Spend Friendsgiving with Your TAPS Family
Author: Betty Medlock
For many of us, celebrating the holidays after the loss of a loved one is the last thing we want to do. Every commercial, Facebook post, and trip to the store reminds us of what we’ve lost — the loss of future celebrations, the loss of future hopes. While the world promotes a Normal Rockwell image of Thanksgiving with a bounty of friends and family gathered around the table, we mourn the empty seat that will no longer be filled. It feels like an insurmountable challenge to muster up “thankfulness” in the midst of grief.
I’m speaking from the voice of experience. Some of my happiest family memories are laced through holiday gatherings. But, when my son, U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Michael Medlock died on January 9, 2016, everything in my world changed — including my holiday traditions, which continue to evolve. Although I was surrounded by a supportive network of friends at the time of Michael’s death, absent from the equation were those who truly understood, with first-hand knowledge, what I was feeling. That’s the beauty of a TAPS Friendsgiving.
Last year we welcomed the TAPS families in the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) area into our home for the inaugural TAPS Togethers Friendsgiving. The nucleus of our gathering was the TAPS DFW Care Group. The group has been together since 2019, and over these years, the fellow survivors have formed strong friendships. Our care group is comprised of all those whose loss was as recent as three months ago to those who have been on this journey for several years. I can’t promote the concept of TAPS Care Groups more vigorously. When Michael died, I felt so alone in the vast Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. There were no care groups or Friendsgiving gatherings. Now, with these programs, I want fellow survivors to know that they are not alone and that there is a loving TAPS Family ready to embrace them on their personal grief journeys. Friendsgiving provides that opportunity to welcome them into the family.
Not all Friendsgiving gatherings take place in private homes, but that is the format I chose. Comfort and healing have no assigned location. A Friendsgiving gathering can take place anywhere. Ours was an informal gathering on a Saturday afternoon. Everyone was asked to bring a dish they wanted to share with others. I provided the turkey and some traditional sides. We had games set up outside and college football on the TV in another room, but mostly everyone enjoyed good conversation with each other. Several who attended told me this was the first TAPS event they had ever attended. This year, I plan to include a remembrance activity in our gathering — a time we can pause and invite our loved ones into this “new” holiday tradition.
At one of the TAPS seminars, I learned the importance of being congruent with our feelings. In other words, let our mouths say what our hearts feel. Friendsgiving allows us the opportunity to be congruent with our heart longings — not with a veiled pretense of joy, but true joy because we’ve found our tribe and a safe place to both celebrate and remember our loved one. We turn our focus from what we have lost to what we have gained. I’m not saying it is an even trade. But it is a trade I have resolved to celebrate.
A TAPS Friendsgiving is a symbol of our resilience, reminding us that even in the darkest of times, we know the way forward with hope — a hope shared with others. While the void left by our loss can never be filled, it can be transformed into a place where their memory lives on, guiding us toward a future filled with gratitude, healing, and love.
Find a Friendgiving Event
I encourage you to find a Friendsgiving event happening near you, and gather with your TAPS family this holiday season to remember the love, celebrate the life, and share the journey.
Betty Medlock is the Surviving Mother of Sergeant Michael Medlock, U.S. Marine Corps.
Photos courtesy of Betty Medlock