How Helping Others Can Help Ourselves

Author: Mike Aldapa

I had just gotten off a flight when I noticed the message from a TAPS staff member on my phone. She asked for my help in supporting a surviving mother, Tatiana Oddson, who lived near me.

This surviving mom was running the New York City Half Marathon on the six-month anniversary of her son’s death. It was her tribute to her son, Air Force Airman 1st Class Alfred Komlev. Each month since her son died, Tatiana made her way to the gravesite to remember Alfred, and every time, she left sunflowers — a representation of his bright and happy personality. I was asked to place sunflowers at Alfred’s gravesite for Tatiana so she could honor her son at the race.

A simple request. You’d think so, right? I was eager to support another surviving parent. However, my son Paul was not deemed eligible for burial in the local veterans cemetery. As soon as I said yes to the request, my thoughts shifted to angst. I had never been to this cemetery. I didn’t know if I would feel anger or sadness that my son wasn’t buried there.

I could have changed my mind and said I wouldn’t be able to help. But it was important to me to help a fellow surviving parent. I would have wanted someone to be willing to help me in that way.

My wife and I made a day of going out and finding the right sunflowers and making the short trip to the cemetery. We placed the flowers on Alfred’s gravesite, said a few words to ourselves and thanked Alfred for his service. We were pleasantly surprised to see that we had no issues with our son being buried elsewhere. It felt good to help Tatiana honor her son. Sometimes the anticipation is worse than the actual experience. That aspect of grief is worth remembering, and it can be helpful to remind mentees of this.

This experience was a testament of what peer mentors do every day. We’re always willing to jump in and help — and it’s a chance to grow in our own grief journeys.

From the pen of…

Mike Aldapa is a TAPS Peer Mentor.