Attending TAPS Events: Encouragement for the Newcomer

Author: TAPS

When someone we love dies, the world as we once knew it no longer exists. We find ourselves on a journey we never expected or wanted to be on. We feel isolated and we wonder if others understand the pain we feel. Deciding to go to a TAPS event can be difficult for the new survivor. We question how we will fit in, how we will be treated, and what the event will be like. Here are the first impressions of some of our TAPS survivors.

Memorial day parade

Deb Bonn, surviving mother of Elizabeth

We signed up for our first TAPS seminar sixteen months after burying Beth. We didn't know what to expect, but I needed to find someone who understood. I was so afraid when I arrived at the hotel that I wanted to turn and run. Then someone came up to me, took my hand, and asked me to tell her about Beth. The words spilled out and the tears poured out. Then there were hugs and then someone else came and asked for the story and then another. 

The best part about the seminar is the people who attend it. They understand what you are feeling. They understand what you have gone through. They understand your loss. As time goes on, you discover new ways of channeling your energies, pounding out the grief. For us it was joining the TAPS Run and Remember Team. This year we attended a writing class. My husband is not a reader or writer, but he wrote about the special relationship he had with Beth and how much he was going to miss talking with her or hiking with her. He read it aloud and many in the room got choked up. It was beautiful and real. 

We have been coming back to the TAPS national seminar for six years now, and we will continue to do so. We always attend the workshop that gives us permission to look beyond the death and remember the person. Each time we attend this workshop, we remember more and more. Some memories that I thought I had lost started coming back.

Ashley Deason, surviving sister of Michael

Before coming to a TAPS event, I felt very alone and isolated in my grief. I thought no one understood. For me, attending a TAPS seminar was comforting. Initially I was very nervous. But once I arrived, I was surrounded by others who welcomed me with open arms and truly could understand this journey I am on. I met surviving parents, spouses, children, and fellow siblings. I had the opportunity to share about my brother in a group with other siblings. I didn't have to worry about holding back my tears or my smile. I could cry. I could laugh. It was all okay. No one judged me or told me how I should be feeling. I was able to put down my walls for the first time since Mike had died. While I wish no one was on this journey, I have to say I am so thankful I do not have to travel it alone. I travel it with my TAPS family and always look forward to attending the events, as these are opportunities where I get to meet and talk with other siblings who are on this journey, too.

From Dawn Millard, surviving mother of Jeremiah

You can expect total, unconditional acceptance. You will not be judged. There are no expectations. Everyone is genuine. I felt free to actually let someone else see who I am and not censor myself...there was no need. Everyone attending has experienced a similar horror. I have yet to find another place where I am not pitied. Rather, we commiserate with true empathy. No matter at what point we are along our path, there is another who has either been there before or is there currently.

Erin Yaggy, surviving spouse of David

The best thing about TAPS seminars is, of course, hearing the amazing speakers, but my favorite thing is when people share and I am able to hear how our stories interconnect. I have made so many friends from conversations I start based on what people have shared. It is the place where people "get it," and that is what keeps me coming back to be with my TAPS family. 

Chris Janne, surviving mother of Darin

This past summer my husband and I attended our first TAPS retreat for parents. The best thing I received was the gift of new friends. A special bond was created from a diverse group of parents from all over the country. That bond continues to strengthen. Just this past week my husband and I walked with one of these friends in a Walk for the Heroes Memorial Walk to raise money for a memorial for the fallen in Missouri. I cried with another friend (via Facebook) as she observed the second anniversary of her son’s death. As one of the mothers at the retreat said “It is the best group of people to which we never wanted to belong.”

Beth Van Luven, surviving spouse of Dale

I am a widow of three years and recently attended the TAPS regional seminar in Cleveland. The first evening was friendly and somewhat social as we gathered together for snacks and conversation. I met four new people, all of whom had lost a child in the service. I enjoyed this casual time of sharing, talking, and laughing. The losses here were all types: adult children, spouses, fiancées, parents, and siblings. The previous retreat I had attended (Alaska 2011) was solely for widows, so this was a new venture into the shadowy land of grief. 

The second day we all gathered and it was a powerful time of touching broken hearts as we shared each other’s pain and grief. Grief seems to be a universal language, crossing all borders of age, culture, religion, and ethnicity. This tragic commonality created an unusual bond. Everyone knew what it was like to lose someone loved and cherished. Everyone knew what the aftermath of death brings to the survivor’s life. Everyone knew we would never be the same. And everyone knew that we all need others who have travelled a similar journey.

Many survivors have discovered that TAPS meets the need to find others who understand and will care. If you have been hesitating about attending an event, perhaps it is time for you to find the comfort and healing available to you through making connections with other survivors. We hope you will consider attending TAPS National Military Survivor Seminar this Memorial Day. Your TAPS family is waiting for you.