Grief 101: Advice to New TAPS Survivors

Author: TAPS

The Saturday Message is a letter that comes through email to TAPS parents, spouses, siblings, and friends. It includes thoughts from the survivors themselves. When one asks a question, the others are free to respond. Asked recently what advice they would give to a newly bereaved person, TAPS survivors responded with powerful and diverse answers.

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Surviving mother of Ensign Elizabeth Bonn

This will not be easy; take it one step at a time. If you can think ahead a day at a time, fine. If not, then take it an hour or a minute at a time, whatever you can handle. Losing someone you love hurts. That is the price we pay for love. None of us would give up experiencing the love just because of the hurt now. That love will get you through. It does not end. You still love them and they still love you. Death did not change that. And in their own special way they will always be with you, not physically, but they are here.

Be kind to yourself. Do what you want to do, when and for how long you want to do it. You have no obligation to live up to the expectations of others. They do not know what you feel because everyone travels a different trail. Don't be afraid to reach out to others. Even though you have to travel the trail, you don't have to do it alone.  

Surviving mother of Private First Class Nathan Anderson

The advice I would give to any new survivor is, "Don't wait to seek assistance!" Don't try to work through the grief on your own, because you don't have to! We have this organization with the experience and desire to help you so please don't ignore it, because those of us here are only here because we've been right where you are right now and know what you are feeling. Getting help from those who truly understand because they've been in your shoes is absolutely the best advice I would give anyone in my place.

Surviving mother of Senior Chief Petty Officer Blake McLendon

Knowing what I know now, I wish I knew an easy way to go through it. I'd heal all of us who are suffering the loss of our special loved one. Unfortunately I don't have that ability, so my advice would be to take it one day at a time and know that in time things will gradually get easier to deal with.

Attend a TAPS Survivor Seminar and sign up for and read TAPS Magazine. I have found both to be very helpful. Attending TAPS events helped us in many ways. We were able to talk to other parents who had lost a child and could relate to the pain and suffering we were going through. We were even able to meet other parents who lost their child in the same helicopter crash. It seems to be somewhat comforting to compare notes of what we were told and to find out how we are coping with our losses.  

I also would advise you to find what works for you since we all handle grief differently. Journaling seems to help me at times. My husband gets on the computer and writes letters to our son, and then "sends" them by erasing them. Long walks helped me a lot at the beginning. I'd go to a nearby park with tissue in hand. There I felt I could cry all I needed to without someone telling me not to cry. Crying in the shower also worked for me. I know no one likes to see us crying, but letting it out is therapeutic. 

Going off for a weekend somewhere where you can get away from it all can also be helpful. Finding a way to honor your loved one by helping others in his/her name also is also helpful. You just have to trust that things will get better. Nothing can make what happened not have happened, but learning to cope with it does gradually get more bearable in time. 

Surviving father of Sergeant Trevor Cook

First, take the time to grieve and remember, and let the network of friends and family around you assist in this. They want to help, and it helps them as well. Together, it makes it a bit easier. Alone, the pain is worse. Find the strength in the three F's: Faith, Family, and Friends. Without them, the struggle is that much greater. We also have found solace in meeting others in our shoes through TAPS. Utilize these folks' strengths and you will find peace coming quicker and easier than without. This is a hard thing to endure alone. We keep our son's memory and legacy alive with a scholarship fund in his name. Putting this together has been therapeutic and rewarding.

Surviving mother of Major Michael Murphy

When we lose someone we love, it is never an easy road. Whether it is a child, a parent, a spouse, other relative, or friend, the pain is something that we have to work through. I would tell you do not try to do it on your own. Reach out to others for help because I have seen so many people that do not get help and the pain often will go into the body and can cause illnesses and other problems, and life will end for that person even though they did not die physically. 

Surviving mother of Lieutenant Colonel Jeanne Hutchinson

Hold onto the memories and love you had between you. TAPS is a major help and outlet. You can speak your feelings here. Talking about your loved one is comforting. Time doesn't heal as much as it makes the pain more tolerable.

Surviving father of First Lieutenant Todd Weaver

Feelings change after the first months. At that point, as a family with strong connections to each other, we had to decide how we each would honor our hero. We also had to decide how each of us would live our own lives as fully as possible from that point on. I was reminded of the last scene in Saving Private Ryan. Fifty years after many died saving him, the sole survivor whose siblings were all lost in battle, turns to his wife at the cemetery in France to get her affirmation: "Did I live up to their sacrifice? Did I live my life well?"

We all need to grieve. In many ways I will always remain sad. For me there will be no closure, but there is hope. You can live your own life well and support those you love and who also ache with the loss of your fallen loved one. Going forward with life in positive ways may be the best way to honor him, and even more so, to honor his sacrifice. Think about it. Without our fallen and their comrades in arms throughout our history, our own lives would likely be far less rewarding and hopeful. Remember, our loved ones would not want us to fail to live the kind of life they would have wanted for themselves. Destiny changed their plans. Now it must also change ours.