Saturday Morning Message: What It's Like to Attend a TAPS Seminar or Retreat
Author: Carol Lane
Deciding to go to a TAPS event can be difficult for the new survivor. Although they are held in various parts of the country, travel is often involved. The survivor asks, “What will this event be like?” or “How will I be treated?” I posed this week’s question asking survivors to share what a TAPS seminar was like. Then I received a few thoughts about the TAPS retreats. It all fit so perfectly, that reflections on both activities have been included.
Next week’s question is a thought provoker: Thinking about how to honor these special people in our lives, we probably have made some changes in how we live our lives now. How have your priorities changed since your loved one has passed? I look forward to reading about these life changes.
If you would like to contact me directly with a reply, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
From Andre, surviving father of Andrea:
Grief is like wearing invisible clothing.
No one else can see it,
And only I can feel it.
Some days it is heavy,
Some days light.
But I know it will be with me
For the rest of my life.
From Ashley, surviving sister of Michael: When someone we love dies, the world as we once knew...no longer exists. We find ourselves on a journey we never expected or wanted to be on. We often wonder if others in the world know how we feel. Before I knew of TAPS, I felt very alone and isolated in my grief. I thought no one understood. These feelings, however, subsided as I became more involved with TAPS.
TAPS has many programs to connect survivors - one such program is our seminars. Attending a seminar, especially if it is your first time, can make you feel anxious, because you may not know what to expect. While every person is different, I can share that for me, personally, attending a TAPS seminar was comforting. Initially I was very nervous. However, 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 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, especially the seminars and retreats - as these are opportunities where I get to meet and talk with other siblings who are on this journey too.
From Dawn, 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 & not censor myself....there is no need. Everyone has experienced the same 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.
From Erin, 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 two 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.
From Deb, surviving mother of Elizabeth: At home, it seemed like no one understood how I felt. They said they did, but losing an elderly parent or a dog just didn't match up to losing a child, our only daughter. For the first few months, people would listen patiently, but then after a time they did not want to listen anymore. I still needed to talk. I needed someone to understand. Someone who knew what I was going through.
We signed up for our first TAPS seminar 16 months after burying Beth. We didn't know what to expect, but I needed to find someone who understood and Tom knew I needed someone. I was so afraid arriving at the hotel that year that I wanted to turn and run. Then someone came up to me. She took my hand and asked me to tell her about Beth. The words spilled out and the tears poured out....someone actually wanted to hear about what we had gone through. Then there were hugs and then someone else came and asked for the story and then another. It may sound like a bad experience, but it was what I needed and I found people who understood that. We have been coming back to the TAPS seminar for six years and we will continue to. Now we tell people about Beth's eyes that changed colors depending on her mood; how she tilted her head when she was thinking; how she taught us to accept people for who they are and not judge.
So 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 Run and Remember Team). This year we attended a writing class....I would never have expected it to affect my husband. He is not a reader or writer, but what he wrote.... was so beautiful. 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 really was beautiful and real.
And, of course, we always attend the workshop by Darcie Sims where she gives you 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. That was when I could remember how tiny Beth's hands were and how she would come in and sit with me to talk and how she loved family and how my serious little girl could ham it up at times.
From Chris, 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 through our private Facebook page. 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.”
From Beth surviving spouse of Dale: I recently attended the TAPS Cleveland Seminar. I live in Northeastern Ohio, near the Pennsylvania border so it was not a long drive. The first evening was friendly and somewhat social as we gathered together for snacks and conversation. I met four new people, all who had lost a child in the service. I enjoyed this casual time of sharing, talking and laughing. One of the nice things about a regional seminar is the locations from which most people are coming are familiar to the attendee.
The next day we all gathered and each person was asked to give their name, the name of the deceased, branch of service in which they served and how they died. It was a very powerful time of touching those broken hearts as we each shared each other’s pain and grief. Grief seems to be a universal language, crossing all borders of age, culture, religion, and ethnicity. The stories were powerful and heart-rending.
Yet this very 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 having experienced it and everyone "knew" that we all need others who have traveled a similar journey.
It's a unique experience that is difficult to put into words, as we looked into each other’s faces with that very "knowing"...
The losses here were all types, adult children, spouses, fiancées, parents, siblings, etc. The previous retreat that I had attended (Alaska 2011) was solely for widows, so this was an even new venture into the shadowy land of grief.
Later in the afternoon we broke up into groups relevant to our type of loss. The slide show and releasing of the balloons with the 'Good Grief Children' was a poignant ending and another form of saying goodbye to that precious soul with whom we shared a part of life.
I am a widow of three years and one month. Places in my soul were touched by this remembrance of the person's life and their impact on our own. I recommend both types of retreats; the adventure retreat and the seminar. Both are memorable and gratifying in their own way.