From Open Minds to Renewed Hope at a TAPS Men’s Retreat

Author: Chris Meeker



In June, I had the privilege of attending the TAPS Massachusetts Men’s Retreat — my first TAPS retreat. My expectations of fitting in or finding connections among the group were honestly very low. My background — my loss — sets me apart from the typical Men’s Program retreat attendees because I am a widower. And, as a widower, my home support base is drastically different from that of a father who lost his son or daughter, a brother who lost his sibling, or an uncle who lost a nephew or niece. 

The closest comparable loss I expected to encounter was a man who lost a battle buddy or best friend because, in my view, my spouse was by my side for the good and the bad. We dealt with everything together, every day. But even then, there is an intimacy in a spousal relationship that wouldn’t be lost with a battle buddy or friend — losing a spouse is losing a much deeper connection in that respect.


Chris Meeker in red hat and shoes with participants at the Massachusetts Men's RetreatChris Meeker (first row kneeling, red hat) with participants at the Massachusetts Men's Retreat


Getting Acquainted 

Upon arrival, it was just what I expected. I found myself in a room full of strangers. A few had previous connections, but most were new to TAPS and to each other. Within the first few hours, after a very friendly welcome meeting, we all got acquainted over a great dinner. It’s easy for men to bond with full plates of good food, and this was no exception. With ease, relationships started to bud, and we found connections to each other through our loved ones and our general lifestyles. 

I was especially surprised at how my wife's service connected me to so many men in the group. Through her service branch, her job type, and the places she was stationed — all of my anxiety about not fitting in faded that first evening.


The Retreat 

The events planned for the retreat encompassed wonderful outdoor events that, while strenuous for some and mild for others, provided great opportunities to encourage and support each other in multiple ways — physically, emotionally, and even spiritually in some cases. 

We had the group split in half to reduce the number of people at each daily event. Half went river float fly fishing, while the other half went for a hike on the Appalachian Trail, and the groups swapped events the second day. While the weather was not ideal, it was less encumbering than expected. 

The last day was an amazing trip to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. While not everyone had a connection to the Army, it was evident that our lost service members were equally honored through the history of the military's establishment and the historical efforts that happened on that hallowed ground. 

Fishing while at Massachusetts Men's Retreat

West Point View Point while at Massachusetts Men's Retreat

The closing day was so bittersweet. Many of us had healed so much. Many more had jump-started into a fruitful journey of healing. A few were even able to let go of the self-blame they felt in their loss. As each man departed, many stayed right in the hotel lobby soaking up every bit of bonding we could — that vital connection that we longed for back home.


Open Mind, Renewed Hope 

If you're on the fence about going to a TAPS event, or even participating in an online session, I encourage you to try just one with an open mind and heart. TAPS has given me renewed hope and healing by expanding my resources and connections.

Learn more about the TAPS Men’s Program, see photos of past events, and make plans to join an upcoming event.

Chris Meeker is the surviving spouse of Chief Stacey Meeker, U.S. Navy Retired.