggle with strong anxiety and panic attacks that started about two years ago.  They didn’t start in the beginning after Chris’ death when one would think they would. After all the crappy stuff only happens to us in the beginning right after they die right? Yep you guessed it. That’s another one of those huge grief myths. For me the anxiety crept into my life slowly and took a deep root so that by the time I realized it was there, it had such a strong hold it almost suffocated me. I was afraid to reach out for help and admit after having pulled myself up by my bootstraps for so long I was now unable to do that any longer on my own. I mean really do I want to be seen as the crazy widow.  “Anxiety . . . What anxiety?!?” . . . is basically what I told myself for a couple of years.

The truth is I am not crazy. I am not alone. There are so many of us going through the very same thing years out after our loved one’s death, (yet we are so afraid to tell others). The truth is it’s okay as long as we don’t let it defeat us.    

I did end up reaching out for help because I refused to give up. I refused to let my anxiety and isolation swallow me whole. I am starting to allow others to help me hold the other side of my bootstrap up while I continue to hold one side. Over time I know I will be able to hold both straps up again but for now it’s okay to have help. It’s okay for me to be back in counseling and working hard on the anxiety and isolation. It’s okay for me to be working with a health and wellness coach set up by military one source because I now want to do a 13-mile memorial hike in April. It’s okay for me to be speaking to a career and education counselor through Military OneSource (thanks TAPS for directing me there) so I can figure out how to best help others in some sort of sports therapy realm. It’s okay for me to start making a new normal again . . . almost nine years out.

What I have found out is in the grief world, I am my own kind of new normal but I am not alone. I struggle with not having a sense of purpose. I struggle with finding purpose of helping others within the world. I struggle with only being known as my daughter’s mother or my niece’s aunt. I struggle with having isolated myself due to anxiety and making myself get back out into the real world. I struggle now with so many things I didn’t think I would have to being this many years out. The fact I have learned I am not alone is what gives me hope.

If there were one point I could convey to others struggling with their grief it would be this. There is no normal. The normal you once knew is gone. It’s gone forever. It’s okay to admit that to yourself. Yes there may be a new sense of normalcy but only YOU can define what that is. Don’t be afraid to ask for help in getting there either. The new normal will come with its own set of challenges and obstacles. The new normal may come and go and you may have to find two or three sets of new normal for you and that’s okay. As long as you keep picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, and driving on (sorry for the Army term there) then it will be okay. I have no doubt one day with continued counseling and help that I can say “Anxiety . . . What anxiety?” and it not be in a denial state but rather a conquered state! 

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Claire's Dog with a Football
Saturday Morning Message: God Winks

November 14, 2015

Good Morning,

The fall season is when the weather gets cooler and it's time to play football. Here is a picture of the beloved dog of a TAPS team member and her football. Doesn't it just make you want to play toss with her?

My son, Bryon, taught me to like football, which he played in high school. There were two connections to the Saturday Morning Message I made as I watched my favorite team play last weekend. The first connection was when a player got knocked down and didn't get up right away, and a whole group of people came to help him. Isn't that a lot like the work TAPS does for those who are grieving? Grief knocks us down and it is hard to get back up without support. The people at TAPS are there to assist us through the work in seminars, retreats, the online community, and many other ways that provide unique support for each of us. In that way, we are never alone. This is why I picked the question of the week asking which TAPS program has most affected you.

As I continued to watch the game, I thought about God winks. I noticed how many times players from both sides wearing the number 76 came in front of the screen - more than any other number. Bryon's football number was 76. I consider that a God wink. He was probably teasing me about my addiction to football or just telling me he was there.

On the TAPS Facebook page recently, there was an article called "5 Signs a Deceased Loved One Is Nearby." There wasn't anything written about football numbers appearing frequently on the TV screen, but I think there was definitely a connection while I was watching. Please enjoy the comments that came in this week about God winks, including the one for the song of the week. Thanks to all who contribute and/or read the Saturday Morning Message. You make it one of the ways TAPS supports survivors on our grief journeys.

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. In order to have your reply included in the week's Saturday Morning Message, it is best to send them to me by Tuesday of the following week. 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

Continuing on with the thought about the many ways TAPS assists us, the question for the week is: What TAPS program has most affected you and why? I look forward to your answers.

♫ Song for the Week

The song of the week, "Whenever, Wherever, Whatever" by Maxwell, comes from Karen Morgan, spouse of Charlie. Karen wrote, "This song is special to me because it was the first song Charlie picked for me. She would play it for me all the time during the first couple of years we were together. As soon as I hear it, I feel her presence. One day after she died, this CD kept falling out of the car visor into my lap as I was driving. I got really frustrated with it before I finally I put it into the CD player, and this song came on. It made me laugh and cry all at once - I missed her so much. After listening to the song, I put the CD back into the visor, and it's never fallen out since then. It was definitely a God wink."

Answers from Survivors

Donna, mother of Rob: We found out at 12:45 p.m., Tuesday, July 23, 2013 that our son Rob was killed while serving in Afghanistan, a parent's worst nightmare. The next day we were on a plane heading to Dover to receive our son. As we were in Dover, my phone rang and it was my friend Debbie who lived in Philadelphia. She was on her way to Dover to meet us. She had no idea if they would let her in but she was coming. She was allowed on the base and they brought her to us. Our youngest son was with us. He had been so quiet since we were told about Rob dying. As soon as he saw Debbie, he started opening up to her. The next day we were on our way back home and we had a layover in Chicago. Another friend who was going to sing at the funeral called me. She was at the Chicago airport. She was at the next gate.  I couldn't believe it, She ran to my gate and just embraced me. We cried together and then she had to go catch her flight.

This was my wink from God. I didn't realize it at that time, but today I truly believe it was Rob helping me get through my day.

Kim, spouse of Milton: Milton was always a procrastinator. He had installed a light on our staircase but it did not work. When I would ask him about it he would always tell me, "I will get to it one day."

When his personal effects were delivered to our home after his death I decided to place them upstairs. When that same light switch was turned on, the lights came on over the staircase and still work to this day. I guess he finally did "get to it one day." 

Upcoming Chats

General Support Chat
Date: Tuesday, November 17, 2015
Time: 8:30 PM - 11 PM Eastern
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs

Survivors of Suicide Loss Chat 
Date: Thursday, November 19, 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.

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How Proud You Were to Fight for Freedoms in This Land

~ Linda Ambard, Survivor

November 11, 2015

As I ran yesterday morning, a song I often affiliated with my Phil began to waft through my head phones. “I could see it in your eyes how proud you were to fight for freedom in our land.” Phil never took for granted the freedoms afforded to him by the citizenship he received to our country a week shy of his 18th birthday. He felt civic duty to serve and to vote. While he was not a combatant in any sense of the word, he proudly donned the United States Air Force uniform every day of his working adult life (he enlisted when he was 18).  Many others have worn the uniform or are wearing the uniform because they feel a sense of duty, loyalty, and love for all that this country offers.  They simply stand for something beyond themselves.

As a nation, we have grown complacent in our freedoms and the responsibilities we carry to maintain those freedoms. We fail to feel a sense of compassion, empathy, or responsibility to our fellow world travelers. We look only to our needs. We forget the oppressed or the people who can’t give us something in return for our actions. Would we even recognize the hurting person standing next to us? The want or need of another human. Sometimes that need is to be touched. To be talked to. To be heard.

When I hear our country's national anthem, I picture a dirty and spent Francis Scott Key sitting in a boat buffeted by the crashing waves. I hear the loud cannons and the pops of guns around him. I smell the acrid gunpowder as it lingers in the fray of the midnight sky. I see men in tattered rags holding weapons and pressing on for the freedoms that they believed in. A society they coveted. While the war raged on and the skies filled with the smoke of the fight, Francis could not see who was winning, but he believed. He believed and had faith that all would be for what was good, true, and right. All he could do in the moment was to have faith and to pen his thoughts. I understand this total sense of lack of control and of not being able to see ahead. I understand being buffeted by the tumultuous waves as I sit in my boat. I cling to the desperation of hope and I have faith that my Phil’s death mattered to others besides myself.

While this war was not on our American soil, and my Phil was in Afghanistan as a teacher…a trainer…my Phil stood for what he believed was honorable. He stood for our battered flag being raised in the sky. He stood for the piece of cloth still waving after the attacks on the World Towers on 9/11. He stood for people who had no skills or abilities to change their own infrastructure. He chose to volunteer to go to Afghanistan for a year to effect the change he felt would bring that oppressed region hope for a better future without the violence it knows now. He stood as a man of faith willing to commit to actions. Yes, like other veterans and military members serving, he recognized the inherent risk of wearing a uniform, but he stepped up knowing that someone had to stand up.

To understand what motivated Phil, one must understand a twelve year old coming to the states speaking two words of English--”ewsa” for USA and “sum-a-team-us” for sometimes.  He arrived from Venezuela after a six year separation from his mother, father, and half sister. He arrived to a father beaten by life. Phil struggled to fit into a mainstream school.  He and I often laughed over his mastering English by watching soap operas--something I never watched. To meet my Phil, a person never would have guessed his Venezuelan/French roots (maybe with the word “Frito”). He had become an American through and through.  When the time came to retire, he just couldn't see it. He felt that he finally was in a position to give back to the military and to the country that had given him so much. After 26 years of Air Force service, he intended to stay until he was forced out. He loved it that much.

Part of what made the events of 27 April so egregious is he trusted his assassin. He enjoyed practicing his languages with this man and talking about a new day dawning for the Afghan people. He believed enough that he had me send things for the schools and for the military men he worked with. Yet, this man knew and plotted an act that can never be explained.  While it is possible he was the sole person perpetuating this vile act, it is doubtful. Does it matter at this point? Would it change the outcome? I suppose that is the area I have moved the furthest from in the past four years. It really doesn't matter. Phil is still gone. Nine people lost their lives in an act of which we will never know the full details. My shift has come in recognizing what it cost to give me, give other citizens, basic rights and freedoms. There is and there was a cost to all I value.

On Veterans Day, I remember the patriots who have given everything there is to give and I honor all those who have been willing to stand up to the bullies of this world. I am humbled by their courage to face harm and their sacrifices. What sacrifice am I able to give to change the world for others? What am I willing to give up or to do for our country in gratitude for the freedoms and opportunities that I have every day? While I do not carry a gun or go to Afghanistan, I can reach out to people here. I can see people. I can hear people. I can finally feel the pain of others. I can stand for something other than my own wants and needs. I can choose today to honor Phil’s memory and the memories of so many with my actions and my service.

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Veterans Day

~ Rachael Hill , Survivor

November 11, 2015

Since my husband’s death in 2010, Veterans Day has always been my hardest holiday. Surprisingly it is not his birthday or his angelversary, nor is it Father’s Day or our wedding anniversary. It is Veterans Day, and it is a day that always seems to bring me to tears at one point or another.

Jeff and I both joined the Air Force right out of high school. We didn’t know each other at the time, but met shortly after while in the same squadron at Technical Training School. Neither of us really knew what our futures had in store, but knew we didn’t want to go to college after high school and the military was the career path we decided to go down. We dated for only a month and a half in tech school, then I graduated and was sent to my first duty station in Guam while he went to Alaska. We were separated for 15 months before we got married and were finally stationed together in Alaska. From there, both of our careers truly began to flourish and we built our Air Force life together.

Perhaps that is why Veterans Day is so hard for me. For when I think of my military service, I think of my husband and the military life we built together. We not only met through the Air Force, but we served alongside each other and supported each other every step along the way.  Even a few years down the road when he decided he wanted to become a pilot, I stayed active duty to put him through school, then left the military to follow him and support his career. I took a step back because I knew that from then on we would have a hard time being stationed together and a long distance relationship was something we didn’t want to have to do again. I separated from the Air Force freely and without any reservations….a decision I never regretted. I was happy to take a step back to support him and help him follow through with his dreams.

Do I miss serving in the Air Force? Absolutely! The military gave me direction, purpose, and most especially a family. Not only did I meet my husband and have our kids while on active duty, but the military community itself also became its own unique family for us. Our Air Force family is truly what has gotten me through since Jeff’s death. Not only where they there in the immediate aftermath, but even now five years later they still show up and support us in ways I never could have ever imagined. The military is a community you just can’t understand unless you have been a part of it, and it is an amazing and beautiful thing I am so thankful to be a part of.

As a fifth grader this year my oldest son had to write an essay about what Veterans Day means to him. As I read through his essay, I began to think of how our society often thanks veterans for the sacrifices they have made in service to our county. Being part of the military, whether it is active duty or as a family member, is not easy by any means. We deal with a lot and endure things many others could never comprehend. However, for me, my service, and even Jeff’s service and ultimately his death, was never a sacrifice…it was an honor. I take a lot of pride in saying I served in our nation’s military and I know Jeff would say the same.

So this Veterans Day I will remember the days Jeff and I spent in the Air Force together and I will celebrate them with pride. I will let the tears come as they need to for the burden of the day will sit heavy on my heart.  I will stand with my chest tall and proud as veterans are recognized throughout the day not only for myself, but also for my husband. It is a day to remember and recognize, so I will do just that and urge everyone else to do the same.


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Game Day for Dad

~ Tabitha Bonilla , Survivor

November 10, 2015

The first professional football game I was able to attend was bittersweet.  My initial reaction to the news my mother and I had been selected to attend the Carolina Panthers Salute to Service game was sadness actually; the person I most wanted to experience a live professional football game with, was my father. It was something we were going to finally have the time to do when he retired. Unfortunately, just as he was coming home from deployment, to finally do exactly that, he died.

My father was a serious Cowboys fan until Carolina got their own team, he loved the Panthers with as much enthusiasm as he had loved the Cowboys.  He finally had a “home” team he could identify with and he made sure the world knew it by immediately decking himself out with Panthers’ gear. Finding out teams4taps had partnered with the USO of North Carolina and the Carolina Panthers to give families of the fallen an opportunity to attend a game in honor of our fallen heroes pulled at my heart strings in more ways than one; especially, when my mother and I found out the Carolina Panthers players would represent our loved ones by wearing their initial on their helmets.  #58 Thomas Davis, Sr. was selected to wear my dad’s initials. After hearing about the humble and kind man Thomas is on a personal level from some of the Carolina staff, I immediately felt a connection with him and my father. 

The game was amazing! The fourth quarter kept us all on the edge of our seats as the Green Bay Packers were extremely reluctant to hand over the win without fighting for it. In the last several minutes as Green Bay had the ball and were going for a touchdown, #58 Thomas Davis honoring my dad, intercepted the ball. I remember moments earlier, silently saying a prayer and hoping I would see this team win it, for all those service members on their helmets, but at that moment, very selfishly, for my dad. I screamed and jumped up and down for joy at the realization of Thomas’ intercepting that ball meant it had happened. THEY WON! 

It may be just a game, but to many Americans like my father, football is part of your household, part of how you connect with your family and friends, and part of you. It was beautiful to celebrate the victory with a team carrying the names of so many who with their lives paid for our ability to enjoy this sweet part of our American culture.  Why I was given the opportunity still saddens me, but I relish the sweetness of being part of such an awesome experience, in that, it honored all our military’s men and women in service and especially dear to my heart, my dad.


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