TAPS Care Groups: A Source of Connection, Hope and Healing In Your Local Community
TAPS Care Groups are safe, welcoming spaces in your local area — a community of peers within your community, those who understand grief because they’re experiencing it too. And, like you, they are seeking connection, hope, and healing.
For Annette Montante, the surviving aunt of U.S. Marine Corps Sgt Tristan Charles Bethel, her local Care Group gave her a place to not only share about her grief and loss, but to seek the advice of other survivors on healthy ways to cope and navigate her grief.
She shares, “At TAPS I feel like all our stories and grief styles are different, yet we have some sort of bond that makes it a very empathetic group. I’m comfortable exposing my grief at TAPS.”
Annette admits she was — and still is to an extent — in denial about her loss, but connecting with other survivors near her through her TAPS Care Group let her talk about her grief and work through it. She acknowledges that the more she talks about her grief, the more she comes to terms with it.
Leading these local TAPS Care Groups are TAPS Peer Mentors — survivors more than 18 months past their loss who are trained to be a source of support to other survivors. They not only find healing in their supportive interaction with other survivors, but, through service to others, they honor the memory of their loved one. Leann Chaney, surviving spouse of U.S. Air Force SMSgt Kelly Chaney and facilitator of the TAPS Space Coast Area Care Group in Florida, shares that “by helping others in their healing, I’m able to honor the lives of my husband, nephew, father, brother, and all the other loved ones.” Leann sees her service to other survivors as a ripple of her loved ones’ legacies.
If you are considering connecting with your local TAPS Care Group, or want to reconnect with your local TAPS Family, and you find yourself feeling apprehensive or nervous to take that step, Annette says, “It’s like anything else, try it to see if it helps.” She shares that it was hard walking through the door to her first Care Group meeting because, “it meant acknowledging that something tragic had happened. But, Annette bravely took that step, relieved to find “the people on the other side of that door were so compassionate and understanding — inviting.” Her TAPS Care Group allowed her to form new friendships with people she might not have much in common with, were it not for grief. But, Annette shares, “it’s our compassion and empathy for each other that bonds us.”
Bob Derga is the surviving father of U.S. Marine Corps Cpl Dustin A. Derga who died on May 8, 2005. Bob and his wife, Marla, started the Cleveland, Ohio TAPS Care Group in 2014. After years of hosting surviving families in their home for support meetings, and because they were TAPS Peer Mentors, Bonnie Carroll, TAPS President and Founder, reached out and asked them if they would be willing to start and host the Cleveland Area Care Group.
Marla and I were excited to take on this new challenge with TAPS. Serving as facilitators of the monthly meetings has allowed us to carry forward the service of my son, Cpl Dustin Derga. Dustin lived life to help others as a Marine and a firefighter, what better way to honor his life than by helping military survivors.
The Cornerstone of Hope is a grief counseling center that partnered with TAPS years ago to host several regional events. They then opened their doors to our Care Group in Cleveland, providing us with a home for our monthly meetings.
Being Care Group facilitators and supporting other survivors in this safe and welcoming space, has also been healing and helpful to us along our own grief journeys. We often say that we get back tenfold what we put into leading the Care Group from those that attend. Sometimes we feel like the group members are the ones who are helping us understand our grief through sharing the stories of their loved ones. Personally, there is never a meeting that I don’t leave with new insight into my grief, how far I have come, and the journey that lies ahead.
Marla and I have learned so much over the years about grief from those survivors participating in the TAPS Cleveland Area Care Group. Grief is a powerful force, and the hurt directly correlates to the level of love we shared with our loved one. That love is eternal and will always endure.
Often when survivors share their story, I see similarities to my own story and realize I'm not alone. Being with others who “get it” helps tremendously, even when we cannot put our hurt into words. Some of the best conversations in our Care Group are those where no words are spoken. None were needed. Just being there is what mattered.
I have learned over time that I will never “get over” the loss of Dustin; but, through the Care Group and service to others through TAPS, our loss has purpose and meaning. Love wins out over grief.
To those survivors who may be nervous about attending a TAPS Care Group meeting for the first time, do not let fear of taking that first step of attending a Care Group stop you. I realize it is a scary thing to walk into a room of strangers who are also hurting, and share your story, but do it. You will be glad you did.
The doors of TAPS Care Groups are always open regardless of whether it’s your first meeting or it’s been awhile since you attended a meeting. Our Cleveland Care Group was recently visited by a survivor who had been away for seven years. He moved to France in 2016, but never forgot the value of the group. The connection he still felt after all that time brought him back to a meeting during a recent trip home to visit with his parents.
I’ve learned that the grief journey has no road map. We need the insight and companionship of others on similar journeys to find our way. We need to talk, celebrate the life of our loved one, and share our feelings. That is how we heal and learn to cope with our loss.
Though the circumstances of death and each member’s grief journey are all different, it’s the common thread of love each survivor has for their military loved one that resonates in their hearts that binds this Care Group, and all TAPS Care Groups, together.
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Photos courtesy of Peer Mentor Bob Derga.