Learning to Breathe Again at IslandWood

Author: Elizabeth Culp Sergent

In August my boys and I attended the first annual TAPS Family Campout in western Washington state.  Initially my boys were excited but I was a little hesitant.  Even though we are past the one year anniversary of my husband’s death I find myself avoiding events remembering and honoring lost loved ones.    


We have worked diligently on healing and moving forward and living our lives.  The boys ask questions about their dad and I always answer.  We recently printed some pictures and bought some frames to hang photos of him on their bedroom walls.  The ground we have covered in this journey over the past 15 months sometimes feels like battle scarred territory and I am not the type of person who readily accepts wallowing in the mire of sadness.    

So it was with a little apprehension that I drove our family to Bainbridge Island Friday afternoon for this TAPS retreat.  After all, doesn’t a weekend dedicated to honoring lost loved ones imply that we are expected to cry and reminisce and act sorrowful? Gratefully I can say I couldn't have been more wrong.   

IslandWood was incredible!  One reason we love Washington state so much is the perpetual green and fresh ambiance here.  IslandWood takes this to a whole new level.  One day we were walking along the forest to complete group obstacles.  24-hours later we were climbing a tower and gazing across hundreds of acres of treetops and rolling land.  It was incredible to watch the trees bend and sway in the wind from the ground and then see the same movement while looking down on them.  Perspective is such a dynamic force!  I learned how to breathe all over again, and have carried that forward into each day.  IslandWood was the place, TAPS Family Campout was the event, and the people around me were the inspiration to experience that lesson!  

We did spend much of the weekend reflecting on our emotions and our grief journey and we did participate in activities sharing something special about our lost loved one.  But there was more than that!  There was laughter.  There was camaraderie.  There were opportunities to ask questions.  There were activities designed to build communication and teamwork.  My boys made Memory Boxes filled with reminders not only of their dad but of their own joys and strengths.  I made a Gratitude Jar and filled it with reminders of the people and activities that bring me joy and life. 

Yes, there were tears.  Some of them were mine.  Yes, there was reminiscing.  And, yes, there were moments of sorrow.  But in the end I remembered that when tears fall they fall only for a moment, not for a lifetime.  I learned that honoring a lost loved one doesn’t have to be mired in sorrow, that it can and should sometimes include a little laughter.  And I realized that somewhere along this journey called “Grief” I have learned to be still and breathe.  And that feels right.  I wouldn’t wish this journey on anyone.  I wouldn’t want a loss like ours to happen to any other person.  But I in those still, quiet moments, I realized I wouldn’t trade the past 15 months for anything.  Because this is my journey.  And I am not alone.