The Dream, Revised

Author: Tabitha Bonilla

A glimpse into my thoughts this past September 11th anniversary…

I feel like sometimes the outside world looks at me differently. I feel the pressure of others that I should "move on" since my losses occurred ten years ago. It is different on September 11th though. On that day, people pause in their everyday life, even if it is just for a moment. They remember.

Bonilla photo

On this day, I feel like the world gets it, if only just for a day.  I can't even begin to express how my world has changed.  I will sum it up like this: you can't explain a person.  You have to experience them.  That is how I feel about my life.  To know would be to experience.  I truly believe that is why the TAPS mission is so essential.  You find yourself amongst a community that finally… yes, finally gets it… and it's not just for one day! They understand due to their own circumstances…EVERYDAY.  I still lay awake some nights worried about many things (obsessing a little over when I will die or who in the world is going to die next). I get lonely and often wonder if I will always be alone. I miss my husband and my dad.  Sometimes it hits me out of nowhere. The feeling and realization that they are dead. It isn't just a story people read about or share casually among their friends. It's my life now.

To be completely honest, my life as it is today sometimes makes me feel as though I am similar to a high school quarterback or college quarterback who didn't make it to the pros. I had my dreams… dreams of the future. A life with my husband and the family we hoped to raise. A life with my dad and the experiences we looked forward to after he was going to retire. I constantly relive those dreams in my head. Life… it happened...but I can't get over the "golden" years so to speak that I feel were suppose to happen in my life. 

I feel as if my golden years ended on February 20, 2004. My father, SFC Henry Bacon, was killed in Iraq. He was days away from coming home to retire. I had dreams of my "future children" visiting their papa and his horses. I didn't have horses growing up, but my father did, so it was a dream of mine to one day get to vicariously live a country life through him and his retirement. My father had served his country honorably for 21 years.  He was my very first knight in shining honor. I buried him when I was the tender age of 22.

Eleven months later I experienced the heartbreak of burying my second prince charming- my husband, Cpt. Orlando Bonilla.  He was killed in a helicopter crash in Baghdad about a month before he was scheduled to return home. In a moment my dream was lost. There went the incredible years of our lives we were going to spend together and the family I thought I would have with him. 

Now I am left with beautiful memories that finally bring me smiles and laughter rather than sobbing and tears.  But do I look back in that rear view mirror and long so much for what I had?  You bet I do. I feel like I missed the pros.  I do love to reflect on those glory days, though! I feel blessed.  I feel so blessed I had them, even if only for a short amount of time. I had my dad for 22 years of my life, and I was with Orlando for a combined six years.  Some people are worth the pain.  I think about my life and reflect. If given the opportunity and knowing what I know, I would do it again and again. Given the option to have another life that would have made me happy because the loves of my life wouldn't have died so young, I'd still choose them and "our" time.  Why?  Because, like I mentioned earlier, you cannot explain a person, you have to experience them.  The love and connection I experienced with my heroes cannot be replaced, nor do I ever want to.

I am grateful I joined the TAPS team and have the opportunity to work among a community of survivors.  Each day I look forward to listening to their stories and being there for them. We cry. We laugh. It's not a judgmental place.  There isn't angst over how do I handle him or her?  Will I upset someone if I mention their loss or my own losses? We just share. TAPS opens that wonderful window of opportunity to feel safe, and it allows our loved ones' memories to echo the halls of the rooms they are spoken in and ring in the hearts of all those surrounding us eager to listen.  The light of hope shines on each one of us as we come together and listen to stories of triumph and survival. This brings a certain bit of healing and encouragement that keeps us moving forward. 

I love this community and hearing about the loved ones that these wonderful survivors have experienced. I may not have made it to the pros of the life I envisioned for myself, but I'm not taking a backseat to life either or sitting on the bench. I thank TAPS for the experience to come aboard and help the "surviving team" by mentoring and coaching along those that are just entering this world of grief.  Getting through this together as staff and survivors is no small victory!