I knew I was picking the right table

Author: Sarah Greene

At lunch on the first day of TAPS National Military Survivor Seminar in May, I searched the room for a friendly face, knowing no one, and I sat down at a table with three women. One woman was leading the conversation with a fluid southern drawl while the two remaining women—red eyed, with tears streaming down their cheeks—listened and nodded their heads in agreement.  

table place settings

This was what I had signed up for—grief in its raw form with total strangers. What was I thinking? Why was I there? Am I nuts? I soon discovered that one can meet a total stranger at TAPS and within an hour be hugging her to comfort her. I learned that this was a place, where I was drawn to come, to share the company of those deeply affected by the loss of a military family member, and to find a connection. And I haven't regretted it since!

Through the course of that day, I got to know the women better, and agreed to meet them again the next morning. I was then introduced to another woman through one of the red eyed girls, and later a sixth was drawn to our group because we were laughing and smiling while waiting to be seated for dinner. Yes, I said laughing! We enjoyed dinner, maybe a little too much, and allowed more laughter to surface than tears to roll. At that point in the weekend, we had all had enough of the serious grief, and needed an outlet.

We found the outlet in each other. We may not have been properly solemn while we dined but at that time we experienced something more profound than the regimented, culturally accepted mourning. We bonded. Women who lost their remarkable, brave, and noble men found in each other a common connection. We discovered that some of us were mothers, some newly married, some newly stricken, some long married, some long suffering; the common thread was that all were trying to cope. We toasted our great guys in heaven with the thought and hope that those guys were gathered up there, all together, doing the same thing.

I am grateful for this mystic journey that TAPS has brought me on. I am in constant contact with these amazing five women via email. Two of us got together at the Philadelphia TAPS Regional Seminar in July. Some of us have plans to meet at the Marine Corps Marathon in October. Two of the girls are trying to organize an immediate trip overseas with another so she can visit her former base to attend a memorial service for her husband, and meet her husband's unit, which has come back from the war. We have reached an incredible level of sisterhood in very little time. We are all grateful for each other, support each other, and understand each other.

I find it very hard to explain this closeness to civilians. It is an intricate, complex, yet simple bond. But the basic sense of community that existed in our military lives before our loss has been replaced two-fold by a bond of understanding through experience: the white van in the driveway, the gloved hand knocking on our door, the accepting of the triangle- folded flag, the unending impossible-to-interpret paperwork from the government, the solitude... *sigh*, the inability to socially interact for a good year, the word widow, the lack of legacy in having no kids, the worry of legacy in raising fatherless kids, and on and on.... We just "get" each other, and accepted each other from first introduction. It is the cliché of belonging to a club you never wanted to join, but are grateful to be a part of.

I am so glad I set my tray down on that table on my first day at TAPS. Through the tears and laughter we found each other. I am grateful. Thank you, TAPS, for bringing us together and helping us forge an incredible sisterhood.  

By Sarah Greene, surviving spouse of Marine Lieutenant Colonel David S. Greene