Stronger than she thought she could be: A widow looks back

Author: TAPS

Each Friday, please visit our blog and join us as we take a look back at stories, people and events that have shaped who we are today. We are a family of survivors honoring our selfless heroes who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. We are grieving parents, spouses, children, siblings, grandparents, fiancées, battle buddies and loved ones. We are hope. We are strength. We are TAPS.

Copy of Winter Spring 1999 Newsletter

The cover story of the TAPS Newsletter in the Winter/Spring of 1999 featured a heartfelt piece by Karen Hilliard, whose husband, Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey Allen Hilliard died in 1996 in an aviation accident in the Persian Gulf. She wrote her essay just two and a half years after her loss when she struggled with the roller coaster of emotions that come with losing the love of your life. Today, Karen is TAPS Peer Mentor who volunteers her time and her heart to walk alongside other widows newer in their grief journey.

“The first year was obviously the worst. I found myself unable to attend weddings because they made me cry uncontrollably.... I wanted to turn back the hands of time. I found myself sharing with others how much Jeff would have enjoyed this or that, only to notice the horror in the faces of those around me who were not ready to talk about a dead person in other than somber, hushed tones. I learned to bite my tongue because Jeff was such a fun person to be around and I always wanted to share something funny about him.

“I still look for the positive side of life and try to surround myself with positive people…. I still long to be that happy person Jeff loved so much, and as time goes by, I find myself glad to be alive instead of terrified. So, that is where I am now.

"TAPS helped me when life was really getting tough... The biggest lesson that I learned from TAPS is seeing others who have managed to survive this awful stage of life called death. Hopefully, I can pass the strength that was given to me onto someone else.”

Karen traveled her own painful path of grief and channeled what she’s learned over the years into meaningful comfort and care that she shares with others. She trained to become a TAPS Peer Mentor and volunteers to support other military loss survivors. “It is important to look back and see that you are stronger than you ever thought you could be and to share this with others so that they believe they will make it in this world too,” Karen said.

As a Peer Mentor, Karen is one of hundreds of survivors helping other survivors heal. For more than two decades, TAPS Peer Mentors have innately and intimately understood the unique aspects of military tragedy. They are there to listen when you need someone to talk to, be a friend when you’re feeling lonely and celebrate the triumphs in your grief journey. Peer Mentors are at the heart of what TAPS does — offer compassionate care to all those grieving the loss of a loved one who died while serving in our Armed Forces. Learn more about TAPS Peer Mentors.

Sherry and KarenPeer Mentor Karen Hilliard, left, is shown with her mentee Sherry Jennings-Kevianne. Photo: Tara Ruby


We welcome your stories that we know can bring hope and healing to our TAPS families. If you would like to share a Flashback Friday story, we would love to hear from you. Email