Faces of TAPS: Surviving Spouse Leslie Jackson Vallade’s Story
Authors: TAPS , Leslie Jackson Vallade
Faces of TAPS gives military survivors the space to, in their own words, both celebrate the lives of their military loved ones and reflect on their personal grief journey.
Leslie Jackson Vallade, surviving spouse of U.S. Army SSG Devin Scott Vallade, Sr., was introduced to TAPS through a phone call after Devin’s death in 2017.
“I received a telephone call from a peer mentor and it was the best conversation that I ever had,” she said. “It was just so comforting, and she was so kind. She asked about my kids. It just came right on time. I had questions about benefits and things like that, and she was able to provide me with numbers and resources as to how to get that done. And she checked in on me very frequently. On my birthday I would get a happy birthday text and a happy birthday telephone call. On Devin's birthday, on the anniversary of his death, I would always get a telephone call and text message from her. It just really made me feel at home, cared for, and supported.”
Earlier this year, Leslie joined the TAPS Women’s Empowerment Program for a retreat in Sedona, Arizona, where she was able to connect with other surviving women for a week of hope, healing, and remembering their military loved ones. It was there that we had the chance to talk to Leslie and learn a little bit more about her story.
TAPS: What Do You Want People to Know about Devin?
Leslie Jackson Vallade: Devin was a staff sergeant in the Maryland Army National Guard. He actually enlisted after 9/11, and that surprised all of us because he had a really good job but decided that he wanted to serve his country. So he enlisted in the Army and did one tour in Iraq and several stateside missions. He absolutely loved the camaraderie of the guys in his unit, and he always had really funny stories to tell about the younger guys because he was looked at as the “daddy.”
One story about Devin is that when he did his basic training, he was almost through, and he got bit by a brown recluse spider. He knew about it, he knew what it could do, but he just insisted that he was going to finish, and he wasn't going to say anything to anybody. He realized it was getting infected and actually was very sick by the time he completed his basic training, but he finished and everyone was like, "Wow, you have so much strength!"
By the time he was done, he was admitted to the hospital, and I was like, “Well yea, that pretty much explains Devin.”
Similarly, he would do things around the house, like cut his finger. It wouldn't be a regular cut, it'd be a cut that needed eight stitches and he'd be like, “No we just need to bandage it up.” He was the one who never wanted to admit that he was hurt, and he just bandaged everything up. We were like, OK, that's the way Devin does things. When Devin does things he does things big.
He also liked adventure. He loved deep sea diving, and he also had just developed this desire to fly airplanes. He didn't get a chance to do it, but that was next on the list.
What Leslie Discovered on Her Grief Journey
TAPS: What gives you hope?
Leslie Jackson Vallade: What gives me hope are the possibilities. People say, “Life goes on," and “You have to move forward,” I'm just hopeful that there's another life journey, another path for me. Since Devin's death, I've been able to get my Master's degree and relocate. I know there's hope. Nature, when I look into nature, that's the biggest hope of all. Nothing is permanent, situations change; I'm just hopeful.
"I've learned to give myself some grace along the way...take it all in and be present in both the highs and the lows...learning to sit in those moments of discomfort..."
TAPS: What have you learned through your grief journey?
Leslie Jackson Vallade: I've learned to give myself some grace along the way. There are high moments, and then there are definitely low moments. So for me, to just take it all in and be present in both the highs and the lows, that's what's been helpful. Learning to kind of sit in those moments of discomfort, that's been helpful for me on this journey.
TAPS: What surprised you the most about grief?
Leslie Jackson Vallade: Given my background, and after several classes in grief and bereavement, I learned that I can't counsel myself. That's number one. And number two is that it takes time. There's no schedule. There's no time clock that says "OK, it's time to stop grieving now, it's time to move forward." Even when you are set on a path of moving forward and doing other things and creating a new life, there are still going to be those moments, and that's OK.
TAPS: Why is it important to you to carry on Devin's legacy?
Leslie Jackson Vallade: It is important to carry on Devin's legacy for a couple reasons. Number one, we have two kids together. Number two, while nobody is perfect, for me, one of the most special things about him was that he gave of himself for his country, and that's a difficult thing to do. I don't know if I could do it. I just think there's something really special about someone who is willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good.
About Women's Empowerment
The TAPS Women's Empowerment program offers both in-person and online events that incorporate mind and body exercises to help women heal from grief. See their event calendar for upcoming events and more information.
Leslie Jackson Vallade is the surviving spouse of United States Army Staff Sergeant Devin Scott Vallade, Sr.
Photos courtesy of Leslie Jackson Vallade and TAPS Archives